Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery

1997 | Documentary/Series | English | 1 season (2 episodes). Each episode is 120 minutes


President Thomas Jefferson seized the opportunity when France, desperate for money to finance its war against Britain, offered to sell the huge land west of the Mississippi for $15 million. The year was 1803, only 27 years after the start of the American Revolution. Referred to  as the The Louisiana Territory, it doubled the size of America and protected the country’s vulnerable left flank. But Jefferson soon realized that before the land could be settled, it had to be explored. He had three primary goals in mind: to find a water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific, to learn about the natives occupying the land, and to establish sovereignty over the entire region. On May 14, 1805, Lewis & Clark were given $2,500 by the government, 33 men, including geologists and map makers, and set out from St. Louis, navigating upstream on the muddy Missouri River. Throughout their expedition, they had to deal with the native Indians, some friendly, some not so much. The expedition was fortunate  encountering Sacagawea, a young Shoshone woman married to French trader Toussaint Charbonneau. Both were very familiar with the land and its inhabitants. The expedition returned to St.Louis on September 23, 1806. They were unable to find a water route to the Pacific, but they succeeded in documenting more than 100 new animals, 178 plants, and they provided    140 maps of the region. The expedition lasted 864 days and covered more than 8,000 miles. How fortunate: it’s  all been captured in this brilliant documentary.   

Major Participants: Dayton Duncan (Writer/Co-Producer) / Stephen E.Ambrose (Author of Undaunted Courage) / John Logan Allen (Geographer) /  James P. Ronda (Historian) 
Voice-overs: Hal Holbrook (Narrator) / Sam Waterston (President Thomas Jefferson) / Adam Arkin (Meriwether Lewis) / Murphy Guyer (William Clark)
Why Stream This DOCUMENTARY?
Ken Burns and writer Dayton Duncan vividly depict the vastness and the unknown of this huge swath of land that doubled the size of America. They were able to recreate, with their cameras, what the expedition discovered: startling colors, abundant wildlife, thousands of different plants and trees, and the habits of the native tribes. In an interview, Ken Burns stated that the series was “The ultimate road trip. The story had a beginning and an end. It was a wonderful sense of promise and bittersweet notion of what  the West was before the nation followed them.” 
  • National Educational Media Network, USA: Winner, Silver Apple Award for Best Documentary
  • PGA Awards: Winner, Vision Award for Best Television Documentary
  • Western Heritage Awards: Winner, Bronze Wrangler Award for Best Western Documentary
  • Western Writers of America: Winner, Spot Award, Best Documentary Script

Now streaming on:

It’s a visually stunning account of the 1804-06 expedition ordered by President Jefferson and headed by Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark. Ken Burns reports what the two men saw, experienced and accomplished. Striking photography, superb editing, informative reportage and some illuminating anecdotes characterize this fine documentary.
Tony Scott


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