Note to the Teacher:This unit works very well with all grade levels, including MIDDLE, JUNIOR AND HIGH SCHOOL students. We suggest that you employ this plan with BIOLOGY AND/OR ZOOLOGY classes, and anthropology classes.

Lewis and Clark Scientific Adventure

SUBTOPIC: Government Sponsored Scientific Expedition: An American First


The students will:

1) geographically chart the traveled routes of Lewis & Clark

2) understand the important role that a native American woman, Sacajawea, played in the overall success of the expedition

3) comprehend the important implications of the government's sponsorship of scientific inquiry

4) grasp the contributions of the Lewis and Clark expedition as applied to various disciplines: geography, linguistics, botany, zoology, archeology, anthropology, history and ethnography

5) develop an appreciation for recognizing the difficulties encountered with the systematic publication of the campaign's findings

Background Information

In 1803, Congress provided money for a group of explorers to investigate the Louisiana Purchase. The ultimate goal--to seek overland and water routes to the Pacific ocean. President Thomas Jefferson chose his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the expedition. Lewis picked as his co-leader, William Clark, the younger brother of the revolutionary war hero, George Rogers Clark. A team of about 40 men accompanied them.

Specific instructions were given by Jefferson. He asked that numerous specimens (plant and animal) be collected, preserved, and returned for scientific analysis. 

In an initial letter from Lewis to Clark, Lewis said, "The other objects of this mission are scientific...the soil and face of the country, its growth of vegetable productions, its animals, the numeral productions of every description and in short to collect the best possible information relative to whatever the country may afford as a tribute to general science." (Greene, 198).

The above excerpt gives light to the emergent brotherhood of politics/commerce and "value-free" science (value-free in an idealized sense) as co-investigators in an industrial world--a world fueled by democracy.

An important addition to the expedition was the Shoshoni woman, Sacajawea, whose presence ultimately proved to be a brilliant stroke of luck. It is generally recognized that as a guide, her presence was invaluable. The harmony that she established between the group and the Shoshoni people and within the party itself is well noted. Her contributions to the collection of scientific information and her insight were also extremely valuable. 

From the above, one can see that acquiring scientific information can be challenging. It is not a road to be confused with hopeless frustration; rather it is a road that shows science as human and therefore worth the struggle.


Mapping the Route of the Expedition
            20 minutes



1) Have students retrace the expedition's route and examine its logic, flaws and intricacies. (See attached map.)

2) Develop some creative variations

a) construct a route from the Indian perspective

b) pretend that the party had to go from the West coast, all the way to the East coast


Role Playing: A Slice of Journey
           1 class period



1) Divide students into 2 groups. Group A will predetermine a starting point, destination point and a general compass bearing point. They will do this independently of Group B. 

2) Group A will also establish a list of clues that will aid in Group B's journey. One clue will be left at each pre-determined point. 

3) Next, Group B will attempt to find its way to the imaginary Pacific.


Information Problems
            20 minutes


1) Arrange the class in large circle. Pre-determine a finding from the Lewis and Clark journey, preferably one that was given to President Jefferson. (See journal excerpts.) 

2) Now, have students pass it around the room. They should whisper to each other, one at a time, the finding point. Chances are, the expedition fact will change!


Allard, William Albert. "Chief Joseph." National Geographic March 1977: 409.

DeVoto, Bernard. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953.

Green, John C. American Science in the Age of Jefferson. Ames: Iowa State UP, 1984.

Waldo, Anna Lee. Sacajawea. 1977

Return to the People

Washington, June 19, 1803

To William Clark:

Herewith enclosed you will receive the papers belonging to your brother Gen. George Rogers Clark, which sometime since you requested one to procure and forward to you. . . . 

From the long and uninterrupted friendship and confidence which has successed between us I feel no hesitation in making to you the following communication under the fulest impression that it will be held by you inviolable. . . .

