Posted by: Ed Darrell | October 24, 2011

Outfitting Lewis and Clark, and the Corps of Discovery

A Memorandum of Articles in Readiness for the Voyage, 1803

Part of the list of materials needed to outfit the Corps of Discovery, from an 1803 memorandum

From the PBS website for Ken Burns’s film, “Lewis & Clark,” here is a list of supplies the Corps of Discovery took with them when they departed, near what is now St. Louis.  It would be interesting to know just how much of this material survived the trip.

Once he was named by President Thomas Jefferson to head the Corps of Discovery, Meriwether Lewis began preparations for the long trip ahead. Much of that preparation involved education; in the months prior to his departure, Lewis would learn astronomy, botany, navigation, medicine and biology, among other scientific disciplines.

“A Memorandum of Articles in Readiness” for the Voyage, 1803

In addition, Lewis spent his time accumulating all the supplies that the expedition was going to need. He wrote list after list of provisions, which included guns, ammunition, medical supplies and scientific instruments. While still on the East Coast, Lewis accumulated almost two tons of goods using the $2,500 Congress had allocated for the expedition.

The following list is only a sampling of the supplies taken west by the Corps of Discovery, but it should give a sense of what an undertaking the expedition was.

Mathematical Instruments:

  • surveyor’s compass
  • hand compass
  • quadrants
  • telescope
  • thermometers
  • 2 sextants
  • set of plotting instruments
  • chronometer (needed to calculate longitude)

Camp Supplies:

  • 150 yards of cloth to be oiled and sewn into tents and sheets
  • pliers
  • chisels
  • 30 steels for striking to make fire
  • handsaws
  • hatchets
  • whetstones
  • iron corn mill
  • two dozen tablespoons
  • mosquito curtains
  • 10 1/2 pounds of fishing hooks and fishing lines
  • 12 pounds of soap
  • 193 pounds of “portable soup” (a thick paste concocted by boiling down beef, eggs and vegetables)
  • three bushels of salt
  • writing paper, ink and crayons

Presents for Indians:

  • 12 dozen pocket mirrors
  • 4,600 sewing needles
  • 144 small scissors
  • 10 pounds of sewing thread
  • silk ribbons
  • ivory combs
  • handkerchiefs
  • yards of bright-colored cloth
  • 130 rolls of tobacco
  • tomahawks that doubled as pipes
  • 288 knives
  • 8 brass kettles
  • vermilion face paint
  • 33 pounds of tiny beads of assorted colors


  • 45 flannel shirts
  • coats
  • frocks
  • shoes
  • woolen pants
  • blankets
  • knapsacks
  • stockings

Arms and Ammunition:

  • 15 prototype Model 1803 muzzle-loading .54 caliber rifles
  • knives
  • 500 rifle flints
  • 420 pounds of sheet lead for bullets
  • 176 pounds of gunpowder packed in 52 lead canisters
  • 1 long-barreled rifle that fired its bullet with compressed air, rather than by flint, spark and powder

Medicine and Medical Supplies:

  • 50 dozen Dr. Rush’s patented “Rush’s pills”
  • lancets
  • forceps
  • syringes
  • tourniquets
  • 1,300 doses of physic
  • 1,100 hundred doses of emetic
  • 3,500 doses of diaphoretic (sweat inducer)
  • other drugs for blistering, salivation and increased kidney output

Traveling Library:

  • Barton’s Elements of Botany
  • Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s History of Louisiana
  • Richard Kirwan’s Elements of Mineralogy
  • A Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy
  • The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris
  • a four-volume dictionary
  • a two-volume edition of Linnaeus (the founder of the Latin classification of plants)
  • tables for finding longitude and latitude
  • map of the Great Bend of the Missouri River


  1. this information it is really helpful for the subject that we just saw in class…
    it gave me a better undertanding…

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