Say the names Lewis and Clark, and the image of pioneers in buckskins probably comes to mind, bravely journeying northward to the Dakota territory and then westward to the Oregon territory. But if you think the technology those buckskin-clad explorers used is archaic and uninteresting, think again. Lewis and Clark carried a host of instruments and gadgets, used means of travel, and discovered interesting technologies used by Indians that are cool-even-now to those who care to discover them.
Technology 1: The Physiognotrace
Although this tool was originally designed to create silhouettes of the human face, Lewis and Clark may have used it to create outlines of many new and fascinating objects along their journey. Since they came across many different Indian tribes along the way, this tool would have been a great way to create and compare silhouette drawings of different tribes. It involved a complex design that involved a method of carefully tracing the outline of a human face and reducing it to a size of less than two inches. This artform has remained almost completely unchanged since the time of Lewis and Clark.
Technology 2: Fish Weirs
When visiting the Shoshone Indians, Lewis and Clark were treated to a feast of salmon. Upon investigation, they discovered that the Shoshone employed a method of trapping fish called a weir. The weirs were designed with great detail, and utilized fallen trees to block off certain portions of the river, redirecting fish traffic to a small, narrow channel. Specially designed baskets waited in this channel to trap the fish, which were a staple of the diet. The simplicity of this effective method has not been improved upon and is still in wide use today.
Technology 3: Chronometer
A predecessor to the present day watch, the chronometer was an essential piece of the expedition’s survival. Combined with celestial navigation, the chronometer helped Lewis and Clark determine longitude and know where they were in their travels. Of course, it also served to keep track of time. For those who love to or need to navigate by celestial points, there is no better way, still today, of doing it. Though they have been slightly improved by the usage quartz.
Technology 4: Candle Lantern
Before the advent of light bulbs, LED lights, and other forms of modern light, light sources were fragile and subject to the slightest puff of wind. Travelers in the wilderness needed to have dependable light, and this candle lantern fit the bill. Place a candle inside and the unique punched tin design kept wind and rain out while shedding light for the explorers. This is still the most reliabel method to provide light when electricity and batteries can sometimes be fickle friends.
Technology 5: Captain Lewis’ Air Gun
The inspiration for the countless pellet and BB guns on the market today came from a gun included in Captain Lewis’ arsenal. His air gun was much more powerful than modern versions and was a means of thwarting attacks by impressing natives with its ability to repeatedly fire without reloading. Today, air guns have become extremely popular, especially in games such as
airsoft and paintball.
Technology 6: Cooper’s Howel
Lacking the modern sealable 5 gallon buckets used for storage today, Lewis and Clark relied on wooden barrels to hold goods and keep things protected from the elements. The Cooper’s howel was an important gadget to help keep things high and dry. It worked to refit lids to the barrels, ensuring a water-tight seal.
Technology 7: Celestial Navigation
Want to pinpoint exactly where you are? Most people today rely on GPS to determine precise locations, but Lewis and Clark used celestial navigation to record the exact locations of the fascinating new locations they discovered. Remarkable accurate, celestial navigation reflected the great skill and knowledge these men possessed. There were many tools and skills required for this and today, it remains largely unchanged.
Technology 8: Camera Obscura
Grabbing your phone and snapping a picture is commonplace today, but in the expedition’s days, the camera obscura was still a novelty and a work of art. Utilizing mirrors, interchangeable lenses and either a glass or copper plate to capture the image. See this amazing video of a camera obscura today.
Technology 9: Octant
Also called a reflecting quadrant, the octant served as part of the tools used for celestial navigation. It was used to measure angles to various celestial bodies then and today.
Technology 10: Guns
Of course, one of the most critical aspects of Lewis and Clark’s gear was their arsenal of guns. Not only a means of protection from wild beasts, guns served to provide food and keep off attack from less friendly folk. Guns have undergone incredible advancements in technology, yet still are remarkably similar to the simple weapons that have been in use for centuries.
Paul Moore works with a Watford City, ND rental company for corporations needing housing for their employees.