By Emilee Dehmer
In the late 1700s, there were many colonial towns and cities all throughout the eastern part of the United States. After American independence, and as more and more people arrived in America, settlers began to push westward. They did this to find new land and begin new settlements, even though people were already living there. Tennessee is an example of this westward expansion and was granted statehood in 1796. All the official states though were east of the Mississippi River. A lot of the land to the west of the river was owned by France. That is until the Louisiana Purchase.
When President Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, he nearly doubled the size of the United States. Shortly after the purchase, he asked for an expedition to explore and map the territory and try to find a Northwest Passage. The two men who led this journey across the west were none other than, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
The tale of Lewis and Clark has been taught and studied for years. There are books, movies, and documentaries made about them. They have statues and museums dedicated to them. The Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, who helped guide them is pictured on a dollar coin. But have you heard of Seaman?
Tennessee State Museum Collection
Seaman was probably Meriwether Lewis’ most trusty and faithful companion. He saved the lives of Lewis and his men on multiple occasions. He made the whole trip, there and back, the only one of his kind to do so. He was Lewis’s dog.
Seaman was a Newfoundland dog that Lewis purchased prior to the trip for $20 (That’s about $450 in today’s money). We know about Seaman and some of his adventures because Lewis wrote about him in his daily journals. Seaman’s first mention comes about a month into the journey on September 11, 1803, where we learn that Seaman was helping hunt for squirrels for the men to eat that night. Lewis described his dog as “very active, strong, and docile.”
Seaman continued to help the party hunt for food, capturing beavers, goats, geese, and deer for meals. He also served as a watchdog while the men slept. More than once he alerted the camp to bears and buffalo that were in the woods near them. One night, a large buffalo ran right through the camp and Lewis credited Seaman with saving them by chasing it back into the woods.
Not only was Seaman a great hunter and protector, he also helped the explorers make friends with many of the Native American tribes they encountered along the way. Everyone seemed to love Seaman as soon as they met him, and one man even offered to trade three beaver skins for him, but Lewis said no.
The Lewis and Clark Statue in St. Charles, Missouri, Discover St. Charles
Seaman did come across a few problems along the way. At one point in the trip he was lost, or maybe even stolen, but he eventually returned. He was also hurt a few times. During one stretch of the trail, Seaman kept getting sharp plants stuck in his paws. Another time, while hunting, he was badly bitten by a beaver and Lewis thought he might die. Luckily, he survived and continued the journey.
Seaman was the only animal to travel the entire trail with Lewis and Clark. Sometimes food ran low and the men would eat other dogs that they encountered, but Seaman survived. He proved to be, just like dogs today, a loyal friend to Lewis and Clark. While we don’t know what happened to him after the journey, there are monuments to him in many locations along the trail today.
Next time you talk to someone about Lewis and Clark, be sure to ask them, have you heard of Seaman, the dog who explored the West?
Expedition - A group of people travelling for exploration or adventure.
Northwest Passage - One river, or a series of connected rivers, that would connect from one ocean to the other. This does not happen in the United States.
Companion - A person or animal that someone spends a lot of time with or travels with.
Docile - Easily taught, led, or managed.
Monument - A structure made to keep alive the memory of a person or event.
Why did Lewis and Clark go on their expedition?
What are two ways that Seaman helped Lewis and Clark?
What are some of the struggles Lewis and Clark encountered on this expedition?
Why do you think Lewis wanted to take a dog with him on the journey?
Read one of the historical fiction books about Seaman. Check your local library for books like, Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark by Gail Karwoski or Seaman’s Journal: On the Trail with Lewis and Clark by Patricia Eubank or find another book about Seaman that interests you!
Tennessee State Social Studies Standard:
4.16 - Map the exploration of the Louisiana Territory, and describe the events, struggles, and successes of the purchase, including the significance of: Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea
Emilee Dehmer is a Museum Educator with the Tennessee State Museum.