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The Journals of Lewis and Clark - Book Review

Updated on May 12, 2011

Lewis and Clark’s journey toward the west is in many was the first American Epic. They travel their way across the perils of nature, Indians, and the local wildlife. They survive the elements and map out the wave for America’s “Manifest Destiny” to occupy the entire North American Continent. From this they recover many scientific facts about the local plant life and the safest routes west. I particularly enjoyed the format of the piece by Journal entry from both Lewis and Clark’s perspective. Clark gave more of a direct “no bullshit” responses to the day’s activities. 

He writes, “Gooseberries are ripe and in great abundance. The yellow currant is also common, not yet ripe. Killed a buffalo and camped on the larboard side, near an old Indian fortified camp. One man sick, and three with swellings. The Indian women are very sick.” There is no sign of emotion or over descriptive detail, just a straight forward response. 

While Lewis is more educated and descriptive in his responses as when he writes, “ I should have returned from hence; but, hearing a tremendous roaring above me, I continued my route across the point of a hill a few hundred yards further, and was again presented by one of the most beautiful objects in nature--a cascade of about fifty feet perpendicular stretching at right angles across the river from side to side the distance of at least a quarter of a mile.” It serves as a way to give to insights on the same occurrences and get a different viewpoint on the day’s journey from each of the men. Their journal takes them through the bitter cold of winter that I’m surprised they survived, and many Indian encounters. They traded beads in exchange for supplies and food, and established a basic trading system with them. 

Their journey through the west successfully established a guidebook for the territory and provided eager settlers with insight on how to deal with the inhabitants and elements. It was a very successful mission that promoted Jefferson’s candidacy for president. I found it interesting to see how they did not fight lose more people than they did, and ultimately that they actually made it. Significantly, The work is the first or only true American Epic to be compared to Homer’s Odyssey or Dante’s Divine Comedy. In a sense like an Epic Poem, in some ways America might have exaggerated their travels a little bit.

When I was younger for example, I always assumed due to instruction and photo representation that Lewis and Clark went on their own, fighting bad Indians and large bears and wolves off going on the trip on their own. The truth of the matter however was that they went with a large team. Their accomplishment symbolized the journey of America into the future, with bright prospects and innovative desire to grow. It was a great way to end the semester and have a feel for how the country should move on from the success of the revolution. 


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