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Pittsburgh Launch


Jefferson's Vision

Throughout his early political career and long before Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States, Jefferson had dreamed of dispatching explorers across North America to the Pacific Northwest.

Before his inauguration on March 4, 1801, President Thomas Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis, a 29-year-old career officer in the U.S. Army, to join him in the White House as his personal secretary. It is thought that this appointment was to train Lewis for an exploratory expedition across the continent. By this time, Lewis was already an experienced equestrian, hunter, hiker, and frontiersman.

When Jefferson took the Oath of Office, the nation had 5,308,483 people within its boundaries, which reached from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Mississippi River in the west, from the Great Lakes in the north nearly to the Gulf of Mexico in the south (roughly 1,000 miles by 1,000 miles). Two-thirds of the United States population lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1803, only four wagon roads crossed the Appalachian Mountains. Nevertheless, the United States had the potential to become a great nation if it could incorporate the lands west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, the limited transportation options, the vast distance between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, and the uncertainties about the west were all barriers to expansion.

On January 18, 1803, President Jefferson sent a confidential message to Congress, stating in part, “The river Missouri and the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desirable by their connection with the Mississippi, and consequently with us. . .”

Jefferson went on to propose that an “intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men . . . might explore the whole line, even to the Western Ocean.” This proposal culminated Jefferson’s long-standing but quiet plans to send a trailblazing expedition into the great void beyond the Mississippi.

The president was a scholar of the sciences; however, his push for the expedition also had political implications. Other nations sought to control the West’s destiny. Spanish conquistadors had explored the Southwest. French and Spanish fur traders had ventured part of the way up the Missouri River, and the British had visited the Mandan Indians in what is now North Dakota.

Since rivers facilitated trade, President Jefferson’s search of a navigable water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean was key to the United States jurisdiction of the west. On February 28, 1803, two years into Jefferson's presidency, Congress appropriated $2,500 to initiate an expedition up the Missouri River “for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States.”

To ensure the expedition’s success in obtaining whatever it would need to meet his goals, Jefferson signed and gave Lewis a one-page letter pledging “the faith of the United States” to reimburse anyone for any goods or services that Lewis needed. Therefore, the expedition had a limitless line of credit.

Congress’ approval of the journey was a significant step forward, yet within months, it was eclipsed by the purchase of the entire 820,000-square mile Louisiana Territory for $15 million (about three cents an acre) from France’s Napoleon Bonaparte. The treaty was signed on April 30, 1803. This agreement not only transformed the purpose of the expedition but in a single stroke, the size of the United States doubled. The purchase changed what would have been a semi-covert mission through foreign territory into a bold survey of American-owned land.



Jefferson officially named the expedition "The Corps of Volunteers of North Western Discovery" (Corps of Discovery) and commissioned this group to examine the geography, geology, ethnology, botany, and wildlife of the recently purchased Louisiana Territory and beyond as well as to study the Native American cultures, and to search for the illusive “Northwest Passage.” Jefferson’s long-desired visionary U.S. Army Expedition will not only journal the new territory of the United States, but most importantly forge the nation's newfound destiny.



Lewis & Clark Historic Trail

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is a route across the United States commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806. It is part of the National Trails System of the United States. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail became a reality in 1978 when Congress passed the National Parks and Recreation Act that amended the National Trails System Act of 1968.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 provides a national system of scenic, historic and recreation trails. The Act states that“In order to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation, trails should be established (a) primarily, near the urban areas of the Nation, and (b) secondarily, within scenic areas and along historic travel routes of the Nation which are often more remotely located”.

Presently, the trail extends west from Wood River, Illinois, for more than 3,700 meandering miles to Fort Clatsop, in Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia River, at the Pacific Ocean. Thousands upon thousands of visitors worldwide have traveled the trail wholly or partially to try to retrace and relive the experiences of U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis, U.S. Army Second Lieutenant William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery. Trail visitors can travel, in the approximate footsteps of the expedition, its meadows and forests on horseback, raft and canoe its rivers, and bike or hike its mountains, and by car or bus, or by train, exploring the route they journeyed and reliving the adventure of the Corps of Discovery.

