“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Marthasville in Warren County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Lewis and Clark in Missouri

Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), March 19, 2021
1. Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker
Missouri was a beginning and end for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Planned by President Thomas Jefferson and carried out by the two captains and a large crew, the expedition is a keystone American event. When the United States took ownership of the Louisiana Territory - during a ceremony in St. Louis in March 1804 probably attended by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark - the country doubled in size, and expansion to the Pacific Ocean seemed possible. Two months later, the "Corps of Discovery" traveled up the Missouri River toward the Pacific and, they hoped, a new American era in trade, diplomacy and settlement.

"Corps of Volunteers on an Expedition of North Western Discovery"
After leaving winter camp at Wood River, on the east side of the Mississippi River directly opposite the mouth of the Missouri River, the crew made a final recruiting stop in St. Charles in May 1804. Most of the men were army sergeants and privates, but the expedition - with 45 members beginning the journey - also included Clark's slave York, a French-Shawnee interpreter, and French-Canadian, French-Omaha and French-Missouri Indian boatmen.
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Thanks to seven who kept journals, we can imagine the journey vividly. On the way west, the expedition spent 66 days in what is now Missouri. During the return to St. Louis in 1806, the same 600 miles took just two weeks.

The River Master
The Missouri River and its dangers dominated the early trip in spring and summer 1804. The 55-foot keelboat, suitable for the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, turned out to be a poor design for the Missouri. The swift main channel required the keelboat and two smaller pirogues to travel near shore, where snags, moving sandbars, rafts of driftwood and collapsing banks often blocked the way. Often the crew was forced to tow the keelboat from the riverbank. They repaired broken masts and towropes, were exhausted by exertion and heat, blasted by sand and tormented by mosquitoes.

The way upriver was more than a challenge: "it can hardly be imagined the fataigue that we underwent," wrote Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse. It was disaster waiting to happen but always avoided. In the struggle, the crew was drawn together with a singular purpose to succeed. On June 14 above the Grand River, Clark's journal tells a story of the keelboat in peril, but it tells much more about the expedition's collective willpower: "we saved her by Some extrodany exertions of our party (ever ready to inconture [encounter] any fatigue for the premotion of the
Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), March 19, 2021
2. Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker

What They Saw
Every day in Missouri brought something of note. Beyond final outposts at Boone's Settlement and La Charrette, the expedition still met fur traders on the well-traveled Missouri River. Though the captains established daily routines, life on the river was hardly dull. Lewis almost tumbled off a cliff; Pvt. Whitehouse found a remarkable cave; and two hunters were gone a week and returned "much worsted." The crew saw signs of Indian war parties and Indian pictographs on bluffs.

Those who kept journals wrote of the beautiful summer landscape along the river, of forests, bluffs and prairies, caves, creeks and springs. As the expedition passed from "well timber'd" eastern Missouri to the "Beautiful prarie" of western Missouri, the scenery inspired descriptions that burst from the journal pages. Sgt. Charles Floyd, usually confining himself to the facts of the trip, wrote on June 4 of "a Butifull a peas of Land as ever I saw." On the western prairies, the normally businesslike Clark wrote that "nature appears to have exerted herself to butify the Senery by the variety of flours Delicately and highly flavered raised above the Grass."

The Meaning of Return
When the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis, it ended the dream of a Northwest Passage. The expediion reached the Pacific, but only after a hard crossing
Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker at Katy Trail Kiosk image. Click for full size.
Photographed By William Fischer, Jr., January 14, 2012
3. Lewis and Clark in Missouri Marker at Katy Trail Kiosk
The marker in its former context as part of the display before the display was updated.
over the Rocky Mountains. During the journey, Lewis and Clark met nearly 50 Indian nations. Their scientific achievements were vast: they returned with detailed records of 300 animals and plants never described before, but unfortunately many of their findings were not published for almost a hundred years. Though a vanguard of American expansion, the expedition was far from the first into the West. The French and British had traded in and mapped portions of the Missouri River country during the previous century. Lewis and Clark were the first Euro-American explorers to ascend the length of the Missouri River from the mouth to its source. They also explored a large portion of the Columbia River and helped establish a U.S. claim to the Pacific coast. There are few if any American explorations more important or epic, and few better travel stories.

