This is Mary Tillotson with the VOA Special English program Explorations.
A celebration has begun in the United States that will continue until September of two-thousand-six. The celebration honors the two-hundredth anniversary of the most famous exploration in American history. Today, and for the next two weeks, Shirley Griffith and Steve Ember tell the story of a group of explorers. They left their families and friends to enter unexplored areas of the American Northwest.
These explorers faced heat, cold, lack of food, dangerous rivers and fierce Indian tribes. They traveled almost thirteen-thousand kilometers across areas that would later become the northwestern United States. Their trip is still known by the names of the two men who led the group -- Lewis and Clark.
The story of the Lewis and Clark exploration begins back in time on June twentieth, eighteen-oh-three. A young man, Meriwether Lewis, has just received a letter from the president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Meriwether Lewis is a captain in the United States army. He also serves as President Jefferson's private secretary. He is twenty-eight years old. The letter from President Jefferson says Captain Lewis will lead a group of men to explore the area from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.
President Jefferson's letter is long. It tells Captain Lewis to draw maps of the areas in which he travels. It tells him to record a day-by-day history of his trip. And it tells him to collect plants and animals he finds. President Jefferson says Mister Lewis is to write about the different tribes of Indians he meets. Lewis is to report about their languages, their clothing and their culture. The letter asks Lewis to return with as much information as possible about this unknown land.
In the early eighteen-hundreds, much of the land that would later become the United States was unexplored. Many people believed that ancient animals like huge dinosaurs could still live in the far West. Other stories told of strange and terrible people in these unexplored areas. President Jefferson wanted Lewis to confirm or prove false as many of these stories as possible. The president also wanted him to find the best and fastest way to travel across the far western lands.
President Jefferson wanted many other questions answered. Lewis was to learn if it was possible to send trade goods by land to the Pacific coast. He was to learn if it were possible to take a boat west across the country to the Pacific Ocean. Many people believed this was possible. This idea was called the northwest passage. People thought the northwest passage would be a river or several rivers that linked the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Explorers just had to find it.
President Jefferson knew that any trip to the far West would be extremely dangerous. Those taking part could expect years of hard work. They would lack food and water. They would face dangerous Indians and have little medical help. There would be severe weather. It was possible that such a group of explorers would never return. President Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the trip because he was sure Lewis would succeed.
Meriwether Lewis and President Jefferson had spent a lot of time together. President Jefferson had great respect for Lewis. He knew Captain Lewis was a strong man who had a good education. Lewis was also a successful army officer and a good leader. And, probably most important, he was a skilled hunter who was used to living outdoors for long periods of time.
Lewis knew that such a trip would be extremely difficult and dangerous. He knew that he needed another person who could lead the group if he became injured or died. He requested President Jefferson's permission to ask a friend to help him. Lewis' friend was William Clark. Clark was an excellent leader, and was good at making maps. Lewis wrote a letter to Clark and offered him the job. Clark accepted. The two men decided to share the responsibility of command.
They decided to be equal in all things. Lewis and Clark had known each other for several years. They had served in the army together. Each trusted the other's abilities.
President Jefferson then sent Lewis to the city of Philadelphia. There, scientists began to teach him about modern scientific methods. He learned about plants. He learned how to tell where he was on the planet by using the stars and the sun. He learned about the different kinds of animals. He also studied with a doctor, Benjamin Rush, who taught him about emergency care of the sick or wounded and about different kinds of medicine. Doctor Rush helped Lewis gather the medical supplies that would be needed for the trip.
William Clark began to choose the men they would lead across the country to the Pacific Ocean. He made sure the men understood the dangers they would face. Clark and Lewis agreed that they needed men who could add some skill to the group. They agreed they wanted men who had lived much of their lives outdoors. They wanted some good hunters. They needed others who knew how to use small boats. They also needed some men who could work with wood, and others who could work with metals. They needed a few who could repair weapons and some who could cook.
Most importantly, they looked for men who could best survive the hard days ahead. Most of the men Clark chose were soldiers. Each man prepared for the trip with five months of training. In the winter of eighteen-oh-three, the group came together at a place they called Camp Wood. Camp Wood was north of a small village named Saint Louis in what would later become the state of Missouri. They began buying the last of the supplies they would need. And they began preparing the three boats they would use on the first part of their trip.
Lewis and Clark called their group of thirty-two men the Corps of Discovery. Their exploration began May fourteenth, eighteen-oh-four. Another group of soldiers would join the Corps of Discovery for the first part of their trip. The soldiers would return after the first winter with reports for President Jefferson about what the explorers had discovered.
They left Fort Wood and traveled north on the Missouri River. It was extremely hard work from the very beginning. Their three boats were not traveling with the flow of the river, but against it. At times, they passed ropes to the shore and the men pulled the boats. Several times the ropes broke. It was difficult and dangerous work. The largest of their three boats was almost seventeen meters long. This boat was called the Discovery. It carried most of their supplies, including medicine, food, scientific instruments, weapons and gifts of friendship for the Indian tribes the explorers hoped to meet.
Lewis and Clark and the men with them immediately saw the great beauty of the land. This great natural beauty was something they would write about time and again each day during their travels. Slowly, the explorers made their way north up the Missouri River. They passed the area that in the future would be Kansas City. They continued north and passed the area that would become the city of Omaha, in the future state of Nebraska. As each day passed, both Lewis and Clark wrote about what they saw. Clark made maps of the land and the river.
Near the present city of Sioux City, in the state of Iowa, Sergeant Charles Floyd became sick and within a few days died. The members of the Corps of Discovery buried him not far from the river. Today, a monument stands where he was buried.
The Corps of Discovery again continued north in their boats on the Missouri River. They passed through what would become the state of South Dakota. Here, for the first time they met members of the Lakota called the Teton Sioux. The Teton Sioux were very fierce and war like. They demanded Lewis and Clark give them one of the boats. The two leaders refused.
The Sioux threatened to kill all of the group. The Corps of Discovery prepared for a fight. But it never came. The Sioux changed their minds. Clark wrote of the Teton Sioux that they were tall and nice- looking people. He said their clothing was beautifully made with many colors and designs. He said the men were proud and fierce.
Soon, the Corps of Discovery passed into what would become the state of North Dakota. It was now growing late in the year. The weather was becoming colder. At a place they named Fort Mandan they quickly cut trees and made temporary homes for the winter. The Missouri River began to turn to ice. Some days it was too cold to hunt animals for food.
On the seventeenth of December, eighteen-oh-four, William Clark wrote in his book, "At night the temperature fell to seventy-four degrees below freezing." The Corps of Discovery would stay in Fort Mandan for five months. During the winter the explorers planned for their trip to the Pacific. That will be our story next time.
Our program today was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week when we continue our story of Lewis and Clark on the Explorations program, in Special English, on the Voice of America.