Lewis and Clark among the Indians

Lewis and Clark among the Indians

Lewis and Clark among the Indians

Lewis and Clark among the Indians

Excerpt

The Lewis and Clark expedition has long symbolized the westering impulse in American life. No other exploring party has so fully captured the imagination of ordinary citizens or the attention of scholars. In ways that defy rational explanation, the picture of Lewis and Clark struggling up the Missouri and across the mountains to the great western sea continues to stir our national consciousness. Books, highway markers, museum displays, and a foundation dedicated to preserving the Lewis and Clark trail all bear witness to a fascination that time has only deepened.

Over the generations since the expedition returned from the Pacific, its achievement and significance for America heading west have undergone constant reappraisal. From an early emphasis on the journey as an epic of physical endurance and courage, Lewis and Clark have emerged in this century as pioneer western natural ists, cartographers, and diplomats. Thomas Jefferson, the man William Clark once called "that great Chaructor the Main Spring" of the expedition, would have heartily endorsed an evaluation of the Corps of Discovery that included sharp minds as well as strong bodies. And Jefferson would have reminded us that his explorers were part of that long encounter between Euro-Americans and native Americans. In its daily affairs and official actions, the expedition passed through, changed, and was in turn changed by countless native lives.

In the simplest terms, this book is about what happens when people from different cultural persuasions meet and deal with each other. The Lewis and Clark expedition was an integral and symbolic part of what James Axtell has aptly called "the American encounter." Nearly two and a half years of almost constant contact between explorers and Indians illuminate the larger and longer series of cultural relationships that began centuries before on the margins of the continent. This book is not a retelling of the familiar Lewis and Clark adventure. That story has been told with grace and skill by Bernard DeVoto and in the magnificent photographs of Ingvard Eide and David Muench. But readers will find moments of high drama not previously well known or clearly understood. This book is not an attempt to dress up exploration history with feathers and paint to satisfy current political needs. Nor is it a stitching together of capsule tribal histories and ethnographies. Finally, readers . . .

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