The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Continental Dreams and
Fur Empires

The progress of discovery contributes not a little to the enlightenment of mankind; for mercantile interest stimulates curiosity and adventure, and combines with them to enlarge the circle of knowledge.-- Alexander Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810- 1813 ( 1849)

Pacific Northwesterners honor the names of Lewis and Clark above all others. Cities and counties, rivers and peaks, streets and schools, all testify to the importance of the two explorers who have long symbolized the westering impulse in American life.


THE CORPS OF DISCOVERY

The overland expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the Oregon coast in late 1805, twenty-seven years after James Cook. Although the two ventures differed in obvious ways, they had certain common features: both were military expeditions; both sketched in details on the map of North America; and both spurred the commerce in furs. Publication of official and unofficial records of each expedition stimulated the curiosity and commercial ambitions of those who followed.

Like Cook, Lewis and Clark sought a Northwest Passage. Their quest was for an easy portage through the mountains that separated the head of navigation on the Missouri River and that of a river draining into the Pa

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