They Also Discovered America

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Captains Lewis and Clark, with the Corps of Discovery, set off in 1804, up the Missouri Rive, to discover what lay between Missouri and the Pacific Ocean.
Christopher Columbus and a lot of other fine fellows have well been applauded for the discovery of various portions of America. But it took the courage of these early explorers and a lot more for later explorers to trek into the thousands of unmapped acres that stood mountain-high and desert-low between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Two of the earliest inland adventurers were Captain Meriwether Lewis and his co-leader Captain William Clark of the newly formed Corps of Discovery. In 1804 they left Missouri, to begin an enormous voyage west as they followed the Missouri River. They crossed the westward portion of the newly acquired land, due to the Louisiana Purchase, until they reached the Pacific Ocean.

Setting out in three boats, a fifty-five foot long keelboat and two pirogues, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis’ party consisted of forty-five men. Unique to this group was one African American, known as York. This giant of a man was the slave of William Clark. York was the first known Black to cross the American Continent, although other Blacks were soon to follow such as mountain man James Beckwourth.

While Lewis and Clark were away exploring, and once chasing prairie dogs, another fellow by the name of Zebulon Pike took off on an adventure of his own in an entirely different direction. His mission, in 1806, was to explore the Arkansas and Red Rivers and to evaluate the possibilities of trade with Mexico.

Pike didn’t chase any prairie dogs that we know of. Instead, he built himself a fort on Spanish soil and proceeded to fly the Stars and Stripes over it, eventually landing himself and his men in a Mexican jail. In time, these forward Americans were released and years later, thanks to Pike’s boldness, the Santa Fe Trail was open for trade between America and Mexico.

Long before Lewis and Clark headed west and Zeb Pike wandered down the would-be Santa Fe Trail another brave and curious fellow was checking out the possibilities in Kentucky.

In 1773, Daniel Boone left North Carolina to discover what there was in Kentucky. A woman gives birth along the Oregan Trail.

In September of 1773, Daniel Boone, with his wife and children and a group of other adventuresome folks, left North Carolina to go see Kentucky. The Boones lost one of their sons on the trip due to a Shawnee attack. The boy was so horribly tortured before he died that the entire Boone party turned around and went back to North Carolina. But still the pull of Kentucky wasn’t over for Daniel Boone, and in 1775 he made a successful forage into the wilds of Kentucky.

“Capture of Boone and Stuart” from Life and Times of Col. Daniel Boone by Cecil B. Hartley (1859)

It wasn’t just the men-folk who did some exploring and discovering. Every woman who crossed the Great American Plains westward had more than an ounce of the explorer in her. And she certainly discovered some new and interesting things. Amongst those adventurous discoveries were things like what it meant to give birth along the trail. That was one major experience that Naomi Sager had when she and her family traveled west in 1844.

Two other grand gals that bravely went west were Narcissa Whitman and Elisa Spalding. In addition to being missionaries, their journey west was unique in that they were the first known white women to make the journey.