The trail honors the determination and undaunted courage of a diversified corps of 47 hearty souls including Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea who was pregnant with her first child. Some of the expedition's members were chosen to return the keelboat from Fort Mandan back down the Missouri River to St. Louis with a shipment of samples, specimens, and journals for President Jefferson. The 33 remaining members became the permanent party that would make the full perilous journey, and spent almost three years in hardship exploring the wilderness and charting the new frontier. Every day was a struggle.

The men moved heavily laden vessels against strong currents, and negotiated dangerous rapids and shifting sandbars along some of the most powerful rivers in the country. Weather and terrain caused many hardships for the party. They endured sudden thunderstorms, extreme heat, bitter cold, raging blizzards, hail, and dust clouds.

The expedition encountered and documented nearly 50 different Indian tribes, and the Corps of Discovery proved to be outstanding ambassadors of the United States. Without the assistance of the tribes, the mission may have failed.

Eastern Legacy 

The contemporary Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail does not include paths and travel routes taken by expedition members as part of the preparation and conclusion of the expedition. In 2008, the National Park Service, which administers and promotes the trail, was directed by Congress to conduct an Eastern Legacy Special Resource Study to look at the feasibility and suitability of adding the sites and route segments east of Wood River, from the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It will also include additional locations and overland routes in Pennsylvania and other states, followed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, independently or together, prior to their departure from St Louis, Missouri on May 14, 1804.

The Ohio River Trail Council (ORTC) supports the expansion of the Lewis & Clark Trail along Ohio River Trail to Pittsburgh, Pa. Most importantly, the ORTC believes that Meriwether Lewis considered Pittsburgh to be the start of the excursion, as evidenced on August 31, 1803, when Lewis made the first entry in his journal — “Left Pittsburgh this day at 11 o'clock.” It is it is generally accepted that the journey officially began in Pittsburgh on August 31, 1803 and that the events that took place in the nine months preceding the departure from Wood River, IL were crucial to the eventual success of the undertaking. Designating Pittsburgh as the Eastern launch point, adds key aspects of the journey's planning and preparation to the historic trail system. Lewis & Clark's twenty-eight month, 8,000-mile epic trek from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Ocean was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States and is arguably the greatest exploring mission in American history.



Pittsburgh, PA

In 1803, Pittsburgh was a growing port town of some 2,400 people, nearly 2,000 more than had been recorded in the first national census of 1790. The town supported two glassworks, a glass factory, a paper mill, powder, iron, and salt works, lumber and flour mills, a brewery, and eight boatyards.

East meets West at Pittsburgh in 1803. The small frontier town's location at the headwater of the Ohio River won Pittsburgh the first, title as "Gateway to the American West. From Pittsburgh, the new American West was reachable by boats navigating down the Ohio River and was the logical starting point for the Lewis expedition


Meriwether Lewis knew Pittsburgh well. After volunteering for military service in 1794, he had spent five years on the Pennsylvania and Ohio frontier. There Lewis had acquired the military and diplomatic experience that made him an especially appealing choice when Thomas Jefferson was considering who might lead the Expedition across the American continent. In fact, Lewis was stationed in Pittsburgh when President-elect Jefferson in 1801 had asked him to become his secretary.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, Lewis had commissioned the construction of a keelboat that was 55-foot long with an 8-foot beam, and a shallow draft, which would carry the expedition and its supplies down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Lewis had designed the boat himself, with a spacious cabin on the back, twenty-two oars, a square-rigged sail on a detachable thirty-two foot mast, a hold capable of carrying twelve tons of provisions, trade goods, and scientific equipment, and gun mounts for defense.

