Journals of Lewis and Clark

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  1. The Volcanoes of Lewis and Clark October to June - Introduction
  2. Related Articles
  3. Why Lewis and Clark Matter

Their journals have been reproduced and interpreted in volumes of books, but if you have wondered what daily life was like for the approximately 50 men of the Corps of Discovery, Gary E. A number of significant events occurred as the expedition ascended the Missouri River in between what is now Iowa and Nebraska. Among them was their first encounter with American Indians, specifically six Oto and Missouria chiefs on Aug. Another important event was the death of U. Army Sgt. Charles Floyd on Aug. He died, apparently, of a ruptured appendix. They also visited his grave during their return home in The expedition also experienced the desertion and capture of U.

Army Pvt. Moses B.

The Volcanoes of Lewis and Clark October to June - Introduction

Reed in August He would be courtmartialed for desertion on Aug. As the Lewis and Clark bicentennial approaches—the Corps of Discovery set out from CampDubois at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on May 14, —all the signs of a great cultural-historical wallow are in place. There are Lewis and Clark conferences, museum exhibitions and trail rides.

Last summer Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders drove parts of the trail. When Harley hogs discover Lewis and Clark, you know something big is going on! But in all this hoopla I fear that we may miss the underlying significance of the Lewis and Clark story and the chance to connect these early explorers to the larger and richer stories of our past. Lewis and Clark were not the first white men to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Mexico.

Scottish fur trader Alexander Mackenzie crossed Canada a decade earlier. Nor did they visit places not already seen and mapped by generations of native people.

Table of Contents

You could even say that Lewis and Clark began the American invasion of the West, which aimed at making it safe for cows, corn and capital at the expense of bison, prairie grasses and cultures not fitting the expansionist agenda. If we want to be hard edged, we could even make a case that the Lewis and Clark story is a mainstay of the same shelf-worn narrative that glorifies and justifies the American conquest and dispossession of the North America natives.

But it does seem to me that there are several reasons why Lewis and Clark do matter—and why we are so drawn to them.

First, what happened to the Corps is a great story, brimming with energy and full of forward motion. In extraordinary settings, a remarkable cast of characters encountered adversity of epic proportions and struggled through one adventure after another. American novelist Willa Cather once noted that there are only two or three great human stories—and that we are destined to keep repeating them over and over again.

One of these is the journey. Some of the oldest Indian stories are about journeys. There are the journeys of Africans and Europeans coming to North America, settlers pushing west by way of the Oregon Trail and the transcontinental railroad, and Chinese women and men traveling from places such as Shanghai and Guangdong Province to California, Idaho and Wyoming.

Journeys took—and continue to take—Spanish-speaking men and women to El Norte. In the 20th century, the journeys of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban, industrial North re-made the racial, cultural and political map of the United States. From Jack Kerouac to Willie Nelson, the lure of the road and the promise of the journey still hold us.

And it was Lewis and Clark who gave us our first great national road story. There was German-born Pvt. John Potts, a miller by trade and a soldier most likely by necessity. This is the crazy quilt that was and is America. Not entirely. A close reading of the expedition records reveals that women were a part of the journey every step of the way.

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Philadelphia seamstress Matilda Chapman sewed 93 shirts for the expedition; women did laundry and sold provisions to the expedition as it overwintered outside St. Louis; Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa women were a constant part of expedition life up the Missouri, providing food and friendship; Lemhi Shoshone women carried expedition baggage over the Continental Divide; a Nez Perce woman named Watkuweis brokered friendly relations between the Americans and her tribe; Chinook women, camped outside Fort Clatsop, offered themselves in return for valued trade goods, including metal tools, cloth and even uniform buttons.

Indeed, native people of both sexes lie at the heart of the Lewis and Clark journey; it is they who make it such a compelling story. Finally, this is a story of the kind novelist Henry James once called "the visitable past. We can hike parts of the Lolo Trail and visit FortClatsop. Historian Donald Jackson once observed that Lewis and Clark were the "writingest" explorers in American history. The expedition diarists—all seven if we count the still-missing Robert Frazer journal—wrote about everything from bison, thunderstorms and tribal politics to river currents, mountain ranges and prairie plants.

Why Lewis and Clark Matter

Some of it is dull, recording miles traveled and campsites set up. But there are also passages of the most marvelous, flashing prose, which brings the West alive, leaps the abyss of time and dances for us across the page.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark -- Documentary/Discussion

And all of it, whether dull or delightful, is written in a way we can understand. Lewis and Clark matter today because they act as a benchmark by which we can measure change and continuity in everything from the environment to relations between peoples. But more than that, their adventure reminds us that we are not the first Americans native and newcomers alike to face difficult choices in troubled times.

William Clark, Sacagawea and Coboway lived in a complex, often violent age. The winds of change blew as hard then as now. When honestly told, the Lewis and Clark story inspires without leading us into simpleminded platitudes. History humanizes us by giving names, faces and texture to our physical and mental landscapes.

Not only do the Lewis and Clark stories entertain us, they serve as a map and guide for life on the American road.