Duck Duck Book

39 – lewis and clark
11.28.2006, 1:22 pm
Filed under: history & geography

Lewis and Clark through Indian eyes / edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. ; with
Marc Jaffe.
New York : Knopf, 2006.
[MCL call number: 978.02 L673 2006; six copies, two holds]

As an undergraduate, I studied history.  Although I had several excellent teachers, I never settled into the discipline.  I had no real quarrel with the ideals or practices of historians, and no clear argument with the way it was taught, but I could not stand the company of my fellow students.  They wanted to Know What Happened.  They were certain that an examination of the available facts of any historical subject would lead them to The Truth.  I doubt anyone had told them they would find this complete truth, but they were somehow sure it was waiting for them just before the final examination, easily attainable for  any diligent student, and just as easy to assimilate into one’s bank of knowledge.

This view that it is simple to understand the past is, unfortunately, somewhat widely held.  People go to the movies, and then they think they have seen the truth about the Kennedy assassination or the revolt on the ship Amistad — and maybe they have seen the truth, but they haven’t seen the entire truth.  The whole truth doesn’t fit into a nice, easy package, because every story has as many versions as there are people affected by it.

Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes gives room for a few of the many stories about the travels of the Corps of Discovery in the early 1800s.  Nine eminent Indian authors were provided with an initial question: What impact, good or  bad, immediate or long-range, did the Indians experience from the Lewis and Clark expedition?  Their essays present very different stories about Lewis and Clark’s journey and their purpose, the American project of western expansion, U.S. treaties with tribes, the loss of Indian languages, the creation and erosion of Indian Reservations, modern tribal and intertribal cultural practices, and many other subjects. 

Because the essays have different authors, and because the editor allowed so much creative room, the nine pieces are very different in content, style, and tone.  Some are personal stories, some read like mainstream historical accounts, some are intensely spiritual, some are humorous, and some are righteously angry.  Taken together, they are refreshing, surprising, and humbling — especially for readers who, like me, were taught as children to unabashedly revere Lewis and Clark, their actions, their purpose, and their accomplishments.


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