RIVER OF THE WEST by Robert Clark


Stories from the Columbia
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 An original and vibrant account of the Columbia River's hold on the imagination of individuals and cultures, Native American and European, who settled and explored its banks and imbued it with their disparate spiritual and material values. Clark (James Beard, 1993) weaves an often mystical, sometimes tragic tapestry beginning with the discovery of the New World and the ensuing European rush to plunder the continent, which transformed the lives of its native inhabitants. Vividly portrayed are such figures as David Thompson, a Hudson's Bay Company employee who discovered the Columbia's headwaters, and botanist David Douglas, who explored most of the Columbia River country south of Canada in search of unknown species of trees. Here too are Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Christian missionaries who were killed along with 14 others at their mission near Walla Walla (in what would later be Washington state) in 1847 by the Cayuse, decimated by disease and resentful of continual impingement by white settlers. Clark recalls the influence of the Indian prophets Smohalla and Skolaskin, who frustrated attempts by US Indian agents and missionaries to pacify and regulate the dwindling number of indigenous people along the Columbia. Moving on to the 20th century, the author focuses less on the politics of dam building than on the escapades of Woody Guthrie, who through his songs helped the Bonneville Power Administration popularize the ideas of cheap electricity, plentiful irrigation water, and flood control, but who otherwise led an erratic, womanizing, and unhappy life. He concludes with recent court battles waged by Native Americans to regain their salmon fishing rights; the contemporary federal government comes off no better than the officials who repeatedly broke their treaties a century before. Told mainly through intimate glimpses into the past, this is a valuable addition to the body of works on the Columbia River region.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-06-258516-9
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995


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