This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Overview

In a story muscled with truth and imagination, Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002) recounts the epoch-making 1803 expedition of Lewis and Clark through the words of a young man. Finding foes and friends among Natives, surviving sickness and hunger, choosing between a woman and the life he left behind, George Shannon grows up as the corps forges a way west.

Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, Ambrose creates the fictional diary of nineteen-year-old George Shannon, ...

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Overview

In a story muscled with truth and imagination, Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002) recounts the epoch-making 1803 expedition of Lewis and Clark through the words of a young man. Finding foes and friends among Natives, surviving sickness and hunger, choosing between a woman and the life he left behind, George Shannon grows up as the corps forges a way west.

Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, Ambrose creates the fictional diary of nineteen-year-old George Shannon, who was in fact the youngest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. He conjures the journey west with stunning clarity, calling on the bravery of Daniel Boone, the pragmatic courage of Sacajawea, the overarching, relentless vision of Meriwether Lewis.

This is a book for young readers as well as for those who are looking for new insights into the Northwest Passage. Ambrose's vivid characters, his page-turning account, and the map that charts the explorers' route manifest the spirit of one nation and her indelible destiny.

A fictional journal recounting the travels--from 1803 to 1806--of eighteen-year-old George Shannon, the youngest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery as they explored the west and sought a water route to the Pacific Ocean.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The late historian Ambrose (The Good Fight) revisits the subject of his adult bestseller Undaunted Courage in this posthumous novel, a fictional diary account of the real-life George Shannon's adventures as the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Seventeen at the outset, George chronicles the dangers, exhilaration, irritations and even boredom of this arduous five-year journey; however, readers unfamiliar with the expedition may require more context than the author provides here. At their best, the entries reveal aspects of George's personality even as they offer vivid, telling snapshots of the epoch (e.g., George reports that Native American chiefs cried while Captain Lewis punished an erstwhile deserter with a whipping: "They admitted the need for Example but in their country they killed a man to show the Example, no one... was ever whipped"; the company is "reduced to beggarliness" when the captains, out of supplies, must trade the buttons from their uniforms for food from the Nez Perce). While most of the writing is similarly incisive, some passages are repetitious and some, unfortunately, inept. Ambrose assigns George a marriage of sorts to a Shoshone squaw, a supposedly pivotal development that occasions an awkward and strangely graphic scene making much mention of George's swelling and jerking "member." Readers may grow frustrated at the unevenness of the narration. Happily, those who find their interest piqued can turn to Ambrose's nonfiction. Ages 13-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Stephen Ambrose, who died in 2002, was one of America's most renowned authors and historians. Shortly before he died, he revisited the manuscript for his fictional account of Lewis and Clark's illustrious "Corps of Discovery" expedition. The result is this novel, written in journal form. The journal writer is George Shannon, the youngest member of the expedition. Through young George's eyes, we witness the remarkable voyage, from August 1803 to September 2006. Remarkably, only one man lost his life during this journey into the unknown, a journey that saw the first white men travel overland to the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps most interesting are the entries after the journey, which detail what happened to many of the members of the voyage, from the heroic Native American woman, Sacajawea, to the tragic fate of Meriwether Lewis, who fell into debt and depression, eventually taking his own life. This is a great and accessible introduction to an epochal era of American history. An eloquent foreword by the late author's son is included. 2003, Simon & Schuster, Ages 13 up.
— Christopher Moning
KLIATT
This posthumous book by the famous historian commemorating the bicentennial of the journey of the Corps of Discovery is his only work of fiction. George Shannon was a real teenager, the youngest member of the expedition. In this novel in diary form, Ambrose imagines what his experience might have been like. Only 17 at the start of the journey, George walks from his hometown of Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to convince Captain Lewis to take him along despite his lack of experience. In the journal Lewis gives him, George records the expedition's progress and its many trials: the hard work, the danger from rattlers, bears, and thieving Indian tribes, the illnesses and lack of food at times. He also tells of the exhilaration of running rapids, the joy of hunting, the beauty of the landscape, and the thrill of crossing the Rockies and reaching the Pacific. George gives his impressions of the people on the expedition, too, and praises Sacajawea for her invaluable help and York for his strength. He falls in love with a Native American girl and has a baby with her, only to lose them, and his leg, in a bloody battle after the expedition returns. He becomes a lawyer, happy in the end to have chosen civilization over the lure of the wilderness, and helps prepare the journals of the expedition for publication. His journal is told in the vernacular of the day, complete with odd capitalizations and grammar, adding to its authentic feel. The diary entries are mostly quite short, giving the narrative a choppy feel, but the events are often dramatic and the descriptions are colorful and frequently earthy; there is a bit of sex, some violence, and much injury and disease. A worthy supplement to classroomstudies of the expedition. KLIATT Codes: JS; Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, 304p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-A fictional diary of the youngest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. Ambrose does a good job of weaving fictional elements, such as George Shannon's thoughts and his romance and child with an Indian girl, with the historical facts of the expedition and what is known of Shannon's real life. The book opens with the young man, more accustomed to books than the outdoor life, persuading Lewis to let him join the expedition, and continues with his determined mastery of hunting, survival, and leadership skills that make him a valuable member of the Corps. Readers will fear for Shannon's life when he becomes separated from the main group for almost two weeks, and share his conflict over whether to return to civilization or continue the life he has created in the wilderness. The diary entries are occasionally salted with the rough language and sexual thoughts and actions that would be common in a group of young men, and the writing style will take a competent reader, as the sentences are often long and convoluted. A good choice for older teens who are interested in this fascinating expedition.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Though Lewis and Clark and several others kept journals on the famous 1803 journey, this is not one of them. It's the fictional account of George Shannon, a real (and the youngest) member of the expedition. His story opens with him talking Captain Lewis into letting him go, and the narrative proceeds with all of the expected characters and events in their place, but with little drama. The actual journals are the reason we know so much about the famous trek, but it's not the best way of dramatizing the story. By segmenting the epic voyage into a series of fictitious journal entries, Ambrose loses the grand sweep of events, and no introduction or afterword provides a context. The main interest is in the epilogue, where the narrator reflects, 30 years later, on lessons learned on the expedition and progress the country has made since then. Not the first choice among the many new books on the subject. (Fiction. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689864483
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 9/4/2003
  • Pages: 304
  • Age range: 13 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Stephen Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than 30 books. Among his New York Times best-sellers are: Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage.

