July 4

This Day in History

Old West

Jul 4, 1804:

Lewis and Clark celebrate July 4

Staging the first-ever Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi River, Lewis and Clark fire the expedition cannon and order an extra ration of whiskey for the men.

Six weeks earlier, Lewis and Clark left American civilization to depart on their famous journey. Since their departure, the party of 29 men--called the Corps of Discovery--had made good progress, traveling up the Missouri River in a 55-foot keelboat and two dugout canoes. When the wind was behind them, Lewis and Clark raised the keelboat sail, and on a few occasions, managed to travel 20 miles in a single day.

By early July, the expedition had reached the northeastern corner of the present-day state of Kansas. The fertility of the land astonished the two leaders of the expedition. Clark wrote of the many deer, "as plenty as Hogs about a farm," and with his usual creative spelling, praised the tasty "rasberreis perple, ripe and abundant."

On this day in 1804, the expedition stopped near the mouth of a creek flowing out of the western prairie. The men asked the captains if they knew if the creek had a name. Knowing none, they decided to call it Independence Creek in honor of the day.

The expedition continued upstream, making camp that evening at an abandoned Indian village. To celebrate the Fourth of July, Lewis and Clark commanded that the keelboat cannon be fired at sunset. They distributed an extra ration of whiskey to the men, and the explorers settled back to enjoy the peaceful Kansas night. In his final journal entry of the day, Clark wondered at the existence of, "So magnificent a Senerey in a Contry thus Situated far removed from the Sivilised world to be enjoyed by nothing but the Buffalo Elk Deer & Bear in which it abounds & Savage Indians."

The next day, the travelers resumed their journey up the Missouri River toward the distant Pacific Coast. They would not pass by their pleasant camping spot in Kansas again until their return journey, two years and many adventures later.

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