The tribes Lewis and Clark met were actually very different from one another. Indeed, in terms of language, appearance, and way of life they were as dissimilar from each other as the peoples of Europe.
Some of the Indians lived in wooden houses. Some lived in skin houses. Some made wooden boats. Some made boats of bark or animal hides. Some ate dog meat. Others would eat it only if starving. Some tribes were warlike. Others thought war was barbaric.
During their journey to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark traveled through three different culture areas: the Plains, Plateau, and Northwest Coast.
The Plains Indians were primarily nomadic buffalo hunters who lived most of the year in tipis. The horse was an important part of their culture.
Although a few of the Plains tribes, like the Mandans and Pawnees, lived in permanent villages most of the year, they hunted buffaloes and had a lifestyle similar to their nomadic neighbors. Among the Plains tribes Lewis and Clark met were the Osage, Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, and Mandan.
Upon reaching the Rocky Mountains, Lewis and Clark entered the country of the Plateau Indians. Living here were the Blackfeet, Flathead, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Spokane, and Yakima Indians. These Indians lived in the Columbia River Country and were fishermen as well as hunters.
Upon reaching the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark met Indians of the Northwest Coast Culture Area. These people were excellent wood workers who built large houses, boats, and totem poles. Living near the mouth of the Columbia River were the Clatsop, Tiliamook, and Chinook Indians.
Route Mapping on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark and their Corps of prepared about 140 maps on the trail and collected some 30 maps from Indians, fur trappers, and traders.
Most of the maps were drawn or compiled by William Clark. Although Clark had little formal education, he displayed an inherent ability for mapmaking.
While Meriwether Lewis was not a cartographer, he carried out much of the celestial observation. Using his own instruments, Thomas Jefferson personally taught Lewis the basic principles of determining latitude by observing altitudes of the sun or a star with an octant.
Compass Traverse Maps
The primary maps prepared by Lewis and Clark were called compass traverse maps. These show the route that they traveled each day.
The explorers were more successful determining latitude, which involves measuring the angle of the moon and a star with an instrument called an octant. Latitude was usually determined for each camp site.
Next, Lewis and Clark recorded the direction and distance covered for each leg of their journey. Direction was determined with a "circumferentor" or plain surveyors compass. Distances from point to point were generally estimated in miles. Clark and many of the soldiers were experienced woodsmen who were trained from childhood to estimate distances.
Lewis and Clark did not achieve the primary objective of their expedition, to find a water route across the continent. However, they did provide a much more accurate view of the American West. Their heroic journey marked a turning point in western exploration, in the history of the United States, its citizens and its native inhabitants, and in geographic knowledge of the North American continent.
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The expedition of Lewis and Clark
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