He was not only a great author, but also a captivating speaker, with the unique ability to provide insight into the future by employing his profound knowledge of the past. His stories demonstrate how leaders use trust, friendship and shared experiences to work together and thrive during conflict and change. His philosophy about keeping an audience engaged is put best in his own words:

As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next.

Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans. He was the Director Emeritus of the Eisenhower Center in New Orleans, and the founder of the National D-Day Museum. He was also a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History, a member of the board of directors for American Rivers, and a member of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council Board.

His talents have not gone unnoticed by the film industry. Dr. Ambrose was the historical consultant for Steven Spielberg's movie Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to his books Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers to make the 13-hour HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.

He has also participated in numerous national television programs, including ones for the History Channel and National Geographic.

Biography

"I was ten years old when [World War II] ended," Stephen Ambrose once said. "I thought the returning veterans were giants who had saved the world from barbarism. I still think so." Years after he first watched combat footage in the newsreels, the popular historian brought fresh attention to America's aging WWII veterans through such bestselling books as Band of Brothers, about a company of U.S. paratroopers, and The Wild Blue, about the B-24 bomber pilots who flew over Germany. Though best known for his books on World War II, Ambrose also produced multi-volume biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, a history of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and a fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the American West.

As a young professor of history, Ambrose was one of many left-wing academics who spoke out against American involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet he revered the veterans of World War II, and he interviewed and wrote about them at a time when many of his colleagues considered military history old-fashioned. "The men I admire most are soldiers, sailors, professional military," Ambrose would later tell The Washington Post. "Way more than politicians."

He labored without much popular acclaim or academic renown until 1994, when his book D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II burst onto the bestseller lists. War heroism was suddenly a hot topic, and Ambrose's approach, which focused on the experiences of soldiers rather than the decisions of high command, was perfectly suited to a popular audience. More bestsellers followed, including Citizen Soldiers, The Victors and Undaunted Courage. Ambrose's vivid narrative accounts were devoured by readers and praised by critics. "The descriptions of individual ordeals on the bloody beach of Omaha make this book outstanding," wrote Raleigh Trevelyan in a New York Times review of D-Day.

Ambrose retired as a professor of history at the University of New Orleans in 1995, but he continued to write one or more books per year. He also founded the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, worked with his family-owned business organizing historical tours, and served as the historical consultant for the 1998 Steven Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg later turned Ambrose's Band of Brothers into an HBO miniseries.

