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3.10: Lewis and Clark

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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After the purchase of the Louisiana from the French, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a team of explorers, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore the newly acquired territory. Lewis, Clark, and the rest of their team left in 1803, returned in 1805, and kept extensive records of their journey. Read the documents below to determine how the party interacted with the Native Americans they met.

Letter to Meriwether Lewis – Thomas Jefferson

Source: The passage below is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis on June 20, 1803. The letter gives detailed instructions on how Lewis and Clark should treat Native Americans.

To Captain Meriwether Lewis,

In all your interactions with the natives, treat them in the most friendly and peaceful manner. Assure them that the purpose of your journey is innocent, that the U.S. wishes to be neighborly, friendly, and useful to them. Tell them we wish to trade peacefully with them, and find out what articles would be most desirable for both of us to trade.

If a few of their chiefs wish to visit us, arrange such a visit for them. If any of them wish to have some of their young people schooled by us and taught things that might be useful to them, we will receive, instruct and take care of them….Carry with you some smallpox medicine and explain to them how to use it and encourage them to use it, especially in the winter.

Thomas Jefferson

Pr. U.S. of America


  1. How did Jefferson want Lewis and Clark to treat the Native Americans they meet?

Diary Entries of William Clark

Source: All the men on the journey kept diaries about their experiences. Below are two entries from William Clark’s diary. The first describes the ritual of the “Buffalo Dance” among the Mandan Indians. The second entry describes setting up camp near The Dalles Indians in present day Oregon.

January 5, 1805

The old men arrange themselves in a circle... the young men have their wives back of the circle... the Girl then takes the Old man (who very often can scarcely walk) and leads him to a Convenient place for the business... We sent a man to this Buffalo Dance last night, and they gave him 4 girls.

November 21, 1805

An old woman & wife to a Chief came and made a Camp near ours. She brought with her 6 young women I believe for the purpose of gratifying the passions of the men of our party.


  1. According to Clark, what happens at the Buffalo Dance?
  2. According to these diary entries, what is one way that Lewis and Clark’s men interacted with the Native American tribes they met?

Diary Entries on Sacagawea - William Clark

Source: Many people have heard the name of Sacagawea, the Native American woman who (with her husband and newborn baby) accompanied Lewis and Clark on their journey and served as a translator. Below are Clark’s diary entries about Sacagawea.

May 11, 1806

The tribe surrounded us in the lodge. When the chief arrived, we gave him a small medal and spoke to the Indians through Sacagawea. We informed them who we were, where we were came from, and our friendly intentions towards them, which pleased them very much.

August 17, 1806

We said goodbye to our interpreters (Shabono and his wife, Sacagawea), who accompanied us on our route to the Pacific Ocean.

I offered to take his little son, a beautiful, promising child who is 19months old. They agreed and said that in one year the boy would be sufficiently old to leave his mother and he would then take him to me. I agreed to raise the child as my own, in such a manner as I thought proper.


  1. Based on these two passages, how would you describe the relationship between Sacagawea’s family and Lewis and Clark?

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