On this date in 1806, Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery, along with representatives of the Mandan nation, arrived at St. Louis. The historic expedition was officially over. From the time they left Camp Dubois (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis) in May of 1804, to their return in 1806, they had logged more than 8,000 miles, and opened a door to the West.
In the final week of the journey, while moving swiftly down the Missouri, they met numerous groups of traders and trappers heading upriver. The corps was greeted with astonishment and informed that the people of the U-S had generally given up on the expedition—assuming they had perished.
On September 23rd, William Clark wrote in his journal, “we rose early…took the Chief to the public store & furnished him with some clothes etc. … descended to the Mississippi and down that river to St. Louis at which place we arrived about 12 o’clock. We suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a salute to the town. We were met by all the village and received a hearty welcome …”
Patrick Gass wrote of the day, “We arrived on the 23rd and were received with great kindness … after an absence of two years, four months and ten days.”
And John Ordway noted, “… the people gathered on the shore and [gave] three cheers.”
Meriwether Lewis had not been writing much since being wounded in Montana, but on this day he dispatched a letter to President Jefferson, saying, “Sir, It is with pleasure that I announce to you the safe arrival of myself and party at 12 o’clock today at this place with our papers and baggage. In obedience to your orders we have penetrated the continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country to affirm with confidence that we have discovered the most practicable route which does exist across the continent by means of the navigable branches of the Missouri and Columbia rivers.”
In other words—mission accomplished—without a doubt. Captains Lewis and Clark were soon national heroes. On their return to Washington later that fall, a Senator told Lewis “it’s as if he had just returned from the moon.”
Dakota Datebook written by Russell Ford-Dunker
Note: Spelling of journal quotes corrected for ease of reading.