Merriwether Lewis and William Clark Meet the Shoshone By America's Story for America's Library
1. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are best known for their expedition from the Mississippi River to the West Coast and back. The expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, was President Thomas Jefferson’s visionary project to explore the American West. It began in May of 1804 and ended in September 1806. Before the expedition, Lewis was Jefferson’s private presidential secretary. He also served in the military, where he met Clark.
2. In August 1805, Lewis and Clark were looking for the Shoshone Indians. The Corps (Lewis and Clark’s expedition party) needed horses to cross the Rockies, and the Shoshone had them. Sacagawea, a member of the Corps, was Shoshone, but she had been kidnapped by another tribe many years before.
3. The Corps were still recovering from their portage around the Great Falls of Missouri. Morale was low. Lewis and three men were scouting ahead when they finally met a band of Shoshone. They were the first white men the Shoshone had ever seen. Lewis wanted the Shoshone to know that he and his men came in peace. He gave them gifts and used sign language, a few Shoshone words, and red paint (the Shoshone color for peace) to tell them. Luckily, the Shoshone band and their chief, Cameahwait, were convinced.
4. They celebrated a peaceful meeting with hugs, shouts, and smoking a peace pipe. When they all sat on the ground to share the peace pipe, the Shoshone removed their moccasins to show their sincerity. Lewis wrote many pages about this day in his journal, including this drawing of the peace pipe. Lewis explained that the Shoshone took off their shoes to say they would “always go barefoot if they are not sincere”—a pretty heavy penalty if they are to march through that rough terrain. Lewis understood what they meant since the Corps had all hurt their feet on sharp rocks and prickly pear cactuses.
5. Although the Shoshone welcomed Lewis, they were suspicious. They had recently been raided by another tribe. When Lewis asked them to travel to meet the rest of his expedition party, the Shoshone worried that Lewis might be leading them into a trap. Eventually, Lewis convinced them. But when they got to the meeting place, Clark and the others had not yet arrived. So they waited.
6. The Shoshone were nervous. They didn’t want to be ambushed. Lewis was nervous, too; he had to get horses, or the Corps wouldn’t be able to finish the expedition. If Clark and the others didn’t show up soon, the Shoshone would leave and take their horses with them.
7. Finally, on August 17, 1805, the rest of the Corps arrived. Sacagawea and another member of the Corps were the first to see Lewis and the Shoshone. Sacagawea recognized the area as her home, and now she recognized this band of Shoshone as her people. In fact, Chief Cameahwait was her brother! Everyone celebrated this lucky coincidence. They even named the meeting place Camp Fortunate. Now Lewis and Clark could continue their expedition, thanks to the Shoshone.