When Lewis arrived in Pittsburgh on July 15, 1803, he intended to stay for only a few days. Instead, he ended up staying for six long, frustrating weeks. Unfortunately, the surly boat builder, who had promised to deliver the keelboat by July 20, 1803, got drunk and drove off his workers.

Lewis wrote to President Jefferson, “I was moste [sic] shamefully detained by the unpardonable negligence of my boat-builder. On my arrival at Pittsburgh, my calculation was that the boat would be in readiness by the 5th of August; this term however elapsed and the boat so far from being finished was only partially planked on one side.”

Lewis visited the shipyard daily to check on the progress of his keelboat, and endeavored by every means in his power to hasten completion of the work, while watching the river's waters sink lower and lower. 



Forced to wait at a glacier pace, Lewis anxiously planned his departure, rechecking inventory and repacking wagonloads of supplies that arrived from Harpers Ferry and Philadelphia. When the third and final wagon arrived from Harpers Ferry on July 22, 1803, Lewis began recruiting the first eleven volunteers for the early stages of the Expedition. Eleven men, Lewis reasoned, were enough to navigate the vessels and supplies downriver to Louisville, Kentucky, where he would join up with William Clark and his team of volunteers.

While waiting impatiently in Pittsburgh for the completion and delivery of his specially designed keelboat, Meriwether Lewis wrote a letter on July 22, 1803, to President Jefferson explaining his state of readiness to launch the voyage of discovery and the reasons for the seemingly endless series of delays.  He closed with these words:  "The current of the Ohio is extreemly [extremely] low and continues to decline, this may impede my proceeding, being dete[r]mined to get forward though I should not be able to make a greater distance than a mile pr. [per] day."

Lewis could only watch as an extended drought dropped the river to a record low level. If the river continued to drop, there would not be enough water to navigate the fully loaded keelboat. To spread out the weight of the supplies, Lewis purchased one or two pirogues, (shallow, and flat-bottom riverboats pronounced pee-rowgs). Lewis then reduced the weight even more by packing some supplies in a Conestoga wagon headed for Wheeling, West Virginia, further downstream on the Ohio River.

Unfortunately, Lewis never identified his boat builder by name and it is unknown exactly where the keelboat was constructed. Nevertheless, citizens of Elizabeth, a small town twenty-two miles up the Monongahela from Pittsburgh, claim that the keelboat was built there at Walker Boat Yard. In addition, it is possible that one or both of the pirogues that Lewis departed with from Pittsburgh were built there. It is also conceivable that the keelboat may have been built at William Greenough's boatyard near the present-day Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh.

In 1792, Fort Lafayette (Fayette) was built in Pittsburgh, to replace Fort Pitt, as a supply center for Fort McIntosh, located downstream on the Ohio River. It is believed that in 1803 Fort Lafayette was a staging ground for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker inscription located at the intersection of 11th Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, in Pittsburgh reads, “On Aug. 31, 1803, Capt. Meriwether Lewis launched a 50-foot “keeled boat” from Ft. Fayette, 100 yards downriver. This marked the beginning of the 3-year expedition commissioned by President Jefferson, which opened America to westward expansion.”



The Rivermen in Pittsburgh advised the 29-year-old Lewis that the Ohio River was far too low for him to start his journey on August 31 and suggested he wait until the "general rise" which usually occurred in October. It was unlikely that they could successfully paddle and sail with the wind and the current down the Ohio river without pushing, pulling, lifting and dragging the specially designed 55-foot keelboat over the numerous sand bars, rocks and driftwood. Lewis was so frustrated by the delay in the boat construction; he was in no mood to postpone his trip further. Finally, on the morning of August 31, 1803, Lewis and his eleven volunteers (10 recruits and a river pilot) stood on the riverbank and watched as the final planks of the keelboat were nailed into place at 7:00 a.m. Lewis’ team then quickly loaded the supplies and equipment onto the keelboat and a pirogue and struck out down the drought-shrunken Ohio with his dog, Seaman who completed the crew.

