PBS is re-airing tonight (July 16th) the documentary Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997), a film by Ken Burns. Narrated by Hal Hobrook, the film features a number of notable actors, such as Sam Waterston, Matthew Broderick and Tantoo Cardinal, in voice roles.

The first official American expansion into the West began with the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. Starting with preparations in 1803, U.S. Army Captain, Meriwether Lewis, and explorer William Clark, were commissioned by US President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, the American government had purchased France’s claim to a large area called “Louisiana” that lay between the Mississippi River and the Rockies in the West. It was an unknown land to Americans.

It is important to note that the territory in the West claimed by the US via the Louisiana Purchase was already occupied by Indigenous groups who recognized each other’s use of a given area. Indigenous input and good relations were key to the success of Lewis and Clark – these nations provided food and geographical information to the expedition along way. Most famously, Lewis and Clark would be accompanied from what became North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean by an Indigenous woman named Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone who acted as both interpreter and guide.

Sacagawea (Lewis & Clark) at Three Forks (1904) by Edgar S. Paxson

The Lewis Clark Expedition would extend their travels beyond territory claimed by America to cross the Continental Divide and explore to the Pacific Coast. The expedition would return to St. Louis, Missouri, in late September of 1806.

Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997) – PART TWO airs at 8pm local time on a number of PBS stations (check your local listings). PART ONE aired on July 9th. Here is a preview clip

For further information on the film visit PBS – Lewis & Clark and to view clips and the documentary in its entirety (until July 30th) visit Video – Lewis & Clark.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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