This rise to fame was accompanied by criticism from some of Ambrose's fellow historians, who charged that he could be careless in his research and editing. In early 2002, he faced accusations of plagiarism when reporters noted that a number of phrases and sentences in his books were lifted from other works. Ambrose responded that he had forgotten to place quotation marks around some quotes, but said he had footnoted all his sources. "I always thought plagiarism meant using another person's words and ideas, pretending they were your own and profiting from it. I do not do that, never have done that and never will," he wrote in a statement on his Web site.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months later, he began work on a memoir, To America. "I want to tell all the things that are right about America," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. Ambrose died in October 2002, at the age of 66.

Good To Know

Ambrose was a star football player at the University of Wisconsin and played in the Rose Bowl, according to his friend and co-author Douglas Brinkley.

As a college sophomore, Ambrose abandoned his pre-med major for history after he attended a class on "Representative Americans" taught by professor William Hesseltine.

For more than 20 years, Ambrose and his family spent their vacations traveling portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail. They canoed the Missouri and Columbia rivers, endured soaking rains and summer snowstorms, and read from the explorers' journals at night by the light of their campfires.

Ambrose named his house in Mississippi "Merry Weather," after Meriwether Lewis. His Labrador was called Pomp, after the nickname of Sacagawea's son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Ambrose
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 10, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Whitewater, Wisconsin
    1. Date of Death:
      October 13, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Read an Excerpt

This Vast Land

A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
By Stephen E. Ambrose

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Copyright © 2003 Stephen E. Ambrose
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0689864485

Winter with the Mandans

Oct. 27, '04.

At 3 o'clock we came to opposite a Mandan village and sent out runners to bring in the chiefs. There are five villages in this area, they are scattered along the Missouri on or near the mouths of the Knife and the Heart Rivers. Three of these villages are Mandan, two are Minnitaree, with some 400 lodges and 4,000 people.

Today Capt. L. took me to accompany him on a walk to one of the Minnitaree villages where there was a man named Charbono, a Frenchie, who can speak Mandan and Minnitaree and a little English, so we are told. He lives with these People. Capt. L. desired to hire him as interpreter.

Capt. L. said while we were walking that he wanted me to know that he has kept an eye on me that I was becoming a soldier and was a good boatman and a promising hunter, and that he had noticed that I had been Sensible and stayed away from the squaws. He was, he said, well pleased with how I was doing that he had doubt due to my age but he was glad to say those doubts were now banished. My heart near burst from pride.

Nov. 4, '04.

Cutting and sawing all day to make our fort. At 2 o'clock Charbono came into our camp, he had been told Capt. L. desired to talk with him. With him he had his squaw, a girl of about 14 years of age who is pregnant. She is a Shoshone Indian from the Rocky Mountains. Charbono bought her from the Minnitarees, who captured her four summers passed along with her younger sister and some others. He answered Capt. C.'s question saying that he could not speak the Shoshone language but she, his squaw, could speak Shoshone and Minnitaree. He could speak Minnitaree and French. The Shoshones, he said, had many horses. They could help us make our portage over the mountains from the Missouri to the Columbia.

Nov. 3, '04.

Today we raised the walls of our huts. Sgt. Gass curses the cottonwood and prays God for some good Kentucky oak. The walls are up and firm and on the morrow we raise the Roof. The weather chill, there is not a man of us who is not dreading the winter. Charbono reports it gets so cold your pee freezes before it reaches the ground.

Nov. 11, '04.

Today Charbono brought his squaw and her sister to live with him in his Lodge, which he situated just outside our fort. At dusk Drewyer and I paid a visit.

Charbono is a skinny little man with a pocked face, he dresses like an Indian. His mother was a Chippawa, his father an Engagee. He is 34 years of age, he thinks. He was born in Montreal. Ten years ago he came to live with the Minnitarees. He purchased both the Shoshone squaws, but he now feels too old for two wives, he cannot satisfy both, he said, so he intends to give up the young one before she reaches her age.

The squaws' names are Sacajawea, which means Bird Woman, and Peme Bon Won, which means Stays With Her. These squaws are handsome and clean, one more so than any other I have seen. She, the younger one, is shy and looks at the ground, but her eyes when she looks up are like a fawn's, big and brown.

Dec. 2, '04.

