The Corps of Discovery expedition established Wood River Camp (also called Fort Dubois) where the Wood River of Illinois joins the Mississippi. Here, men were trained, supplies were gathered, and the expedition was organized. On May 14, 1804, the expedition began its long trip to the Pacific Ocean from this site, first traveling down the Mississippi for a short distance, and then heading northwest up the Missouri.
The Journey of Lewis and Clark
The Voyage of Discovery Continues: Another view of the Journey of Lewis and Clark.
As one of the most remarkable and productive scientific explorations in American history, the Corps of Discovery expedition crossed the territory of the newly acquired but uncharted Louisiana Purchase.
It was in this region that Lewis and Clark first encountered the Nez Perce, a very helpful and hospitable tribe. The Indians came to the aid of the explorers, who were exhausted and malnourished after the long crossing through the Bitterroot Mountains.
Sacagawea led the expedition to this site where three tributaries converge to form the Missouri River. Ironically, this was also the place where Sacagawea had been kidnapped five years earlier by the Hidatsa. The three rivers were given the names of Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson. After some reconnaissance and much discussion, the two leaders decided that the Jefferson River was the most likely to lead directly to the Continental Divide.
In St. Charles, the expedition stopped to make final preparations for the journey up the Missouri. They stored gear and supplies in a keelboat and two pirogues, and made last-minute purchases while waiting for Lewis to arrive from St. Louis. Residents of St. Charles made the men welcome during their stay, inviting them to dinners, dances, and church services.
On this very hot day, Lewis, Clark, and ten other expedition members traveled north roughly 9 miles from the mouth of the Vermillion River to visit a solitary hill said by local tribes to be inhabited by, in Clark's words (and spelling), "deavels in humon form with remarkable large heads armed wit Sharp arrows." The men saw no devils, but did see large herds of bison.
Sergeant Charles Floyd, Jr., who had been seriously ill for several days, died here of what is generally thought to be infection from a ruptured appendix. He was the expedition's only fatality. Floyd was buried on a high bluff on the east bank of the Missouri, overlooking the mouth of a river that now bears his name. The spot is marked by a 100-foot-tall sandstone obelisk completed in 1901. In 1960 the monument became the first historic landmark to be established by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Without ships to carry them home, the expedition had to make their way back overland. But they could not set out immediately, as winter was fast approaching. The members of the expedition voted to set up camp seven miles inland from the coast, along the Columbia River and near the home of the Clatsop Indians. The expedition spent a miserable winter here, as the sun shone only six days and the rain stopped for only twelve. The time was used productively, however, in sewing clothes, drying meat, and making other preparations for the long journey home. They also made salt.
While camping near the present site of the town of Onawa, Lewis and Clark visited the grave of Blackbird, a former chief of the Maha tribe, who had died along with many of his people during a smallpox epidemic four years earlier.
When towering Mt. Hood came into view, Lewis and Clark were able to place themselves on a map for the first time since leaving North Dakota. Over a decade earlier, the British navigator George Vancouver had mapped the coast of the Pacific Northwest, including the landmark of Mt. Hood. At this point the members of the Corps of Discovery were able to estimate with considerable accuracy their proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
At this point, the expedition encountered a fork in the river and faced a critical decision. Which branch was the Missouri and which was a tributary? Both streams were roughly equal in size. One headed off in a northerly direction. The other angled south. Exploration parties were sent up both streams and, after several days of scouting, Lewis finally determined correctly that the Missouri was the less silt-laden, southerly stream. He named the tributary after his cousin Maria Wood.