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Category Archives: Exploration

It’s about time! First we’ve heard of him in 13 months!

we have just heard from Capt. Lewis, who wintered 1600. miles up the Missouri; all well. 45. chiefs of 6. different nations from that quarter are forwarded by him to St. Louis on their way to this place. our agent at St. Louis will endeavor to prevail on them to stay there till autumn & then come on. should they insist on coming immediately they will arrive in July, & may derange my departure.
Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, June 24, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Communication between leaders used to take a LONG time!
The President covered a number of topics in this letter to his daughter. One was receiving the first report from Meriwether Lewis since May 1804, when the Corps of Discovery departed St. Louis for the western sea. They had wintered with the Mandan Indians on the northern plains. In April, 1805, when the ice cleared on the Mississippi, most of the Corps headed west. Fifteen of the men, though, navigated the keelboat back to St. Louis, with all the plant and animal specimens collected to date. Their trove included a live prairie dog, which eventually made it all the way to Washington City!

In addition to specimens, Lewis had persuaded a number of Indian chiefs to return with the keelboat and journey on to Washington to meet the President.

The original plans for the Corps called for them to send another contingent home when they reached the mountains. Jefferson expected a second report, which never came. At the Rocky Mountains, the challenge ahead seemed so arduous that Lewis and Clark were unwilling to diminish their manpower.

Lack of a second report caused practically all to give up on the Corps, believing them to have perished somewhere in the great unknown west of the Mandan villages. Jefferson maintained confidence in Lewis for their safe return. It would be 16 more months before that confidence was rewarded by Lewis’ next letter, written from St. Louis in late September, 1806.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Animals, Exploration, Horticulture, Lewis & Clark, Louisiana Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

We start with the bones.

The work we are now doing, is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeate it. for this we are much indebted to you not only for the labour & time you have devoted to it, but for the excellent method of which you have set the example, and which I hope will be the model to be followed by others. we shall delineate with correctness the great arteries [rivers] of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin.
Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, May 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders build a strong foundation first.
Lewis and Clark were not the only river explorers in Jefferson’s administration. Just months after they departed St. Louis in May 1804, Dunbar (1749-1810) was commissioned to explore the Red and/or Arkansas Rivers in the Mississippi’s western watershed (present day Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma). This lengthy, technical letter following the completed mission concludes with Jefferson’s methodology and grand design.

The excellent work completed by Dunbar’s labor and skill made further investigation of those rivers unnecessary. It also set a high standard for others. The “arteries” or river bones of the nation, once accurately described as Dunbar had done, would become the “canvas” or skeleton which future explorers could begin to fill in.

“… [your] educational and inspiring opening keynote …
was the perfect kick-off for our own professional “voyages of discovery.”
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Government's proper role, Louisiana Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

About your brother, Meriwether …

I inclose you a letter directed to your brother which came to me under cover a few days ago. I have the pleasure also to inform you that we have lately recieved thro a channel meriting entire confidence, advice that on the 4th. of Aug. he was at the mouth of the river Plate, 600 miles up the Missouri, where he had met a great council of the Missouris, Panis, & Ottos, at their invitation … he will be through his whole course as safe as at home. believing that this information would be acceptable to yourself, his mother & friends, I communicate it with pleasure …
To Reuben Lewis, November 6, 1804

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders keep family members in the loop.
The President forwarded a letter he had received for Meriwether Lewis to the latter’s younger brother and wrote of the latest account he’d had about his intrepid explorer. That report came days before, originating with someone who must have been coming downstream when Lewis was headed the opposite direction. The report was that Lewis and Clark were 600 miles upstream, at the mouth of the Platte River, just south of present day Omaha, NE. (Lewis’s journal records that date as July 21, 1804, two months after they departed St. Louis.)

The report also relayed a successful meeting with Indian chiefs, the desertion of two men, plans for some of the men to return the following spring and the rest to head on up the Missouri. There were numerous factual errors in the account, but it may have been the first word Jefferson had on their progress. Buoyed by his successful meeting with the chiefs, Lewis felt no danger lay ahead of them. Jefferson knew Lewis’ mother and brother would appreciate the reassurance.

There was plenty of danger ahead, but Lewis and Clark led their men successfully through it all and returned to St. Louis almost two years later.

