Defining moments

In Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose describes the pivotal day when Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their tiny band of explorers sent their large keel boat back down the river to St. Louis. The boat had carried all of their supplies, weapons and ammunition. It had served as a secure refuge from attack. Now it was gone and they were headed west, toward the Pacific Ocean, alone. Lewis sat in his buffalo-skin tepee and wrote in his journal:

Our vessels consisted of six small canoes and two [larger row boats]. This little fleet, altho’ not quite as rispectable [sic] as those of Columbus . . . were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those diservedly [sic] famed adventurers ever suffered theirs; and I dare say with as much anxiety for their safety and preservation. We were now about to penetrate a country at least 2,000 miles in width, on which the foot of civilized men had never trodden.


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