Lousiana Purchase-800Wars are expensive, and nobody knew that better than Napoleon Bonaparte, who was forced to unload some prime real estate for a lousy 42¢ an acre to pay for his latest contretemps with the British Empire, making today


The year was 1803, and Napoleon had learned the hard way in Russia and Africa about the transient nature of distant conquests, so he gave up his dream of a North American French Empire and sold the Louisiana Territory to that brand new country, The United States of America, which more than doubled its size overnight with 13 future states and America’s most interesting city, New Orleans.

Not that the people living in those lands knew it was owned by France, any more than they knew that Spain had “owned” it before France, or that their new “landlords” were now the Americans, but that’s a whole other tragic tale.

President Thomas Jefferson jumped at Napoleon’s offer, and in 1804 dispatched Army Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark to lead an expedition to survey the new territory, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and as far west as Idaho, 828,000 square miles.

Lewis & Clark never did find the fabled Northwest Passage that was the wet dream of European explorers for centuries, but they did have one of the grandest adventures imaginable and managed to catalogue a great deal of the astounding beauty and diversity of the American West before reaching the Pacific Ocean in 1806.

The wide open spaces were soon crawling with farmers, ranchers, miners, shopkeepers, tradesmen, gamblers and thieves, along with deadly gunmen on both sides of the law. These days, most of it is the Bible Belt, cornfields and ski resorts, and the best part is still New Orleans.

•Suggested Activities: Pave Paradise, put up a parking lot.

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