July 4th Wednesday 1804, Set out early passed the mouth of a Beyeue [bayou] leading from a Lake on the south side this Lake is large and was once the bend of the River...pass a Creek on the left side about 15 yards wide coming out of an extensive Prairie as this Creek has no name, and this day is the 4th of July, we name this Independence U.S. Creek...—Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Corps of Discovery meet Chinooks on the Lower Columbia, October 1805. Painted by Charles Marion Russell

The Corps of Discovery meet Chinooks on the Lower Columbia, October 1805.

Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, the Corps of Discovery was a specially-established unit of the United States Army that formed the nucleus of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Between May 1804 and September 1806. Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark jointly led the Corps in an exploration of lands west of the Mississippi with  scientific and commercial objectives to study the area's plants, animal life, and geography, and to learn how the Louisiana Purchase could be exploited economically. An additional group of scouts, boatmen, and civilians aided the Corps.

Only two months into the journey, the Corps of Discovery (numbering 29 men traveling up the Missouri River in a 55-foot keelboat and two dugout canoes) observed the first Independence Day west of the Mississippi on July 4, 1804. After the men encamped in the area of today’s Atchison, Kansas, Lewis and Clark fired the expedition cannon and ordered an extra ration of whiskey for the men.  Captain Clark named two small streams in the area in honor of the holiday – 4th of July 1804 Creek and Independence Creek.

In his final journal entry of the day, Clark wondered at the existence of, “So magnificent a Senerey in a Contry thus Situated far removed from the Sivilised world to be enjoyed by nothing but the Buffalo Elk Deer & Bear in which it abounds & Savage Indians.” 

Route of the Corps of Discovery's Expedition. The green "x" below Council Bluffs marks the approximate location of the Corps' Fourth of July celebration. 

Route of the Corps of Discovery's Expedition. The green "x" below Council Bluffs marks the approximate location of the Corps' Fourth of July celebration. 

The next morning the Corps of Discovery resumed their journey up the Missouri River toward the distant Pacific Coast. It would be two years before they would pass by their pleasant camping spot where they had celebrated that first Fourth of July west of the Mississippi back in 1804.

TODAY'S LOCATION OF THE 1804 CELEBRATION

Memorial marker on 4th of July 1804 creek.

Memorial marker on 4th of July 1804 creek.

In 1804, the Independence Creek camp site was along the Missouri, but due to channel changes, it’s now several miles from the river. You’ll find a memorial marker and covered bridge over 4th of July 1804 Creek. It’s near the Atchison County Historical Museum and Atchison Rail Museum. 

You will also find a larger memorial in the Lewis and Clark Pavilion in Riverfront Park, on the banks of the Missouri, built and dedicated in 2004 for the bicentennial celebration. Here you can walk, run or bike along a five-mile path which leads you north of the city to the Independence Creek Historical Site.

You may also enjoy

*Three Civil War Reasons to Celebrate the Fourth

*Historic Justification for a four-day Fourth of July

*The Enduring American Spirit 

*Calendar of Military Reenactments and Living History Events 

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