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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Lewis & Clark Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

You lessened what we did not know. Thanks!

thanks for the Chart of the coast of Florida, & mouth of the Missisipi which he has been so good as to send him. at a time when we are endeavoring to acquire exact knolege of that country, in order to make our first arrangements understandingly, so accurate a chart whose existence was not before known here, is doubly precious …
To William Marshall, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders appreciate those who make everyone smarter.
Marshall, a South Carolina lawyer, had come into possession of a map which he claimed to be an accurate chart of the coast of West Florida (the panhandle), the coast of Louisiana, and the mouth of the Mississippi River, plus river depth soundings some distance north of New Orleans. He forwarded that map to the President.

Accurate knowledge about Louisiana in 1803 was as miniscule as the territory was large. Anything that expanded its documentation was like gold to Jefferson. He contended the purchase of Louisiana, vast lands west of the Mississippi, also included some land on the east side of that river known as West Florida. That portion was the Gulf Coast east to the Perdido River, the current boundary between Alabama and Florida. This map provided additional intelligence toward that end.

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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Well, you just never know. (Or, size does matter.)

I was favored … about 4 years ago, with a piece of the rock Salt of Louisiana; and judging from your communication to congress, in which mention is made of that Salt mountain, that you had never seen a specimen of the Salt, have taken the liberty of forwarding to you a piece thereof;
To Thomas Jefferson from John Bradford, November 29, 1803

Th: Jefferson presents his salutations to mr Bradford and returns him thanks for the specimen of rock-salt from the Missouri which he has been so kind as to send him, and which came safely to hand.
To John Bradford, December 24, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
We should desire leaders with curious, inquisitive minds.
The President had forwarded to Congress a quantity of mostly speculative written material about Louisiana, but he hadn’t read it and didn’t vouch for its accuracy. One account was of a great salt mountain “about 1,000 miles up the Missouri … 180 miles long and 45 miles wide.” Kentuckian John Bradford had been given a chunk of Louisiana salt from a man in St. Louis. Familiar with the salt mountain reference and Jefferson’s lack of evidence, Bradford shared a specimen. The ever-gracious Jefferson acknowledged the gesture and expressed his thanks.

The opposition Federalist press had a field day ridiculing the salt mountain! In the footnotes accompanying Bradford’s letter, that press also speculated on the existence of:
– “an immense lake of molasses”
– “an extensive vale of hasty pudding”
– “vast river of golden eagles [$10 gold pieces] ready coined”
– “immense mountain of solid refined sugar
– “a considerable lake of pure Whiskey”
– or perhaps the salt mountain was “… Lot’s wife, magnified by the process of time”

The “salt mountain” was mostly likely a salt plain along the Cimarron River in western Oklahoma.

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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Keep your focus. DO NOT do that!

… one thing however we are decided in: that you must not undertake the winter excursion which you propose in yours of Oct. 3. such an excursion will be more dangerous than the main expedition up the Missouri, & would, by an accident to you, hazard our main object, which, since the acquisition of Louisiana, interests every body in the highest degree. The object of your mission is single, the direct water communication from sea to sea
To Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders derail risky tangents.
Lewis’ last letter to the President on October 3 had been from near Cincinnati on the Ohio River. By November 16, Lewis would have been in the St. Louis area, on the Illinois side, and considering his winter plans before leading the Expedition the following spring. Lewis told Jefferson he was planning on a solo horseback trip west, something of a personal scouting effort prior to the main event. Lewis was also recommending his co-leader William Clark take a separate solo trip for additional reconnoitering.

Jefferson was horrified at his protégé’s suggestion but handled it diplomatically. He began with news about the Louisiana acquisition, plans for a government in New Orleans, and the need to avoid offending Spain until the new territory was officially in American possession. There were several matters he left to Lewis’ discretion, affirming his confidence in the man’s judgment. Then he dropped the hammer.

Under no circumstances was Lewis to risk his life or health, or Clark’s, with these unnecessary explorations! There was a single goal before them, finding a water route to the Pacific, and nothing must be allowed that would unnecessarily jeopardize that endeavor.

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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Lewis & Clark Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Go this way or that way but NOT that way.