Ohio River Launch

Lewis did not take possession of his flagship until the last day of August 1803. By the time Lewis began the first leg of the voyage down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, cool weather was only a few weeks away, and the months of preliminary planning seemed rushed, sparse, and perhaps even inadequate to prepare for the three-year expedition through vast, unknown, and potentially dangerous lands. Nevertheless, the first leg of their journey toward the Mississippi had finally begun.

On August 31, 1803 in Pittsburgh, Lewis wrote President Jefferson “it was not untill [until] 7 O’Clock [sic] on the morning of the 31st Ultmo. that my boat was completed, she was instantly loaded, and at 10 A.M. on the same day I left Pittsburgh.” On the same day, Meriwether Lewis recorded in his journal, “left Pittsburgh this day at 11ock [O’clock] with a party of 11 hands 7 of which are soldiers, a pilot and three young men on trial they having proposed to go with me throughout the voyage. Arrived at Bruno’s Island 3 miles below halted a few minutes.”

Air Rifle

Lewis stopped at Brunot Island to see an old Army friend, a French physician named Dr. Felix Brunot. During the visit, Lewis demonstrated his newest weapon, the Girardoni Air Rifle, to the amazement of onlookers. He fired it seven times for a distance of 55 yards “with pretty good success.” It was the first repeating rifle of any kind to see military service. Lewis, then he handed it to a local man named Blaze Cenas, who accidentally discharged the gun, and the ball passed through the hat of a woman 40 yards away. It grazed her temple and she was gushing blood. They thought she was dead, but she revived and was not seriously wounded to “our enespressable [inexpressible] satisfaction.” The woman recovered and Lewis and his men resumed their journey.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition used this rifle in the demonstrations that they performed for nearly every Native American tribe they encountered on the journey. The “magic” air gun made a great impression due to its amazing properties and astonishing firepower. Adding to the drama, the soldiers were in their colorful dress uniforms, called regimentals, with towering tasseled chapeaus, fancy coat tails, brilliant sashes, bright braid, and shining medals while appearing in formation with flags flying.



The painting above shows that some of the braves have run to the distant target tree and are incredulously reporting that numerous lead balls are buried in the wood even though the gun had not presented any smoke or fire and relatively little sound. Captain Clark, in later journal entries, made it clear that they implied that the Corps had a large number of these guns.

Riffles & Rapids

The Ohio River was now even lower than it had been just a few weeks earlier. Shortly after passing Brunot's Island, the keelboat foundered on what Lewis initially characterized as a "ripple." (Later in this leg of the journey he settled on the term "riffle," which was the common usage among experienced rivermen; it signified a shallow patch of water or technically, a shoal.

When empty, the keelboat drew three to four feet of water fully loaded. As he had been warned by veteran rivermen from the area, Lewis soon discovered that the river in many places was too shallow to float the vessel. In his journal that first day out, Lewis described the difficulties they confronted.

On August 31, 1803. Lewis noted in his journal, “proceeded to a ripple of McKee’s rock [sic] where we were obleged [obliged] to get out all hands and lift the boat [keelboat] over about thirty yards; the river is extreemely [sig] low…we passed another ripple. Past another bear [bar] or ripple with more difficulty than either of the others...." (McKees Rocks is located near the mouth of Chartiers Creek.)




Lewis made slow progress that first day on the water because the keelboat encountered three sandbars between McKees Rocks and Neville Island. To better maneuver the boat, the crew unloaded it twice and transferred supplies to a pirogue. After the boats were moored somewhere between McKees Rocks and Neville Island, Lewis gave all the men some well-earned whiskey, and the exhausted crew retired at 8 p.m.

The next day on September 1, 1803, the fog was so thick that drops of water fell from the trees like a gentle rain. Lewis waited until eight o’clock that morning to depart. At Little Horsetail Riffle, it took two hours to pass with all hands laboring to effect a passage.

