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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
About This Site Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Intended Users

This site has been designed to be particularly useful for elementary, middle and high school education and includes a Teachers' Guide and several lesson plans, but the content should be interesting and informative to the general public, whether in North America or abroad.


The site contains images of museum specimens, scientific drawings, and field photos of the plant and animal species observed and described by Lewis and Clark, along with journal excerpts, historical notes, and references for many of these examples as well as the date and location of observation

The scholarly information presented here is derived from published works of experts in their fields (history, zoology, botany).  Information found here is but a small portion of that available in the source documents that were used (see References below).

The site may be searched by species groups (mammals, plants, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians under "The Collection" or "Search"), by location ("Interactive Map", "The Collection", or "Search"), or by date ("Interactive Map - Timeline", or "The Collection").

The "Resources" area include suggestions for teachers as well as links to web sites with additional information about the plant and animal species.

Technical Requirements

For full enjoyment, you should disable any browser program that prevents pop-up screens. There is an interactive map that works best with Flashİ, but a non-Flash version is available. There are QuickTimeİ images of many of the zoological specimens, and the main views of these specimens are also apparent in the still images available without QuickTimeİ.  We have tried to keep file size small so that you might have an equally rewarding experience whether you are using a telephone modem or a broad-band connection.  The images have been scaled for screens set at a resolution of at least 800 by 600 pixels.  Most images are displayed as thumbnails and as pop-ups in a separate screen.

Where Do the Specimens Come From?

At two times during the trip (from Fort Mandan in April 1805 and from St. Louis in September 1806), the collected specimens were indexed and sent to President Jefferson.  Unfortunately, some specimens that had been cached at Great Falls for pick up on the return trip were lost or ruined during the winter of 1805-06 when the Missouri flooded.  President Jefferson transferred some zoological specimens to the Peale Museum and the botanical specimens to the American Philosophical Society, both in Philadelphia.  He also lost some 25 crates of specimens in a shipping disaster. Scientists studied the remaining specimens carefully over a number of years and published their findings and drawings.  Over time other specimens from some of the same areas were collected by other explorers or scientists and some of these may have been perceived as "better" and introduced into the Lewis and Clark collection.  To the extent that a more recent specimen is not exactly the same as the original, or that multiple specimens have been mounted together and actually represent different varieties or sub-species, a considerable amount of detective work is necessary to determine which specimen is the one collected by the Corps and what is the correct scientific designation.  These problems are particularly true for the botanical specimens and the comments by Reveal et al. are instructive as to the complexity of the task.  A significant portion of the botanical collection went to Europe with an eminent botanist who was illustrating and describing some species.  Most, if not all, of these specimens eventually returned, fell into private hands, and then were given to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia where they are kept in a special room today.

The zoological collection remained in Philadelphia, but over time there was some dispersion to other museums and collections with the result that some were destroyed and others were lost with the result that none remain today.

The actual specimens presented on this web site were NOT collected by Lewis and Clark.  The examples that are presented here are housed in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.  For the plants, we have made every effort to present examples that are the same species and subspecies as the Lewis and Clark specimens, and where more than one example exists in the Museum's collections, we selected the one that came from an area close to the route of the Corps of Discovery.  In some instances, labels on the original Lewis and Clark specimens were not attached or had incomplete information about date or location.  In these cases, different published references have made assumptions about locality and/or dates or, by comparing the identified species with either the seasonal stage of development or current geographic distribution, or deduced according to the Corps' known itinerary.  We have made an effort to note where these assumptions or deductions have been included.

For the animals, we found using subspecies designations to be confusing and too often incorrect to merit their use.  Therefore, we nearly always use the rank of species, which coincidentally makes pretty clear that many species that some authors have attributed to Lewis and Clark were not new to science, however, their observations extended the known range for the species.

Nomenclature for Species

All of the specimens are listed alphabetically by their current scientific name.  Common names are included, but the names chosen may be only one of several names by which a plant or animal is known.

Several members of the Corps kept journals during the trip.  These journals have subsequently been published (and re-published) either as edited manuscripts, or relatively faithful (in spelling, grammar, punctuation) versions to the author's original notes.


