Neal Ratzlaff is a retired physician with an interest in history and natural history, both well represented in the Journals of Lewis and Clark. Introduced to Lewis and Clark at the time of the bicentennial, he found the journals to be a trove of information about natural history at the beginning of the 19th century.
This presentation will provide an overview of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06), the culmination of a long-standing desire of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, to learn more about the land and people beyond the Mississippi River. His detailed instructions to the captains reflected his commercial and political aspirations for our fledgling nation (requests for precise geographic information, search for a route to the Pacific, trade with Native Americans, etc.) and his remarkable interest and curiosity in a broad range of scientific pursuits including Native American ethnology, geology, animals, and plants. The captains’ meticulous journals and collections, carefully produced and preserved under adverse conditions and through perilous situations, reflect their dedication to fulfilling Jefferson’s wishes. Unfortunately, Lewis’s plans upon his return to publish an account of the animals and plants “new to science” ended with his untimely death. Today’s presentation will highlight some of these discoveries, especially the plants, with details on the fate of the specimens Lewis so meticulously collected.