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Lewis & Clark For Dummies

Lewis & Clark For Dummies

by Sammye J. Meadows, Jana Prewitt

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The Lewis and Clark expedition was the greatest camping trip in history. It was one of those irresistible American adventures that many people dream of living. This book shares the delightful details of the journey that historians have gleaned from the group’s journals and maps, and also discusses what’s known of the Indian perspective of the expedition


The Lewis and Clark expedition was the greatest camping trip in history. It was one of those irresistible American adventures that many people dream of living. This book shares the delightful details of the journey that historians have gleaned from the group’s journals and maps, and also discusses what’s known of the Indian perspective of the expedition.

Throughout the book, you find out about Jefferson’s western exploration from his earliest efforts to see the Corps assembled through the aftermath for the explorers, the tribes, and the United States. But the focus of Lewis & Clark For Dummies is on the period between Jefferson’s confidential letter to Congress requesting dollars to mount a western exploration (January 18,1803) and the expedition’s triumphant (and improbable) return to St. Louis (September 23, 1806): forty-two months that changed the world.

Join Lewis and Clark as they recruit the Corps of Discovery, meet Sacagawea and various Indian tribes, and set off along the Missouri River on a thrilling, perilous journey. Lewis & Clark For Dummies also covers the following topics and more:

  • The expedition’s people and places
  • Jefferson’s fascination with the West
  • Final preparations of Meriwether Lewis
  • Weathering storms to launch the expedition
  • The discomforts and dangers of the journey
  • Making maps and writing reports
  • A first look at the Pacific Ocean

The story of Lewis and Clark doesn’t end with their return to St. Louis. This book will also lead you on an exploration of the fates and lessons of the Corps of Discovery. Find out what happened to Lewis, Clark, and many other key players after their famous journey. And examine the aftermath for the American Indians and the political and cultural ramifications for the United States. You’ll even find the resources you need to plan your own recreation of the expedition as you take the Trail yourself!

Product Details

Publication date:
For Dummies Series
Product dimensions:
7.38(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.91(d)

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.

ISBN: 0-7645-2545-X

Chapter One

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
natural environment.

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.

  •   The brilliant but troubled Meriwether Lewis

  •   Out-going and rock-steady William Clark

  •   The Indian child bride and mother Sacagawea

  •   Her un-heroic husband, Toussaint Charbonneau

  •   The "dancing" baby, Jean Baptiste

  •   York, the slave who became "Big Medison" (see Chapter 8)

  •   Generous Sheheke of the Mandan tribe

  •   Compassionate Cameahwait of the Shoshones

  •   The civilian jack-of-all-trades, George Drouillard

  •   The dog, Seaman

  •   The wise and proud Teton Sioux, Black Buffalo

  •   Cheerful, sincere Twisted Hair

  •   The one-eyed fiddler, Cruzatte

    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:

  •   Along the way, study Indian tribes, some felt to be hostile, and collect
    tribal vocabularies.

  •   Hold diplomatic meetings with the tribes in order to persuade them to
    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.

  •   Encourage the tribes to send delegations of important Indians east to
    meet Jefferson.

  •   Distribute enough (but not too many) gifts to the Indians to win
    their cooperation.

  •   Collect animal and plant specimens, as well as observe soils, minerals,
    and climate. Navigate by the stars.

  •   Keep journals and make accurate maps and drawings.

  •   Come back alive.

    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
    for details.

    Exploring empty wilderness or inhabited,
    civilized homelands?

    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
    Ocean existed.

    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
    mariposa lily.

    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
    eradicate Indians.

    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.
    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.

  • Meet the Author

    Sammye J. Meadows is the coordinator for the Circle of Tribal Advisors for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

    Jana Sawyer Prewitt is a former director of external affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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