Saturday, December 10, 2011

Eagles along the Mississippi River

Lewis and Clark Museum north of St. Louis

Statues of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or "Corps of Discovery Expedition"(1804–1806) was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the expedition had several goals. Their objects were both scientific and commercial – to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to discover how the region could be exploited economically.

Models of the inside of the fort the exploration team built while they prepared for their trip.

A model of the keelboat the expedition used for their journey up the Missouri until the river became to shallow.

Lewis designed an experimental collapsible steel frame boat consisting of bolted together steel strips covered with animal skins when needed. This collapsible boat design weighed only 176 pounds (without hides) and could carry up to 8,000 pounds of equipment and personnel. When the expedition attempted to use it they were in a treeless area where pitch to waterproof the seams between the animal skins was not available.  They attempted to use wax, but it melted in the hot climate and the boat sank.  They buried the frame hoping to bring it back, but they never found it again.

Cross sections of the interior of the keelboat.

Lewis also thought of an ingenious solution to the challenge of carrying ammunition and powder aboard the keelboat. Instead of relying on sacks of lead musket balls for his supply of ammunition, Captain Lewis hired a plumber to cast cylindrical lead canisters. Once filled with gunpowder and capped with wax, the canisters proved both waterproof and buoyant. If the keelboat capsized or were sunk, Lewis could count on a readily available supply of bullets and powder. As the need for ammunition arose, the members of the expedition only had to melt the lead canisters into bullet molds to produce more musket balls. 

In addition to "polling" the keelboat, the boat had a sail that assisted its movement up stream.

A map of the route taken by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

A display of some of the equipment used on the expedition.  One unusual object Lewis brought along was an air rifle. Lewis’s air gun had high-tech advantages over the typical firearms of the day. For example, it could be fired in wet weather and rain, was relatively quiet, and gave off no muzzle flash or smoke, unlike flintlock and muzzle-loading guns which spewed out dense smoke that could obscure the shooter’s view. Furthermore, the air gun could be fired with greater rapidity than a normal gun. The air rifle Lewis had could, under ideal conditions, fire about 22 rounds a minute, versus two or three rounds a minute maximum for a typical musket or rifle.
While the air gun was a powerful weapon, Lewis’s main purpose in bringing it along was not hunting but “shock and awe.” It was intimidating technology to the Indians, who had never seen anything like it.

Reconstructed Camp Dubois
Camp Dubois was a fully operating military camp. Soldiers stationed at the camp were required to participate in training, maintain personal cleanliness, police the camp and other duties spelled out by the United States military. They had inspections, marched, stood guard duty and hunted to supplement their military rations. Sergeant John Ordway was in charge of the camp during periods in which both Lewis and Clark were away.