| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
JEFFERSON—HOW THE DOOR INTO THE FAR WEST WAS OPENED
 VERY little was known of this vast territory which was thus added
to the United States. For the most part it was pathless wilderness
where no white man had ever set foot. Long before the Louisiana
Purchase Jefferson had wanted to send out an exploring party into
this unknown west. Now he was more anxious for it than ever. And
at length he succeeded in getting an expedition sent out.
The leaders of this expedition were two young officers, Captain
Merriwether Lewis and William Clark. From their names the expedition
is usually known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
They made very careful preparations and in 1804 they set out with
about twenty-seven men to explore the river Missouri.
Some years before this a United States Captain, Robert Grey, had
discovered a great river in the west coast of America and called
it the Columbia, after the name of his ship. And now what Lewis
and Clark had set out to do was to reach that river from the east.
It is impossible to tell here of all their thrilling adventures,
for they would fill a whole book. I can only give you the merest
outline. But some day you will no doubt read the whole story as
Lewis and Clark tell it themselves.
The expedition started from the mouth of the Missouri, and at first
the explorers passed by the scattered farms and little villages
where white men lived. But these were the
farth-  est outposts of
civilisation; soon they were left behind, and the little band of
white men were in a land inhabited only by Redskins. The current
was so swift and the wind so often in the wrong direction that sails
were almost useless, and the boats were rowed, punted and towed
up stream with a great deal of hard labour. Some of the travellers
went in the boats, others rode or walked along the bank. These last
did the hunting and kept the expedition supplied with meat.
One of the leaders always went with those on shore. For it was
often difficult for the two parties to keep together. Sometimes
the river wound about, and those on land could take a short cut,
while at other times those on land had to make a wide circuit to
avoid marshes or steep precipices. The river was full of fish, and
the land swarmed with game. Antelopes, deer, black bear, turkeys,
geese, ducks, in fact all sorts of birds and beasts were abundant.
There were also great quantities of delicious wild grapes as well
as plums, currants and other fruits; so the travellers had no lack
They met many tribes of Indians and they nearly all seemed friendly,
for both Lewis and Clark knew well how to treat Indians. When they
came into their land they called the chiefs together to a council,
and made them a speech telling them that the land was no longer
Spanish but American. The Indians would pretend to be pleased at
the change, but really they understood nothing about it. But they
liked the medals and other trinkets which the white men gave them.
And most of them were very anxious to have some of the "Great
Father's Milk" by which they meant whiskey. But one tribe refused
"We marvel," they said, "that our brothers should give us drink
which will make us fools. No man can be our friend who would lead
us into such folly."
Until the end of October the expedition kept on, always
the course of the Missouri, north-west. But the weather now became
very cold; ice began to form on the river, and the explorers
determined to camp for the winter. Not far from what is now the town
of Bismarck, North Dakota, they built themselves a little village
of log huts and called it Fort Mandan, for the country belonged to
the Mandan Indians.
Here they met both French and British fur traders, who in spite of
the bitter weather came from Assiniboia, about a hundred and fifty
miles north, to trade for furs with the Indians.
The weather was bitterly cold, but the men were fairly comfortable
in their log huts, and they had plenty to do. They went upon hunting
expeditions to get food, they built boats, and they set up a forge.
This last greatly interested the Indians who brought their axes
and kettles to be mended, and in return gave the white men grain.
Soon the smith was the busiest man in the whole company, the bellows
particularly interesting the Redmen.
Indeed everything about the white strangers was so interesting to
the Indians that they were nearly always in their huts. On Christmas
Day the travellers only got rid of their inquisitive visitors by
telling them that it was a great medicine day with the white people,
when no strangers were allowed near them, and they must keep away.
The travellers stayed at Fort Mandan till the beginning of April;
then the ice being melted on the river they set out again.
Game now became more than ever plentiful, and they had several
encounters with huge grizzly bears. The Indians had told the
explorers terrible stories about these bears. They themselves had
such great respect for them that they never went out to hunt them
without putting on their war paint, and making as great preparations
as if they were going to fight some enemy tribe.
 The white men too soon came to have a great respect for them.
"I find," wrote Lewis, in his journal, "that the curiosity of our
party is pretty well satisfied with respect to this animal. He has
staggered the resolution of several of them."
Later on he added, "I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen,
and had rather fight two Indians than one bear."
