Early Idaho History: Lewis & Clark
Idaho history often begins with the bold expedition carried out by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800's.
It is believed that the two heroic explorers Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first Euro-Americans to view what is now known as Idaho. The year was 1805.
Resulting from the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark were dispatched out by President Thomas Jefferson to discover a new overland route to the Pacific Ocean. U.S. Route 12 virtually follows the expedition’s path across the breadth of north central Idaho from Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot Mountains to the state’s western city of Lewiston.
In what is now known as Idaho, Native American tribes, with the names Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Salish, Shoshone and Piute had been living on these lands for centuries.
This drive along the route of Lewis and Clark has unsurpassed scenic splendor and great historic significance for any student of Idaho history. Hundreds of vacationing families travel this route each year. Many highlights of the Lewis and Clark Trail can be found along the way.
for current travel conditions.
The Lewis and Clark expeditionary group of 29 departed St. Louis, Missouri in May 1804. They followed the Missouri River northwest and spent the winter of 1804-05 at a fort just north of present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. While staying at the fort, they visited the Indian villages of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes, both located near the confluence of the Missouri and Knife Rivers.
There, they met and hired French trader Toussaint Charbonneau as their interpreter and guide. The French trader's young wife, Sacajawea, a Lemhi Shoshone, had been kidnapped as a young girl and taken from her Idaho home. She would accompany her husband and the group and prove to be a valuable asset to the expedition when they reached her native homeland.
The expedition crossed the Continental Divide on August 12, 1805 at Lemhi Pass on what would become the Montana/Idaho border. In this early Idaho history, they were entering the lands of the Lemhi Shoshone, the Salish, and the Nez Perce people. The success of the expedition would ultimately rely on the good will of these Native Americans. But, even with native assistance, this search for the Northwest Passage would prove to be the most difficult part of this heroic journey.
The story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through Idaho is one of brazen courage and challenge, loss and triumph. Much of the landscape traversed by the explorers in 1805-06 is unchanged today. One can still find the scenic rivers, the majestic mountains, the deep canyons and the rolling hills that these intrepid people viewed and endured during their trek.
Dozens of historic sites, interpretive areas, museums and natural points of interest help to bring this admired story of Idaho history to life for those who visit the state. Information about these sites, maps, tours, and the detailed story of Lewis and Clark and the Native Peoples can be found at the
Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation website.
When you travel through the state, you can visit a variety of interesting Idaho history locations to further underscore the daring exploration of Lewis and Clark as well as the assistance of the Native Americans they encountered. These are:
Lemhi Pass & the Lewis & Clark Backcountry Byway
Located east of Tendoy, Idaho. Information: (208) 756-2100
Lemhi County Historical Museum
Located at 210 Main St., Salmon, Idaho. Information: (208) 756-3342
Sacajawea Interpretive Cultural & Education Center
Located on State Route 28 near Salmon. Information: (208) 756-1188
Lolo Pass Visitor Center
Located on State Route 12 on Montana/Idaho border. Information: (208) 926-4274
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Near U.S. Route 12 from Lolo to Lewiston. Information: (208) 926-4274
Heart of the Monster
Located on State Route 12 near Kamiah. Information: (208) 843-2261
Weippe Discovery Center
Located at 204 Wood St., Weippe, Idaho. Information: (208) 435-4058
Clearwater Historical Museum
Located at 315 College Ave., Orofino, Idaho. Information: (208) 476-5033
Located on State Route 12 near Orofino. Information: (208) 476-4541
Nez Perce National Historic Park
Located at 39063 U.S. Route 95 at Spalding, Idaho. Information: (208) 843-2261
The territory of Idaho was officially recognized in March 1863. The capital was established at Lewiston. The capital was moved to its present location at Boise in 1864. Idaho was officially named the nation’s 43rd state on July 3, 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison signed the Idaho Admission Act.
For a more detailed Idaho history from these early times until today,
find out more here.
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