What is courage? Courage can be defined in many ways, depending on the person. Lewis and Clark were two of the earliest souls to display courage in a way not a lot of people could. The effort behind the westward expansion was very prevalent back in the 1800s. Many were curious about the land they could potentially own, but there were not a lot of people brave enough to act on it.
This is where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark come in. In 1804, Thomas Jefferson asked Lewis to investigate the land south of the Mississippi River. Knowing the task would not be easy, Lewis appointed Clark to help him through the journey. They encountered many difficult obstacles along the way, but the journey paid off and ended up giving information about land in America that may not have been known otherwise.
Meriwether Lewis was a smart intellectual with a lot of background that made him adequate for the expedition. He joined the Virginia militia in 1794 to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. After that, he joined the army. Doing so well in the army, he continued to move up in rank before being asked to be personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson. This was a very important job at the time, and Lewis being asked to obtain the position said a lot about his character in the army.
He was headstrong, courageous, and ready for a challenge. While he was great for the physical aspect of the journey, he also was a great choice for the intellectual part of the journey as well. He traveled to study many topics with some of the brightest scientists in the world. Meriwether Lewis was an overall exceedingly smart individual. He wasn’t like most of the men back in that time frame, so he made a great candidate for the journey in Jefferson’s eyes.
Although Lewis had many characteristics in his favor, no one is perfect and Meriwether Lewis was certainly no exception. Being on a long, strenuous journey is enough to take a toll on an individual’s mind. Lewis endured mental instability on the latter end of his trip. It is believed he developed depression throughout the journey and suffered alcohol abuse. Because of these factors, it is indicated he took his own life in 1809 near Nashville, Tennessee.
Lewis and Clark could not do the expedition on their own. There were multiple women who were great help on their expedition. Julia Hancock Clark was well-liked by Clark, so much that he named a river after her. Sacagawea was also a tremendous help to Lewis and Clark’s journey. She helped interpret and guide them on their journey.
She was a very smart and sophisticated lady who had a decent impact on the excursion. Just like any other blind adventure, Lewis and Clark did not know what they were going to encounter. They ended up stumbling upon this little village area where some ladies were kind enough to open a cabin to them. The ladies provided the duo with warmth, food, and drinks. This shows the kindness and the lengths that some people would go through back then to help people in need.
As one would suspect, the journey of Lewis and Clark was not an easy task. There were many personal obstacles as well as geographical obstacles. They also encountered people that weren’t as welcoming as others. The illnesses that the travelers could have gotten were not always treated right. In fact, they often thought that vomiting was the best way to cure a sickness.
These days, we are smart enough to know that this is not the case and we also have different options on how to treat dreadful illnesses. Back in their time frame, they did not have many other options so they were forced to figure it out the best they could. The guessing of proper treatment for a member of their group cost some people their good health, as well as other people lost their life.
Another geographical problem Lewis and Clark faced was how to get across rivers and other bodies of water with their bags and traveling equipment. With America being such a vacillating piece of land, they also encountered many hills and mountains. They traveled across the vast area called the Rocky Mountains. Meriwether Lewis described the trek in one a journal he kept throughout the adventure. Many people on the journey kept a journal of their discoveries and their celebrations as well as their hardships and different challenges.
The Rocky Mountains were one of the hardships during this excursion. Not only was it a very treacherous walk, but it also was one that didn’t guarantee food. Luckily, in Lewis’s journal, he writes about how they hunt different animals they see and obtain food. Lewis wrote, “we killed a few Pheasants, and I killed a prarie woolf which together with the ballance of our horse beef and some crawfish which we obtained in the creek enabled us to make one more hearty meal, not knowing where the next was to be found.” The journals served as evidence to the fact that many people struggled on this journey.
It was very hard to get food as well, so whenever they did get food, they had to savor it. “As we had killed nothing during the day we now boiled and eat the remainder of our pork, having yet a little flour and parched meal.” They didn’t quite know what the reward was even going to be of this journey and they also didn’t know that they were making history, they just knew they were doing what they were being asked to do, which was exploring the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase.
Ambrose does a good job at resembling Undaunted Courage to that of a novel. Undaunted Courage covers the journey very well and it is easy to follow along. One can also see the different point of views throughout the journey to make it almost as if you are there with them. This journey was rough and people are lucky to have books like Undaunted Courage and journals to tell the story like it happened yesterday. Some of the history that is important to our culture aren’t available like that.
It is easy to read history like you read a fiction story. With how different culture and society is today, it almost is like it was fiction back in that day. When reading historical books, one learns a lot that can be hard to believe which is why it resembles fiction in a way. Historical books are different from fiction, however, because they actually did happen. So, when someone reads historical books it is important to keep an open mind so they actually learn from what they read.
Overall, the Lewis and Clark expedition was one of the most triumphant expeditions to ever be taken. There were a lot of firsts during the adventure and no one will be able to take away from the effects it had on the world today. We have land that we might have never come across. Some important people in history were established because of this trip.
There also were some negatives of the trip. They weren’t probably prepared to endure whatever weather or illnesses popped up. They could have waited a tad longer before exploring to plan more and make sure they were truly ready to take on what was ahead. However, back in the day, that kind of protection wasn’t readily available so it is understandable why they didn’t get that luxury. It is crazy that they accomplished so much with the little they had. It truly shows that a task can be completed no matter how hard things might get with the right attitude and perseverance.
As stated multiple times in the paper, Lewis and Clark and the people on the voyage went through many climates and sights to explore the great land beyond. They saw many beautiful sights from mountains, to valleys, to plains, to different bodies of water. It would have been a life-changing experience.
If someone were to go on this journey today, I believe many factors of the trip would be different. We would be much more prepared. I think that we could recruit people who study the outdoors and know nature and know what to look for when it comes to different places and habitats. I also think we would definitely be better in the medical aspects of the trip. If someone was hurt, there are many tools a person can carry to help someone on-the-go. If things are very bad, there are hospitals all over the country now with great doctors and multiple treatments that weren’t available back in the day.
Whoever took the journey would be ready in ways that Lewis and Clark never would have dreamed because they didn’t even know it was possible. I feel like we have a pretty general grasp on what is on our whole planet, thanks to science. If we did want to venture out somewhere and see if we could discover anything, I think it would not be near as dangerous and difficult for the people today as it was for the people back then.
In conclusion, the Lewis and Clark expedition was a truly treacherous journey that came out very rewarding in the end. Although at the time, it was not easy and it probably took an inevitable toll on the people involved, it was a great way to establish territory people never knew existed, and make life-altering history.
- Lewis, Meriwether, Expedition Journal (West of the Apps, 1807.)
- Ambrose E., Stephen, Undaunted Courage (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 139.
- History.com Editors, “History.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/lewis-and-clark(accessed November 20, 2018.)