ZanzibarCoins's Blog

08 Aug 2018

Lewis and Clark's Expedition and the Numismatics it Inspired

Coins-United States | ZanzibarCoins

   Lewis and Clark's Westward Journey has inspired many medals and coins, and rightly so. This expedition was of valuable importance to the United States of America. Dreamed up by President Thomas Jefferson in about 1800, this journey took the men almost two years. Captain Merriweather Lewis and Captain William Clark led the expedition, along with their faithful Native American guide and interpreter, Sacajawea, who was lovingly nicknamed Janey by Clark (Sacajawea's story is very fascinating but I'll save that for another blog post...), her newborn baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (who was born on the expedition) who was nicknamed Pomp by Clark. Not to mention, Clark's manservant York, who was quite a source of entertainment for the Native Americans, who thought that his skin was covered in black paint and they kept trying to rub it off of his arms, Sacajawea's slightly cowardly and foolish husband Toussaint Charbonneau (who won her in a gambling game, which, according to some historical records, dismayed her, and according to others, she was almost glad of that.), and at least twenty five other men went on the long and tiring journey. They traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, which was the Westernmost civilized town large enough for them to acquire enough supplies for their long journey, all the way to the Western Sea, which is, as you all know, now named the Pacific ocean, but back then, it was only known by the Native Tribes along its shores as The Great Stinking Lake, The Lake With No End, and many other names.
   The expedition has inspired many, many medals and coins. First, there were the eighty-seven Peace Medals that Lewis and Clark gave out to the Chiefs of Native American Tribes that they met, which became highly prized items that were passed down from father to eldest son throughout the generations, and some Native Americans still have their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-etc. Grandfather's Peace medal. Lewis and Clark's Peace Medal's typically had a picture of Thomas Jefferson on them, and there are several replicas of them around today. I have yet to see any original ones though, although I'm sure that there are still some around, perhaps in Native American Tribes as a family heirloom. :)
   Lewis and Clark's expedition was a very brave thing to be a part of. There were mountains to cross, raging rivers to ford or sail down, waterfalls to navigate around, hostile Native American Tribes to befriend, not to mention they had to battle sickness, fatigue, hunger, wild animals, thieves, the Spanish, and the French, the English, the Canadians, as well as their allied traders and Native American Tribes. (I know, that's a lot!) So, naturally, the fact that these men not only made it to the Pacific, but then made it back, with maps and sketches and plants and animals and other things, such as Native American pots and jewelry and weapons, made them all heroes, and they have been celebrated on coinage, as well as stamps and other things. 
   One of the most recent set to celebrate their expedition was the Westward Journey Nickel Set in 2004 and 2005. The United States Mint began the Westward Journey Nickel Series in 2004 with the release of the Peace Medal, which depicted one of the captains shaking hands with a Native American Chief underneath crossed peace pipes and the words "Louisiana Purchase, 1803", and the Keelboat, which depicted the men rowing one of their main modes of transportation, a keelboat, above the words "Lewis and Clark", nickels. In 2005, a new bust of Thomas Jefferson was used on the obverse of the nickel, and new new designs appeared on the reverse: the American Bison, which represented the wildlife that Lewis and Clark encountered on their journey; and a scene of the Pacific Ocean, which represents the group's joy and excitement on reaching the Pacific Ocean, which was their real destination, by using words from the Captain's own diary, "Ocean in view! O! The joy!" Depictions of Monticello and Jefferson returned to the nickel in 2006, ending the series.
   I hope y'all enjoyed that blog post! More coming soon. I'll post the blog about Sacajawea and the coins she inspired next. :) 


This is truly a story about pushing America's boundaries, and making peace with the peoples of a different land, I am glad that such an important part of our history is marked by so many numismatic items.


Level 6

Thanks for a great blog! Really enjoyed reading about this part of our history!


Level 5

I always wondered if they went through my "back yard". They certainly were within a few miles of where I live.


Level 6

Indian Peace medals are wonderful pieces of history. They were made for quite a few yrs. I once owned a Lincoln medal.

Jonas's Coins

Level 5

I like the Westward Series Nickels. I have at least one of each design. For some I have both P&D. I also keep a tube of extras.

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