Read an Excerpt
Lewis & Clark For Dummies
By Sammye J. Meadows Jana Prewitt
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Sammye J. Meadows Jana Prewitt
All right reserved.
Reflecting on the Legacy: Lewis
and Clark, Then and Now
In This Chapter
* Getting acquainted with the Corps of Discovery and its fascinating story
* Figuring out what the Corps actually did
* Recognizing how the exploration changed America (for better and for worse)
* Commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition
As true stories go, you won't find a better one than the Lewis and Clark
expedition. It includes a great multicultural cast of characters and a terrific
action-adventure plot that's full of surprising twists and turns. And it's
set in an inhabited paradise full of natural wonders that no American had
seen before. This chapter gives you an overview of the story.
In the end, Lewis and Clark couldn't fulfill some of the expedition's goals, but
they did increase America's knowledge of the West and opened the door for
westward expansion. As you discover in this chapter, this was good news for
U.S. growth and prosperity, but terrible news for American Indians and the
Today, Americans are re-exploring the legacy of Lewis and Clark, as the
National Bicentennial of theexpedition is commemorated from 2003 to 2006.
You, too, can get on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to experience
for yourself its scenes of "visionary inchantment," as Lewis so aptly
described them. This chapter gets you started.
Proving That Truth Is Stranger
(and Better) Than Fiction
It's an unlikely story: a melancholic presidential secretary and a genial frontier
planter leading three dozen young Euro-American men, a handful of
French-Canadians, a black slave, an Indian girl, her infant child, and a large
dog on a voyage to find an all-water route across a vast, uncharted continent
to a faraway ocean.
With only their wits, frontier skills, and significant tribal assistance to guide
them and keep them alive, this group trekked thousands of miles on foot, by
canoe, and on horseback, carrying or dragging tons of supplies and trade
goods from one Indian village to the next. See Figure 1-1.
After dozens of near-fatal mistakes and mishaps and 28 months of hardship
and deprivation (long after they'd been given up for dead), they returned
having lost only three men - one of their own to death by natural causes and
two Blackfeet Indians killed in a gun and knife fight.
Lewis and Clark had remarkable skills and luck. They seemed to find whatever
they needed at just the right time - tribes willing to guide them, transportation
to get them to their next destination, the instincts and reflexes to
overcome the next threat (heat stroke, grizzly bear attack, malaria, gunshot
wound, and a flash flood). When their skill gave out, they relied on luck. And
when their luck gave out, they mustered the will to "proceed on," which
became their watchwords.
Meeting the Cast of the Saga
One of the reasons that the Lewis and Clark saga continues to fascinate
people today is its large and colorful cast.
Chapter 2 shares many more details about this cast of characters.
Accepting Mission Improbable
The primary mission of what Lewis called his "darling project" was to find
the Northwest Passage, a mythical all-water or nearly all-water route from St.
Louis to the Pacific Ocean (see Chapter 3). Thomas Jefferson directed Lewis
and Clark to find "the most direct & practicable water communication across
this continent, for the purposes of commerce."
Jefferson also instructed the Corps to carry out these secondary missions:
enter into trade alliances with the United States and make peace with
their enemies. These efforts were so that the United States could
monopolize the burgeoning fur trade, squeezing the British out.
and climate. Navigate by the stars.
The explorers were to keep a sharp lookout for proof of woolly mammoths,
Welsh Indians, a mountain of salt 180 miles across the prairie, and some shining
mountains said to rise five miles above the plains in a single ridge, among
other tantalizing fantasies that were part of 1803 Western lore. See Chapter 3
Exploring empty wilderness or inhabited,
Members of the Corps of Discovery considered their journey a voyage of
discovery. No one from the United States had traveled west of the Upper
Missouri valley, so the Corps believed every bend in the river, sunset behind
a mountain, tool made from bone, taste of fresh-pulled root, smell of bear fat,
and notes of songs wailed in unfamiliar languages to be discoveries that
expanded knowledge about the continent.
But Lewis and Clark didn't actually discover anything in the sense of being the
first to find something out (as dictionaries define "discover"). The land and
water that the expedition explored had been occupied, known, and actively
used for millennia by native peoples. The 100-plus tribal nations in the expedition's
path had their own languages, traditions, social and political hierarchies,
health care, education, religions, and customs. The tribes operated far
flung trade networks; established hunting, gathering, farming, and sacred
boundaries; formed alliances; and made enemies as circumstances dictated.
Lewis and Clark did not blaze their own trail - they traveled Indian roads,
using Indian maps and advice.
Adding to scientific knowledge
On behalf of science, Lewis and Clark collected and recorded 178 plant
species and 122 animal species. They were the first white people to create a
nearly accurate map that showed the continent as it was. And they determined
once and for all that no all-water Northwest Passage to the Pacific
Everywhere Lewis went on the expedition, he observed and meticulously
recorded plants and animals he believed to be new to science. Late in May of
1806, while the expedition stayed with the Nez Perce and waited for the snow
to melt in the Bitterroot Mountains, the men brought Lewis a black woodpecker
with a red throat and white and blood red breast. Lewis had seen the
bird at a distance but not up close. Taking his time, he lavished a five-hundred-word
description on it. We know the bird today as "Lewis's woodpecker." Its
skin, the only zoological specimen that survives from the expedition, is at
Harvard University. In addition, during his wait with the Nez Perce, Lewis had
a very productive period as a botanist, collecting and preserving nearly 50
plants, including Lewis's syringa, purple trillium, ragged robin, and the green-banded
While Lewis waxed poetic about animals and plants, Clark made detailed
maps of the areas they traveled. Clark's famous map of the West (see
Chapter 9) turned out to be off by only 40 miles out of the nearly 8,000 the
expedition traveled. It has been useful to geographers and map makers ever
Lewis and Clark and the journal-keeping soldiers all recorded copious detail
about the rivers and landscapes, weather conditions, and most of all, the
people. Lewis's and Clark's ethnological (comparison of cultures) observations
are revealing, both about the people recorded and about the ethnocentricity
of the men doing the recording.
