Year
1804
Month Day
May 14

Lewis and Clark depart to explore the Northwest

One year after the United States doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to explore the Northwest from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

Even before the U.S. government concluded purchase negotiations with France, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned his private secretary Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, an army captain, to lead an expedition into what is now the U.S. Northwest. On May 14, the “Corps of Discovery”–featuring approximately 45 men (although only an approximate 33 men would make the full journey)–left St. Louis for the American interior.

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition

The expedition traveled up the Missouri River in a 55-foot long keelboat and two smaller boats. In November, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader accompanied by his young Native American wife Sacagawea, joined the expedition as an interpreter. The group wintered in present-day North Dakota before crossing into present-day Montana, where they first saw the Rocky Mountains. On the other side of the Continental Divide, they were met by Sacagawea’s tribe, the Shoshone Indians, who sold them horses for their journey down through the Bitterroot Mountains. After passing through the dangerous rapids of the Clearwater and Snake rivers in canoes, the explorers reached the calm of the Columbia River, which led them to the sea. On November 8, 1805, the expedition arrived at the Pacific Ocean. After pausing there for the winter, the explorers began their long journey back to St. Louis.

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark's Travels Included Dozens of Astonishing Animal Encounters

On September 23, 1806, after almost two and a half years, the expedition returned to the city, bringing back a wealth of information about the largely unexplored region, as well as valuable U.S. claims to Oregon Territory.

HISTORY Vault

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

State of Israel proclaimed

On May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years. Ben-Gurion became Israel’s first premier. In the distance, the rumble of guns could be heard from fighting that broke out ...read more

Early smallpox vaccine is tested

Edward Jenner, an English country doctor from Gloucestershire, administers the world’s first vaccination as a preventive treatment for smallpox, a disease that had killed millions of people over the centuries. While still a medical student, Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had ...read more

Frank Sinatra dies

On May 14, 1998, the legendary singer, actor and show-business icon Frank Sinatra dies of a heart attack in Los Angeles, at the age of 82. Sinatra emerged from an Italian-American family in Hoboken, New Jersey, to become the first modern superstar of popular music, with an ...read more

Two trains crash in Japan, killing more than 40

On May 14, 1991, two diesel trains carrying commuters crash head-on, killing more than 40 people and injuring 400 near Shigaraki, Japan. This was the worst rail disaster in Japan since a November 1963 Yokohama crash killed 160 people. Shigaraki, a town near Kyoto, is famous for ...read more

The Warsaw Pact is formed

The Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The Warsaw Pact, so named because the treaty was signed in Warsaw, included ...read more