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Lewis and Clark Expedition: Keelboat Facts

Summary: This article about the Lewis and Clark Expedition provides interesting facts about the Keelboat that was used on the journey. Definition: A keelboat is a river boat with a shallow draught and a keel. A Keelboat was a type of barge that was moved by rowing, poling (punting) or towing. A keelboat was capable of carrying as much as 30 tons of freight and was ideal for the Lewis and Clark expedition whose objective was to follow the Missouri River to itís source and discover itís tributaries and to search for a water route, a 'Northwest Passage' to the Pacific Ocean.

Lewis and Clark Expedition: The Keelboat

An extremely important means of transport on the historic Lewis and Clark expedition was their keelboat.  The expedition began on May 14, 1804 when the Corps of Discovery left Camp Wood, Missouri on their perilous, great journey west.

  • Dimensions: The Lewis and Clark keel boat was:
    • 55 feet long
    • 8 feet wide
  • The keelboat was equipped with
    • A sail and 22 oars
    • A small cannon on the bow
    • A large-bore shotgun, called a blunderbuss, on the stern

Lewis and Clark Keelboat

Lewis and Clark Expedition for kids: Facts about the Keelboat
The following fact sheet provides short, interesting facts about the Keelboat.

Lewis and Clark Expedition: Facts about the Keelboat

Keelboat Fact 1: The Lewis and Clark keelboat traveled from Pittsburgh, where it was built, to Fort Mandan and then back to St. Louis, covering a distance of 2,000 miles. William Clark was known as an expert waterman, having grown up in the Ohio River town of Louisville, Kentucky.
Keelboat Fact 2: In addition to the Keel boat, two wooden row boats called Pirogues (flat-bottomed boats for hauling supplies on inland waters) were taken to hold men and supplies. The two pirogues were designed to lighten the load of the keel boat. Six dugout canoes were also used on the expedition.
Keelboat Fact 3: The Lewis and Clark keelboat had a single mast and a footloose square sail. A heavy timber (the keel) ran down the center of the entire length of the bottom of the boat to absorb the shock of running into underwater obstructions, such as fallen trees, and to enable easier steering.
Keelboat Fact 4: The captains cabin was situated on the after deck and contained two bunk-beds, a bench, a desk and shelves for books and scientific instruments
Keelboat Fact 5: The hold of the keel boat was partially covered by a boxlike structure that sheltered both the cargo and the crew's sleeping space.
Keelboat Fact 6: The 55 foot Keel boat could be sailed, rowed, poled like a raft, or towed by ropes from the riverbank. One of the major advantages of the keelboat was that it was able to travel both upstream and for swiftly downstream
Keelboat Fact 7: A small 1.5 inch bore cannon, or swivel gun,  was mounted on the bow of the Lewis and Clark  keelboat
Keelboat Fact 8: The keel boat also had a large-bore shotgun, called a blunderbuss, on a swivel guide was mounted on the stern of the keelboat. The pirogues each had a blunderbuss mounted on its bow.
Keelboat Fact 9: The Lewis and Clark keelboat featured a "Commander's Pennant" on the stern as well as an American flag hoisted to the top of the mast.
Keelboat Fact 10: Storage lockers built into the side of the hull. The lids could be raised for additional protection in case of attack from shore.
Keelboat Fact 11: The men of the Corps of Discovery were responsible for daily task of moving the heavy boat up the Missouri River. This arduous work involved rowing, pulling the keel boat through shallows using a rope from on shore (called cordelling) or pushing the heavy boat with long poles (called poling)
Keelboat Fact 12: In the spring of 1804, after wintering at Fort Mandan,  a few members of the Lewis and Clark expedition were selected to return the keelboat, loaded with plant and animal specimens to provide reports of the journey to President Thomas Jefferson.
Keelboat Fact 13: The return trip of the keelboat, headed by Corporal Warfington, from Fort Mandan to St. Louis was completed in just 43 days.

Lewis and Clark Expedition: Facts about the Keelboat

Facts about the Lewis and Clark Keelboat for kids
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Lewis and Clark Expedition: The Keelboat

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