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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are known as trailblazing explorers of the American West, not pioneering scientists. But during their 8,000-mile journey from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean and back between 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark discovered 122 animal species, including iconic American animals like the grizzly bear, coyote, prairie dog and bighorn sheep.
When President Thomas Jefferson first charged his assistant Lewis with the mission of finding a passable river route to the Pacific, he included an assignment to “[observe] the animals of the country generally, & especially those not known in the U.S. the remains and accounts of any which may [be] deemed rare or extinct.”
Jefferson was especially enticed by fossils recovered of mastodons and a type of giant land sloth he dubbed the megalonyx (“big claw”). Unsure of what species the men would encounter in the wilds beyond Missouri, Lewis took crash courses in botany, zoology and specimen collection and preservation from the best scientific minds in Philadelphia.
Clark Describes a 'Village of Small Animals'
One of the most remarkable periods of the expedition (zoologically speaking) occurred between September 4 and September 24, 1804 during a 263-mile trek from the Niobrara River in Nebraska to the Teton River in modern-day Pierre, South Dakota. In a span of just over two weeks, Lewis and Clark encountered four classic Western animals for the first time: the prairie dog, pronghorn, coyote and the jack rabbit.
READ MORE: 10 Little-Known Facts About the Lewis and Clark Expedition
In his September 7, 1804 journal entry, Clark describes a “Village of Small animals” discovered in Boyd County, Nebraska. The men found a sloping hillside containing “great numbers of holes on top of which these little animals Set erect make a Whistling noise and whin alarmed Step into their hole.”
Anxious to capture a live specimen, the men tried digging down into the burrows, but after reaching a depth of six feet, they switched tactics and attempted to flush the critters out.
“They spent an entire day hauling buckets of water up from the Missouri River and dumping them down the holes,” says Jay Buckley, a history professor at Brigham Young University and author of several books on Lewis and Clark, and Western exploration. “Eventually they flushed one out, put it in a cage and sent it to Jefferson. Incredibly, it made the trip alive.
There was some disagreement over what to name the curious creatures. Lewis called them “barking squirrels” while Clark referred to them as “ground rats” or “burrowing squirrels.” It was Sergeant John Ordway, an Army volunteer, who first called them prairie dogs.
Lewis Marvels at a 'Jackass Rabbit'
On September 14, 1804, near Chamberlain, South Dakota, one of the men killed a large white hare whose long, donkey-like ears inspired the name “jackass rabbit,” later shortened to jack rabbit. In his journal, Lewis marveled at the jack rabbit’s flexible ears, which the animal could “dilate and throw… forward, or contract and fold... back at pleasure.” He observed the jack rabbit could leap 18 to 20 feet in a single bound.
On the very same day near the mouth of Ball Creek in South Dakota, Clark shot a “Buck Goat” of an intriguing species of deer. In his journal, Lewis described the striking animal as having forked horns or “prongs” and its “brains of the back of his head.” Consulting his eight-volume A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, published in 1764 by W. Owen, Lewis concluded that “he is more like the Antilope or Gazelle of Africa than any other Species of Goat.”
In fact, the pronghorn is neither goat, antelope or deer, and belongs to its own family, Antilocapridae. The pronghorn is also the fastest four-legged species in North America, reaching top sprinting speeds of 60 mph. Lewis and Clark stuffed two pronghorn, one male and one female, and shipped them back East to Jefferson.
The mournful wails and yelps of coyotes followed Lewis and Clark to the Pacific and back, but the team shot and identified the first of this new species on September 18, 1804 near Chamberlain, South Dakota, and Clark called it a “Prairie Wolff.”
“I killed a Prairie Wolff, about the size of a gray fox, bushy tail head and ears like a Wolf, Some fur burrows in the ground and barks like a Small Dog,” wrote Clark.
Grizzlies, Rattlesnakes, Bison Nearly Killed the Explorers
Not all of Lewis and Clark’s animal encounters were so calm and collected.
