Medicine and Surgery During the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The OHSU Library commemorates this anniversary with an exhibit on the medical and surgical aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Expedition was sent westward by President Thomas Jefferson to find and map a transcontinental water route to the Pacific Ocean. With approval from Congress, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a 33 member party, known as the Corps of Discovery.

The Expedition set out on May 14, 1804, up the Missouri, in a 55-foot covered keelboat and two small craft. On Nov. 7, 1805, after a journey of more than 18 months, the Pacific Ocean was within view. Near the mouth of the Columbia, they built a stockade, to be named Fort Clatsop, and spent the winter. On March 23, 1806, the entire party started back, reaching St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806. Travel westward by American settlers and traders began soon after their return on the route blazed by these brave men and one woman.

Without a doctor, Lewis and Clark took care of the injuries and illnesses of their party and lost only one man. Their medical practices were a potpourri of Army medicine, Indian medicine and frontier home remedies. The medicines that Lewis purchased to carry with them fell into four general groups: purgatives (cathartics), emetics, antipyretics and analgesics. The total expense for the medicines and related equipment was $90.60.

The exhibit was created by members of the OHSU History of Medicine Society and consists of surgical instruments and a bleeding bowl of the kind used on the expedition, as well as text and visual aids.