Localities were chosen to be at or near where specimens were collected, significant observations were made, or where the corps camped for some period of time.  At several points, the eastbound and westbound routes were coincident and The Corps camped at sites that they had used previously.  At Fort Mandan, Fort Clatsop, Great Falls, Canoe Camp, Camp Chopunnish, and Travelers Rest, the Corps remained for days to months.  They used these opportunities to acquire enough provisions while they were still in an area with abundant game (for food, clothing, shoes, shelter).  At Forts Mandan and Clatsop, they were waiting for spring thaws to allow them to move over the mountains.  At Great Falls they were involved in preparation and execution of a difficult portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri.  At Camp Chopunnish they waited for snows to melt while they made the necessary preparations for the group to traverse the Rocky Mountains; at Travelers Rest, they were preparing to split into smaller exploratory teams to finally come together near the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers before the final leg to St. Louis.


Among the resources upon which the editors relied heavily were:

  • Thwaites, Reuben Gold. (ed.), Original journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, 1804-1806, Antiquarian Press 1959 (reprinted from 1904-1905 edition)
  • Cutright, Paul Russell, Lewis & Clark: Pioneering Naturalists, reprinted from University of Illinois Press, 1969 by University of Nebraska/Bison Press, 1989
  • Burroughs, Raymond Darwin, The Natural History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Michigan State University Press Red Cedar Classics. 1995
  • MacGregor, Carol Lynn (ed.), The Journals of Patrick Gass: Member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1997
  • Moulton, Gary E., et al. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 13 Volumes, University of Nebraska Press, 1983 - 2001
  • Reveal, James L., Moulton, Gary E., and Schuyler, Alfred E., "The Lewis and Clark collections of vascular plants: Names, types, and comments", Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 149, 1-64, 1999
  • Reveal, James L., and Earle, A. Scott, The Lewis and Clark Herbarium: Images of the Plants Collected by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, 1804-1806, http://www.plantsystematics.org/reveal/pbio/LnC/LnCpublic.html, Cornell University, University of Maryland, New York Botanical Garden, University of Maryland and The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, 2002
  • USDA, NRCS.2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 (http://plants.usda.gov) National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA
  • Alsop, Fred J., Smithsonian Handbooks:Birds of North America, Western Region, DK Publishing, Inc., 2001
  • Zoonomen, Zoological Nomenclature Resource, http://www.zoonomen.net
  • Wilson, Don E. and Ruff, Sue (eds.) The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999
  • Wilson, Don E. and Reeder, DeeAnn M. Mammal Species of the World, an on-line database (3rd edition), 2005
  • Rosenberger, A. L., Taxonomy I - What's in a name?

Editorial Credit

This web site was developed by staff of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in commemoration of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's transcontinental expedition with their Corps of Discovery.  Robert Costello, Distance Learning Program Manager has been the lead architect for this site and is also editor for the zoological species; George F. Russell, Collections Manager, US National Herbarium, is editor for the botanical information.  Working together and with the contractor for creating the code for the web site, they established the features of the site as you see it today.  The site is still a work in progress.  While the details for some species are relatively complete, we are still collecting the images, journal entries, and ancillary information for others.

Most of the images on this site are property of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.  Some examples, however, are the property of individuals not affiliated with the museum and are used with permission as designated.  In all cases, the source of the image has been identified.

March 23, 2010

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Robert Costello · Rusty Russell
Special thanks to Lynn Ellington, Frances Pitlick, Ingrid Lin, Alicia Peduzzi, Brooke Cain, Alyscia Cunningham, Michele Delvoie, Lee Smythe, Alex Gilchrist, Michael Schoen, Dominique Harre Rogers and Daniel Dancis
Web Development/Design:
Redmon Group Inc.
Redmon Group Inc., Alexandria, VA
Michael Elepano · Geoff Gaudreault · Jim Stone · Amy Tobin

We greatly appreciate your interest and welcome comments and concerns. Direct comments to costellr@si.edu.