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History's Happenings for May 14

Lewis And Clark Head Out
1804

Map of the expedition

President Thomas Jefferson had long been interested in the vast unexplored wilderness that lay to the west of the still-small United States. However, since it was not U.S. territory, no American expedition had been sent out to explore it prior to Jefferson's inauguration in 1801.

But in 1802, British explorers sailing out of Montreal had led expeditions into what is now western Canada and the American Northwest seeking to claim that land for the Empire. This spurred Jefferson into action.

The president believed that if a water route could be found across North America, and the United States could gain control of that route, America's dominance of the continent would be assured. So Jefferson began to plan a careful expedition, along the lines of earlier explorers whose work he admired, such as Captain James Cook.

When his plan was ready in June, 1803, it was widely focused, and sought information not only on geography, but also on plants and wildlife, native languages and cultures, and a variety of other interests. To lead the expedition he chose his private secretary, naturalist and army Captain Meriwether Lewis. Given the breadth of the plan, Lewis asked army buddy William Clark to share the command, with Jefferson's approval.

As the plan for the expedition was being drawn up, the United States completed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, and Lewis and Clark shouldered the additional responsibility to stake America's claim to the new territory as they passed through it.

On May 21, 1804, they set out from St. Louis, in what would become the state of Missouri, following the Missouri River as it wound west and north along the future border of Nebraska, and into the Dakotas, where they built Fort Mandan to accomodate their party for the first winter.

When they departed the fort in the spring of 1805, their party had grown to 33 members, including trapper Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacajawea, a Shoshone. Sacajawea would prove highly valuable as a guide and in interfacing with the tribes of the west.

During the 1805 season, the party explored the vast plain that became Montana and, leaving the Louisiana territory, struggled through the Rockies in the future state of Idaho before connecting with the Snake River and following it down to the Columbia. Reaching the Pacific Ocean near the current juncture of Washington and Oregon, they built Fort Clatsop near current Astoria, OR, to spend the winter of 1805-6.

Their return trip followed a similar path except in Montana, where the two explorers split up to cover more territory at the headwaters of the Missouri. Lewis and his party trekked north, not far from their original trail, but taking time to explore the northern tributaries of the Missouri. Clark took a more southern path, exploring the Yellowstone River basin. The two rejoined in August, 1806, where the Yellowstone and Missouri converge in present day North Dakota, and returned to St. Louis together on September 23, 1806.

Their venture out into Oregon provided a basis for U. S. claims to that area when in dispute with Britain fifty years later.

First U.S. Olympic Games Begin
1904

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W.A.A.C.s Created
1942

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Independent State of Israel Proclaimed
1948

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Warsaw Pact Signed
1955

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U.S. Launches Its First Space Station
1973

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Department of Health & Human Services Established
1980

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