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Who Are Lewis and Clark?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lewis and Clark were American explorers who, from 1804 to 1806, led the first expedition to the Pacific Coast of the United States. Meriwether Lewis was a soldier, politician, and aid to former U.S President Thomas Jefferson. William Clark was a soldier, politician, and official Indian agent, meaning he spoke to Native American tribes on behalf of the U.S government. Lewis and Clark set out to explore newly claimed land called Louisiana, which was owned by Native American tribes and covered roughly one third of the U.S.

Meriwether Lewis was born in the late 1700s in an eastern region of the U.S. Before beginning the Lewis and Clark expedition, he graduated from school, joined the Virginia militia, and later joined the U.S army. The army is where he met William Clark who would later join Lewis to explore the Louisiana purchase, discover a waterway across the country, and declare sovereignty over the indigenous people of the area. Lewis also met Sacagawea, an indigenous woman who acted as an interpreter and later became a famous historical figure due to the claims of her helpfulness during the expedition.

William Clark was the youngest of six sons born to a family in the southern region of the U.S. and, like Lewis, served the U.S army once old enough to join. Clark’s militia battled several Native American tribes — some peaceful, others not — during his time in the army, killing dozens of Indians and Canadians. He retired from the army before turning 30 years old due to poor health and was recruited by Lewis to start an expedition about seven years later. Clark also spent time with Sacagawea and, while Americans in general did not have high regard of Indians, he had a friendlier relationship to the woman than Lewis.

After the expedition, Clark became Governor of the Missouri Treasury. He married twice and had eight children, two of them named after Meriwether Lewis and President Thomas Jefferson. He died at age 68 after running a government agency that negotiated treaties and maintained relations with Indians for 16 years. His grave site is maintained by his descendents, and many schools, plants, and structures have been named after him.

Once the expedition was over, Lewis became the Governor of Upper Louisiana. He died a mysterious death at age 35 after setting out on political business. After some commotion at an inn he was staying in, it was discovered that he had been shot. Some, including Clark, believed that Lewis’ death was a suicide, while Lewis’ family believed the death to be murder. Several plants, places, and buildings carry Lewis’ name in honor of him and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

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