A sharp cold day, zero at dawn. Mandan Chief came to see us, he informed that a large drove of buffalo was near and his people were waiting for us to join them in the chase. Capt. L. took 15 of us and joined some 40 Indians, all mounted bareback. There was a herd of buffalo grazing on the high prairie ground. We took stations and the Mandans rode off, saying they would stampede the game toward us.

In half an hour the herd was moving toward us, the Indians closing in on it from three sides. Shortly the bulls were running, then galloping. We each shot at a beast as they thundered past but only managed to bring down ten. I fear I am among those who missed, the air is so cold that despite my buffalo robe mittens I can not hold my rifle straight.

These Indians are the most wonderful horsemen. When they get near the buffalo, riding at full speed, they drop their halter and guide their ponies with their knees only, using their hands to notch the arrows and shoot. This is done bareback. The ponies are trained to ride right beside the buffalo, a little back from his right ear, matching him stride for stride. The hunter then shoots downward into this bull's lungs. I never saw one rider fall off, nor did a man miss his quarry. Twice I saw men shoot their arrow clean through the buffalo.

Dec. 25, '04.

No Indians allowed in the Fort today. We tell them it is our big medicine day. Our Christmas feast is truly sumptuous, it was squash and beans, corn, the hump and tongue of fresh-killed buffalo, the steaks of antelope and strips of the back meat of the deer, all with great heaps of gravy and prairie vegetables which Sacajawea and Peme provide. We had dried apples and cherries to give us tarts for desert, which was fine.

Jan'y 1, '05.

We ushered in this day with the discharge of the cannon twice. Mandan Chief invited us all over to his village to play the fiddle and dance for his people, which we did to their vast amusement. Colter danced on his hands to general delight. Capt. C. permitted York to Dance which amused the crowd very much and somewhat astonished them, that so large a man should be so active.

After the dancing the men disappeared into lodges. One squaw, short and ugly and dirty, grabbed me by my member. I pushed her away and blushed. The old hag started cackling and pointing to my member and indicating that it was small, which made me blush more. Sacajawea spoke sharply to the woman who slunk off.

Sacajawea then led me off to the edge of the village where one lodge stood all alone. She tried to tell me something about this lodge and Peme, but I could not make it out. Later Drewyer explained that the Lodge is the one set aside for women when they have their menses. He said Sacajawea meant that Peme would soon be going there. That means she's going to be a woman soon, boy. And I have seen the looks she gives you. Think you are ready for her?

I think about it all the time.

Getting to Know Peme

Jan'y 2, '05.

Today I killed a beautiful white hare which was large. Peme showed me how to make mittens out of it.

Jan'y 10, '05.

This day is my 19th birthday. I had mentioned this to Colter, which was an effort, for he told everyone and at dawn I was awakened by the Party with birthday greetings and a volley and much joking about being the Baby of the Party.

Capt. L. gave me permission to visit the Minnitaree village, as I gathered my knapsack Colter called out, Look out Peme, Here he comes. I come near hitting him, but I was too happy to fight.

The Indians were holding their buffalo dance when I arrived. I was startled to see Charbono standing before me with Peme. She smiled at me. My knees knocked each other. Charbono assured me that this was his and Peme's dearest wish. He indicated that she and I should go to a lodge. The drums beat strong. Peme smiled and used one of the English words she has learned, Come. She gave me her hand and led me off. I stumbled after her, my head was spinning. We entered the lodge.

We lay together on buffalo robes. She opened her robe, her breasts were small, the nipples soft and dark like a doe's nose. Her hair grows over her private parts, the sight of it caused my member to swell and jerk. She loosened her hair, sighing and smiling. I took off my leggings, my member stood up for her to see. She laughed and pulled off my shirt. She grabbed my member and began to stroke, to my embarrassment it shot off. She laughed again and stroked my face, soon my member was swelling and jerking again. She grabbed my member and pulled me to her, all Heaven broke loose. As she wiggled herself between my legs her face lit up, her breath was hot on my face. I near fainted it was so fine.

We fell asleep together, I was so happy. Happy Birthday to me, I thought.

Jan'y 15, '05.

A War Chief today told Capt. L. he intended to set out on a war party to make war on the Shoshones and invited us to join him. Capt. L. is counting on getting horses from the Shoshones to get us over the Rocky Mountains. He advised against war. A young warrior who accompanied him stepped forward, he addressed Capt. L. If we are in a state of peace with all our neighbors, what would his nation do for Chiefs. Our Chiefs, he said, are now old and must shortly die and our nation cannot exist without Chiefs.

