Lewis Meriwether, an American public servant, soldier and traveler, is renowned for his efforts in pioneering the exploration of Louisiana state and diplomacy with Native American tribes. Together with his former military associate, Meriwether has embarked on the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, which has taken them on a statewide tour of Louisiana and helped to bridge a number of social, political and economic gaps (Meriwether and Clark 8). In this mission, Meriwether has been specifically instructed by President Jefferson to set up diplomacy talks with the native tribes, create elaborate trade routes to the Pacific Ocean, establish the region around the Missouri river as state property and finally, to claim the Oregon County and the Pacific Northwest for the United States. Because of his success in the above mentioned tasks, Meriwether is considered to be an important figure in American History and is respected for his contribution towards national sovereignty. In the light of the above, further follows a historical discussion on the impact of the Meriwethers accomplishments on American society.
Meriwether was born in the 18th century to parents of British and Welsh ancestry. He was raised in Albermarle, Virginia, but moved with his mother and stepfather to Georgia State in 1780 after his biological father succumbed to pneumonia (Danisi and Jackson 6). He lacked formal education until the age of 13 when he eventually was homeschooled by one of his fathers relatives. Besides, young Meriwether taught himself how to hunt and many other outdoor skills by befriending the native tribes that were in the area. He often interacted with the Navajo tribes both in a friendly and combative manner. This eventually gave him the expertise required to hold diplomacy talks with them later in life. During his teenage years, as he was getting his formal education, he continued to study the nature and enjoy outdoor activities. He later graduated from university and immediately joined the Virginia State militia which was fighting the Whiskey rebels.
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He thereafter joined the US national army in 1795 where he was commissioned as a lieutenant and later came up through the ranks to become a captain. Due to his impeccable outdoor and practical skills, Meriwethers tenure as a military officer was so impressive that the president eventually recognized his efforts. He was then appointed presidential aide in 1801 and worked as a military strategist because of his experience (Danisi and Jackson 17). Later during President Jeffersons rule, he became in charge of the statewide expeditions which were aimed at reaching by America geo-political sovereignty. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson chose Meriwether to lead the expedition. To prepare for his mission, he was sent to Philadelphia where he gained skills in botany, zoology, medicine and outdoor navigation. His exploration team was also provided with food and medical equipment.
In the summer of that year, Lewis and Clark together with a team composed of a few Kentucky men, fourteen military officers, a pair of boatmen from Canada, a skilled hunter and a black servant started to rise up the Missouri river (Danisi and Jackson 44). For two summers, Lewis and his team spent time observing, collecting, and describing hundreds of plants and animal species formerly unknown to science (Pauly 2). They passed the Mandans, associating with many small tribes along the river banks, and finally reached the Great Falls in the midsummer of 1805. By the end of July, they reached the three streams confluence which they named Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison. They chose to continue their ascension via Jefferson stream where they reached the western mountains and embarked on the plains of the Western slope. By the end of the summer, they had encroached on an isle of the Columbia known as Kookoosky and travelled up to the mouth of the Jefferson stream covering a mileage of about 4000miles from the Missouri river and the confluence (Buckley, n.p.).
That winter, the Lewis and Clark team joined forces with a young French-Canadian explorer and his 15 year old wife Sacagawea who helped them with canoes and pirogues for their journey. During this period, Lewis was fascinated with the Native American tribes, culture, flora, fauna, fossils, geographical formations, landscape and other aspects of the trip, all of which he recorded in his historical journal. As noted by Pauly (73), Meriwethers team of experts summarized and gathered together all the map work, cultural and historical artifacts, mineral samples, biological specimens and manuscripts to send back to the White House; he even sent President Jefferson magpies and a little prairie dog. When they came to the Bitterroot Range on the Weippe prairie, they befriended a small tribe known as the Nez Perce who aided them in building canoes which ferried the team down the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and finally led them to the Pacific Ocean (Buckley, n.p.).
Meriwether was so overjoyed at this discovery that he wrote in his journal, Ocean in view! O! The joy. Nonetheless, they were trapped on the Pacific shore because of the turbulent weather. Thus, Lewis team spent their days recording historical manuscripts, game hunting, and sea exploration. By March of 1806, the strong winter prevented the team from continuing the expedition and Meriwether made the decision to lead the team back home. They rose up the Columbia River but eventually abandoned their boats due to the strong winds and high tides of the river. Young Sacagaweas brother provided the horses that helped the group to cross the undulating mountains and return back to the Missouri River. According to Buckley (n.p.), the group ended up dividing and some went to salvage some of the food and medical supplies that they had cached in the beginning of the journey while Meriwether, Clark, Sacagawea and her husband passed through Yellowstone River, under Sacagaweas advice, establishing it as a route. Notably, Lewis marked his name and date on a rock outcrop known today as Pompeys pillar and is now regarded as a historical artifact.
