Explorers and Early Visitors
AS A MAN OF SCIENCE, President Jefferson had long been inteested in the exploration of the headwaters of the Missouri River. While in Europe as minister to France, he had considered a plan to send an expedition into the Northwest to make a study of that region. At one time he had asked George Rogers Clark to explore the upper Missouri. These plans failed to materialize, but with the purchase of Louisiana it became imperative to send out exploring expeditions to investigate the resources of the newly acquired territory about which the most extravagant stories had been told. The men chosen to lead the first exploration were Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
The Lewis and Clark expedition did not come anywhere near Oklahoma, but since it was the first of its kind and since it furnished a precedent for later explorations, a brief statement about it may be given here. St. Louis, which had been established some forty years earlier, was not formally transferred to the United States until April, 1804. In May of that year Lewis and Clark set out from that post in a fifty-foot keelboat pulled by twenty-two oars. Their orders were to ascend the Missouri to the villages of the Mandan Indians, in what is now North Dakota. Little was known of the river above this point, though trappers and traders had undoubtedly gone considerably farther--probably as far as the mouth of the Yellowstone. After spending the winter at the Mandan villages, Lewis and Clark were to follow the river to its source and continue on across the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.