Thomas Jefferson, February 28, 1803
Between 1804 and 1806, the Corps of Discovery traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific coast and back. President Jefferson instructed Meriwether Lewis to collect information on "the soil & face of the country, [its] growth & vegetable productions...the animals of the country generally, especially those not of the U.S." In fulfilling these instructions, members of the Expedition were the first to describe for science 122 animals and 178 plants. The explorers' written descriptions and the seeds and specimens they collected were Jefferson's window onto the new west.
In 1805, the keelboat returned to Washington D.C. carrying 4 magpies, a prairie dog, and a sharp-tailed grouse. Only the prairie dog and one magpie survived the journey. Believing that "everything that comes from Louisiana must be interesting to the public," Jefferson sent these two living pieces of the west to be displayed in Philadelphia.
Black tailed prairie Dog
)"he presented us with some Anchovies [eulachon] which had been well cured in their manner, we [found] them excellent."
Meriwether Lewis, March 6, 1806
)"I have reason to beleive...that there are several species of the seal on this coast...when we first saw those animals...we conseived they were the Sea Otter, but the indians here have undeceived us."
Meriwether Lewis, February 23, 1806
)"the quawmash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water..."
)"we meet with a beautiful little bird...the plumage is remarkably delicate; that of the neck and head is of a fine orange yellow and red"
Meriwether Lewis, June 6, 1806
(Taxidea taxus neglecta
)"it is very clumsy and runs very slow. I have in two instances out run this animal and caught it. in this respect they are not much more fleet than the porcupine."
Meriwether Lewis, February 26, 1806
Prickly pear cactus
)"my feet is verry much brused & cut...& constantly Stuck full Prickley pear thorns, I puled out 17 by the light of the fire..."
William Clark, July 19, 1805
)"these bear being so hard to die reather intimedates us all..."
Meriwether Lewis, May 11, 1805
)"a curious annamil resembling a Goat...the legs like a Deer. feet like a Goat. horns like a Goat only forked....Such an anamil was never yet known in U. S. States."
John Ordway, September 14, 1804
)"[S]o much do...[the Osage Indians] esteem the wood of this tree for...making their bows, that they travel many hundreds of miles in quest of it....The Indians give an extravigant account of the exquisite odour of this fruit when it has obtained maturity...."
Meriwether Lewis letter to Thomas Jefferson, March 26, 1804