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The two groups later reunited at Missouri River in August and used boats and canoes to get to St. Louis by September. Here they received a grand welcome by the public as well as the congress and federal officers and they were christened the Corps of Discovery. After legislation was passed, Meriwether and his team were well rewarded by the government being given land, double pay and various public posts (Meriwether and Clark 53). Meriwether was appointed governor of Louisiana, Missouri territory, Clark was appointed diplomat between the government and the native Indian tribes, the other soldiers were given military promotions. Some of the team members returned to settle in the west while others engaged in the fur trade.
Even with all of this data, new to science, Meriwether was accused of the minor failures of his journey. He failed to discover an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean and to set up diplomatic ties with Native Americans to create an exclusive Rocky Mountain fur trade for the United States. Hence, many scholars and historians refused to recognize Meriwethers contribution to science and regional development (Meriwether and Clark 91). Moreover, he was not the first Caucasian to explore that region and the route to the Pacific Ocean. In addition, Meriwethers journal was published years after his expedition hence many were unimpressed.
Considering all of the abovementioned, the issue of Meriwethers contribution to the exploration of the western U.S. and the science arises. Despite the criticisms that have plagued his accomplishments, I believe that Meriwether remains a man of a great success and triumph given the strides he made in geographic discovery, his breakthroughs in scientific life and methods as well as his propagation of the Unites States agenda against British imperialism. He contributed to the current knowledge of the western climate, topography, population distribution, cultural diversity and trade (Pauly 38). Though he has not created a direct link with the Indians to trade in furs, the has expanded commercial boundaries which have caused citizens countrywide to make their way into the west for trade and expansion. As he has established American territorial claims to the Pacific and other geographical regions in Missouri, he, in the process, has mapped out a clear graphical representation of the landscape which has been notably used for a number of years after the publication.
Meriwether was indeed a courageous man as was evidenced by his story. First and foremost, when he was appointed head of the expedition by President Jefferson, he had no prior knowledge of the region and no basic skills of carrying out an exploration. His mere love for the outdoors and nature was what perhaps greatly aided him in the mission. No other explorer had mapped out the course to be taken in the Missouri River and the Great Mountains hence Lewis proved skillful in guiding his team through the turbulent waters, harsh climate and thick vegetation. Meriwether, in addition, proved his courage by embarking on a journey where he knew he would meet unfriendly and savage tribes that would not hesitate to take his and his counterparts lives (Ambrose 22). He was responsible for the lives of the entire team and took it upon himself to foster good relations with the Navajo and Cherokee tribes encountered. During the entire trip, not one savage death was reported and Meriwether managed to cover every region with minor challenges. Even if the man failed to establish a political link between the tribes and the government, he did manage to create a good rapport and friendly image of the federal government to the native Indians.
He stood out not only as a great explorer and scientist but also as a man who took pride in his responsibilities and ability to accomplish a challenging task. He was a botanist and zoologist who could identify, collect and sample unfamiliar plants and animals that would later be used to propagate scientific research. In addition, he saw, appreciated and even named many geographical objects that he came across i.e the tributaries, confluences, rapids, waterfalls, hills, valleys, slopes, plains and water bodies. While he did not manage to find a stable sea route from the Missouri river direct into the Pacific Ocean, Meriwether, nevertheless, found a way to access this key water body through several other routes. In the process, he discovered several boating, riding and outdoor techniques that he later published for use by other explorers (Ambrose 51).
Despite what many argue, Lewis is indeed a great pioneer of discovery and exploration and his impact on eighteenth and nineteenth century journeying is significant. His map is still used as a blue print for Missouri and the entire state of Louisiana. Native Indian tribes also recognize his significance with regard to establishing of trade route and links, provision of medical supplies and knowledge as well as priceless information about interacting with natural flora and fauna. Lewis remains a great figure of American history as President Jefferson has fittingly quoted after his demise He was courage undaunted, possessing a firmness of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction, and was intimate with Indian character, customs, and principles.