- Lewis & Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective
Hoxie and Nelson have produced an interesting, timely, and readable book of twenty-three chapters examining the significance of the Lewis & Clark expedition from the perspective of Native Americans. The book presents a summary of the impact of the Corps of Discovery on Indian country. The editors follow the organization and deepen the intellectual content of an exhibit, Lewis & Clark and the Indian Country, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Newberry Library. [End Page 566]
The editors have assembled sixty-six readings dating from before the Lewis & Clark expedition, during its presence in Indian country, and from 1806 to modern times. Readings present the state of Indian country before the explorers entered; portray the expedition's crossing of Indian country; take note of the process of American expansion in Indian country during the nineteenth century; and provide a view of Indians who live along the Lewis & Clark trail in the twenty-first century. Stories about the long term impact of the expedition by contemporary Indian people relate accounts of cultural survival encouraging readers "to reflect on the deeper meaning of the expedition, both for the past and for the future" (pp. 6-7). The work is solidly grounded on the best modern scholarship, including the works of James P. Ronda, Colin G. Calloway, W. Raymond Wood, and Gary E. Moulton.
Hoxie and Nelson incorporate sources to indicate the purposes of the Lewis & Clark expedition. President Jefferson sent them to discover a water route across the continent, develop trade and commerce with the Native People, and find ways for Americans to join in the rich fur trade of the west. The Corps of Discovery had authority to explore and affirm United States claims to the Louisiana Purchase. The Lewis & Clark expedition had geopolitical goals and purposes. Not only were Lewis & Clark to establish control over the Louisiana Territory and inform Indians that Americans were now "their fathers and friends" (p. 1), but they were to extend American claims over territory as far north as possible. Lewis hoped the Marias River headwaters rose north of the forty-ninth parallel so the U.S. could claim more land.
The Lewis & Clark expedition was a well-armed military expedition as much as a Corps of Discovery. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, two young army captains, led the expedition, ably supported by two young sergeants, Patrick Gass and John Ordway . Altogether the expedition included fourteen soldiers in the party of twenty-seven men who began the trip on 14 May 1804. The leaders outfitted the expedition at Harpers Ferry with rifles, tomahawks, and large knives. The explorers took a 22-shot "air gun," spontoons, muskets, and personal firearms. Many Indians welcomed the Americans as potential trading partners, and generously provided them with information, food, and horses. Other Indians traded with Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company posts; they were often less welcoming. Some Indians looked with suspicion on the heavily armed expedition. On 27 July 1806, eight Piegans engaged in hostilities with Lewis, George Drouillard, Joseph Field, and Reuben Field, who were on edge and frightened by being in Blackfoot country. And, they were outnumbered. Lewis told them Americans had made treaties with tribes in the area and would trade with them; all were Piegan enemies. Reuben Field killed one Blackfoot; Meriwether Lewis, another. Lewis hung a Jefferson peace medal around the [End Page 567] neck of one of the dead Indians to, he said, remind the Piegans who had killed their warriors.
The editors bring to one convenient place an extraordinary mix of readings from scholarship about Lewis & Clark, primary sources from the era, and documents based on conversations with contemporary Indian educators. This is the valuable contribution of the book. Native voices reveal that the Lewis & Clark journey didn't end in 1806 but reverberated for 200 years in Native communities along the Lewis & Clark...