Lewis wrote in his journal, “the fogg [fog] is thickest and appears to rise from the face of the water like steem [sig] from boiling water – we passed the little horsetale ripple or riffle with much deficulty [difficulty], all hands laboured [labored] in the water about two hours before we effected a passage…”

After unloading all their goods and lifting the empty boat over the Big Horsetail Riffle, Lewis wrote in his journal, “about 5 Ocock [O’clock] we reach the riffle called Woollery’s trap, here after unloading again and exerting all our force we found it impracticable to get over, I employed a man with a team of oxen with the assistance of which we at length got off we put in and remained all night having made only ten miles this day.”  Either Lewis camped at Woollery’s Trap or on the tip of the island on the north bank.

On September 2, 1803, Lewis arrived at Ft. Legionville, a fort established by General Anthony Wayne.  William Clark reportedly received his military training there. Lewis’ crew again had to get out of the boat and pull it over Logtown Riffle.

Lewis also commented that the “rich land” they saw that day. He also described, “the hills on either side of the ohio are from 3 to 400 feet which running parallel to each other keep the general course of the river, at the distance of about two miles while the river pursuing a serpentine course between them alternately washes their bases. – thus leaving fine bottom land between itself and the hills in large boddys [sic], and freequently [frequently] in the form of a simecicles [semicircles] or the larger segment of a circle or horseshoe form.” Lewis also noted that the leaves are starting to turn to fall colors.

Although Lewis was always gratified to be underway once more when rescued by the extra help, on September 2, 1803, Lewis vented his rising level of impatience and frustration in the pages of his journal: "... obtain one horse and an ox, which enabled us very readily to get over [the riffle] payd [paid] the man his charge, which was one dollar; the inhabitants who live near these riffles live much by the distressed situation of traveller[s] ... charge extravagantly when they are called on for assistance and  have no filantrophy [Philanthropy] or contience [conscience] ...."

On September 3, 1803, thick dense fog delayed their travels. Lewis took his first temperature readings noting that the air temperature that morning was 63° Fahrenheit whereas the water temperature was 75°. Lewis discovered that cold air moving down the valley sides and passing across the warm water of the Ohio River in a situation known as "cold air drainage" resulted in fog and heavy dew. These reflections by Lewis on fog and dew caused him to begin taking regular air and water temperature readings throughout the trip creating a valuable meteorological record.

Once they passed by “Atkins’s” Riffle and the mouth of Beaver River (formed by the confluence of the Shenango and Mahoning Rivers and meeting the Ohio River in central Beaver County), they anchored off the site of Ft. MacKintosh where Lewis discharged “one of my hands.” About three-miles below MacKintosh, Lewis described the riffle as the worst yet. They were “obliged to unload and drag over with horses.” Lewis and his men camped in this area on September 3, 1803; which side of the river is unknown.

On September 4, 1803, fog again delayed their departure. A boat sprung a leak and Captain Lewis bought a canoe (which also leaked) in the Georgetown Island area (near the state line). The expedition spent part of their day drying out supplies and repairing the crafts.



A marker erected by Beaver County Historical Research & Landmarks Foundation, is located on Water Street west of Harrison Street, Rochester, Pennsylvania, in Beaver County. The Inscription reads, “In 1803, Meriwether Lewis led the corps of discovery, 11 men on a keelboat, though Beaver County. They stayed overnight about 3 miles west of Beaver and stopped in Georgetown. This visit was commemorated by a reenactment in Rochester and Georgetown in 2003.”

The next day, Lewis noted that the land was cleared 60-feet wide to mark the state line. They camped about two miles below the state line of Virginia (now West Virginia) and Pennsylvania near the mouth of Mill Creek opposite Little Beaver Creek.  Lewis describes the water as so low and clear that they could see a great number of fish – sturgeon, bass, catfish, and pike.

