Nebraska's Establishment of the Lewis and Clark Survey Monument

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, referred to by Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery”, one of their goals was to establish contact with the American Indians. The first of these meetings was held on August 3, 1804, with the Otos and Missouria Indians on the present grounds of Fort Atkinson, which is 7 miles north of Omaha Nebraska. William Clark called this camp site, and the first meeting with the American Indians, “Council Bluff”.

The custom of the time was to give gifts and trade items to the native occupants of the land. One of the trade items taken on the expedition was an article called the Jefferson Peace Medal. On the obverse of the silver coin is the bust of Thomas Jefferson. On the reverse are clasped hands under a crossed ax and peace pipe. Thirty two Jefferson Peace Medals were carried by Lewis and Clark, in sizes ranging from 4 inch, 3 inch and 2 ¼ inch diameters. At this first meeting, seven medals were given to Indian chiefs, consisting of one large, two medium and 4 small tokens.

To help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first meeting between the American Indians and Lewis & Clark, a ceremonial brass disk was established at Fort Atkinson Nebraska. The brass cap, made by Berntsen of Madison Wisconsin, and furnished by the National Geodetic Survey, is a 12 inch replica of the Jefferson Peace Medal. This cap is a survey monument that was tied by the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to similar monuments at the site of 15 historical signature events along the trail of Lewis and Clark. The first survey cap was set at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, and ending at the western terminus of their journey at Fort Clatsop, near the banks of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.

The large Peace Medal monument rests along the winding sidewalk between Fort Atkinson’s Visitor center and the five life-size bronze statues depicting the first meeting with the American Indians. To pay tribute to the survey monument a ceremonial plaque, furnished by the Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska, (PSAN), was placed next to the survey cap explaining the historic significance of the Peace Medal, its latitude and longitude, and the distance from the starting point of the “Corps of Discovery”.

To honor this bicentennial, the Professional Surveyors Association of Nebraska held a dedication on the opening day of the “Corps of Discovery II”. The main speakers were John Craig, Director of the Nebraska Department. of Roads, Roger Kuhn, Assistant Director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Steve Randall, National Geodetic Survey, (NGS) from Silver Springs Maryland. Presentation of awards was handed out by Richard Hanson, President of PSAN, and the master of ceremonies was Gene Thomsen, Deputy State Surveyor. A special thanks goes out to Rex Heiden, John Slader, and Jim Swenson of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as well as James Richardson, NGS Advisor for their assistance in this projects success.

The four day celebration was a fitting tribute to the Lewis and Clark expedition with thousands of people being made aware of the discoveries and hardships of their journey. We are grateful for the time and energy of the speakers but more importantly for the significance of being able to participate in such a historical event.

For more information about the Lewis and Clark survey monuments go to

Gene Thomsen
Deputy State Surveyor, NE
August 10, 2004

Gene Thomsen

Gene Thomsen Rex Heiden setting L & C Plaque

 Lewis & Clark Seaman Indians

 John Craig L & C

 Richard Hansen L & C

 Roger Kuhn L & C

 Steve Randall L & C




Group picture of the participants at the dedication of the Lewis and Clark survey marker July 31, 2004 at Fort Atkinson Nebraska.