“One of my favorite moments is when Lewis is all alone at the Great Falls in Montana,” says Buckley. “In a 24-hour period, he’s nearly bitten by a rattlesnake, attacked by a wolverine, charged by a bison and eaten by a grizzly bear. That night, in his journal he says, ‘The entire animal kingdom has conspired against me!’”
As for grizzlies, Lewis and Clark were skeptical at first of the native Mandan and Hidatsa’s accounts of “white bears” weighing over 1,000 pounds, and the explorers scoffed at the war paint and other “supersticious rights” the Indians performed before setting out to hunt the mythical beasts.
But later, while traversing Montana, Lewis and Clark became believers. In his trademark creative spelling, Lewis described “a most tremendious looking anamal, and extreemly hard to kill notwithstanding he had five balls through his lungs and five others in various parts… and made the most tremendous roaring from the moment he was shot.”
When Lewis had his close call with a grizzly in Great Falls, he described a massive bear chasing him “open mouthed and full speed” into the river. With nowhere to run, Lewis spun around to face the grizzly armed only with his spear-headed “espontoon.” To his great relief, the animal retreated.
“So it was, and I feelt myself not a little gratifyed that he had declined the combat,” wrote Lewis.
Despite the great care taken by Lewis and Clark to collect specimens and include detailed descriptions and measurements of plants and animals in their journals, the men never achieved scientific fame in their lifetimes. After their triumphant return in 1806, Lewis planned to write a three-volume account of their expedition with an entire volume dedicated “exclusively to scientific research, and principally to the natural history of those hitherto unknown regions.”
But Lewis, overburdened in his new post as governor of Louisiana, died suddenly in 1809, and when the expedition journals were finally published in 1814, the editors left out almost all of the zoological and scientific reports. It wasn’t until 1893 that a new edition of the journals was published by naturalist Elliott Coues, who correctly credited Lewis and Clark as scientific trailblazers as well as daring American explorers.
Expansion and Exploration in the New Republic: The Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark ExpeditionLibrary of Congress Thomas Jefferson, by Gilbert Stuart National Gallery of Art
According to eminent historian William J. Fowler, the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States, “was the best deal in real estate since the Garden of Eden.” It’s easy to understand why Fowler would gush so. For 15 million dollars the United States purchased 828,000 square miles between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains at a cost of roughly three cents an acre. It was the greatest achievement of President Thomas Jefferson’s administration and one of the most decisive executive actions in the history of the American Presidency.
When the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution in 1783, the westernmost boundary of the United States was the Mississippi River. Americans living in the interior and on the frontier relied heavily upon the Mississippi River for trade. At the mouth of the Mississippi River stood New Orleans, a port that Americans who used the Mississippi River sorely needed for trade, particularly as a point of export. Throughout the eighteenth century, New Orleans drifted between French and Spanish control. When France controlled New Orleans, they permitted the Americans the “right of deposit” to store goods for export there. Once France ceded control of New Orleans to Spain, however, the Spanish refused to grant Americans the “right of deposit.” This angered many Americans who relied on Mississippi trade for their livelihood and deeply troubled the third American President, Thomas Jefferson, who looked to the American interior as an empire of liberty, where his vision of a society of yeoman gentlemen farmers peacefully tilling the soil could flourish.
1805 Map of the Louisiana Purchase Library of Congress
By 1803 France was back in control of New Orleans, but the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was cash strapped. A portion of his army had recently been devastated in Haiti by a combination of malaria and the insurgency of Haitian revolutionaries, led by Toussaint L’Oveture. For some time, Napoleon considered a French North American Empire, but after the sequence of events in Haiti, he changed his mind. Initially Jefferson was simply interested in purchasing New Orleans, but when Napoleon offered the American negotiation minister, James Monroe, the whole of the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson happily accepted the deal. It is of interest to note that under Constitutional mandate, only Congress can sign a treaty with a foreign power. Jefferson, in a move that would have made Alexander Hamilton proud, side-stepped the Constitution and ordered his minister to cinch the deal.