Over the next two weeks, hardly a day passed without mention of the crew's continuing struggle to wrestle the keelboat over and through a succession of riffles. The men were frequently in the sluggish water shoving, tugging, pushing, and even lifting the keelboat through the shallows. At least once, they had to use a shovel and their oars to dig a channel through gravel and sand for a considerable distance before the unloaded boat would float free.

Some days there was but one such occurrence; but more often, multiple shoals had to be cleared in a single day. On September 6, 1803, there were eight. The waterlogged men, including Captain Lewis, were exhausted. Upon several occasions the water was so shallow and the distance to be traversed so great that the men could not budge the stalled vessel - not even after its cargo had been transferred to additional pirogues Lewis was forced to buy. Not to be denied, the resolute mariner hired teams of oxen, or horses, from local farmers to drag the boat over the worst of the riffles.

Wheeling was a frequent starting point for many traveling west along the Ohio River, as it gained more depth and was easier to navigate below this point. Lewis noted in his journal the town of Wheeling and their campsite of September 7, 1803.

Captain Lewis described Wheeling as “a pretty considerable Village contains about fifty houses and is the county town of Ohio [state of Virginia, now West Virginia]. It is situated on the east side of the river on an elivated [elevated] bank; the landing is good, just below the town and on the same side big Wheeling creek emtys [sic] itself into the Ohio, on the point formed by this creek and the river stands an old stockade [stockade] fort [probably Ft. Fincastle renamed Ft. Henry], now gone to decay; this town is remarkable for being the point of embarkation for merchants and Emergrants [Emigrants] who are about to descend the river, particularly if they are late in getting on and the water gets low as it most commonly is from the beginning of July to the last of September, the water from hence being much deeper and the navigation better than it is from Pittsburgh or any point above it—”

On September 8, 1903, the expedition was in Wheeling where Lewis wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson. "I set out [on Aug. 31st] having taken the precaution to send a part of my baggage by a wagon to this place, and also to procure a good pilot. My days journeys have averaged about 12 miles, but in some instances, with every exertion I could make was unable to exceed 4 ½ & 5 miles per day….. When the Ohio is in it's present state there are many obstructions to it's navigation, formed by bars of small stones, which in some instances are intermixed with and partially cover large quantities of drift-wood; these bars frequently extend themselves entirely across the bed of the river, over many of them I found it impossible to pass even with my empty boat, without getting into the water and lifting her over by hand; over other my force was even inadequate to enable me to pass in this manner, and I found myself compelled to hire horses or oxen from the neighboring farms and drag her over them; in this way I have passed as many a[s] five of these bars, (or as they are here called riffles) in a day, and to unload as many or more time. The river is lower than it has ever been known by the oldest settler in this country. I shall leave this place tomorrow morning and loose no time in getting on."

In Wheeling, Lewis purchased a red pirogue and hired a man to operate it to carry the cargo sent by wagon from Pittsburgh in order to keep the keelboat as light as possible. It took the crew four days to make the trip from Wheeling to Marietta, Ohio.

Lewis stopped 12-miles below Wheeling to take time to inspect the Indian burial mound on the east side of the Ohio River.

On September 10, 1803, Lewis described the Indian mound at Moundsville. “I landed on the east side of R. and went on shore to view a remarkable artifical [artificial] mound of earth called by the people in this neighborhood the Indian grave. – This remarkable mound of earth stands on the east bank of the Ohio 12 miles below Wheeling and about 700 paces from the river, as the land is not cleared the mound is not visible from the river. The mound is nearly a regular cone 310 yards in circumpherence [sic] at it’s base & 65 feet high terminating in a blont point whose diameter is 30 feet, this point is concave being depres[s]ed about five feet in the center, arround [sic] the base runs a ditch 60 feet in width which is broken or inte[r]sected by a ledge of earth raised as high as the outer bank of the ditch on the N.W. side, this bank is about 30 feet wide and appe[a]rs to have formed the enterence [entrance] to fortifyed [sic] mound – near the summet [summit] of this mound grows a white oak tree whose girth is 13 ½ feet, from the aged appea[ra]nce of this tree I think it’s age might re[a]sonably calculated at 300 years, the whole mound is covered with large timber, sugar tree, hickory, poplar, red and white oak, etc—“



