Few missions have succeeded so impressively in their completion as the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, an achievement where courage and intellect triumphed against the unknown in the noble pursuit of knowledge. Lewis and Clark had little technology to depend on; their battle was won with practical ingenuity and fortitude.
The Corps of Discovery were seasoned frontiersmen who set out in 1804 to realize Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a republic united from Atlantic to Pacific. They mapped the new territory west of the Louisiana Purchase, cataloging plant and animal species as they went. On the way, they searched for a northwest passage and a precedent for the manifest destiny of the United States. Fortune smiled upon the intrepid group as they made their way across the west, bartering with Indians and hunting to support their dwindling rations.
Through all of their adventures and discoveries, a fact of human nature became evident; that we are all capable of greatness, given a situation in which to prove it. Called upon to transcend the limitations of ordinary people, the Lewis and Clark expedition was a sum greater than its parts, rising to the occasion with a sense of duty. Although carefully chosen by Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark gave little hint of the greatness they would achieve with the expedition. And so, the journey of discovery remains a victory for the common person, who labors at honest work for the reward that comes from a job well done.
The personalities of Lewis and Clark resonated well together, each of them gravitating to complementary duties and contributing equally. The key to the success of the expedition was the balanced diversity of their leadership, tempered by the courageous Shoshone Indian woman Sacajawea. It was the contributions of Sacajawea as an interpreter and guide that proved critical to the success of their mission. As the expedition prepared to cross the Rockies late in the season, it was Sacajawea and her brother who obtained the horses they desperately needed.
A bond between the adventurers was forged in the realm they bravely inhabited between peril and discovery. At Fort Clatsop, the expedition wintered through constant rain, their conviction undimmed, and claimed as our right the land of the mighty Columbia. Their model of achievement became a cornerstone of our young republic. It eclipsed the later lives of Lewis and Clark, who fell into relative obscurity. Recognition of the Corps of Discovery camping sites is forthcoming, that they should rank alongside the greatest historical sites of our nation.
I stood looking out to sea from Ecola State Park, squinting against a fine mist falling from leaden skies. Tossing in waves of gray, the ocean thundered against the cliffs and shook the ground beneath my feet. This was the scene that met the gaze of Lewis and Clark, who had traveled across a continent to the mythic edge of the frontier. They had earned the right to be here, and we must do the same. A new generation of Americans can come to appreciate Lewis and Clark's thoughts as they viewed the immensity of the Oregon country. There are still frontiers and challenges to be met all around us, waiting for us to realize our full potential.