By Jennifer Young
In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on an expedition west where he intended for them to explore the lands just bought with the Louisiana Purchase. The two-year expedition led to a wealth of new geographic information about the continent as well as information about its flora, fauna, and people. We continue to celebrate Lewis and Clark’s momentous achievements today. Recently, the first leg of the pair’s historic journey has been added to the commemorative Lewis and Clark Trail, now including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.
Last year, legislators signed the Eastern Legacy Extension Act into law. This extension adds 1,200 miles to the historic Lewis and Clark Trail, bringing the total to 4,900 miles. Travelers who wish to follow the trail will trace it along the Ohio River southeastward to the Mississippi River. Then, the trail turns north to St. Louis and continues northwestward to North Dakota. The journey then steers west toward the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Coast of Oregon.
In the past, history books have focused on the new lands that the expedition encountered. The first leg of the journey to St. Louis was largely ignored. However, these lands were still largely frontier-like. This leg of the journey was where the team prepared for the adventures to come. For instance, Lewis spent considerable time in 1803 at General George Rogers Clark’s cabin (George Rogers Clark was older brother to William) in Clarksville, Indiana. Here, Lewis and William Clark recruited some of the expedition’s first members before heading down the Ohio River toward Louisville, Kentucky.
Lewis entrusted Clark with the task of recruiting volunteers for the journey during the winter of 1803-1804. Clark chose healthy, unmarried men who had training in survival and hunting skills. Some hailed from Indiana and Kentucky. Before venturing to Missouri, the party included 45 people, including 27 soldiers, a slave, and Lewis and Clark. The trip to St. Louis was arduous. Insect swarms and heat plagued the expedition as it battled strong currents to reach its first major destination.
Locals in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky have long celebrated their part in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Commemorative statues—like that at Falls of the Ohio State Park—pay homage to the earliest days of the journey. Indiana Senator Todd Young introduced the Eastern Legacy Extension Act to recognize the true beginnings of the expedition, backing the trail up from St. Louis all the way to Pittsburgh. The Act was signed into law in March of 2019. The portion of the trail recognized in Indiana includes Clarksville, as well as the state’s entire southern border.
The trail’s expansion encourages us to celebrate the planning and preparations for the historic westward journey. During the early leg of the expedition, Lewis and Clark put serious effort into the recruiting men and procuring supplies they would need upon departing from St. Louis. They also instilled a process of military discipline that included bareback lashing as the young, unmarried men sometimes proved unruly. The trail’s expansion now spotlights the entire journey from its outset. Travelers can trace the trail from Pittsburgh all the way to the Pacific Coast.