The Louisiana Purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States. What would become Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska and parts of present-day New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado would all eventually emerge from the new territory.
Because of his keen intellectual curiosity and his deep interest in natural history, Jefferson wanted to see for himself exactly what he purchased. One of the greatest explorations in American history followed the Louisiana Purchase, when Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead a band of soldiers, mountain men, natives, and a slave to tour the new territory. Known as the Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out from Saint Louis in 1804 and returned in 1806.
William Clark, by Charles Willson Peale Wikimedia Commons
Jefferson directed Lewis and Clark to first and foremost find the elusive Northwest Passage, a body of water believed to connect the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson also instructed the explorers to record all the plant and animal life they encountered, map the territory, and engage with the Native peoples of the region on friendly terms.
For the most part, the explorers had friendly encounters with various Indian groups. This was partly due to another of the most important individuals to participate in the expedition: a Shoshone woman named Sacajawea, who served as a mediator between Lewis and Clark and the Indian peoples they met.
Sacajawea proved an able ally and in one instance brokered a deal with Indians to get Lewis and Clark much needed horses. Accompanying her was her husband, Pierre Charbonneau, and her infant son, strapped to her back in a papoose.
The party traveled west via the Missouri River using flatboats, small bateaus, and pirogues. When they reached the headwaters of the Missouri in present day Montana, they realized there was no such thing as the Northwest Passage. They had reached the Continental Divide where waters to the East drain into either the Atlantic Ocean of the Gulf of Mexico and waters to the west drain into the Pacific Ocean. Leaving their larger watercraft behind, they portaged for 17 miles across the Continental Divide, carrying with them their small boats, heavy equipment, supplies and gathered specimens. It was a feat of heroic endurance.
Meriwether Lewis, by Charles Willson Peale Wikimedia Commons
The expedition provided information beyond anyone in the East’s wildest dreams. Lewis and Clark were hailed as national heroes upon their return in 1806. During their exploration, Lewis kept a diary, and both men collected samples of flora and fauna that they sent back to Jefferson, either in Washington, DC or at Monticello, his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. The entrance parlor of Monticello is decorated with many items secured during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The animal that most impressed members of the Corps of Discovery were the millions of bison they encountered. A century after Lewis and Clark encountered several million buffalo, the animal almost went extinct in the wake of western settlement. Today the buffalo has recovered after federal protection intervened on the species’ behalf. Their expedition led directly to the opening of the western interior of the United States to settlers.
It is a tragic irony that, the biggest losers as a result of the Louisiana Purchase were the Native Americans, given that Sacajawea, an Indian, had played such a vital role in the expedition. Regardless, the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent Lewis and Clark Expedition paved the way for a modern United States, opening for many the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty of the Rocky Mountains and beyond.
How Lewis and Clark Worked
The Corps of Discovery was the first American group to undertake the journey, and its impact can't be underestimated. The expedition introduced Americans and Europeans to hundreds of varieties of plants and animals, met with dozens of native tribes and produced an accurately mapped route to the Pacific Ocean -- and returned home safely. The group came to embody the values of manifest destiny, prodding other adventurers to embark on their own journeys of discovery and exploration.
The expedition opened up new territory for the fur and lumber trade and pointed out the best lands for future settlement and agriculture. It allowed a young country to blossom into greatness, because more land had equated to more resources and therefore, more power. The influence of the expedition is incalculable. For better or worse, there is no doubt that the expedition of Lewis and Clark forever changed the course of the country's history.
To learn more about the Lewis and Clark expedition, take a look at the links below.
LEWIS AND CLARK HISTORIC SITES
Lewis Rock - From Fort Rock looking north across the Gallatin River stands what is now called "Lewis Rock." Lewis ascended this point to view and chart the rivers and surrounding country. He writes "ascended the point of a high limestone cliff from whence I commanded a most perfect view of the neighboring country" Lewis Rock is located outside the park boundary and is on private property.
