Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
President Thomas Jefferson, driven by a life-long passion for scientific exploration and study, instructed Meriwether Lewis to record details about the flora, fauna, geology and people of the land between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. As the expedition's naturalist, Lewis described and collected specimens of numerous plants and animals yet unknown in the existing 17 states.
For the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) this land is more than a place to be studied. It is a place where the body and soul are nourished.
The land gives to us berries, foods and medicines. There is a connection because our grandparents and great-grandparents and so on, lived here. It gives the understanding that we are just the next spoke in the wheel. We know where we belong and where we came from.
That's called Soka in Nez Perce. It has to do with the shoots that start from the original tree. When the tree is mature or begins to die, the little shoots begin from that tree sprout. We don't own it no one owns it. It's not to be owned. We are just the ones using it right now.
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"...observe...it's growth & vegetable productions..."
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Merimether (sic) Lewis, June 20, 1803
Instructed to observe, describe, collect, and preserve
plant specimens, Lewis prepared an impressive herbarium. Although no specimens were recorded at this location, nearly one-third of the 178 species of plants preserved by Lewis were found in the Clearwater River region. Following Lewis' untimely death in 1809, William Clark accepted the task of assembling the Expedition's literary and scientific materials for publication.
"...The Mountains which we passed to day much worst than yesterday the last excessively bad & Thickly Strowed with falling timber & Pine Spurc fur Hachmatak & Tamerack, Steep & Stoney our men and horses much fatigued..."
William Clark, September 14, 1805 "...we descended the mountain in a lonesome cove on a creek where we Camped in a thicket of Spruce pine & Bolsom fir timber."
Joseph Whitehouse, September 16, 1805 "...Saw the hucklebury, honeysuckle, and alder common to the Atlantic states, also a kind of honeysuckle which bears a white bury and rises about 4 feet high not common but to the western side of the rockey mountains. a growth which resembles the choke cherry bears a black bury with a single stone of a sweetish taste, it rises to the high of 8 to 10 feet and grows in thick clumps. the Arborvita is also common and grows to an immence size, being from 2 to 6 feet in diameter."
Meriwether Lewis, September 20, 1805
"Cruzatte brought me several large morels which I roasted and eat without salt pepper or grease in the way I had for the first time the true taist of the morell which is truly an insipid taistless food..."
Meriwether Lewis, June 19, 1806
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Fauna "...observe the animals of the country generally, ...the remains and accounts of any which may deemed rare or extinct..."
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1803 Along the Lolo Trail and in the Clearwater River region, Lewis and others recorded ten animal species not previously observed. Animals recorded included the Northern Flicker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed or Stellar Jay, Canadian Gray Jay, Franklin's Grouse, Oregon Ruffed Grouse, Columbia Ground Squirrel, Columbia Toad, Pacific Tree Frog, Pigmy Horned Toad and the Western Tanager. "Our hunters set out early this morning; most of them returned before noon. R. Feilds killed a brown bear the tallons of which were remarkably short broad at their base and Sharply pointed this was of the speceis which the Chopunnish call Yah-kar."
Meriwether Lewis, June 20, 1806 "Three species of Pheasants, a large black species, with some white feathers irregularly scattered on the brest neck and belley a smaller kind of a dark uniform colour with a red stripe above the eye, and a brown and yellow species that a good deel resembles the phesant common to the Atlantic States."
Meriwether Lewis, September 20 1805
"...we arrived at Collin's Creek where we found our hunter; they had killed another deer, and has seen two large bear together the one black and the other nearly white... Saw the speckled woodpecker, bee martin and log cock or large woodpecker. found the nest of a humming bird, it had just began to lay its eggs."
Meriwether Lewis, June 15, 1806