During the last session of Congress a law was passed in conformity to a private message of the President of the United States intitled 'An Act making an appropriation for extending the external commerce of the United States.' The object of this Act as understood by its framers was to give the sanction of the government to exploreing the interior of the continent of North America, or that part of it bordering the Missourie. and Columbia Rivers. . . . I am armed with the authority of the Government of the U. States for my protection, so far as its authority or influence extends; in addition to which. the further aid has been given me of liberal pasports from the Ministers both of France and England. . . . I shall embark at Pittsburgh with a party of recruits eight or nine in number, intended only to manage the boat and are not calculated on as a permanent part of my detachment; when descending the Ohio it shall be my duty by enquiry to find out and engage some good hunters."

Chapter 1

Old Grandmother

The history of the Shoshoni, most northerly of the great Shoshonean tribes, which all belong to the extensive Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock, is full of paradox. They occupied western Wyoming, central and southern Idaho, southwestern Montana, northeastern Nevada, and northeastern Utah. The Snake River country in Idaho was their stronghold, but their expeditions sometimes reached the Columbia. Holding somewhat in contempt their less vigorous cousins to the south-Ute, Hopi, and Paiute-they themselves seem to have been almost equally despised by the Plains tribes. The northern and eastern Shoshoni were riding and buffalo-hunting Indians. Their traditions are full of references to a period when they had no horses, when small game took the place of the buffalo, and when they had no skin tepees in which to live. None of the Shoshoni were ever known to be agriculturists, but in the Wind Rivers of central Wyoming, huge pestles have been discovered about five feet in length, consisting of a ball eight or nine inches in diameter and a stem tapering to about four inches. They were found by Shoshoni Indians who suggest they were used for grinding grain, grass seeds, and dray berries, by some early tribe.

Chapter 11

Lewis and Clark

Clark's Journal

24th of October Saturday 1804,


We met with a frenchman by the name of Jesson which we imploy as an interpreter. This man has a wife and Children in the village. Great numbers on both sides flood down the bank to view us as we passed. we Sent the twists of Tobacco by three young men, to the villages and inviting them to come Down and Council with us tomorrow many Indians came to view as Some stayed all night in the Camp of our party. We procured some information of the Jessomme of the Chiefs of the Different Nations.

4th November Sunday

We continued to cut Down trees and raise our house . Mr. Chaubonie, interpreter for the Gross Ventre nation came to See us, and informed that [he] came Down with Several Indians from a hunting expedition up the river, to what we had told the Indians in Council, This man was to hire as an interpreter.

Chapter 12

Birth of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau

Lewis's Journal:

11th February Monday 1805

The party that were ordered last evening set out early this morning. The weather was fair and cold. Wind N.W. about five oClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono was delivered a fine boy. it is worthy of remak that this was the first child which this woman had boarn, and as is common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent. Mr. Jessome informed me that he had frequently administered a small portion of the rattle of the rattle-snake, which he assured me had never failed to produce the desired effect, that of hastening the birth of the child; having the rattle of a snake by me I gave it to him and he administered two rings of it to the woman broken into small pieces with the fingers and added to a small quantity of water. Whether his medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine, but I was informed that she had not taken it more that ten minutes before she brought forth.

Chapter 14

A Sudden Squall

Lewis's Journal:

Tuesday May 14th 1805

...I cannot recollect but with the utmost trepidation and horror; this is the upsetting and narrow escape of the white perogue. It happened unfortunately for us this evening that Charbono was at the helm of this perogue, in stead of Drewyer,* who had previously steered her; Charbono cannot swim and is perhaps the most timid waterman in the world.

...the Perogue was under sail when a sudon squawl of wind struck her obliquely, and turned her considerable, the steersman allarmed, in stead of puting, her before the wind, lufted her up into it, the wind was so violent that it drew the brace of the squarsail out of the hand of the man who was attending it, and instantly upset the perogue and would have turned her completely tosaturva, had it not have been from the resistance mad by the oarning [awning] against the water.



