Friday, 23 October 2009





The amazing adventures of Lewis and Clark Washington DC, USA, 1803

The two young men summoned to President Thomas Jefferson's office shivered slightly, although the room was warm. They had just been handed the most important mission of their lives - to lead the first ever official expedition across the wild west of America to find a river route to the Pacific Ocean.

Jefferson's idea was to open up these lands for trade and settlement, and to make America richer and more powerful than ever before. There was just one problem. No one had explored these vast lands before. No one knew what dangers lay ahead for them or if they would ever make it back home. It was enough to make anyone shiver. President Jefferson shook their hands and wished them goodbye and good luck. He didn't care what other people said. He was sure that he'd found the right men for the job.
The two men in question were dashing Captain Meriwether Lewis, the President's trusty private secretary, and Lewis's old friend, Lieutenant William Clark. They were young, strong, brave and handsome. They'd need to be all of these things (OK, so good looks weren't that important).

It was going to be a long and rocky road. Lewis and Clark put their heads together and soon they'd hatched a daring plan. They would travel up the Missouri River, as far as they could go, cross the Rocky Mountains, then follow the Columbia River to the Pacific. Simple!
They spent the winter preparing for the expedition. They were not travelling alone. With them went a group of 43 men, mostly soldiers, grandly named the Corps of Discovery. They also took six tonnes of food (when this ran out, they'd have to hunt for more), weapons, medicines, scientific equipment and gifts for the local people.

These were loaded into three sturdy boats - one barge and two canoes. These were crucial. Without good boats, it was sink or swim.
At last, on Monday 14 May, 1804, everything was ready. A single shot was fired to signal the off and the expedition headed out of the town of St Louis on the banks of the Missouri. It would be two and a half years before they would see home again. From St Louis, they followed the mighty Missouri as it wound westward, through rolling green plains where huge herds of buffalo roamed. For five months, they made steady progress. Canoeing upriver, watching the world go by, was really quite pleasant. The only flies in the ointment were the swarms of mosquitoes constantly buzzing around their heads. Very irritating.
In October, they reached the land of the Mandan Indians. They were warmly welcomed, and decided to spend the winter there because the river would soon be covered in ice.
The winter of 1804—1805 was very long, very cold and very boring. On some days, temperatures plummeted to a teeth-chattering low of -40°C. The members of the expedition stayed snug and warm (but bored stiff) inside their log cabins. It was far, far too cold to risk setting foot outside those four walls.
By the following April, they were all glad to be on the move again. There was just one tiny hitch. So far, they'd been able to follow their route on some roughly-drawn charts but from here on the maps ran out. Completely. What lay ahead was utterly unknown territority. Without maps, Lewis and Clark had no idea what they were in for - whether or not they'd be hiking up mountains, wading through rivers or hacking their way through vegetation. There was just no knowing. And they could only hope that they were going in the right direction!
But plucky Lewis and Clark weren't worried. They hired a local Indian guide to help them out - someone who did know the lay of the land - and continued upriver to the Rocky Mountains. Now came the worst part of the journey. Crossing the mountains was a terrible ordeal. Their food ran short and at night the weather turned bitterly cold. All the men could do was grit their chattering teeth and keep plodding grimly on.

Their courage paid off. On the other side of the mountains lay wide open plains ... and the Columbia River. Finally, on 7 November 1805, they sailed down the river to its mouth in the sea. At last, they had reached the Pacific Ocean and theír journey's end.
The following spring, they began their long journey home again, reaching St Louis on 23 September 1806. Lewis and Clark were given a hero's welcome. Everyone was glad to see them, especially as they'd been given up for dead. They'd covered some 7,000 kilometres, most of it by canoe. They'd been growled at by grizzly bears, rattled at by rattlesnakes, and riddled with frostbite, fear and starvation. Lewis had even been shot in the leg by someone who mistook him for a deer! It's true! Despite this, only one man in the team had died, probably from appendicitis. The expedition had been a raging triumph. True, their river route was not very practical. If you weren't a brave explorer, it was much too long and dangerous. (Many Americans did later follow in Lewis and Clark's footsteps, in search of new lands and trade, but they sensibly went overland by wagón.) Geographically, though, it was all a rip-roaring success. Lewis and Clark's expedition journals were crammed full of maps, sketches and notes about the rivers they'd sailed down and the people they'd met. (They kept notes about absolutely everything. That's the sort of thing geographers do.) Places and people that horrible geographers had never seen before.

*Check your comprehension. Read the text and answer these questions:

1. Who had the idea of this adventure? Why?

2. How did Mandan Indians behave with the expedition?

3. Who helped the expedition to continue when the maps failed?

4. When did they finish the journey and come back home?

5. Did they find an easy route, followed afterwards for other people? Why?

*Try to follow with your teacher the river route of Lewis and Clark with Google earth (you need to install it before) or with Google maps. (Maybe you will need the help of a map and the detailed description of the route in wikipedia)

More raging rivers

*Choose one of these raging rivers and make a file like this:

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