The Parker Homestead consists of 1.67 acres and a typical sod-roofed pioneer building. It was built and lived in by Net and Rosa Parker in the early 1900s. In 1997, it was repaired by the Parks Division of the Fish, Game, and Wildlife with the aid of local citizens to prevent further structural decline. The homestead presents a rare opportunity for photographers and the artist with its sod-roofed log cabin nestled under a few large cottonwoods.
Fort Rock - As Lewis views the country, he notes "between the middle and SE fork, there is a handsome site for a fortification." This site is now called Fort Rock though a fort had never been established. Today, an excellent interpretive center and picnic area welcome travelers.
Lewis & Clark Encampment - The Corp of Discovery camped at this location from July 27-30, 1806. They stayed three days, Lewis' journal explains, "believing this to be and essential point in the geography of this western part of the continent I determined to remain at all events until obtained the necessary data for fixing its latitudes longitude & c."
Sacajawea Capture Site - Lewis writes, "Our present camp is precisely on the spot that the Snake Indians were encamped at the time the Mennetaree of the Knife R. first came in sight of them five years since. From hence they retreated about three miles up Jefferson's river and concealed themselves in the woods, the Mennetaree pursued, attacked them, killed 4 men, 4 women, a number of boys, and made prisoners of all the females and four boys, Sah-cah-gar-we-ah Indian woman was one of the female prisoners taken at that time though cannot discover that she shows any inaction of sorrow in recollection this event, or of joy in being again restored to her native country' If she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere."
Lewis and Clark: The Journey Ends
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.
Clark biographer Landon Y. Jones notes: "For 30 years after the expedition, William Clark ranked as the leading federal official in the West, the point man for six Presidents, from Jefferson to Van Buren, who trusted him with protecting American interests on territory bitterly contested by both Britain and Spain." Clark embodied the contradictions of his time while he urged the government to treat Indians fairly, the treaties he brokered forced the relocation of tens of thousands. Clark died at age 68, in 1838, in the St. Louis home of his firstborn son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.
Seven years after her reunion with the Shoshone, Sacagawea and her husband turned up at Fort Manuel, a trading post near present-day Bismark, North Dakota, where Toussaint had found work as an interpreter with the Missouri Fur Company. Journalist Henry Brackenridge wrote that Sacagawea was ill "and longed to revisit her native country." She never got the chance. On December 20, 1812, John Luttig, the fort's chief clerk, wrote in his logbook that Sacagawea "died of a putrid fever she was a good and the best Women in the fort." She would have been about 25. She left behind two biological children: 7-year-old Jean Baptiste and 4-month-old Lisette.
The following year Luttig, possibly representing William Clark (for whom he had worked), petitioned the Orphans' Court in St. Louis for guardianship of Jean Baptiste and Lisette. (By then, Toussaint was presumed dead, having not been seen for six months.) Luttig's name was eventually crossed out on the petition and replaced with that of Clark, who, at the very least, paid for Baptiste's education. (Baptiste later traveled to Europe, where he remained for six years. Upon returning to the United States, he worked as a trapper with Jim Bridger and Kit Carson.) Lisette's fate, and that of Sacagawea's nephew, is unknown.
Over the course of the expedition, William Clark grew very fond of Sacagawea's baby, became his guardian and later financed his education at a St. Louis boarding school.
The known facts of Baptiste's life are few. In 1823, Duke Paul Wilhelm Friedrich Herzog of Wurttemberg, Germany, visited a trading post in present-day Kansas City, where he met the then 18-year-old man, who was working as a guide and interpreter. The two traveled to Europe, where Baptiste remained for six years. He fathered a child with a German woman, but the baby, a boy, died after three months, and Baptiste returned to the United States. He headed West, eventually working as a trapper with Jim Bridger and Kit Carson.
