Hidden Treasures: Lewis and Clark's Map

Rare Indian Document Shows Safe Journey Through Rockies

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An 1806 map made by the Nez Perce Indians for William Clark. The map shows how to get from one side of the Rockies to another. Cary Horton, Missouri Historical Society hide caption

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Meriwether Lewis in a Shoshone Indian dress.

Meriwether Lewis in a Shoshone Indian dress. Missouri Historical Society hide caption

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Sometimes, museums don't display a great item simply because they don't know they have it. For example, not long ago, an unknown drawing by Michelangelo was discovered stashed in a box at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City. As part of the Hidden Treasures Radio Project, an occasional series on All Things Considered, Harriet Baskas reports on a recently discovered treasure that was collected by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their transcontinental journey.

The Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis is celebrating the bicentennial of the expedition by displaying more than 450 artifacts.

Historian Carolyn Gilman found some of the objects in back rooms of museums across the country. But one of her best finds was in the Missouri Historical Society's own archives. It's a soiled scrap of paper that turned out to be a map made by Nez Perce Indian chiefs for Clark. It showed a safe and short route home through the Rocky Mountains.

The map is one of only a hundred or so maps made by Indians that has survived. It's now out of the archives and on display at the Missouri History Museum. But in a way it's still hidden. Curators say there are so many prettier artifacts in the exhibit that the stained map rarely gets a second look.

The Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Exhibition is in St. Louis until September. After that, it travels to Philadelphia, Denver, Portland, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

The Hidden Treasures Radio Project series, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Cultural Development Authority of King County, Wash.



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