How the Party Grew

Handwritten list of Corp members with number and single letter codes by each name

Field Notes of Captain William Clark

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'
Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

In January, 1803, President Jefferson assured Congress that an overland expedition to the Pacific could be pulled off by "an intelligent officer with ten or twelve chosen men."

Yet when that expedition left its North Dakota winter quarters in April, 1805, it was led by two officers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their whole party numbered 33 people, more than double the force originally planned. and that was the "permanent" corps of explorers that actually went to the Pacific: there had been 45 or more travelers on the journey's first leg from St. Louis.

The story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition's seemingly runaway growth is a hard one to piece together. The leading participants didn't say much about it on the record that has survived. The main unanswered question is whether anyone in Washington authorized the expansion or, as seems quite likely, the leaders did it on their own without much fear of official censure if they returned in triumph.