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Interpreting the Evidence

Map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, c. 1806-1809

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, c. 1806-1809 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A map of Louis and Clark's expedition to Oregon and their return, c. 1806-1809.
Historical Context
The Louisiana Purchase has been called the greatest real estate venture in history. On April 30, 1803, the United States acquired from France 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. This land stretched north from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This new land nearly doubled the size of the United States!

France, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, was ready to sell the land. The French were on the brink of war with Britain and needed money for the war. The French were not willing to spare troops to guard the vast wilderness, and they did not see any use for this land. President Thomas Jefferson was thrilled at the Frenchmen’s willingness to sell the land, but suspected a trick so he sent two negotiators, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, to Paris to negotiate the deal. Although the Unites States initially offered $2 million for the land, the French asked for $15 million. Although this seems like an enormous amount of money, the United States jumped at the chance for this investment because it was a bargain. The United States paid $11,250,000 directly to France; the remainding $3,750,000 the French owed the United States anyway, so they agreed to cancel the debt.

Thomas Jefferson immediately asked Congress for money to fund an expedition of the new territory. Congress agreed, and in the fall of 1803, the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, departed on their journey to seek a water route to the Pacific Ocean. Although no such waterway existed, the Corps did discover many new plants, animals, and geographical characteristics of the United States. Perhaps most significant, however, were their interactions with many different groups of Native Americans. On September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery returned to Washington D.C. after two and a half years. They were greeted as national heroes.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence national and global events?
Check for Understanding
Identify three key characteristics of this map and evaluate the significance of Lewis and Clark in American history.
Historical Challenges
The map shows one route for Meriwether Lewis’s return journey and a different route for William Clark’s return journey. Why did they return by different paths?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Trace Lewis and Clark’s route on the map. About how many miles did they travel round-trip? How many days did their journey last? Approximately how many miles per day did they average? If you were to drive 55 miles per hour for eight hours a day, how many days would it take you to drive the same distance? How many miles per day would you travel?
Science: Choose five plants or animals that Lewis and Clark discovered on their journey. Make a booklet including one page for each discovery. For each discovery, draw a picture of the plant or animal, write its common and Latin names, describe the location and climate where it is found, and include any interesting facts about the species.
Science: What major landforms and bodies of water did Lewis & Clark follow or cross?
English Language Arts: Read a journal entry from Lewis, Clark, or one of the men traveling with them. How would you change the spelling and punctuation in the journal entry? Pretend you are on the expedition with Lewis and Clark. Chose one week from the expedition that you find interesting and write your own journal entries describing what you see and experience during that week.
English Language Arts: Pretend you are one of the Native Americans who met Lewis and Clark on their journey. Write a short story describing your encounter with Lewis and Clark.