Surveying and map-making began as a treacherous and rather dangerous enterprise. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Lewis and Clark were one of history’s most important land surveyors. They and their crew would be responsible for changing the course and expansion of America. In our last post, we explored the background of Lewis and Clark and some of the surveying tools that they would take on their journey. Today we continue our remembrance of this historic expedition and the surveying marvels that were born from this trek across unknown lands.
Two Surveyors, a Guide, & Thousands of Miles
In addition to their early surveyor tools like compasses, quadrants, telescopes, and chronometers, Lewis and Clark also gathered other necessary equipment. Some of these included weapons and ammunition, medical supplies and medicines, books on botany, geography, and astronomy, maps, as well as gifts to present to Native Americans they knew they’d run into including beads, face paint, ivory combs, and more.
The duo recruited 45 brave souls to join them on their way westward. Among these were 27 unmarried men, a French-Indian interpreter, a boat crew, and Clark’s slave known as York. One other unique characteristic about the Corps was the fact that it was a rather eclectic and diverse bunch. In addition to the Southern roots of Lewis and Clark, there was his slave, a one-eyed-part-French-part-Omaha-Indian fiddler player, a German named John Potts, and the famous Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian.
Both Lewis and Clark knew the journey would require incredible tenacity and discipline and so they ran a tight ship.’ Historical accounts describe how the corps was led with an iron fist, including harsh punishments like bareback lashing and hard labor for dissidents or uncooperative members of the team. It is the ultimate adventure story, only one person of the crew would die during the journey—a 22-year-old who died of an abdominal infection.
The team headed northwest along the Missouri River. Thomas Jefferson tasked them with several missions and goals for the expedition. These included finding and mapping a route across the continent, making detailed observations and notes regarding the natural geography, landscapes, and natural resources out West. At the same time, the team was meant to establish good relationships with native peoples along the way to interrupt the British dominance of the fur trade in the areas.
By mid-October, the expedition had reached the Mandan villages on the Missouri River. This important trading place allowed them to make some connections and talk to others about possible routes westward. The team had moved to South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. From the Mandan Villages, the crew was now facing the Rocky Mountains, the highest mountain range. One famous story was of Merriweather Lewis falling 20 feet into a cavern, was poisoned, and then shot in the thigh.
The now-famous Sacajawea, the wife of one of the Frenchmen in the expedition, proved to be invaluable for the success of the journey, as her language skills and knowledge of the territory proved essential. By the winter of 1805, they had reached the Columbia River and made a transcontinental crossing north of Mexico.
By the end, the expedition has traveled about 8,000 miles while pushing, pulling, and hauling ‘the boat’, the famous keelboat of the Corps, facing harsh storms, weather, hunger, thirst, and one or two run-ins with bears, friendly and not-so-friendly Indians, exhaustion, sleeplessness, mosquitoes, venereal disease, dysentery, boils, ticks, injuries, and God knows what else. The crew also found themselves face-to-face with some elk, buffalo, and deer, which they kindly turned into campfire dinners.
Throughout the trek, many of the men kept detailed journals, which would serve them well, as many of the maps and drawings they tried to send back to Jefferson during their journey never made it through. Finally, the crew made it to the West Coast, moving through northern Montana, Oregon, and present-day Washington onto Ft. Clatsop.
The Land Surveyors Return Home to a Hero’s Welcome
When Merriweather Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis with their crew, they were celebrated as pioneers and heroes of the time. The crew arrived back in St. Louis in September. The Corps of Discovery go their own way, but Lewis is named governor of the Louisiana Territory, while Clark becomes an Indian agent for the West. Most of the intended goals of the journey were met. This included establishing diplomatic relationships with Native Americans. The crew held councils with Indians and participated in events with them. Upon his return, Lewis had identified 178 plants including bitterroot, prairie sagebrush, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. They had also identified 122 animals such as grizzly bears, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope.
A Tradition of Land Surveying Continues With Unprecedented Precision
Lewis and Clark’s journey is seen differently among historians. For many, the journey was one of the first tales of American exceptionalism and would spearhead a movement of westward expansion and discovery. Others focus on the tragedies that plagued the journey. In the end, the expedition’s contributions to early maps of American territory are indisputable. The flourishing country understood its terrain and natural resources much more in-depth than it did before 1804.
As land surveyors, we can only admire the skill and technical understanding of Lewis and Clark in their creation of maps. Their understanding of geography, astronomy, and climate, allowed them to make extraordinary conclusions that turned out to be quite accurate.
While the process is much different today, here at Land-Mark Land Surveying, we move forward with creating detailed and accurate land surveys for construction, government contracts, and more. Connect with us to find out more!