Baptiste settled in California, serving as alcalde, or magistrate, at the San Luis Rey Mission. In 1866, he joined gold prospectors headed for the Montana Territory. On the way, he developed pneumonia and died shortly thereafter, at age 61, in Oregon near the Idaho border, having outlived all of the members of the expedition except Sgt. Patrick Gass.
After the expedition ended, Clark traveled in 1807 to St. Louis to take up duties as chief Indian agent for the Territory of Upper Louisiana, bringing York with him. A rift developed between the two men: York had wanted to remain in Kentucky, near his wife, whom he hadn't seen in almost five years. He also petitioned Clark for his freedom—perhaps thinking of the double pay and 320 acres the other men received for their services on the expedition. These requests struck Clark as presumptuous coming from a slave. Clark eventually allowed York to return to Kentucky in 1808 for a short visit. But Clark wrote to his brother Jonathan: "If any attempt is made by york to run off, or refuse to provorm his duty as a Slave, I wish him Sent to New Orleans and Sold, or hired out to Some Severe master untill he thinks better of Such Conduct."
In a letter (now in the Jonathan Clark Papers—Temple Bodley Collection at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville) to his brother dated a few months later, Clark wrote: "I did wish to do well by him—but as he has got Such a notion about freedom and his emence Services, that I do not expect he will be of much Service to me again I do not think with him, that his Services has been So great (or my Situation would promit me to liberate him)."
York returned to St. Louis in early 1809, but Clark still viewed him unfavorably. "He is here but of verry little Service to me," Clark wrote to Jonathan. "[York is] insolent and Sulky, I gave him a Severe trouncing the other Day and he has much mended Sence."
The last mention of York in William Clark's letters appears in August 1809 Clark was so displeased with him that he determined to hire him out or sell him. John O'Fallon, Clark's nephew, wrote in 1811: "The term for which [York] was hired to Mr. Young yesterday expired but I believe agreable to request Mr. Fitzhugh has again hired him to a Mr. Mitchell living about seven miles from this place. I apprehend that he has been indifferently clothed if at all by Young. " O'Fallon further notes that York's wife had moved with her master and the rest of his household to Mississippi it is unlikely that York and his wife saw each other again. Ten years after the expedition's end, York was still enslaved, working as a wagoner for the Clark family.
In 1832, writer Washington Irving interviewed Clark and asked of York's fate. Clark replied that he had finally freed York and said, astonishingly, that his former slave wasn't happy with his freedom and tried to return to Clark—dying of cholera along the way.
But did he? In 1832, fur trader Zenas Leonard, visiting a Crow village in north-central Wyoming, "found a Negro man, who informed us that he first came to this country with Lewis and Clark—with whom he also returned to the state of Missouri, and in a few years returned again with a Mr. Mackinney, a trader on the Missouri river, and has remained here ever since—which is about ten or twelve years."
On January 17, 2001, President Clinton promoted York posthumously to the rank of honorary sergeant, Regular Army.
Sex, Dog Meat, and the Lash: Odd Facts About Lewis and Clark
Did you know that men of the native tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered frequently offered their wives and daughters to the explorers? Or that the Corps of Discovery frequently ate dogs? That Lewis and Clark got lost? These are only a few of the little known oddities about the famous expedition of 200 years ago.
Book editor Anthony Brandt highlights some of the oddities about one of the greatest adventures in history.
What Did Lewis and Clark Discover?
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark discovered 100 new animal species and 170 new plants while creating detailed maps of the new territory the United States purchased from the French during the Louisiana Purchase. The men traveled nearly 3,700 miles from the Mississippi River all the way to the Pacific Ocean on foot, horseback and boat.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition started on May 14, 1804, where the Missouri River empties into the Mississippi River. Clark was in charge of overseeing the men who accompanied them and mapping a route. This was a hard task because they had no reliable maps to use since it was new territory. Lewis collected a number of plant and animal specimens along the way and made scientific observations. Due to the rough terrain, the men only managed to travel about 12 to 14 miles on a good day.
