On this day in 1806, after nearly two-and-a-half years spent exploring the western wilderness, the Corps of Discovery arrived at the frontier village of La Charette, the first white settlement they had seen since leaving behind the outposts of eastern civilization in 1804.
Entirely out of provisions and trade goods and subsisting on wild plums, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their men were understandably eager to reach home. Upon arriving at La Charette, the men fired a three-round salute to alert the inhabitants of their approach and were answered by three rounds from the trading boats moored at the riverbank. The people of La Charette rushed to the banks of the Missouri to greet the returning heroes. “Every person,” Clark wrote with his characteristic inventive spelling, “both French and americans Seem to express great pleasure at our return, and acknowledge them selves astonished in Seeing us return. They informed us that we were Supposed to have been lost long Since.”
The Lewis and Clark mission had been a spectacular success. With the aid of friendly Native American tribes, the explorers had charted the upper reaches of the Missouri, proved there was no easy water passage across the Continental Divide, reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and made the first major step to opening of the trans-Mississippi West to the American settlement.
After spending the evening celebrating with the people of La Charette, the next day the expedition continued rapidly down the river and after two more days reached St. Louis, the city where their long journey had begun. Lewis’ first act upon leaping from his canoe to the St. Louis dock was to send a note asking the postmaster to delay the mail headed east so he could write a quick letter to President Jefferson telling him that the intrepid Corps of Discovery had, at long last, come home.