THE WAY TO THE WESTERN SEA: Lewis and Clark Across the Continent by David Lavender

THE WAY TO THE WESTERN SEA: Lewis and Clark Across the Continent

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Lavender, a prolific chronicler of Western exploration (Bent's Fort, Land of the Giants, Westward Vision, The Great West, etc.) here turns his attention to the quest of Lewis and Clark. The Lewis and Clark expedition was the first sponsored by the US government of the country's vast northwestern wilderness, and spanned from 1804 (just after the Louisiana Purchase) to 1806, when the explorers, having been given up for lost, reappeared in St. Louis, their original starting point. Lavender brings the details of the expedition to light, letting us in on some of the little side stories that often get lost in the patriotic glow. Thus, we learn that Lewis and Clark refused Sioux offers of their females as nightly bedmates--a perfectly normal expression of the Indians' lenient views of sexual diversions, but a breach of the captains' high moral stance. And we are treated to a colorful depiction of a ceremonial fire, where the Indians serve up roasted dog and cakes of pemmican (""the latter compounded of pulverized dried meat mixed with congealed buffalo fat and pounded choke-cherries""). There are high moments (Clark's great rapport with Indians, for instance, as he ""healed"" them with salves made of lard and pitch, or pine resin, bear oil, and beeswax), and low ones (e.g., Lewis' paternalistic addressing of Indians as ""children""). Meanwhile, Lavender takes his stand squarely with those historians who believe that Lewis' chronic melancholia led him to suicide in 1809 (like the fiction of Salieri poisoning Mozart, some insist that Lewis was actually murdered). A useful, vivid work that can stand beside David Freeman Hawke's Those Tremendous Mountains (1980) and Ingvard Eide's American Odyssey: The Journal of Lewis and Clark (1969).

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row