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Lewis and Clark Expedition Essay
Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic. Citing articles via Google Scholar. Thus the zone defined by the winding, turbulent course of the Missouri was one of constant flux, upon which the expedition as an arm of Enlightenment attempted to impose an element of order, mapping the river and its environs and through treaties hoping to stabilize Indian relationships, a familiar pattern of imperial design with predictable results.
Eager to gain the superior firepower of the Americans in their tribal battles, and glad to accept their gifts and medals in the bargain, the Indians were willing to smoke pipes of peace and shake hands over past differences. In order the better to impress the Indians with United States might, Lewis and Clark in their negotiations along the Missouri took a firm line and gave it a suitable backdrop of ceremony and strength, in effect a primitive form of gunboat diplomacy.
That the impression might be the more forcible, the men were all paraded, and the council was opened by a discharge from the swivel [gun] of the boat. We then delivered a speech which, like those we had already made, intermingled advice with the assurances of friendship and trade. This carefully staged pageant is a kind of imperial theatrics, lending the business of power play a certain aesthetic grace, a combination of forms understood and appreciated by the Indians yet one which was intended by the Americans to be an extended instrument of law and order.
On a nearer approach they represent every form of elegant ruins—columns, some with pedestals and capitals entire, other mutilated and prostrate, and some rising pyramidically over each other till they terminate in a sharp point. At times Lewis does evince what appears to be a protoromantic enthusiasm for wilderness scenery, but in his figures as well as his prose style he is still a Jeffersonian neoclassicist, expressing an imperial aesthetic which was shared by his companion officer. This part of the book is given added tension by the arrival of the explorers at a twin fork in the river, and the necessity therefore of determining which channel was the true Missouri, a decision on which rested the success of the expedition, posited as it was on the proximity of the headwaters of the Missouri to the sources of the Columbia.
The Lewis And Clark Expedition
The scene which it presented was indeed singularly beautiful, since, without any of the wild, irregular sublimity of the lower falls, it combined all the regular elegances which the fancy of a painter would select to form a beautiful waterfall. Of these several rude encounters, which like the thorns of the prickly-pear acted against the aesthetic impulse, introducing to the scene hostile agents of the landscape, the bear adds most meaning to the epic framework of the expedition. Moreover, the episode of the sublime and the beautiful falls and the terrible but comical bear occurs at a critical point in the narrative, for thenceforth the expedition will be following unnavigable waters, and as the distance lengthens and the terrain increases in roughness, the inherent fallacy of the pyramidal theory of geography will gradually become apparent.
Passage to India is possible through the Rocky Mountains, but it will be made by other means than water carriage. Following the Missouri to its ultimate source, the explorers gave the various headwaters names reflecting their errand, a series of triads that lend the narrative a self-consciously symbolic thread. Nothing can be imagined more tremendous than the frowning darkness of these rocks, which project over the river and menace us with destruction.
The river. The narrative continues to maintain its epic coherence, and the canto-like divisions of the action continue also: the ninth canto takes them to the mouth of the Columbia, the tenth is concerned with the hardships of the long winter in Fort Clastrop, the eleventh with the return in springtime up the Columbia to the Great Divide, and the twelfth and last with their return trip down the Missouri to St.
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Nor do Lewis and Clark seem to have been discouraged by their negative discoveries, for they continued to explore and map the territory on the far side of the mountains, gathering data concerning the wildlife, the minerals, and the people who lived there. Failing to encounter the trading vessels from which they could obtain the beads that passed among the Indians as currency, the Americans found themselves increasingly at a disadvantage when bargaining for food and the souvenirs which were for them of scientific interest.
Though continuing to act as peacemakers, the ragged group of half-starved soldiers lost much of their impressiveness as agents of empire, and the Flathead Indians with whom they dealt correspondingly lacked the good looks and dignified bearing of the people of the western plains. But they did however turn out to be very sharp businessmen, for being experienced at trade they drove hard bargains, and did not hesitate to take advantage of the Americans.
As the winter wore on, the supplies were mostly in the hands of the Indians, the need on the part of the Americans, and tensions predictably mounted, exacerbated by thefts and sharp dealing by the Indians. There were occasional outbreaks of violence, but an uneasy truce was generally maintained, and throughout their stay the soldiers frequently slept with Indian women—though seldom for free. Whether as the bear, the manlike personification of the woods, or the man of woods and waters himself, the Indian, what lies beyond the Great Divide in the American psychogeography serves to mock the orderly dispensations of Enlightenment man.
For such would seem to be the meaning of the otherwise insane action of Meriwether Lewis in , when, in a dreary and isolated spot on the Natchez Trace he took up a pistol and blew out his enlightened brains. Whatever the reason for that tragic suicide, the memorial raised to Meriwether Lewis in —as the United States was rushing to fill in its appointed space—provides a suitable counterpart to the reverse side of the Great Seal.
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How to Give Store. II Promoted by Jefferson as both or either, depending upon whom he was addressing a scientific and a commercial venture, the Expedition as a voyage of inquiry was bent to the utilitarian necessity which defined so many expressions of the Enlightenment in America, in which pure science was valued to the extent that it promised to bring forth useful, which is to say profitable, returns. III During the first leg of their journey up the Missouri, Lewis and Clark became literal harbingers of empire, carrying the news of the Louisiana Purchase with them, providing the occasion for bureaucratic delays in St.
V Following the Missouri to its ultimate source, the explorers gave the various headwaters names reflecting their errand, a series of triads that lend the narrative a self-consciously symbolic thread. Issue: Winter Volume 63 1. Leave a tip. Your name.