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Craig "Rocky" RockwellBy: Craig Rockwell (pictured right) of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial,
US Army Corps of Engineers

When President Jefferson sent Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the western portions of the continent, many international factors came in to play. Together, Lewis and Clark would explore reaches of the continent never before seen by European man, meet people of many different tribal nations, describe animals and plants that had never been recorded, and see beauty that had never before been written about. But, they would also be crossing and skirting occupied territories.

President Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis knew that there were governments that would not be happy to see such an expedition and might try to stop it altogether. During the time that they were make plans and preparing for the expedition, the young nation of the United States stumbled in to the opportunity to purchase the whole of the Louisiana Territory for fifteen million dollars. Spain had just turned Louisiana over to France as part of a treaty, and Napoleon was in need of cash for an ensuing battle with England. Realizing that it would be difficult to hold such a piece of property from across the globe, and fearing that it might fall into the hands of the English, he chose to sell it to the USA.

The ownership of the western territories of North America was yet to be determined, with England, Spain and the USA all jockeying for the right to rule the continent. The Spanish feared that an expedition of the newly acquired territory might lead to attempts to conquer Spanish-held territories to the west and south. They vowed to stop any such expedition. In fact, as Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery wintered with the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians near present-day Washburn, North Dakota, New Spain launched an attempt to cut off the expedition. They formed detachment of soldiers and Comanche Indians. But, they never caught up with Lewis and Clark. As Lewis and Clark prepared to break camp at Fort Clatsop for the long journey home, another, and larger, attempt was launched in an effort to catch them on their return trip. New Spain sent 500 soldiers and 100 Indian allies after the expedition. This, too, failed.

Jefferson had anticipated this possibility and realized that any information gained by Lewis and Clark could be lost if they were captured. To give the expedition a means of communicating with him secretly, Jefferson devised what we now know as The Secret Code of Lewis and Clark.

The Secret Code of Lewis and Clark

About to head up an expedition into uncharted territory in 1803, Meriwether Lewis had no idea what he would run into. President Jefferson and he devised a secret code just in case the expedition needed to send a message back to Washington, DC.

Now, you can use the same code to send and decode messages with your friends. But, you need a secret password. Lewis and Clark used the word Artichokes. You can use any password you want; just dont tell anyone what it is (except those with whom you want to trade messages).

OK, lets say you want to send a message that says:

Hi! How are you? Im fine.

The first step is to put the letters of the password, Artichokes, over the letters of the message like this (using the password over and over as many times as necessary):

A R! T I C H O K E S A? RT I C H O.

H i! H o w  a r e  y o u? Im  f i n e.

Notice that the punctuation stays the same all through.

The next step is to match the real message letter with the password letter on the attached grid. Lets do the first letter of the message, H. The corresponding password letter is A. Find the A in the password line (across the top) and the H in the real message line (down the left side). Now go across from the H and down from the A to find the letter at the intersection, I. That is the first letter of the secret coded message. Here is the whole message coded (notice that it is all upper case letters, youll see why later):

I &! A X Z I F P C G V? &F O L V T.

To decode a secret message, start the same way. Then, start with the first password letter across the top and go down THAT column until you find the letter from the coded message. Then, follow over to the left-hand column to find the letter in the real message. Write that down under the coded message. One more thing: numbers. To represent a number in your coded message, use a lower case letter. Coding and decoding are the same except instead of using the letters in the left-hand column, use the numbers on the right-hand column.

OK, youre ready to try it on your own. Heres a coded message. Start by putting your password (Artichokes) over each letter. Then, use the grid to put the real message under the coded message.

Password _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _! _! _ _ _ _ _ _. _ _ _. _, _ _ _ _

Code P U B J Q Q B F N X X! F! M Q H R C I. S G W. y, u q m m

Message _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _! _! _ _ _ _ _ _. _ _ _. _, _ _ _ _

The Secret Code of Lewis and Clark
Click on above Secret Code Chart to expand and Print 

The Secret Code of Lewis and Clark

Secret Code Answer

Password A R T I C H O K E S A! R! T I C H O K. E S A. R, T I C H

Code P U B J Q Q B F N X X! F! M Q H R C I. S G W. y, u q m m

Message O C I A N I N V I E W! O! T H E J O Y. N O V. 7, 1 8 0 5

(Remember spelling in the 1800s was not perfect!) Now, go send a message to a friend!


Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of the Corps of Discovery, Alford A. Knopf, Inc. 1997

Jackson, Donald, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with Related Documents, University of Illinois Press, 1978

Ambrose, Stephen A., Undaunted Courage, Simon and Schuster, 1996


Lewis & Clark 101
Lewis & Clark Biography 
Thomas Jefferson & Louisiana Purchase
Corps of Discovery
Lewis & Clark with Sacagawea
Lewis & Clark Among the Tribes
York, Clark's man-servant
Seaman, Lewis' Dog
Clark as Cartographer
Lewis as Botanist
Medical Aspects
Courts Martial
Geology on the Lewis and Clark Trail
Lewis and Clark 1804 Timeline
Lewis and Clark 1805 Timeline
Lewis and Clark 1806
Trail Trivia

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Lewis & Clark in Columbia River Country