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By Tim McNeese

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Located at the mouth of the Mississippi River, it was the final destination of frontier Americans who shipped their western produce down American rivers. Although founded as a French settlement, New Orleans, as well as the vast expanse of Louisiana, came into Spanish hands following the French and Indian War in 1763. But the original French influence in New Orleans remained ingrained in the culture of its people, primarily a mixture of whites and blacks. By 1800, New Orleans was home to 8000 citizens, half being white and the half being black.

They would progress by river, on horseback, and on foot. All the supplies were stored on a large keelboat and two pirogues, smaller flat-bottomed boats which could hold about ten men. On the afternoon of May 14, 1804, at four o’clock, the group of 45 men set sail up the Missouri. It was raining when they began their historic journey. Traveling up the Missouri proved to be difficult. When the boats reached rapids, the men went ashore and pulled the boats upstream with ropes. By mid-June, the crew settled into a routine which included anticipating rapids along the Missouri.

One of these Canadians, a trappertrader named Toussaint Charbonneau, agreed to take the expedition upriver. But Lewis and Clark were more interested in Charbonneau’s wife, a 15-year-old Shoshone woman named Sacajawea, who came from the lands to the west. As a Shoshone, she would be able to serve as a guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark, for her people lived to the west, near the Rocky Mountains. The Mandans invited the white men to join them for the final buffalo hunt of the year. Half the expedition went on the hunt and killed ten buffalo.

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American Frontier by Tim McNeese


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