Published March 2003 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Celebration of Discovery
This year marks the bicentennial commemoration of the travels of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their team, the "Corps of Discovery." Reflecting on the journey reminds us that discovery of the unknown is one of the most profound traits of the American people. During the coming months, West Virginians will have an opportunity to learn about these adventurers and the time that they spent in the Mountain State.
In 1803, President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on a historic expedition through the lands gained from the Louisiana Purchase in order to find a navigable water route from the eastern states to the Pacific Ocean. During the trip, the two men and their team traveled thousands of miles, experiencing lands, rivers, and people that no American had seen before.
West Virginia played an important role in the Corps of Discovery's success. The U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry supplied weapons and equipment for this great expedition.
Captain Lewis stayed in Harpers Ferry from mid-March until mid-April of 1803. While there, he purchased fifteen muzzle-loading, flintlock, long-barreled rifles which were among the first designed for the U.S. Army. The expedition would depend on these firearms for hunting food and for self-defense. Lewis returned to Harpers Ferry in July to test the guns and collect his supplies. During his subsequent travels on the Ohio River, Lewis stopped in Wellsburg, Wheeling, Parkersburg, Belleville, and several other West Virginia communities.
One Corps member returned to West Virginia after the expedition. Patrick Gass, one of the few men on the trip who could read and write, spent his later years in West Virginia and died in Wellsburg in 1870. His diary serves as a key record of the journey.
The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has planned an extensive schedule of Lewis and Clark commemorative activities between March 28 and 30, 2003, featuring music, drama, living history displays, and the opening of the park's new permanent exhibit on Meriwether Lewis. The weekend also will showcase a national traveling exhibit, "Corps of Discovery II: 200 Years to the Future." The exhibit will tell the story of the expedition and its significance as part of our history. A complete list of commemorative events throughout the state can be found at the website http://www.callwva .com/lewis-clark.
I encourage West Virginians to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Their journey led to the opening of the American West. More importantly, the lessons they learned can help the next generation of Americans to chart their own course through history.
March 5, 2003