One day Lewis was on shore, and seeing a herd of buffalo shot one
for supper. After it fell he stood looking at it, and forgot to
load his rifle again. While standing thus he suddenly saw a large
bear creeping towards him. Instantly he lifted his rifle but
remembered in a flash that it was not loaded. He had no time to
load, so he thought the best thing he could do was to walk away as
fast as he could.
It was in an open plain with not a bush or tree near; and as Lewis
retreated the bear ran open-mouthed at full speed after him. Lewis
took to his heels and fled. But the bear ran so fast that Lewis
soon saw that it would be impossible to escape, for the bear was
gaining fast upon him. Then suddenly it flashed across his mind
that if he jumped into the river he might escape. So turning short
he leaped into the water. Then facing about he pointed his halberd
at the bear. Seeing this the bear suddenly stopped on the bank not
twenty feet away. Then as if he were frightened he turned tail and
ran away as fast as he had come.
Lewis was glad enough to escape so easily, and he made up his mind
that never again would he allow his rifle to be unloaded even for
Other dangers, too, beset the travellers. One day Lewis and his
companions were following the boats along the bluffs which rose
high above the water's edge. The ground was so slippery that they
could only with difficulty keep their feet. Once Lewis slipped
and only saved himself by means
 of the pike which he carried from
being hurled into the river a hundred feet below. He had just
reached a spot where he could stand fairly safely when he heard a
voice behind him cry out: "Good God! Captain, what shall I do?"
He turned instantly and saw that one of his men who had lost his
foothold had slipped down to the very edge of the precipice and
was now hanging half over it. One leg and arm were over, and with
the other he clung frantically to the edge of the cliff.
Lewis saw at once that the man was in great danger of falling and
being dashed to pieces below. But he hid his fear.
"You are in no danger," he said in a calm voice. Then he told the
man to take his knife out of his belt and dig a hole in the side
of the cliff for his right foot. The man, steadied by his leader's
calm voice, did as he was told and in a few minutes was able to drag
himself up to the top of the cliff. Then on his hands and knees he
crawled along till he was again in safety.
After two months the travellers reached the great falls of the
Missouri River. Here they had to leave the water, and carry their
boats overland until they arrived above the rapids. It was no
easy matter and they were all by this time worn and weary. So they
camped for a few days, and made a rough sort of cart on which to
carry the boats. For they were too worn out to carry them on their
shoulders. But the way was so rough that long before the end of
the journey the cart broke down.
Then began a most painful march. The country was covered with
prickly pear, and the thorns of it pierced the men's moccasins and
wounded their feet. The sun was so hot that they had to rest every
few minutes, and they were so tired that they fell asleep at every
stopping place. Yet there were no grumblers, and in spite of the
hard-  ships they went on cheerfully, and after ten days' hard
work they were above the rapids.
They were now right among the Rocky Mountains. These they crossed,
and after many more adventures, dangers and hardships at last—on
the 8th of November—they arrived within sight of the Pacific.
"Great joy in the camp," wrote Lewis. "We are in view of the ocean,
this great Pacific Ocean, which we have been so long anxious to
Having at length reached the Columbia River the travellers sailed
down it to its mouth, and so reached the shores of the Pacific and
the end of their journey.
They spent the winter on the Pacific coast and towards the end of
March set out again on their homeward way. The return journey was
almost as full of hardships and dangers as the outward one had
been. But all were safely overcome and on the 20th of September
the explorers arrived once more at St. Louis whence they had set
out more than two years before.
Every one was delighted to see them back. They were also surprised,
for the whole expedition had long ago been given up as lost. But
far from being lost every man of them returned except one who had
died not long after they had left St. Louis.
Since they set out, these bold adventurers had marched nine thousand
miles over barren deserts, across snow-topped mountains, through
wildernesses yet untrodden by the foot of any white man. They had
passed among savage and unknown tribes, and kept peace with them.
They had braved a thousand dangers, and had returned triumphant over
them all. The great journey from sea to sea had been accomplished,
and the door into the Far West opened.
Other travellers and explorers trod fast upon the heels of Lewis
and Clark. Hunters, and fur-traders, and settlers
 followed them,
and bit by bit the West became known and peopled. But in the story
of that growth the names of Merriwether Lewis and William Clark
will always be first, for it was they who threw open the door into
the Far West.
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