1954 3¢ Lewis and Clark Expedition
US #1063 was issued for the 150th anniversary of the expedition.

On May 21, 1804, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery departed St. Charles on the Missouri River to begin their exploration of the American West.

In 1803, Robert Livingston and James Monroe struck “the greatest real estate deal in history” – the Louisiana Purchase. As representatives for President Thomas Jefferson, they purchased a 530-million-acre area for $15 million, or about 3¢ per acre.

2004 37¢ Lewis & Clark, pane of 10
 #3856b – Lewis & Clark pane of 10

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase sparked interest in westward expansion. However, little was known about the territory. Shortly after the purchase, President Jefferson convinced Congress to appropriate $2,500 to fund an expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The purpose of the expedition was to find a direct and predictable waterway across the continent for commerce. In addition, the group was to study Native American tribes, botany, and geology in the territory.

2004-06 Lewis & Clark Expedition Commemorative Cover Collection (5)
Item #M12470A – Get a collection of five fully illustrated Lewis and Clark commemorative covers for under $20.

By many accounts, the expedition began on May 14, 1804. On that day, Clark and a group of men in three boats departed Camp River Dubois, Illinois. They traveled to St. Charles, where they would wait several days for Captain Lewis, who had business to attend to in St. Louis. Then on May 20, Lewis rode over land to St. Charles to meet up with Clark and the rest of the Corps. They would begin their journey together the next day.

2004 37¢ Lewis and Clark Expedition
US #3854 pictures Lewis and Clark on a hill surveying the countryside.

The Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, officially set out about 3:30 p.m. on May 21, 1804. The men on the boats, as well as those watching from the shore, cheered as the expedition left for its long journey. Officially, Lewis and Clark were assigned to find a path to the Pacific Ocean, preferably by water, in order to build trade. But for Jefferson, who was very interested in all natural sciences, it promised to be a treasure trove of knowledge, as well.

2004 37¢ Lewis & Clark, Prestige Booklet of 20 Stamps
Item #BK297 – 32-page Lewis & Clark Prestige booklet. Includes 20 stamps, facts, and maps that take you on their journey!

By late 1804, the expedition reached Fort Mandan in central North Dakota, where they set up their winter camp. While there, Lewis and Clark sent a shipment to Jefferson of some of their findings. Four boxes, two trunks, and three cages were shipped to Washington, DC. They included Native American items, as well as animal skins, bones, and antlers. They also sent a live prairie dog, four magpies, and a grouse. In addition, Jefferson received plant, soil, and mineral samples.

2004 37¢ Lewis & Clark Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #3854-56 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

A delighted Jefferson cataloged the contents and then shipped them to at least three different locations, including Monticello, the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and the Peale Museum in Baltimore. In all, 108 plant and animal specimens, 68 mineral samples, and William Clark’s map were received.

1981 12¢ Lewis & Clark Fleetwood First Day Postal Card
US #UX91 – Fleetwood First Day Postal Card

Meanwhile, out west, a young Shoshone woman named Sacajawea joined the group and guided them westward in the spring. Sacajawea served as a translator during the journey. In addition to her interpretations, the sight of a woman with an infant helped divert hostile actions by other Native American tribes.

2004 Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commemorative Portfolio
Item #4586115 – Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Portfolio contains a Thomas Jefferson Presidential medal, three mint US stamps, and three uncirculated US coins. Plus its packed with history!

Then in December of 1805, Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia River to reach the Pacific Ocean. Clark wrote in his journal, “Ocean in view! O! The Joy!” They then spent the winter camped in Oregon before beginning their journey home. The expedition returned to St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Over the course of 28 months, they traveled 8,000 miles. In spite of the grueling journey through unknown territory, the only expedition death resulted from appendicitis.

2006 Lewis & Clark "Triumphant Return to St. Louis" Commemorative Cover
Item #571475 – Commemorative Cover marking Lewis & Clark’s return to St. Louis

The Lewis and Clark expedition discovered vital information about America’s new territory and the native tribes who inhabited the land. Lewis and Clark described 178 plants and 122 species of animals encountered as they traveled along the Missouri, across the Continental Divide, and to the Pacific Ocean. Carefully documented information gathered by the group members resulted in the first accurate mapping of the United States west of the Mississippi River.

Click here for more stamps and covers honoring the expedition.

Click here to read daily journal entries from Lewis, Clark, and others involved in the expedition.

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  2. Great article Mystic. You have got me questioning how they were able to have Sacajawea with her infant join their expedition. I will have to do some research. However it came to be it was brilliant that it diverted hostile actions.

    1. She was an extraordinary woman, really a teenager at the time. I encourage you to do the research regarding her part in the expedition.

  3. How Brave and Skilled ( and smart to have that Air Rifle with them)
    that group were. They and Jefferson should never be forgotten.

  4. The expedition actually reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. One little but interesting factoid: When Clark wrote, “Ocian (sic.) in view! O! the joy!” he wasn’t actually viewing the Pacific Ocean. It was the Columbia River estuary with the ocean still several miles further west. The men were wet and miserable from the nearly constant rain, but Clark later wrote, “Great joy in camp. We are in view of the Ocian (sic.), this great Pacific Octean (sic.) which we have been so long anxious to see.” Clark was a notoriously bad speller.

  5. At the time of the 200th anniversary of the expedition, the wife and I were interested in learning of events along the route they took. Sadly this important journey was all but ignored in most places. We pended our trip until 2010 when we made a road trip to many of the places L&C stopped. Well worth the trip even if we were a few years late for the anniversary.

  6. This group of people were the most courageous explorers since the Viking’s, Europeans and the early settlers who discovered and established our hemisphere. Their achievements were only eclipsed by our space program and the still amazing moon landing’s – the greatest event in human history. Seems like I read that Meriwether Lewis adopted Sacagawea’s two children upon her death. Much loved and respected by the group, this Native-American woman’s legacy will never be matched and forever remembered.

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