The earthwork mound is known as Grave Creek Mound, and is located in Moundsville, West Virginia, and it is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds or tumulus in the United States.  The builders were members of the Adena culture, who moved more than 60,000 tons of dirt in successive stages over a period of a hundred years from about 250-150 BC.

Lewis reported, “we got on twenty four miles this day. We passed some bad riffles but got over them without the assistance of cattle…” They camped on September 10, 1803 just above Sunfish Creek (located across the river from Clarington, Ohio).

On September 11, 1803, Lewis made the first of many natural history observations in his journal. He noted that numbers of squirrels were swimming across the Ohio from west to east and assumed they were headed south for a better climate as he observed that, except for the beechnut, which was scarce, that year; there was an abundance of walnuts and Hickory nuts on both sides of the river.

The next day, Lewis set out at sunrise and entered the “long reach.” He described five islands from three to two miles in length each, and a “number of squirrils [sic] swim[m]ing the Ohio.”

Lewis also wrote in his journal, He made his dog, Seaman, “take as many each day as I had occation [sic] for, they wer[e] fat and I thought them when fryed [sic] a pleasent [sic] food – many of these squirrils [sic] wer[e] black, they swim very light on the water and make pretty good speed –.”

Captain Lewis’ Dog Seaman, was a huge, shaggy black male dog that Lewis acquired in Pittsburgh in August of 1803 for $20 — quite a large sum of money at the time. Seaman was a breed of dog, quite rare in the United States in the early 1800s, known as a Newfoundland. The Newfoundland dog is legendary for its calm and docile nature and its strength. They are highly loyal and make ideal working dogs. These dogs are strong swimmers, and are known for their rescues of people and animals from the water. 

Lewis and Clark both make mention of Seaman throughout their journals, writing of his hunting skills and praising him for his guarding abilities (especially against grizzly bears). The working canine appears more than 25 times in the diaries of Lewis and Clark.  Seaman was one of the most widely traveled dogs in American history. The trip could not have been easy for Seaman, the “Gentle Giant,” as the big, heavily furred dog weighing about 150 pounds suffered from overheating and the torments of a variety of biting insects. Still, he managed to keep up with the expedition for its entire round-trip journey!

Seaman’s dog collar inscription reads, "The greatest traveler of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of Captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacific Ocean through the interior of the continent of North America.” It is reported that after the melancholy passing of Governor Lewis, his dog would not depart for a moment from his lifeless remains; and when they were deposited in the earth, no gentle means could draw him from the spot of interment. He refused to take every kind of food, which was offered him, and actually pined away and died with grief upon his master's grave!



On September 15, 1803, the little flotilla had made it to Little Forked Run near present day Forked Run State Park in Ohio. Captain Lewis noted a large number of squirrels crossing the river in the Little Forked Run area. There were several riffles where Lewis and his men had to lift the boats. That is the last date on which Lewis mentioned any encounters with the troublesome riffles. By that time, he had logged at least 39 instances of their having to overcome riffles of varying degrees of difficulty. After 16 days of travel (they had rested from their debilitating struggles for one whole day at Wheeling), Lewis and his crew had covered barely more than 200-miles of the approximately 1000-miles to the Ohio River’s junction with the Mississippi River.

Despite the toll the Ohio had taken on Captain Lewis and his men, he could take satisfaction from the fact that he never had to settle for only "one mile pr. [per] day” as he had feared in a letter to President Jefferson on July 22, 1803. The captain had passed his first rigorous test and conquered the Ohio River riffle-by-riffle.

