Normally, when one thinks of the expansion of the American West, the event most likely to come to mind is the California Gold Rush of 1849. While that profitable discovery did boost California's population by 80,000 eager prospectors, there remained an awful lot of land between the Pacific Coast and St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson sent a secret message to Congress calling for an expedition into the area west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. He felt that an intelligent military man with a dozen hand-picked men could successfully chart the entire route and do it on an appropriation of merely $2,500. Jefferson's, message was secret because France owned the territory in question and such an expedition would surely be considered trespassing.
Then in July of the same year, Napoleon of France, in a surprise move, offered the whole Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15,000,000.
America accepted and overnight the United States grew by about one million square miles.
Jefferson choose his personal secretary, Meriweather Lewis, to lead the exploration. When the need for a second-in-command was addresser, Lewis recommended his good friend William Clark, and on May 14, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition started out from St. Louis in search of the Pacific Ocean. Two and a half years and 8,000 miles later the explorers returned to St. Louis and an enormous welcome form a grateful nation.
By 1848, when Mexico finally ceded its claim to all U.S. territories to the north of its present day border, the United States had acquired undisputed title to all land westward from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, north to the 49th parallel and south to the Rio Grande.
The stories that were related to them by explorers and missionaries, just back from...