Capt. L. made no reply. Later he remarked he could think of no answer. It is a dilemma, these People choose their Chiefs by who is the bravest and collects the most scalps, without war parties they cannot know who should be Chiefs.

Feb. 11, '05.

The fore part of this day Sacajawea had her time come. I assisted Charbono, we build up the fire to heat the hut, so we were sweating but feeling helpless and awkward, we were in the way. Peme shoved us out and the midwife took over. She delivered a fine boy, Charbono is some set up, he crowed and danced & etc. Sacajawea is tired but well. The baby is sleeping. He is so tiny, hardly bigger than a pup, he has black hair. I never saw so young a baby before, his eyes are large. Charbono names him Jean Baptist -- Capt. C. calls him Pomp.

March 3, '05.

Spring is approaching. The days warm a bit, the sky is filled with geese, duck, swans flying north. The river begins to break up on place. Capt. C. has set us to making canoes, which we hollow out of cottonwoods. Sgt. Gass instructs us in the use of the adz. We work with great care, these canoes must carry us to the Rocky Mountains.

March 6, '05.

This afternoon I slipped when hollowing out the canoe and cut my foot badly with the adz. York carried me to Charbono's Lodge, Peme wrapped the wound for me, I am relieved of all Duty for recovery. I discover that my eagerness to be off headed West again is very great, but I fear I shall miss Peme something fierce. I had never thought I would be so full of sentiment for an Indian. When I arrived here I thought Charbono and all the Frenchies were fools and bad men to live with Indians and have a squaw for a wife, now I'm not so certain. Peme certainly is easy and fun to be with.

March 7, '05.

I spend the day in Charbono's lodge. Peme and I play with Pomp. She is making moccasins for me, I made a rattle for Pomp.

April 2, '05.

I am to be a Father! Sacajawea informed me today, I scarcely know what to think of this monumental news. I ran to Peme to ask her if it is true, her eyes was sparkling, she nodded that it was so.

April 5, '05.

All the canoes are down at the river ready to go soon as they are packed. Today large numbers of squaws came over in their bull boats to say goodbye. Capt. C. gave us the after part of the day free, the men disappeared in various directions with the squaws.

Charbono and Sacajawea packed their belongings. They will sleep in the Capts.' tent with their son, they fashioned this tent out of buffalo hides in the teepee style. Tonight I feel Peme's belly. I can feel nothing yet. She assures me that the baby is there and growing. I am eager to get going to continue our Adventure, at the same time I wish to remain here to see my Baby.

April 7, '05.

All the fore part of the day we adjust baggage. At 4 o'clock all was ready. The Crew shoved off in the keelboat, turning her bow downstream for the first time in her life, she is heading for St. Louis, carrying the Capts.' reports, artifacts, maps etc. from St. Louis to Mandan. When the boat turned down river and disappeared around the bend Capt. C. gave a signal and we pushed our canoes out into the river. Our fleet consists of six canoes and the red and white pirogues. Our Party consists of two Capts., three Sgts., and 28 men. In addition there is Drewyer, Charbono, Sacajawea, Pomp, and York.

As we passed the first bend, Peme was standing on the point waving to me. My heart sank. Captain Lewis's dog Seaman barked loudly. I signed to her that I would be back soon. She cried, something I had never seen her do. The sight of it made me cry. I will miss her not just for the sport either, I shall miss her, not just for the Baby either.

Tonight Capt. L. was writing in his journal. Silas Goodrich asked him if he would tell us what he wrote about this momentous occasion. He said he would, we gathered around, he read the following: This little fleet although not quite so respectable as those of Columbus or Capt. Cook, were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs; and I dare say with quite as much anxiety for their safety and preservation. We are now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man has never trodden; the good or evil it has in store for us is experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contain every article by which we are to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. However, entertaining as I do, the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which has formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I can but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.

Colter asked, What about us, are we not in your Journal?

Capt. L. smiled and read on: The Party is in excellent health and spirits, zealously attached to the enterprise, and anxious to proceed; not a whisper or murmur of discontent to be heard among them, but all act in unison, and with the most perfect harmony.

We all applauded, a strange sound in the Wilderness, and went to our beds full of confidence in ourselves and our Capts.

Copyright © 2003 by Ambrose & Ambrose, Inc.



Continues...


Excerpted from This Vast Land by Stephen E. Ambrose Copyright © 2003 by Stephen E. Ambrose.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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