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The Western Collection
The lands of the West were unknown to most people in the early 1800’s. Many established Indian cultures flourished throughout this huge area that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson persuaded Congress to appropriate funds for an expedition to explore the Western lands. To command the expedition, Jefferson chose Merriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark.

In the spring of 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, left St. Louis and made their way up the Missouri River. By 1805, they had set out toward the Rocky Mountains, guided by Sacajawea, a Shoshone Indian. Sacajawea knew the land west of the Rocky Mountains well as her people lived there. On September 23, 1806, the expedition returned to St Louis. Trappers and traders also ventured west to tap the abundant natural wealth of the region. These trappers became known as “Mountain Men.” Their jobs were often dangerous and adventurous. Many tales were told of trappers’ escapades with hostile Indians, menacing grizzly bears and the harsh wilderness environment where trappers were never sure of their next meal. Most historians believe that the “Mountain Men” played a major role in opening the Far West to American settlement.

The Lewis and Clark expedition and the Mountain Men both blazed trails West. Their exploits also spread the word about the natural wealth that lay there. This helped to settle the West.

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