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TERMS OF THE COMMISSION

 

Mr. Jefferson's instructions to the young officer showed his own farsighted earnestness. Had he who received them been any less in earnest, the task assigned to him must have seemed appalling. The primary instruction was to blaze a path, more than four thousand miles long, through an unstudied wilderness. It was conceived that this could best be done by following the Missouri to its head waters, crossing "the Highlands" to the navigable waters of the Columbia, and going down that river to the Pacific; but this was only conjectural. The map in the hands of the explorers, the only basis for a preliminary outline of their route, was drawn partly from hearsay, partly from imagination; it showed the source of the Missouri to be somewhere in Central California; it showed nothing of the mighty barrier of the Rocky Mountains. There was one thin, uncertain line of hills, far to the west, that might have been the Sierra Nevadas; further than that there was nothing but a broad interior plain, seamed with rivers. Practically nothing was known of the difficulties that would be encountered. White men had ventured for a little way up the Missouri in earlier years, to carry on a desultory fur-trade with the Indians; but these traders had been mostly happy-go-lucky Frenchmen, who had taken but little thought for the morrow. They had no trustworthy information to give that would be of service to scientific travelers. So far as sure knowledge of it was concerned, the land was virgin, and Lewis and Clark were to be its discoverers.

They were directed to explore it in detail. Observations of latitude and longitude were to be made at all points of particular interest. The native nations and tribes encountered along the way were to be studied with care, and record preserved of their names and numbers; the extent and boundaries of their possessions; their relations with other tribes and nations; their language, traditions, and monuments; their occupations, implements, food, clothing, and domestic accommodations; their diseases and methods of cure; their physical, social, moral, and religious peculiarities and customs; their ideas and practice of commerce, and the possibility of extending among them the influences of civilization,--in short, every circumstance was to be noted which might render future relations with these people intelligent. Particular attention was to be given to the state of feeling toward the whites, in those tribes which had had experience with the traders. Should the expedition succeed in reaching the Pacific, the conditions of trade upon the coast were to form a subject of special inquiry. Along the route full observations were directed to be made concerning the face of the country,--the contour of the land; the character and course of streams, their suitability as avenues of commerce, and the means of communication between them; and also the points best adapted to the establishment of trading-stations and fortifications. The conditions of agricultural development were to be noted as fully as might be,--soil, water-supply, climate, and change of seasons; and also the natural resources of the country, vegetable, animal, and mineral. Nothing was to be neglected, knowledge of which might contribute to the success or security of later enterprise.

"In all your intercourse with the natives," wrote Mr. Jefferson, "treat them in the most friendly and conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey; satisfy them of its innocence; make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable and commercial dispositions of the United States; of our wish to be neighborly, friendly, and useful to them, and of our dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them; confer with them on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums, and the articles of most desirable interchange for them and us. If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to call on our officers, on their entering the United States, to have them conveyed to this place at the public expense. If any of them should wish to have some of their people brought up with us, and taught such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct, and take care of them."

As it could not be foreseen in what manner the travelers would be received by the Indians, whether with hospitality or hostility, Captain Lewis was told to use his own discretion as to persevering with the enterprise in the face of opposition; and he was also told that should he succeed in getting through to the Pacific, he might choose his own means for getting back again,--shipping by way of Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, if chance offered; or, in the absence of such opportunity, returning overland. A precious liberty, truly, when read in the light of the facts! The instructions concluded with this frank paragraph:--

"As you will be without money, clothes, or provisions, you must endeavor to use the credit of the United States to obtain them; for which purpose open letters of credit shall be furnished you, authorizing you to draw on the executive of the United States, or any of its officers, in any part of the world in which drafts can be disposed of, and to apply with our recommendations to the consuls, agents, merchants, or citizens of any nation with which we have intercourse, assuring them in our name that any aids they may furnish you shall be honorably repaid, and on demand."

As events transpired, that paragraph was almost ironical. A letter of credit directed to the Man in the Moon would have served quite as well.

The two redoubtable captains were to be soldiers, sailors, explorers, geographers, ethnologists, botanists, geologists, chemists, diplomats, missionaries, financiers, and historians; also cooks, tailors, shoemakers, hunters, trappers, fishermen, scouts, woodcutters, boatbuilders, carpenters, priests, and doctors. From the time they left St. Louis, in May, 1804, until they returned to that place, in September, 1806, the men were cut off from civilization and all its aids, and left to work out their own salvation. Not for one moment were they dismayed; not in a single particular did they fail to accomplish what had been assigned to them.

The congressional appropriation for the purposes of the expedition was based upon an estimate made by Captain Lewis himself, which is so refreshing as to deserve literal quotation:--

    _Recapitulation of an estimate of the sum necessary to carry into effect the Miss^ie Expedition_

    Mathematical Instruments                        $ 217 Arms and accoutrements extraordinary               81 Camp Ecquipage                                    255 Medicine and packing                               55 Means of transportation                           430 Indian presents                                   696 Provisions extraordinary                          224 Materials for making up the various articles into portable packs                              55 For the pay of hunters, guides and interpreters   300 In silver coin, to defray the expences of the party from Nashville to the last white settlement on the Missisourie             100 Contingencies                                      87 -----Total                                           $2500

Eighty-seven dollars for the contingencies of a twenty-eight months' journey of discovery, more than eight thousand miles in length, with a company of forty-five men, and through a land literally unknown!

Captain Lewis set out from Washington in July, 1803, and was joined by Captain Clark at Louisville, whence they proceeded to the rendezvous on the Mississippi, near St. Louis. They intended to embark upon their course in the autumn; but several delays occurred, of one sort and another, and the party was not assembled until December. The officers wished to establish winter quarters at the last white settlement on the Missouri, a few miles above St. Louis; but the Spanish governor of the territory had not yet learned of the change in ownership, and would not suffer them to proceed. This compelled them to remain in the lower camp until spring. The winter months were not lost, however; they were passed in drilling and instructing the men in the details of the work before them, thus greatly increasing their efficiency and no doubt obviating delays at later times.