In order for this mission to succeed, Jefferson believed that it would take military teamwork, logistics, and discipline. Thus, he had selected Army Captain Meriwether Lewis to provide an organizational structure, order, service, and sacrifice, all necessary for the successful completion of this courageous journey. Due to the enormous importance of this exploration, the expedition warranted an additional commander. Meriwether Lewis was relieved to know that William Clark - a trusted friend, fellow Virginian, and a seasoned but retired Army officer with significant experience as an Indian agent and frontier diplomat agreed to join Lewis.  Clark penned a response to Lewis’ letter sent from Pittsburgh on June 19, 1803, which expressed Lewis’ desire that Clark share command of the expedition. For this military mission, Lewis was permitted to add any regular Army soldier to the Corps of Discovery roster, along with militiamen (today's National Guard), who volunteered. Lewis recruited in the east, but also asked Clark to enroll able-bodied, qualified men "on the frontier" with the skills and fortitude to make this arduous journey.

On July 29, 1803, Clark wrote, “This is an undertaking fraited [sic] with many difeculties [sic], but My friend I assure you no man lives with whome [whom] I would perfur [prefer] to undertake Such a Trip as your self [sic].” Lewis offered Clark co-captaincy even though his commission was only to be a Second Lieutenant. To legitimize the pseudo rank, an organizational unit designation called the “Corps of Volunteers on an Expedition of North Western Discovery” to which Clark would be attached was necessary when he signed official documents, such as detachment orders, court martial proceedings, “Indian Certificates,” and similar formal records.

In Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia,” published in 1781–82, he stated, "The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted." This single instance was the “Falls of the Ohio.”  The "Falls" are better characterized as a series of rapids allowing the Ohio River to drop 26-feet over a distance of two and a half miles, rather than as a point-like discontinuity in a river like Niagara Falls. Formed by rock outcrops, the falls provided a singular, dramatic and daunting obstacle to navigation.




Captain Lewis and only a few soldiers from Pennsylvania floated and pulled the keelboat down the Ohio River to the “Falls of the Ohio” at Louisville, Kentucky. Here, Captain Lewis joined forces with Captain Clark with an additional nine expedition recruits for the first time on October 14, 1803 before departing later in the month. On October 24, 1803, Lewis and Clark hired a pilot to navigate the keelboat and red pirogue through the “Falls of the Ohio” to Clarksville, Indiana. The party left Clarksville on October 26, 1803, to complete the 981-mile, two-and-a-half month journey down the Ohio River. At last, Captain Lewis was truly on his way westward and headed for the Mississippi River and their ambitious 8,000-mile “Corps of Discovery.”




Enduring Legacy

President Jefferson's expectations and expedition instructions to Lewis were so extensive as to be almost impossible to fulfill, yet he viewed the fulfilled mission as a remarkable success. The discoveries made by the explorers changed the vision of this young republic. No water route to the Pacific was found, but accurate and detailed surveys and maps were sketched. Peaceful contact was made with Native American tribes and commerce was established. Vast reaches of North America were investigated and the body of knowledge added to the scientific community proved to be truly invaluable. Lewis and Clark's "Voyage of Discovery" was one of Thomas Jefferson's most enduring legacies.



* Reading the journals written by members of the Lewis & Clark Expedition can be challenging. Few young men at that time had formal schooling beyond the age of 13, if they had any at all. Until Noah Webster's Bluebook Speller was published in 1783, the accepted spelling rule was to "spell words based on their sound." The journal entries in this article have been modified to correct misspelled words and are shown within square brackets. 

* The Latin adverb sic inserted immediately after the quoted word in this article, indicates that the text has been transcribed exactly as found in the source, complete with any erroneous or archaic spelling, surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might otherwise be taken as an error of transcription. Any errors found in the quoted material are not as a result from inaccuracies in the course of the transcription. Sic is placed inside square brackets, to signal that it is not part of the quoted matter; and is traditionally printed in italics — [sic].







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