Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
For this important task President Jefferson selected Captain Meriwether Lewis, his private secretary and personal friend of many years, and whom Jefferson knew to be the kind of a man to entrust the success of the important undertaking. Associated with Lewis was Captain William Clark, a younger brother of General George Rogers Clark. Under the command of these two young officers the following men were chosen to accompany them: 9 young men from Kentucky; 14 soldiers of the United States army who had volunteered their services; 2 French watermen or rivermen; 1 negro servant of Capt. Clark's by name of York. In addition to these were engaged a corporal, 6 soldiers and 9 watermen to accompany the expedition as far as Fort Mandan.
Very elaborate instructions were given to Captain Lewis in which the objects of the expedition were enumerated. These objects briefly were: to explore the Missouri River to its source and thence to the Pacific coast by the nearest and most convenient water route; taking note of the climate, topography, resources, Indians and natural history of the country traversed. They were provided with complete equipment to carry out the purposes of the expedition together with a large quantity of gifts with which to win the friendship of the Indians.
After spending the winter of 1803-04 at the mouth of Wood river near St. Louis, where complete and final preparations were made, the party embarked in one large keel boat 55 feet long and two perogues, or open boats, on May 14, 1804. They arrived in the present state of North Dakota on October 14, 1804, reaching the Knife river Indian villages on October 26 of the same year. Here Fort Mandan was constructed and the winter of 1804-05 was passed. The expedition continued its journey on April 7, 1805 and passed out of North Dakota on April 27, 1805. They proceeded up the Missouri practically to its source, thence down the Columbia to the Pacific coast. The winter of 1805-06 was passed at Fort Clatsop near present Astoria, Oregon. On the return journey the expedition again entered North Dakota on August 3, 1806 and passed out of the state on August 20th of the same year.
A very detailed account of the expedition was kept in the journals of the expedition. This paper is concerned only with the bird and mammal life as observed within the limits of present North Dakota. Without the great abundance of game animals then found in North Dakota, which supplied the expedition with food and clothing, such an undertaking would hardly have been possible.
It is only after a careful reading of the journals that one realizes the magnitude of the accomplishments of the explorers and how masterfully the expedition was carried to a successful conclusion in spite of the many dangers and hardships which were encountered.