After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific

By Robert M. Utley | Go to book overview

1

COLTER AND DROUILLARD:
CONTINENTAL CROSSING

ON MARCH 9 AND 10, 1804, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, United States Army, witnessed ceremonies that signaled the onset of their nation's expansion beyond the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The rites took place in St. Louis, the bustling little riverfront community where the flag of Spain flew from a staff in front of the seat of government for Upper Louisiana. Most of the town's citizens were French, still loyal to their heritage forty years after the mother country relinquished her American empire. In a sudden and bewildering sequence of international power plays, however, Spain sold Louisiana back to France, and Napoleon promptly sold it to the fledgling United States.

While a detachment of United States soldiers presented arms, Captain Amos Stoddard officiated on behalf of both France and the United States. On March 9, in front of Government House, the Spanish crown's banner came down and the French republic's went up. As a concession to the patriotic sensibilities of the townspeople, Stoddard allowed the tricolor to remain aloft overnight. The next day, near noon, it descended the staff, and the Stars and Stripes was hoisted. Stoddard and the Spanish officials inscribed their signatures on the formal documents of cession. So, as witness, did Captain Lewis. In addition to his commission in the army, he had recently held the post of private secretary to the president of the United States.1

The command of Lewis and Clark, already called the "Corps of Discovery," lay in winter camp on the east bank of the Mississippi opposite the

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