Placing Lewis and Clark in History
One of the ways that the Lewis and Clark journey stands out among all the
other explorations of the Americas is the over one million words that Lewis
and Clark wrote in their journals. Clark was the most faithful journalist, writing
nearly every day, and he was also the most idiosyncratic speller. He
spelled the word "mosquito," for example, over two dozen ways, without
once spelling it the way Americans spell it today.
The journals are an unparalleled record of fact, opinion, bias, affection, anger,
humor, sadness, and mortal danger. They make Lewis's and Clark's continental
journey a human story, full of life and its triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows,
and never-ending challenges.
Most of the intrepid explorers were dead just a few years after returning from
the West, but because they kept journals that record every place they went
and what they saw, heard, and did, the Lewis and Clark expedition lives on in
American imaginations, hearts, and history classes.
The Lewis and Clark expedition, preserved in those journals, paved the way
for rapid and radical change, and the country has made almost mind-boggling
progress since the early 1800s. Yet that progress has come at a terrible cost
to indigenous peoples and the environment.
Beginning Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century doctrine that America's westward expansion
was pre-determined and inevitable wasn't named until later in the century,
but it was the obvious course of U.S. politics when Lewis and Clark set
off on their voyage. The western half of the North American continent contained
a million square miles in 1800, all unknown to United States citizens.
This enormous uncharted land mass inspired visions of future U.S. power and
prosperity in statesmen like President Jefferson, who conceived and planned
the Lewis and Clark expedition. The West beckoned to men like Meriwether
Lewis and William Clark, who were young, fit, courageous, confident, and willing
to test their fortunes against it.
Jefferson believed that western tribes could be instrumental in the development
of a fur-trade empire and would gradually be assimilated into white culture.
If not, they would have to be removed to some other place. Jefferson
worried that assimilation would not happen fast enough on the frontier - it
had not happened with tribes in the East, who had moved or been run off
from their lands or gone into hiding. And it was not happening in Indiana
Territory at that moment, where settlers were deciding that the Indians
needed to leave and were clamoring for government intervention.
Jefferson thought that the surviving Eastern and Midwestern tribes were
best protected from whites and should be removed to somewhere west of
the Mississippi River, somewhere whites didn't want to live. The logical
extension to that thought was that eventually, some western tribes would
also have to be removed, although Jefferson may or may not have thought
that far in advance.
White Americans believed that it was their God-given right to settle the West,
and the path had to be cleared. Nineteenth-century Americans perceived the
presence of Indian tribes all over the continent as an obstacle to settlement
of U.S. territory - wherever whites chose to live.
A century of conquest
As you look back 200 years to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the landscape
has radically changed. The environment has been critically damaged, and the
tribes were nearly decimated. The expedition may not have directly caused
these changes, but it was the catalyst for change. The West was certainly
never the same after Lewis and Clark's visit.
Disease brought by Euro-Americans was the first wholesale killer of American
Indians. Then, conflict with white settlers resulted in the loss of traditional
homelands and hunting territories and removal or confinement to reservations.
White settlement depleted the game animals that the tribes depended
on for food, clothing, and self-sufficiency. Federal policy built dams that
buried tribal lands in water and stopped the great salmon runs. Poverty,
starvation, and dependency plagued reservation tribes. Federal government
policy took Indian children from their parents and placed them in faraway
boarding schools, where they were forced to give up their languages and cultures.
Solemn treaties with tribes were broken. Presidential executive orders
and acts of Congress continually reduced tribal lands. Federal policy withdrew
sovereignty status from tribes and rescinded support for struggling
tribal governments, schools, and social services. Federal policy tried to
Today, the tribes are striving to preserve their languages - languages that
Lewis and Clark heard and tried to phonetically record in their journals.
Tribes are working successfully to revitalize their cultures, traditions,
practices, arts and crafts, songs, and stories. American Indian tribes are
beginning to recover.
Waging a century of war against the
The overwhelming bounty of the West that Lewis and Clark described over
and over was gone by the end of the same century in which they described it.
Many animal and plant species were driven to extinction and many remain
endangered. The countless numbers of buffalo that covered the plains for
miles and held up Lewis's and Clark's canoes for hours while crossing rivers
were decimated to near extinction by white hunters and settlers. Dams now
constrict the natural flow of rivers. The huge salmon runs of the Columbia
River and Pacific Northwest were stopped by dam after dam built to supply
hydroelectric power, and some species of salmon recorded by Lewis and
Clark are now extinct. These same dams buried the mighty Great Falls of the
Missouri and the thundering Celilo Falls on the Columbia.
The beaver and otter were trapped out. Grizzly bears and wolves were forced
to the brink of extinction. And the passenger pigeon that darkened the skies
in Lewis's and Clark's day and provided supper for the explorers on occasion,
perished completely from the face of the earth.
Today, many Americans are interested in conserving what bounty is left.
National environmental organizations have focused their efforts on preserving
and restoring the lands and waters traveled by Lewis and Clark. Federal,
state, and tribal resource-management agencies enforce sustainable use regulations.
Excerpted from Lewis & Clark For Dummies
by Sammye J. Meadows Jana Prewitt
Copyright © 2003 by Sammye J. Meadows Jana Prewitt.
Excerpted by permission.
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