Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

About twenty-five years ago a friend gave me a book as a gift. It was a history book. Not unusual, while I do read works of fiction, I read more historical materials than any other kind. Frequently, I may be reading as many as four books at once, bouncing from one to another depending upon my mood. I set this book aside, and really didn’t pick it up for quite some time. I did eventually get around to it though. The book was “Undaunted Courage” written by noted author Stephen Ambrose. Doctor Ambrose, a university professor wrote numerous books, perhaps the most famous of which is “Band of Brothers” which was made into a ten part mini-series.
Undaunted Courage dealt with the Lewis and Clark expedition. Most of us have had about a three minute lecture on Lewis and Clark at some point in elementary school. The expedition has some connections to our area as I will explain.
At the end of the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris consigned to the British the lands North of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, i.e. Canada, and the new country received the Northwest Territory, i.e. today’s states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a bit of Minnesota. In addition England gave up the rest of its claims to all land east of the Mississippi River, i.e. today’s states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. These acquisitions more than doubled the size of the original colonies. In 1762, during the French and Indian War, the French ceded what it called the Louisiana Territory to Spain. This was far more than just the state we know as Louisiana. This vast block of land was bounded on the East by the Mississippi River, On the North by Canada, on the South by the Gulf of Mexico and on the West by the Rocky Mountains. Thus following the Revolution today’s continental lower forty-eight states was divided between Spain and the new U.S. the border in the West being the Mississippi River.
A generation later, the French Revolution had replaced France’s monarchy with the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. France re-acquired the Louisiana Territory from Spain. France was again at war with England. It had little use for the vast undeveloped land in the middle of the North American Continent. Truthfully while France and Spain “claimed” Louisiana, other than New Orleans there wasn’t much to claim: in the early 1800’s New Orleans was already a large port city, having a population in excess of 10,000. St. Louis at the time had fewer than 2,000 residents. In reality the 820,000 plus square mile territory was largely unknown and populated by Native Americans.
President Thomas Jefferson could foresee the need for Americans to be able to transport their goods down the Mississippi through New Orleans and out to the rest of the world. American diplomats approached Napoleon for the purpose of acquiring New Orleans for $2 million. The offer was rejected. Jefferson was reportedly appalled at the thought of having France control the adjoining territory. Eventually negotiations yielded a transfer of the entire territory for $15 million, about $350 million in today’s dollars. Jefferson had a need to demonstrate to himself and to Congress the value of this land. To do so, he had his personal secretary Captain Meriwether Lewis recruit an expeditionary force to explore the new land. His charge to Lewis was: “The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River & such principal stream of it, as, by its course of communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct & practical water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.”
Lewis accepted the charge and enlisted his friend William Clark, a Lieutenant in the US Army to co-lead the expedition with him. Among Clark’s older brothers were two who had reached the rank of General during the Revolution, one of whom George Rogers Clark is still remembered for his exploits on the Northwest frontier in capturing British forts.
The journey began, (even before the legal niceties of title transfer from Spain to France to the U.S. had been completed,) when on August 31, 1803, Lewis and a company of eleven men and one dog, set off by keelboat on the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. On September 6, they reached Steubenville. On the 7th Lewis recorded in his journal the passing of Charlestown, now known as Wellsburg. He described it as having a “hansom wooden bridge” and being a “village containing about forty houses.” The group spent September 7th through the 9th at Wheeling, resting some and buying more supplies.
On October 14, Lewis and Clark met in the vicinity of what is today Louisville, Kentucky. Clark brought his slave, York, and nine more men into the party. On December 8th they reached Fort Dubois, where they wintered over and enlisted more soldiers from the American forces there to join the expedition. One of those men, who became essentially the third in command, came later to be associated with Wellsburg. His name was Patrick Gass.