(Mostly) About Lewis & Clark

In August, 1774, Meriwether Lewis was born. Four years earlier in August, William Clark was born. (Both in Virginia.) In August, 1803, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Click here to learn about third-party website links was moving its way up the Missouri River. A year after that, the men prepared to meet with the Shoshone Click here to learn about third-party website links people of Sacagawea Click here to learn about third-party website links, their guide.

I am reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Click here to learn about third-party website links Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. (New York: 1996) Ambrose is a fine storyteller, arguably the most important attribute for an Historian (Social Sciences strictures Click here to learn about third-party website links notwithstanding).

William Clark (Click to read more on nps.gov)Now, I’m also reading Blue Highways: A Journey into America Click here to learn about third-party website links by William Least Heat-Moon (Boston: 1982) and David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: Click here to learn about third-party website links The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 Click here to learn about third-party website links (New York: 1999). The three have in common a talent for narrative — the way these writers tell the story is as compelling as what they are telling.

Anyway, Lewis Click here to learn about third-party website links and Clark Click here to learn about third-party website links took their Corps across the continent and back, over a three-year journey that mapped waterways, noted terrain and encountered original Americans. The expedition hunted a lot — I mean both often and in volume. The 30 or so people on the trek seemed to bring down several deer in several hunting parties. Either they ate a lot or wasted a lot, I can’t be sure.

The expedition spent 4-month winters in camp, but moved as soon as possible and kept on till the last possible day. The Corps kept volumes of journals Click here to learn about third-party website links, accumulated a grand amount of scientific specimens, and sent the lot of it back East regularly. When they ended up in Oregon, watching the Columbia River meet the Pacific, they were as awestruck in that moment as you hope they’d be.

Meriwether Lewis (Click to read more on nps.gov)I remember learning of Lewis and Clark in elementary school. They are surely names in the American canon, and everyone knows they explored the country way back when, before the U.S. got further than Pennsylvania.

What we find out, though, with a little historical investigation — I just went to the library for a half hour — is that the Lewis and Clark expedition was a really big deal. They found out everything that people in 1805 wanted to know, in order to start rushing west and cutting down forests. The expedition took years, and they walked the whole way.

And they consumed venison like nobody’s business.

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6 Responses to (Mostly) About Lewis & Clark

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was interested in the books you were reading. How about creating an on-going list of “What the WF Historians are Reading”? Could be useful for those with long commutes to/from work. Thanks.

  2. Dave says:

    Charles, I have noticed in your writing that you often seem a little “down” on America’s westward expansion (which would seem to make sense considering the frequently left leaning tone of this blog). Although I agree that we did some awful things to the indians and probably could have gone about some things differently, but the creation of a great nation in the modern sense does require a certain amount of Lebensraum. The sense of “manifest destiny” that drove the westward expansion of the American People was essential to the creation of the great people we are today. The impact of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion spearheaded by Lewis and Clark is a big part of the american psyche and cultural outlook (go west young man, cowboys, the wild west, rugged individualism, the sense of being your own man, the sense of being able to choose your own destiny etc.) that has made us so popular with Europe. =)

    Anyways, another interesting post. I can only imagine how big a deal this was at the time. These guys were probably the 19th century equivalent to Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

    Thanks!

    Dave.

  3. Amanda says:

    What is Theodore D. Judah’s middle name?

  4. Charles Riggs says:

    Hi Amanda:

    Dehone. Next question please!

  5. Karl says:

    Charles, After reading this entry I checked out and read “Undaunted Courage”. Thanks for the recommendations as it was a very interesting and informative book. I had previously read “Band of Brothers” by Ambrose and very much enjoyed it also.

  6. David C. says:

    I am reading “Undaunted Courage” and think it is a marvelous book. One point of error in the book, though: In his description of Lewis & Clark’s journey down the Ohio River at the beginning of the journey, Ambrose fails to mention that the expedition stopped in Maysville, KY, probably for at least overnight, or longer. They re-supplied there and it was there, in Maysville, and not in Pittsburgh as Ambrose suggests, that Lewis & Clark met and signed the soon-to-be-significant John Colter. Thus, I found Ambrose’s research to be lacking for that part of the expedition. The book as a whole, however, is excellent, well-written, and serves as a great documentation of a truly epic adventure.

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