Lewis and Clark: The Journey Ends

The triumphant return of the Lewis and Clark expedition

The Astoria Column serves as a memorial for the explorers Lewis and Clark with President Jefferson. (Benjamin Zingg)
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After reaching the Pacific Ocean in November 1805, the corps established Fort Clatsop, near present-day Astoria, Oregon, as its winter quarters. Then, on March 23, 1806, the weary explorers headed for home and St. Louis. They retrieved their horses from the Nez Percé Indians and crossed the Bitterroot Mountains. The expedition separated into two parties near today's Lolo, Idaho, to explore the country more thoroughly on the return trip; the groups would be apart for more than a month. During that time, Lewis' company was attacked by Blackfoot warriors, two of whom were killed in the fighting, the expedition's only bloodshed. Shortly afterward, the half-blind private Pierre Cruzatte mistook Lewis for an elk and shot him in the thigh. By the time Lewis was reunited with Clark, his leg was nearly mended. Reaching St. Louis on September 23, 1806, Clark noted, "We were met by all the village and received a harty welcom." The corps' 8,000-mile journey was over.

Sgt. John Ordway
Sergeant Ordway, one of the original members of the corps, had helped organize the expedition's first winter camp near St. Louis. Like the other sergeants, Ordway kept a journal, but he was the only one to record a daily entry. On September 21, 1806, as the corps reached St. Charles (in present-day Missouri), Ordway wrote: "Towards evening we arived at St. Charles fired three rounds and Camped at the lower end of the Town. the people of the Town gathered on the bank and could hardly believe that it was us for they had heard and had believed that we were all dead and were forgotton."

That fall, Ordway also accompanied Lewis and a delegation of Mandan and Osage Indians to Washington, D.C. to discuss future U.S. trade with these tribes. He later sold his journal to Lewis and Clark for $300, and moved to the Missouri Territory, where he married and began farming land near New Madrid. In December 1811 three major earthquakes struck the area; between 500 and 1,000 people perished. By the time a fifth earthquake hit, February 7, 1812, scarcely a house remained standing, and New Madrid became a ghost town. Little is known of Ordway after this; scholars speculate his farmland may have been rendered useless from the earthquakes and that he died in poverty.

Capt. Meriwether Lewis
On September 23, 1806, Lewis wrote to President Jefferson: "It is with pleasure that I anounce to you the safe arrival of myself and party.... In obedience to your orders we have penitrated the Continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country to affirm with confidence that we have discovered the most practicable rout which dose exist across the continent by means of the navigable branches of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers."

Both Lewis and Clark were generously rewarded for their services, each receiving large parcels of land and double pay. President Jefferson appointed Lewis governor of the Territory of Upper Louisiana in March 1807; inexplicably, Lewis waited a year before going to St. Louis to take up his new duties. Once there, he got himself into debt by buying land and in preparing the expedition journals for publication. President James Madison, who had succeeded Jefferson, declined to reimburse him for expense money he requested to return the Mandan and Osage delegation to their homeland, and Secretary of War William Eustis intimated that Lewis would profit from the funds. In August 1809, a distressed Lewis wrote to Eustis: "I have never received a penny of public Money.... I have been informed Representations have been made against me,—all I wish is a full and fair Investigation." In late 1809, Lewis left St. Louis for Washington, D.C. to clear his name. Severely depressed, Lewis attempted suicide twice en route. Upon arriving at a roadhouse in Tennessee on October 10, the 35-year-old explorer ended his life by shooting himself with two pistols.

James Neelly, Indian agent to the Chickasaw Nation, immediately wrote to Thomas Jefferson: "It is with extreme pain that I have to inform you of the death of His Excellency Meriwether Lewis, Governor of upper Louisiana who died on the morning of the 11th Instant and I am sorry to say by Suicide.... [I] had him as decently Buried as I could in that place—if there is any thing wished by his friends to be done to his grave I will attend to their Instructions."

After Lewis' death, the Madison administration agreed to pay the balance of the disputed bills.

Capt. William Clark
Although Clark did not get the captain's commission that Lewis had recommended, Clark was granted two appointments: brigadier general of militia, and superintendent of Indian affairs for the Territory of Upper Louisiana. In 1813 he was appointed governor of the Missouri Territory, a position he held until 1820. After Lewis' death, the expedition journals were sent to Clark, who turned them over to editor Nicholas Biddle. The two-volume journals were presented to the public in 1814, ten years after the corps began its epic journey; their publication caused little stir.


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