Expedition Highlights
DEC. 7-9, 1803

-Lewis, riding on horse from Kaskaskia, arrives in Cahokia the same day as the keelboat. He proceeds to St. Louis to meet Carlos Dehault Delassus, Spanish governor of Louisiana.

DEC. 12, 1803-MAY 14, 1804

-The expedition party spends the winter at the mouth of Wood River (Rivière à Dubois. They refit the keelboat, acquire supplies and gather information and maps of the Missouri River.

MAY 16-21, 1804
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-The expedition waits in this village of 450 people for four days while Lewis completes last-minute business in St. Louis. In St. Charles, Clark hires several more boatmen and adjusts the boat loads.

MAY 23, 1804

-The boats stop at Boone Settlement to buy fresh food. For unknown reasons, Daniel Boone is not present.

MAY 23, 1804

-Clark explores Indian pictographs inside Tavern Cave. Lewis falls 20 feet down a 300-foot-tall bluff, but saves himself.

MAY 24, 1804

-The boats are forced to backtrack after the keelboat grounds on a sandbar and is spun around in the fast, shallow current. Though he would repeat the expression in the coming days on the lower Missouri, Clark calls the stretch "the worst I ever Saw."

MAY 25, 1804

-Lewis and Clark receive valuable information from Régis Loisel, one of the most experienced Missouri River traders.

MAY 26, 1804

-Captains Lewis and Clark sign orders outlining duties for the members of the party. Fearing war between the Osage and Sauk-Fox, the expedition is on military alert.

MAY 31, 1804

-Lewis identifies the eastern wood rat, first of 300 plant and animal species described for the first time by Lewis and Clark.

JUNE 2, 1804

-Clark climbs today's Clark's Hill at the confluence of the Osage and Missouri rivers and has "a Delightfull prospect" of both rivers.

JUNE 4, 1804

-Sgt. John Ordway steers the keelboat too close to shore, and the mast breaks under a sycamore tree.

JUNE 4, 1804

-Clark explores today's Sugar Loaf Rock, while Lewis establishes camp along the river below.

JUNE 5, 1804

-Clark sketches an Indian pictograph prominent on a "projecting rock." The rock was later destroyed in railroad construction. The day's hunters find evidence of about 10 Indians on the move, whom Clark believes to be a Sauk war party crossing the river to fight the Osage.

JUNE 6, 1804

-The expedition passes a well-known river landmark, a natural arch on the bluff top.

JUNE 7, 1804

-Lewis and Clark observe Indian pictographs on the bluff, see signs of bison and explore salt springs. Construction of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad tunnel destroyed the pictographs in the 1890s.

JUNE 8, 1804

-Clark and Sgt. Charles Floyd walk overland to the mouth of the Lamine and meet the boats. Shortly after, the expedition meets three fur traders returning from upriver.

JUNE 9, 1804

-The keelboat is caught on snags, and the crew quickly saves the boat. Clark, impressed, writes "I can Say with Confidence that our party not inferior to any that was ever on the waters of the Missoppie."

JUNE 10, 1804

-Lewis and Clark walk on the south shore through rolling prairie. The expedition is leaving the rugged, wooded landscape of the Ozark Border.

JUNE 12, 1804

-At 1 p.m., the expedition meets a party of French traders with furs and buffalo grease. Lewis and Clark persuade interpreter Pierre Dorion Sr. to accompany them to the Sioux nations.

JUNE 13, 1804

-The party camps at the Grand River mouth. Sgt. Patrick Gass writes "This is as handsome a place as I ever saw in an uncultivated state."

JUNE 14, 1804

-The boat crews endure a day of fast, rising current on the Missouri. The keelboat strikes a sandbar and is saved "by Some extrodany exertions of our party."

JUNE 15, 1804

-The expedition camps across from the abandoned village sites of the Misssouri [sic] and Little Osage Indians. This stretch is "Said to be the worst part of the river."

