In this column we have occasionally looked at people that helped to build America. These are individuals that went beyond the normal day to day routine of life to step up and go where no others had traveled or attempted what no other had tried or build what no others had built. In doing so a new nation was forged. This new found spirit was like no other time in the history of the world as it allowed anyone with a desire to experience a new life the opportunity to try something new. This spirit demonstrated a new breed of man that was willing to take on the challenges of a new frontier without fear and with a burning desire to explore the unknown. Two such men were Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke.
Meriwether Lewis had no formal education until thirteen. He was raised in Georgia and became a skilled hunter and outdoorsman. His mother taught him about herbs and wild berries and the study of plants later became a passion. At thirteen he was encouraged to go to Virginia for an education. This boy from the backwoods of Georgia did go to Virginia where he graduated from what is now Washington and Lee University. Following graduation he went into the army for 6 years and as a captain served under one William Clarke. Lewis left the Amy in 1801 and became an aide to Thomas Jefferson. His outdoor upbringing, university education, army training and the understanding of the workings of national politics placed him in the perfect position to experience life to the fullest.
William Clark was born in Virginia to a family of ten children. His five older brothers served in the revolutionary war where one rose to the rank of militia general following the war. This witness to his older brothers’ sacrifice to the newly found country surely instilled a fervent patriotism for a young America. Following the war the family moved west and settled in the western territory of Kentucky. Clark had no formal education and he was very self-conscious of his poor spelling and convoluted grammar. Still his sense of adventure and sense of loyalty landed Clark in the Army where he rose through the ranks to an officer’s commission where he saw action in various Indian wars.
President Thomas Jefferson had a desire to expand the boundary of our new nation and what better way than to take an offer to purchase French territory on the western boundary of the United States. Jefferson had heard that the land was promising from people that had visited it so he arranged for the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson wanted to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean so he arranged an expedition to find this passage. Lewis was tagged to lead this Corps of Discovery and requested that Clark be selected to help command. This formed the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. The expedition took three years to complete and the physical conditions that these men endured are nothing less than extraordinary. On one business trip I went to Montesano, Washington and was told I was near the fartherest western point of the expedition. A few years later I was in St. Charles, Missouri and happened upon a statue marking the eastern starting point of the expedition. What today takes three hours to fly took over one year to travel over land and I wondered at the intestinal fortitude of these explorers. Even though the men endured horrendous conditions, they returned with a vast collection of scientific knowledge, maps and agreements with two dozen Indian tribes. Despite the hardships, only one life was lost and it is assumed to have been a ruptured appendics. But what happened to these men that added to the growth of America?
Clark had a successful series of appointments where he held office as Brigadier General of the Louisiana Purchase, lead several campaigns in the War of 1812, became Secretary of Indian Affairs and was appointed the Governor of Missouri Territory. Lewis was named governor of the Louisiana Purchase. He suffered from depression and drank heavily. While going to Washington to appeal for payment from the federal government and to take his manuscripts to a publisher he changed his plans from going to New Orleans to using the notorious Natchez Trace. At on Inn he was supposed to have committed suicide. It is now felt he was murdered.
Many say that the spirit that led to such great accomplishments as the Lewis and Clarke expedition is dead in America. I refute this and say this spirit is still alive. The new opportunities to explore reside in research, community building and building a better society. And for those that feel that we must go where man not gone before just wait to see what the future hold for us in both space and ocean exploration. There is one characteristic that allowed early exploration that is diminished today and that is a government that allows us to freely experiment and try different endeavors without strangling an individual with regulations and government involvement.

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Comments
  1. agreco71 says:

    I agree that their spirit still lives!

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