Chapter 16

Sacajawea's Illness

The most serious medical problem was Sacajawea, who had been taken ill at the mouth of Maria's Rivers. Clark bled her on two successive days, the approved treatment at the time, though the wonder is it did not kill her. When she grew worse, he tried "a dose of salts," which did no good at all. Charbonneau, though he had been warned about her diet, foolishly allowed her to gorge on "white apples" and raw fish, after which she became alarmingly ill. Her pulse could hardly be felt; her arm and fingers twitched, she began to refuse medicine. Only Charbonneau could get her to take it, and even he could do so only when she was delirious. Without much hope, Clark tried cataplasms of bark and laudanun. "If she dies it will be the fault of her husband as I am now convinced," Clark wrote in his journal on June 16, 1805, gloomily, for he liked the little squaw.

On that same day Lewis wrote, "I believe that her disorder originated principally from an abstraction of the mensis in consequence of taking could."

Both captains knew that if Sacagawea died, the expedition would find itself left with a four-mounts-old baby, which would have to be carried across the continent and back with no available milk supply-a unique problem for a military expedition, which even Lewis had never foreseen.

Chapter 17


Clark's Journal

June 29th 

Saturday 1805

The rain fell like one voley of water falling form the heavens and gave us time only to get out of the way of a torrent of water which was Poreing down the hill in the River with emence force tareing everything before it takeing with it large rocks and mud, I took my gun and shot pouch in my left hand, and with the right scrambled up the hill pushing the Interpreters wife (who had a child in her arms) before me, the Interpreter himself makeing attempts to pull up his wife by the hand much scared and nearly without motion, we at length reached the top of the hill safe where I found my servent in search of us greatly agitated, for our wellfare before I got out of the bottom of the reveen which was a flat dray rock when I entered it, the water was up to my waste and wet my watch, I scercely got out before it raised 10 feet deep with a torrent which [was] turrouble to behold, and by the time I reached the top of the hill at least 15 feet water.

Chapter 19

The People

Saturday August 17th, 1805

On setting out at seven o'clock, Captain Clarke with Charbonneau and his wife walked on shore, but they had not traveled more than a mile before Clarke saw Sacajawea, who was with her husband 100 yards ahead, began to dance and show every mark of the most extravagant joy, turning around him and pointing to several Indians, whom he now saw advancing on horseback, sucking her fingers at the same time to indicate that they were of her native tribe [they had eaten together]. As they advanced, Captain Clarke discovered among them Drewyer [Drouillard] dressed like an Indian, from whom he learnt the situation of the party. While the boats were performing the circuit, he went towards the forks with the Indians, who as they went along sang-aloud with the greatest appearance of delight.

The party soon drew near to the camp, and just as they approached it a woman made her way through the crowd towards Sacajawea, and recognizing each other, they embraced with the most tender affection. The meeting of these two young women had it something peculiarly touching not only in the ardent manner in which their feelings were expressed, but from the real interest of their situation. They had been companions in childhood, in the war with the Minnetarees they had both been taken prisoners in the same battle, they had shared and softened the rigours of their captivity, till one of them had escaped from the Minnetarees, with scarce a hope of ever seeing her friend relieved from the hands of her enemies. While Sacajawea was renewing among the women the friendships of former days, Captain Clarke went on, and was received by Captain Lewis and the chief, who after the first embraces and salutations were over, conducted him to a sort of circular tent or shade of willows. Here he was seated on a white robe; and the chief immediately tied in his hair six small shells resembling pearls, an ornament highly valued by these people, who procure them in the course of trade from the sea-coast. The moccasins of the whole party were then taken off, and after much ceremony the smoking began. After this the conference was to be opened, and glad of an opportunity of being able to converse more intelligibly, Sacajawea was sent for; she same into the tent, sat down, and was beginning to interpret, when in the person of Cameâhwait, the chief, she recognized her brother. She instantly jumped up, and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket and weeping profusely. The chief was himself moved, though not in the same degree. After some conversation between them she resumed her seat, and attempted to interpret for us, but her new situation seemed to overpower her, and she was frequently interrupted by tears. After the council was finished the unfortunate woman learnt that all her family were dead except two brothers, one of who was absent, and a son of her eldest sister, a small boy, who was immediately adopted by her.