In April, 1805, a remarkable shipment was dispatched from a sizable Indian village near what is now Bismarck, North Dakota. A large hand-hewn boat headed down the Missouri River toward the President’s House in Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away, where Thomas Jefferson eagerly awaited word of the progress of the expedition he had promoted. To his great delight, not only words, but a whole host of objects, were in that shipment from Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s “Corps of Discovery.”
The astonishing variety of artifacts included soil samples, animal skins and skeletons, seeds, Native American products, maps, and reports. And, in a supreme effort to give Jefferson and their fellow countrymen an idea of what they had seen in their trek which had begun near St. Louis in 1804, Lewis and Clark caged up living creatures: a prairie dog, a grouse, and four magpies. On August 12, 1805, the shipment arrived at its destination, a president who was intently interested in everything it contained. This was the first and only communication from the expedition, and also the last until September, 1806 when Lewis and Clark had at last returned to St. Louis and sent word of their safe arrival to Jefferson.