A Look At Lewis And Clark's Surprising Arsenal

On May 14, 1804, and at the personal request of President Thomas Jefferson, the president's personal secretary Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark set off from St. Louis with their 45-strong "Corps of Discovery" on an epic journey to the distant Pacific Northwest of America — an 8,000-mile round exploratory trip that would take the Corps more than two full years, according to Britannica.

After the collective awe felt by the U.S. in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase, the American government was keen to have explorers survey the new land, which, per Britannica, covered some 828,000 square miles. According to the same source, huge financial efforts were made to procure equipment, supplies, and personnel to ensure that the expedition was successful. Lewis himself was charged with collecting supplies, which included tools, boats, and a dog to accompany the expedition, whom the expedition leader named Seaman. Clark also bought weapons, and in the process, assembled one of the biggest arsenals of his day.

Lewis and Clark's extensive weaponry

As reported by History, beyond the Rocky Mountains the new lands of the United States remained a mystery, with Thomas Jefferson himself convinced that the expedition had a good chance of encountering woolly mammoths that still roamed free in the distant west.

It is no surprise to know, then, that with the frontier as unknowable as it seemingly was, the Lewis and Clark expedition armed themselves with an eye-wateringly large arsenal, including 15 rifles that were specially customized and made shorter to aid travel, per the U.S. Army Center for Military History. History reports the expedition also carried many muskets, more than 200 pounds of gunpowder, and 400 pounds of lead from which to make ammunition. The same source also reports that the group also carried many hand weapons such as tomahawks, knives, and, surprisingly, pikes.

But the most useful weapon in the Lewis and Clark armory was Lewis' state-of-the-art air-powered rifle, a near-silent gun that History claims could fire some 20 rounds before having to be reloaded. Famously, the Corps of Discovery rarely became embroiled in violent encounters. Instead, the weapon was chiefly used during diplomacy with Native Americans, according to Britannica, which claims that the weapon was used to perform a "magic show" along with other European technology such as magnets and compasses.