This Day in History
Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark Discover the Pacific Ocean
November 7, 1805

The Lewis and Clark expedition is America’s greatest adventure story. The journals kept by the two leaders and some of the men are filled with incidents of great courage and danger, considerable misery, and continuous suspense. The only heroine, a sixteen-year-old Shoshone named Sacagawea, joined the explorers near the Mandan villages where they camped for winter. Sacagawea, or Bird Woman, was the consort of Charbonneau, a French trader who had bought her from the Hidatsa, who had captured her during a raid on the Shoshones.

When Lewis and Clark learned from Sacagawea that they would need horses to cross the Rockies, and that the only source of horses was her people, the Shoshones, the explorers quickly employed her as a guide and interpreter. They had to pay the lazy Charbonneau to accompany her. On April 7, 1805, they began the next stage of the journey, upriver into country where, as Lewis stated in his journal, “the foot of civilized man has never trodden.”

The meeting with the Shoshones was one of the most dramatic events of the journey. On August 13, Lewis and three of his men stumbled upon three women, who were frightened until Drouillard, the interpreter, soothed them with signs, a few words, and presents. Lewis asked the women to take them to the Shoshone camp. As he and the men followed the women down a trail into an open area, they were confronted by about sixty mounted warriors galloping in a wild charge to rescue their women.

Unfortunately, at that moment Sacagawea was miles away with Clark’s party of searchers, but fortunately one of the women they had treated kindly shouted to the warriors that these were friendly strangers, and she held up one of the presents they had given her. To Lewis’ surprise, the Shoshone chief dismounted, embraced Lewis, and said in Shoshone, “I am pleased! I am much rejoiced!” Later, the reunion of Sacagawea with her people was an occasion for an evening of celebration, with much dancing and singing.

After trading goods for twenty-eight horses and one mule, and employing six Shoshone guides, including Sacagawea (who wanted to see the Great Ocean the explorers constantly spoke of), they began the arduous climb over the last ranges. They spent the month of October in a race to reach the Pacific before winter overtook them. On the morning of November 7, the Columbia River was shrouded in fog. Gradually the air cleared and they saw ahead of them the blue of the Pacific. “Ocean in view!” Clark scribbled in his logbook. “O! the joy.”

At the end of 4,100 miles, they spent the winter on high ground near a river now called the Lewis and Clark. The return journey to St. Louis, beginning March 23, 1806, and ending September 23, was not easy, but everyone survived, completing one of the world’s greatest true adventures.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.