Lewis and Clark barter with the Native Americans


This lesson printed from:


PackThink about the concept and the meaning of the word barter. To help you learn about the term barter check out this activity.

Think about a long and difficult trip that you once experienced. Think of what kind of materials you took with you on this trip. Keeping these things in mind discuss with a neighbor what you would take with you on such a trip.


In this lesson you will define the term barter and give examples of bartering in the following areas:

  • The nation and Thomas Jefferson's interest in an exploration of trade routes to the pacific northwest as part of the westward expansion of the country.
  • The mission of discovery and the need to practice trade to survive.
  • The native peoples who expected mutual benefit in trade.


After you make your list of items that you would take on a trip, read the following paragraph to yourself.

Explorers Meriwhether Lewis and William Clark left Missouri in May of 1804. Approximately 50 men made up their Corps of Discovery. Their goal was to travel up the Missouri River and across the Continental Divide to the Pacific USA Ocean. They were gone for more than two and a half years. It was impossible to take everything they would need on their journey with them. To survive and return safely they were forced to barter and trade with the Native Americans they encountered along the way.

Activity 1

For Activity 1 go to the following Activated Travel Map page to observe and follow on the map the 2 1/2 year journey that Lewis and Clark experienced. 

Activity 2

On the Equip and Expedition site you will find a list of supplies Lewis and Clark's group took on their journey, as well as a list of items they took to trade with the Native Americans they met along the way. After looking at the list of trade items speculate on which items that were on the trade list may have been most useful in bartering with Native Americans.

Check here for a few Sample Answers

Because of the cultural differences between the Corps of Discovery and the Native Americans they encountered it was impossible for the Corps members to buy anything from the Native Americans with cash or money.

Would it be possible to live in a cash-less society today, where using barter and trade as the only methods of transaction? Why or why not? Discuss this question with a neighbor.

Activity 3

Lewis and Clark kept detailed Journals of their journey. Read the following journal entries for examples of Lewis and Clark bartering with the Native Americans, and take a moment to discuss with your classmates the different examples of bartering. Brown BookWhat would kind of things do you have that you could use to barter with Native Americans?


Turn to a fellow student and begin a discussion summarizing what bartering is, and how it is used in your life today. Discuss the contrast in the effectiveness of bartering vs. money usage in the wilderness.


First, answer the following questions. Then, complete the bartering activity described under Extension Activity and demonstrate your ability to barter and trade successfully.

  1. How do you define bartering?
  2. How did Native Americans benefit from bartering with settlers and explorers such as Lewis and Clark?
  3. Would money have helped make the trading adventure easier for Lewis and Clark? Explain.
  4. List three ways that bartering would not have helped Lewis and Clark.
  5. Why do we not rely solely on bartering?


The teacher will pair the students up in groups of two. One of the students will take on the role of either Lewis or Clark; the other student will take on the role of a Shoshoni Indian Chief Cameahwait. The students will trade the items that they possess with each other until they are satisfied with their bartering. Read the scenario and the activity directions at the bottom. Here is a page page that includes the directions, and here is the card sheet for the activity.

If you are really interested in Lewis and Clark you will enjoy looking at and doing some of the activities at the Pbs Lewis and Clark page.