Two hundred years today, Captain William Clarke wrote those words in his journal upon reaching (what he thought) was the Pacific Ocean in a climatic moment to the two-year Corps of Discovery journey.
(click on map for interactive link)
The Washington Post had a commemorative report of the momentous day in their Saturday edition.
Lewis & Clark Mapped It — Then The Nation Remade The West – WashingtonPost (subscription required: Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org, password – gaypatriot)
William Clark, who scribbled these words in his field journal on Nov. 7, 1805, was not a man to get carried away with exclamation points. He was a woodsman, a waterman and a sober-minded maker of maps.
Yet, if ever there were a time and a place for extravagant punctuation, it was here 200 years ago where the Columbia abruptly widens to embrace the Pacific. Having crossed the continent as co-leader of the most important road trip in American history, Clark believed he could finally see and hear the ocean (he was mistaken; it was about 18 miles away).
More important, Clark and Meriwether Lewis and others in the Corps of Discovery were in exclusive possession of geographical intelligence that would soon demolish three centuries of guesses, rumors and dreams about the character of the West. They knew that what President Thomas Jefferson had sent them to find — a “direct & practicable” water route across the continent — did not exist. They had instead observed, mapped and painstakingly described what was actually out here, in all its punishing vastness and exclamatory wonder. Their journals — historian Donald Jackson called the Corps of Discovery the “writingest” explorers in U.S. history — would recast the nation’s conception of itself.
Today is one step in that history changing expedition that should be marked with more attention, as should the entire journey, by our public education system. The volunteers on the Corps are true American heroes and served as examples of trailblazers that came before and after them from our American family.
I have been lucky enough to have seen and walk on many miles of the Lewis and Clark Trail in the past three years when my imagination was initially captured on a trip to Montana. Just this year, I too saw the Pacific at the spot that the Corps (eventually) stood.
I’d like to mark this historic day in our nation’s history, science and exploration with a salute to the most underrated heroes in our American experience. Captain William Clark and Captain Meriwether Lewis.
[Related Story – Army to mark Lewis & Clark milestone – Army News Service]
[Resources: Discovering Lewis & Clark, National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial homepage]