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In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark

As a homeschooling mom, I am always on the lookout for books. Our family likes to build ‘accidental’ unit studies around places or events we come across. A recent road trip with my school teacher daughter roughly retraced the journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition backwards from Western Washington to Montana. We had both visited Fort Clatsop on the mouth of the Columbia River as part of a family field trip many years ago. Now we seemed to find Lewis and Clark evidence along Interstate 90. We discovered grizzly tracks at the trail head of the Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks, Montana. We visited Pompey’s Pillar off Interstate 94 about 20 miles northwest of Billings. We climbed the ‘pillar’ which is a large sandstone rock overlooking the flat Yellowstone River Valley. The expedition had parted forces with William Clark’s party travelling down the Yellowstone while Lewis followed the Missouri. Clark scratched his name into the rock he named after the son of Sacagawea. This signature may be the only original evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Everything else has been reproduced according to written accounts. In the bookstore, we found treasures: animal shaped mood rings: a moose, a bear, an elk; a reproduction of the Louisiana Purchase deed; books…

I was very excited about these:

The Captain’s Dog: My Journey With The Lewis And Clark Tribe by Roland Smith. This is a lovely account of the Expedition told by Seaman, Captain Meriweather Lewis’s Newfoundland dog, for intermediate readers.

Indian Sign Language by WilliamTomkins, 1969. This book is arranged like a dictionary. It includes whole sentences to practice, smoke signals and lots of ideas to use sign language. The book was written for boy scouts and inludes boy scout activities.

Sacajawea: Her True Story by Joyce Milton. A Beginning Reader about Sacajawea. How cool is this?

Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac. This is a historic novel for teens told from alternating points of view of Sacajawea and William Clark. Excerpts from the original Lewis and Clark Journals are woven into the story. Note that Sacajawea was sixteen when she joined the expedition, a great inspiration for your teen.

Nava Nuki: Shoshoni Girl who Ran by KennethThomasma. This is the fictional story about another kidnapped Shoshoni girl (like Sacagawea) who courageously escaped her captors and found her way home. Grade level 4-6. The author also wrote about girls from other tribes.

I dug up some more books about the expedition for you:

Editions of the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

Here is a link to the famous University of Nebraska Gary E. Moulton complete edition which leaves the original spelling intact and can be read online. The Images and Maps tap shows scans of pages in Clark’s original handwriting including maps and drawings of plans and animals:

The Facsimile of Original Print Edition, free for download, includes contemporary color plate illustrations. This edition is somewhat easier to read than the Moulton one. Clark’s spelling has been cleaned up.

The University of Nebraska Press also offers this abridged edition by Gary E. Moulton which combines selected passages from the original Lewis and Clark Journal with journal entries by other expedition members to clarify some passages. Some of Clark’s drawings are also included. This is a great way of getting the whole story from primary sources without having to read the entire original edition above:

Picture Books:

National Geographic Readers: Sacagawea (Readers Bio) by Kitson Jazynka, 2015. This book is as colorful as a National Geographic magazine article with lots of photos and information. Intermediate reading level.

Sacagawea by Liselotte Erdrich. I love the beautiful oil paintings by Julie Buffalohead. The book has a timeline, map and bibliography.

My Name is York by Elizabeth Stanwyk tells the story of York, an African American slave who became one of the most important men of the expedition.

Lewis and Clark: Explorers of the American West written and illustrated by Steven Kroll. The book has good factual information but page 23 contains an error. The expedition travelled into the Bitterroot Valley, not into the Flat head Valley. Beautiful paintings!

Last but not least comes our old family favorite which I bought at a yard sale long ago. It is a good straightforward , informative and exciting telling of the story for children without any underlying ideologies. The kids love the illustrations, too:

Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Ormonde De Kay , illustrated by John Powers Severin, 1968.

Here is what you can do with the books and souvenirs: Unit Study: Lewis and Clark, Pompey’s Pillar

You can find the link to the State Park in the introduction above.


Retrace the Corp of Discovery’s trail on a modern map.

Study the states through which they travelled.


Correct Clark’s Writing

Study Indian Sign Language

Nature Studies:

Grizzlies: lives and historical bear attacks ( see Lewis and Clark as well as Hugh Glass).

Find the plants William Clark drew in the journals and draw them yourself.


How did the Pompey’s Rock get into the plain?

How do mood rings work?


Read the books.

What was the Louisiana Purchase?

Which Indian tribes did the explorers meet?

What is a rendezvous?


Write your own explorer’s journal.

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