… you will find us in the hilliest & healthiest country in the world. I would recommend to you to come & return by different routs. the shortest and levellest is by Fairfax court house, Songster’s, Brown’s, Slate run church, Elk run church & Orange court house. the best country and entertainment, tho’ along a hilly road, is by Fairfax C. H. the Red house Prince Wm. C. H. Fauquier C. H. Culpeper C. H. and Orange C. H. the worst, longest, & most uninteresting road is by Fredericksburg.
To Henry Dearborn, August 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Thoughtful leaders encourage exploration and provide options.
Jefferson was at Monticello for two months, escaping what he called the “sickly season” along the coast and tidewater region, where the yellow fever sickened and killed many in late summer. Learning that Dearborn, his Secretary of War, was traveling with his family to see James and Dolley Madison at their home, the President invited him to come 30 miles further and visit him.

While this region of central Virginia was dotted with towns, there were no public roads to speak of, only acknowledged bare-earth segments or trails from one courthouse, tavern or inn to another. Fording creeks and climbing hills in a horse drawn carriage, especially after a rain, added extra challenges. Ever the explorer, Jefferson advised Dearborn not to come and go by the same route but to see more of the countryside.

Jefferson suggested the three most likely routes:
1. The shortest, fastest and most level (If you just want to get here)
2. The most appealing, though hillier (Challenging but enjoy the journey)
3. “the worst, longest, & most uninteresting” (You have been warned!)

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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , |

If something is not the truth, is it a lie?

… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.

Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.

Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”

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1 Comment Posted in Diplomacy, Exploration, Lewis & Clark Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

This is your homework for the NEXT THREE YEARS.

… The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it’s course & communication with the waters of the Pacific ocean, may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.
Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri …
Instructions for Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders provide detailed instructions when oversight isn’t possible.
This 2,400 word document outlined the goals for Meriwether Lewis’ mission west the following year. The heart of that mission was described above: Find a water route across the continent for the purpose of commerce. Everyone knew that route, the fabled Northwest Passage, existed, but no one had found it. Lewis’ main job was to find it. That passage would allow travel by water between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

As he went, this was to be a scientific mission as well. They were also to:
– Document all animal and plant life, paying particular attention to those species unknown in the U.S.
– Learn as much as possible about the native people and remain on the best possible terms with them.
– Document the land itself, its geography, geology, topography, resources and rivers.

When the Corps of Discovery returned in May 1806, the men had written about 1.5 million words in their journals, fulfilling most of President Jefferson’s instructions.

“Clearly the visits with President Jefferson and Captain Clark
have set the standard for future conferences.”
Director of Education, Indiana Historical Society
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Leave a comment Posted in Exploration, Lewis & Clark, Native Americans, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , |

This is gonna be BIG!

the river Missouri, & the Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered desireable by their connection with the Missisipi, & consequently with us … an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men … might explore the whole line, even to the Western ocean, have conferences with the natives on the subject of commercial intercourse, get admission among them for our traders as others are admitted, agree on convenient deposits for an interchange of articles, and return with the information acquired in the course of two summers … The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars ‘for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the US,’ [is needed] …
To the Senate and House of Representatives, January 18, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders know huge accomplishments have humble beginnings.
Tucked in near the end of a long letter to the Congress on improving relations with the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River was this innocent-sounding suggestion: We should know more about the Missouri River and the people who live along it. He proposed a dozen men led by a single officer to explore the whole length of the Missouri and perhaps all the way to the Pacific Ocean at a cost of $2,500. He stated four goals:
1. Confer with the Indians about commercial opportunities
2. Arrange for American traders to come among them
3. Scout locations for trading posts
4. Gather information about the land along the river.

What the President had in mind, of course, was what he would call the Corps of Discovery, known to us as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. His message to Congress was confidential, and he wanted it kept that way for the time being.

The Louisiana Purchase, not even imagined by the visionary Jefferson when this letter was written, would change the entire scope of this exploration. Instead of a small company quietly exploring Spanish territory, it would become a military venture of some four dozen men, led by five officers, establishing their claim to American soil. (The $2,500 Jefferson requested here would be dwarfed by the cost of the much larger mission, about $38,000.)

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Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Exploration, Lewis & Clark Tagged , , , , , , , |