Ulster Connection Most Exciting and to One of America's Intrepid Explorers; the Clark-Lewis Expedition Was One of the Most Fascinating and Remarkable Journeys in American History. BILLY KENNEDY Explores Clark's Ulster Links

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), November 16, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Ulster Connection Most Exciting and to One of America's Intrepid Explorers; the Clark-Lewis Expedition Was One of the Most Fascinating and Remarkable Journeys in American History. BILLY KENNEDY Explores Clark's Ulster Links


Byline: BILLY KENNEDY

WILLIAM Clark, who joined Meriwether Lewis on the celebrated overland expedition to the north-west Pacific coast region in 1803, was a second generation Scots-Irishman of a family who moved from Ulster to Pennsylvania and into the Shenandoah Valley in the mid-18th century.

The Clark-Lewis three-year expedition over thousands of miles, through rough mountainous terrain, and during the two extremes of weather, was undertaken at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson. It vastly improved America's understanding of that region.

The United States purchased the Louisiana colonial territory from France in 1803 for $15m, in a deal completed by Jefferson. This doubled the country's land size, stretching over 800,000 square miles from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and Jefferson, still trying to settle still-wild state territories like Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, came in for strong criticism from political opponents for the purchase.

To spend $15m on ''a wasteland wilderness was the widest chimera of a moonstruck brain,'' howled his critics.

However, Jefferson was undeterred and, with the approval of Congress, he ordered Meriwether Lewis to undertake an exploration of the territory.

Lewis selected William Clark, a comrade-in-arms, and they made preparations for a most momentous journey.

Historians credit the accomplishments of Lewis and Clark more to the quality of the two men than to the brief laid down by Thomas Jefferson.

Lewis had a talent for naturalistic observation, while Clark was a skilled map-maker.

Major objectives of the expedition were to explore the Missouri River and determine how easily the American continent could be crossed by this route.

The party studied every aspect of the land - its soil, climate, plant and animal life. Beneath the soil, the explorers sought out fossil bones and mineral riches.

They offered friendship, trade, education and even vaccination to the Indians, and studied every aspect of Indian life - tribal names, numbers, languages, laws and traditions.

Three boats were used in the expedition, carrying 43 people - Lewis, Clark, soldiers, civilians, an Indian interpreter and Clark's black servant, York.

Starting at Pittsburgh, they descended the Ohio River by keelboat and ascended the Mississippi to St Louis.

They headed up the Missouri River, covering 1,400 miles before settling during the first winter with the Mandan Indians in what is now North Dakota, experiencing temperatures as low as 43 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.

In the spring, they headed into the Shoshone territory, now Montana, and Indian tribes there provided them with horses for the trek across the Rockies.

They sighted the Pacific Ocean on November 15, 1805, after passing down the Columbia River.

The return journey took most of a year, with the party reaching St Louis in September 1806. The journey lasted two years, four months and 10 days and they crossed 7,689 miles of wilderness.

They were the first white men to cross within the limits of present-day United States and, incredibly, on the perilous journey, only one man lost his life, with a ruptured appendix - an ailment virtually untreatable in those days.

Clark and Lewis returned with priceless diaries and maps that helped clear up misconceptions about the north-west territory. They also brought back animals, plants and minerals which assisted valuable scientific research.

They discovered several routes through the Rockies and established friendly relations with Indian tribes.

Their topographic sketches showed how people could reach the Pacific Ocean on the overland route via the Rockies.

However, the Lewis-Clark expedition may not have been completed without the help of a 16-year-old Shoshoni Indian woman from the Mandan tribe known as Sacajawea.

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Ulster Connection Most Exciting and to One of America's Intrepid Explorers; the Clark-Lewis Expedition Was One of the Most Fascinating and Remarkable Journeys in American History. BILLY KENNEDY Explores Clark's Ulster Links
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