St. Louis on the Air
12:00 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

What Did Explorers Lewis and Clark Do When They Got Back To St. Louis?

Meriwether Lewis (left) and William Clark.
Meriwether Lewis (left) and William Clark.
Credit via Wikimedia Commons

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are most famous for leading the expedition that began in St. Louis in 1804, took them up the Missouri River, over the Rocky Mountains to the west coast and back.

But their connection with St. Louis didn’t end there. In 1807, Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis and Clark to leadership positions in the Louisiana Territory, with a home base in the St. Louis region.

Washington University history professor Peter Kastor has focused his research on the time surrounding the Louisiana Purchase, and the meaning of nationhood that developed during that period. On Friday he is talking about the role of Lewis and Clark in the “transformation of early St. Louis” during the St. Louis Metromorphosis conference at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

From 1808 to 1809 Lewis and Clark worked in tandem in Eastern Missouri, Lewis as the governor of the Louisiana Territory and Clark as a general in the militia and an Indian Agent.

“The principal concerns they had in the territorial government was to make the local population—the local white population—embrace their citizenship in the United States,” said Kastor. “And this is a population that had lived under French and Spanish colonial rule.”  

“The other task was to get the Indians to not only accept the U.S. claim to Louisiana, but to acknowledge U.S. authority over the lands on which Indians lived,” he added.

Lewis died in 1809 while in route to Washington, D.C. His work as governor had come under criticism, and many historians believe he committed suicide.

Clark took over as governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1813 and was regarded as an effective leader. He remained governor until Missouri became a state, and was a prominent St. Louis citizen until his death in 1838.

The Expedition

The expedition was “absolutely remarkable not just for covering all that territory, but for doing so without a single death due to violence or injury or accident,” said Kastor.

While Lewis and Clark were unable to find the desired “northwest passage” to provide easy water transportation from coast to coast, they were successful in making positive initial contact with Native Americans and in mapping out the northwest part of the country.

Kastor described the map they created as “one of the most remarkable acts of cartography because when you test their map to contemporary geospatial data, it stands up pretty well.”

Pronunciation of Sacagawea

According to Kastor, the common pronunciation of Sacagawea is most likely incorrect. Listen below for his explanation of her role on the expedition and the pronunciation of her name.

Related Event

St. Louis Metromorphosis Conference
Friday, April 25, 2014 - Saturday, April 26, 2014
J.C. Penney Conference Center, UMSL
For more information, visit the conference website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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