JUNE 16, 1804

-Clark looks for traces of a French fort, built and abandoned in the 1720s. He also scouts for timber to make new oars. "The misquitoes and Ticks are noumerous & bad."

JUNE 17-18, 1804

-The crew stops over a day to make oars from nearby ash trees and replace their worn-out tow rope. Some men are suffering from boils and dysentery.

JUNE 21, 1804

-The keelboat crew struggles against strong currents by a combination of rowing, poling, and using the towrope and even anchor.

JUNE 23, 1804

-A strong headwind halts the boats after 3½ miles. The expedition camps opposite a hill where Clark would later build Fort Osage.

JUNE 24, 1804

-Deer herds are so plentiful that the expedition kills eight.

JUNE 26, 1804

-Clark observes an "emence number" of now-extinct Carolina parakeets. Clark's is the first recorded sighting west of the Mississippi for this once-common bird.

JUNE 26-29, 1804

-The expedition halts to make observations of this important Missouri River tributary, and to rest the exhausted men after the most difficult stretch of the entire river. The Kansa Indians are away to the west hunting bison.

JUNE 30, 1804

-Clark reports "the men becom verry feeble" from the 96 [degree] heat. Deer tracks "ar as plenty as Hogs about a farm." The keelboat mast breaks for the second time.

JULY 1, 1804

-A French boatman says the two islands here were pasture for the livestock of Fort de Cavagnial (1744-64). They may also have been farmed by the Kansa, whose old village lay just upstream.

JULY 4, 1804

-Before setting out, the expedition celebrates the 28th anniversary of the United States by firing the swivel gun. At today's Lewis and Clark Lake, Clark sees many geese and goslings, which "induce me to Call it the Gosling Lake." This lake is now in Lewis and Clark State Park.

JULY 8, 1804

-The captains assign mess duties to ensure "a prudent and regular use of all provisions." The three cooks are exempted from guard duty and other chores.

JULY 11, 1804

-In the morning, Clark follows horse tracks and finds a horse alone on a beach, probably left accidently by Indians. Sgt. Floyd writes: "the men are all Sick."

JULY 12, 1804

-The men are worn down by a succession of hot days and halt to rest. Clark and five others explore the Big Nemaha valley.

JULY 14, 1804

-A 40-minute-long "Dredfulle hard Storme" (Sgt. Floyd's description), strikes suddenly after the boats set out. Clark writes "the exerssions of all our Men...was Scrcely Sufficent to Keep the boat from being thrown up on the Sand Island, and dashed to peices."

JULY 16, 1804

-Around noon, Lewis stops to make observations to reset his chronometer, which stopped the day before even though "she had been wound up the preceding noon as usual." The chronometer is essential for determining longitude.

JULY 18, 1804
-The expedition leaves the present-day boundaries of Missouri after 66 days of travel since leaving Wood River. Sgt. Gass writes that "This is the most open country I ever beheld, almost one continued prairie."


SEPT. 9, 1806

-The expedition re-enters today's state of Missouri. Clark reports that "our party appears extreamly anxious to get on, and every day appears produce new anxieties in them to get to their Country and friends."

SEPT. 10, 1806

-Missouri River travel is no easier during the return. Referring to moving sand and snags, Clark writes "Great caution and much attention is required to Stear Clear of all those dificuelties in this low State of the water."

SEPT. 12, 1806

-For the sixth time in the last nine days, the expedition meets a trading party heading upriver. Robert McClellan, an old army friend of Lewis and Clark, provides news and wine and whiskey to celebrate. Sgt. Ordway writes "that the people of the united States...heard that we were all killed."

SEPT. 14, 1806

-In the afternoon, the expedition meets three large fur-trading boats. That evening, "our party received a dram and Sung Songs until 11 oClock at night in the greatest harmoney."

SEPT. 17, 1806

-The expedition meets another trading party, led by Lewis' friend John McClallen. The groups camp together and exchange news. Clark reports McClallen saying "we had been long since given out by the people of the U S Generaly and almost forgotton."

