The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery

Synopsis

Following orders from President Thomas Jefferson, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from their wintering camp in Illinois in 1804 to search for a river passage to the Pacific Ocean. In this riveting account, editor Gary E. Moulton blends the narrative highlights of the Lewis and Clark journals so that the voices of the enlisted men and of Native peoples are heard alongside the words of the captains. All their triumphs and terrors are here-the thrill of seeing the vast herds of bison on the plains; the tensions and admiration in the first meetings with Indian peoples; Lewis's rapture at the stunning beauty of the Great Falls; the fear the captains felt when a devastating illness befell their Shoshone interpreter, Sacagawea; the ordeal of crossing the Continental Divide; the kidnapping and rescuing of Lewis's dog, Seaman; miserable days of cold and hunger; and Clark's joy at seeing the Pacific. The cultural differences between the corps and Native Americans make for living drama that at times provokes laughter but more often is poignant and, at least once, tragic.

Excerpt

Instructed by President Jefferson to keep meticulous records bearing upon the geography, ethnology, and natural history of the trans-Mississippi West, Lewis and Clark filled hundreds of notebook pages with observations during their expedition. Some of the enlisted men — those who were literate — did the same. The result is a national treasure: a complete look at the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest, reported by men who were intelligent and well prepared, at a time when Easterners knew almost nothing about those regions so newly acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Getting at the actual words of the explorers, however, is either a formidable task (the party's diarists wrote more than one million words) or a disappointment, because existing condensations of the men's writings are outdated and incomplete.

A narrative based on the journals was prepared first by Nicholas Biddle and published in 1814. The journals themselves, most of which were deposited in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia by Jefferson, lay largely unused and almost forgotten for nearly a century, until an edition of known materials was published in 1904 — 5. This first comprehensive edition of the journals, Reuben Gold Thwaites's Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804 — 1806, was a superb tool for scholars and laypersons in its time. It had, however, suffered the various kinds of erosion that beset all such works: new manuscripts were discovered, much new information was available with which to annotate the journals, and documentary editing procedures had undergone profound changes. These deficiencies led to the project to publish an entirely new comprehensive edition of the journals. That effort, begun in 1979 and completed in 2001, was published as The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in thirteen volumes by the University of Nebraska Press under the direction of the editor of this volume. However, that massive undertaking, targeted primarily at scholars and research institutions, does not reach a public who wants a less weighty introduction to the party's diaries. This book seeks to bring these important words to a wider audience . . .

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