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1804-1806 Natural Missouri River

Lewis and Clark drawing

Traveling by keelboat and dugout canoes, Lewis and Clark and their party of soldiers and scouts explored, mapped and described in detail the entire length of the Missouri River as part of their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the Missouri River functioned naturally, without man-made influences such as dams or channelization.


Lewis and Clark marveled at the river’s abundant wildlife and natural landscapes, and wrote descriptively about the river’s challenges to their mission.  Soon after Lewis and Clark concluded their exploratory expedition, an array of commercial interests endeavored to take advantage of the river basin’s resources. Fur traders, gold miners, buffalo hunters and other fortune seekers were greatly aided by the river’s navigational opportunities. 

William Clark’s Journals

Excerpts from the journals of William Clark provide a written description of the natural Missouri River, a place that no longer exists. These journal entries were written in late September, 1804, when the expedition traveled through what is now the Oahe dam and reservoir area in present-day South Dakota.  Warning:  Spelling and grammatical mistakes abound.

1804-1806 Natural Missouri River