SEPT. 19, 1806

-Eager to reach St. Louis, "the men ply their oars & we decended with great velocity." They are satisfied with eating pawpaw fruits and do not stop to hunt.

SEPT. 20, 1806

-During the return to St. Louis, the villagers of La Charrette are amazed to see the party has survived two years and four months away.

SEPT. 23, 1806

-Reaching St. Louis about noon, the men fire their guns in salute. Clark writes "we were met by all the village and received a harty welcom from it's inhabitants." Lewis immediately writes a letter to President Thomas Jefferson with the first news of the journey.



Instructions from President Thomas Jefferson

• explore Missouri River to headwaters
• find most direct route to Pacific Ocean
• assert United States ownership of Louisiana Territory
• negotiate with Indian nations
• record plants, animals, soils, weather, minerals

Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the "Corps of Discovery"
• three sergeants
• 24 privates, including Pierre Cruzatte and Francois Labiche, navigators
• George Drouillard, interpreter and hunter
• York, Clark's slave
• (+ eight French boatmen, one corporal, four privates, as far as Mandan villages)
• from Mandan villages on: Toussaint Charbonneau, interpreter; his wife, Sacagawea; and their son, Jean Baptiste

Expedition in Missouri
• Nov. 16-Dec. 12, 1803, 210 miles on Mississippi River (winter at mouth of Wood River)
• May 14-July 18, 1804, 604 miles on Missouri River
• return: Sept. 9-Sept. 23, 1806, on Missouri River
1804: Wood River to Mandan villages in present-day North Dakota
1805: Mandan villages to Fort Clatsop, Oregon Country
1806: return: Fort Clatsop to St. Louis


Sgt. Patrick Gass
was first to publish his journal, in 1807. After Lewis' death in 1809, Nicholas Biddle, using Lewis', Clark's and Sgt. John Ordway's journals, and with help from Clark and Pvt. George Shannon, published History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark in 1814. Clark's masterful map of the West was also published in 1814.

Meriwether Lewis became governor of Louisiana Territory. In 1809, at age 35, he died on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee.

William Clark had a long post-expedition career in St. Louis: superintendent of Indian Affairs in Louisiana Territory, brigadier general of the militia, first governor of Missouri Territory, and again, superintendent of Indian Affairs. At age 68, he died in St. Louis in 1838.

George Drouillard, son of a French-Canadian father and Shawnee mother, joined a fur-trading company. He died in 1810 near Three Forks, Mont., in a fight with the Blackfeet.

York may have been freed by Clark around 1815. After entering the wagon freight business in Kentucky and Tennessee, he died, possibly of cholera, some time before 1832.

Sacagawea was perhaps 16 or 17 when she joined the expedition at the Mandan villages in 1805. She probably died in 1812 at Fort Manuel, in present-day South Dakota. Clark adopted her son and daughter.

• Four expedition members - William Clark, John Colter, George Shannon, Robert Frazier - are buried in Missouri.
Erected by Missouri Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service, and Missouri Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: ExplorationNative AmericansSettlements & SettlersWaterways & Vessels. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #03 Thomas Jefferson, the Katy Trail State Park, and the Lewis & Clark Expedition series lists. A significant historical month for this entry is March 1804.
Location. 38° 37.63′ N, 91° 3.648′ W. Marker is in Marthasville, Missouri, in Warren County. Marker is on 1st Street south of Depot Street, on the left when traveling north. Marker is at the Katy Trail State Park kiosk. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Marthasville MO 63357, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Marthasville to Treloar (here, next to this marker); Marthasville to Dutzow (here, next to this marker); History of Marthasville (here, next to this marker); 25th Anniversary (a few steps from this marker); The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri (a few steps from this marker); The Daniel Boone Trail (a few steps from this marker); La Charrette / Marthasville (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Marthasville.
Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.
Also see . . .
1. Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. (Submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. (Submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. (Submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
4. Lewis and Clark Across Missouri. (Submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Credits. This page was last revised on March 24, 2021. It was originally submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 822 times since then and 59 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on March 24, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.   3. submitted on December 9, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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Dec. 3, 2023