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Lewis and Clark Animal Discoveries

The Lewis and Clark expedition resulted in the discovery or observation of more than 300 plants and animals. Below is a sampling of those discovered. All excerpts are taken from the actual journals of Lewis and Clark during their three year expedition.

Grizzly Bear

“In the evening we saw a Brown or Grisley beare on a sand beech, I went out with one man Geo Drewyer & Killed the bear, which was verry large and a turrible looking animal, which we found verry hard to kill we Shot ten Balls into him before we killed him, & 5 of those Balls through his lights This animal is the largest of the carnivorous kind I ever saw we had nothing that could way him, I think his weight may be stated at 500 pounds [227 kilograms]…. we had him skined and divided, the oile tried up & put in Kegs for use.”

American Bison

Great herds of “buffalow” were noted throughout the journey. The expedition members frequently killed and ate bison.

Mountain Lion

May 16, 1805 – The morning was fair and the day proved favorable to our operations . . . in the early part of the day two of our men fired on a panther, a little below our encampment, and wounded it; they informed us that it was very large, had just killed a deer partly devoured it, and in the act of concealing the ballance as they discovered him.

Coyote

First observed on September 18, 1804, in South Dakota. Lewis and Clark referred to the Coyote as “Prairie Wolf”

“A Prarie Wolf come near the bank and Barked at us this evening, we made an attempt but could not git him, the animale barkes like a large ferce dog.”

Wolverine

June 14, 1805 – (probably a wolverine) In returning through the level bottom of Medecine river and about 200 yards distant from the Missouri, my direction led me directly to an anamal that I at first supposed was a wolf. But on nearer approach or about sixty paces distant I discovered that it was not. Its colour was a brownish yellow; it was standing near it’s burrow, and when I approached it thus nearly, it couched itself down like a cat looking immediately at me as if it designed to spring on me.

Elk

First noted: December 2, 1805, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The expedition members frequently killed and ate elk.

Prairie Dog

First noted: September 7, 1804, in Boyd County, Nebraska. ” Just above the entrance of Teapot creek on the star’d side there is a large assemblage of the burrows of the Barking Squirrel.” Lewis described the their barkings as those of “little toy dogs.” He was so enamored with these creatures that he sent a live one to Thomas Jefferson in Washington.

Mountain Goat

First Noted: August 24, 1805, in Lemhi County, Idaho. There is only one recorded sighting of the mountain goat on the expedition, called “mountain sheep” by Lewis and Clark. These animals occurred high in the mountains, often amdist the forbidding glaciers. Lewis bought the skin of a mountain goat from local Indians near the Columbia River.

Badger

First Noted: February 6, 1804 at Camp Dubois. Lewis called the Badger the barking dog of the prairie. The following description was written at Fort Clatsop on February 26, 1806: “His Shape & Size is like that of a Beaver, his head mouth &c. is like a Dogs with Short Ears, his Tail and Hair like that of a Ground Hog, and longer, and lighter.” Lewis was especially impressed with its claws, which he measured at 3/4 of an inch in length.

Whooping Crane

April 11, 1805 – “Saw some large white cranes pass up the river.” Lewis and Clark were almost certainly describing the Whooping Crane as they traversed the Columbia River. Today, the Whooping Crane is an exceedingly rare sight and is considered critically endangered.

Western Meadowlark

First Noted: June 22, 1805, at Great Falls, Cascade County, Montana. In his journal, Lewis compares this newly discovered meadowlark (that he killed) with the eastern meadowlark. According to Lewis, the western meadowlark “much resembles the bird called the oldfield lark with a yellow brest and a black spot on the croop; tho’ this differs from ours in the form of the tail which is pointed, being formed of feathers of unequal length; the beak is somewhat longer and more curved and the note differs considerably; however in size, action, and colours there is no perceptable difference; or at least none that strikes my eye.
First Noted: July 20, 1805, near Helena, Montana. A specimen of the Lewis’ Woodpecker may be the only surviving animal specimen from the expedition. According to Lewis, “The Black woodpecker which I have frequently mentioned and which is found in most parts of the roky Mountains as well as the Western and S. W. Mountains, I had never an opportunity of examining untill a few days since when we killed and preserved several of them. This bird is about the size of the lark woodpecker or the turtle dove, tho’ it’s wings are longer than either of those birds.” The species was eventually named for him.

Western Tanager

First Noted: June 6, 1806 in Idaho County, Idaho

White Pelican

“…the boat passed a Island 2 Miles above the little Scouix R[iver] on the upper point of this Isld Some hundreds of Pelicans were collected, they left 3 fish on the Sand” —William Clark
“I saw several very large grey Eagles today they are half as large again as the common bald Eagle of this country. I do not think bald Eagle here qu[i]te so large as those of the U’ States; the grey Eagle is infinitely larger and is no doubt a distinct species.” —Meriwether Lewis, July 11, 1805 in Montana. At the time, these birds were referred to as Calumet Birds.
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