Lewis and Clark made it back to St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Due to how long they were gone, many feared that they died on their journey. Despite the hardships the team faced while on this expedition, only one man died on the trip. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of a ruptured appendix while the group traveled down the Missouri River.
There was actually no scientific basis for calling the coyote the “archpredator.”
One of the remarkable things about this campaign is that, at the time it was launched in 1931, there had been no scientific studies of coyotes. No one had any idea what they ate. The hate campaign directed at the animal just assumed it fed on all the classic game species: mule deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and livestock sheep and calves.
Finally, the agency began to fund scientific studies of coyotes. What they discovered is that coyotes actually ate rodents, rabbits, fruit, all sorts of vegetables, some carrion, and mice, but had almost no impact whatsoever on the large game animals the Bureau had been arguing was their chief prey. By the late 1920s, the American Society of Mammologists was coming out in position papers against the campaign. But they weren’t able to make much of a dent. The agency just kept at it.
Meriwether Lewis discovered the lovely little plant Lewisias in August of 1805 in Montana. The low growing perennials are the state flower of the Montana. The plant blooms in white, pink and salmon blossoms each spring. The foliage is an evergreen rosette. The plant is commonly called bitterroot and is extremely drought tolerant.
- The famous Lewis and Clark Expedition is credited with discovering 178 plants species.
- The low growing perennials are the state flower of the Montana.
A TRUE STORY FROM EARLY MONTANA
In the spring of 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, left St. Louis in a keelboat and two large canoes. As they slowly made their way up the Missouri River they were warned by Native American tribes to watch out for “monsters” roaming near the great waterfalls of the Missouri. The Indians claimed that the bears were not easy to kill. In fact, they never attempted a bear hunt without at least six hunters in the hunting party.
The men of the Corps were not too worried. They figured their guns were so far superior to arrows that they had little to worry about. Nevertheless, they grew more and more curious about the mysterious bears as they traveled into the Montana area.
On May 14, 1805, about a year into the expedition, six men spotted a monstrous grizzly bear near the river’s edge. By that time they had already seen a few bears, but this beast was gigantic! Bear burgers for dinner, anyone?
They loaded their guns and sneaked up on the bear. Four of them shot at once. All four hit their target with two balls piercing the bear’s lungs. Well, this only made the grizzly bear angry. Crazy angry! It reared up with a bloodcurdling roar and charged. The other two men fired their guns. One ball broke the bear’s shoulder, but the grizzly kept coming, intent on ripping to shreds the first man it reached.
The men decided the time had come to forget about dinner. They ran for their lives. Two jumped into a canoe and paddled away. The other four hid in the willows and reloaded. Ready, fire!
Aha! The bear turned. Now he knew where the men were hiding. He charged again with a fearsome roar. The two closest men threw their guns to the ground and bolted to a 20-foot perpendicular bank. Feeling the bear breathing down their necks, they jumped from the cliff into the river below and swam like they had never swum before. The enraged bear leaped into the water after them, making quite a splash. The bear had almost reached the terrified swimmers when a shot rang out from the willows. It hit the grizzly in the head, killing it.
It had taken eight musket balls to bring down that “monster” grizzly bear. After many such close encounters, #Meriwether Lewis, one of the captains of the Corps of Discovery, wrote in his journal,
“I find that the curiosity of our party is pretty well satisfied with respect to this animal …”
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The grizzly bear account is one of the stories you will find in my book #Where Did Sacagawea Join the Corps of Discovery? And Other Questions about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Lerner Publishing Group, 2011). This book is part of Lerner’s “Six Questions of American History Series” and tells the story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back again. It is geared to 4 th – 7 th grade readers, but adults enjoy it as well.
Attribution: Bear By NPS photo (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willson Peale (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons