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David J. Peck. Or Perish in the Attempt: Wilderness Medicine in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Helena, Mont.: Farcountry Press, 2002. 351 pp. Ill. $18.95 (paperbound, 1-56037-225-7).
In 1953 in his trilogy on American westward exploration the great historian and critic Bernard DeVoto bemoaned the fact that qualified scientists and historians were not interested in making the requisite studies on the Lewis and Clark findings.1 With our current celebration of the bicentennial of this magnificent exploring expedition has come a 180° change: Ernest Schuyler has catalogued the plants; Gary Moulton has produced a thirteen-volume canon on the journals of Lewis and Clark, the originals being housed at the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia; and Dr. Eldon G. Chinuard, head of orthopedic surgery at the University of Oregon, has published a medical survey, "And Only One Man Died."2 Until David J. Peck—a board-certified ER physician, and an expert in wilderness medicine—published his book, no one had provided an overall historical view of the medical realities of trail and men. The reader will find, for example, one of the best and most succinct short treatises on the "sore eyes" of the Indian tribes encountered on the western side of the Continental Divide, especially among the Flatheads (p. 210). Indeed, the Indians were not the healthy folk of song and story, suffering as they did from starvation and the native diseases of the area plus the ones passed along by the tradesmen and voyageurs. Without a doctor, the two captains maintained the health of thirty men and one [End Page 226] woman and a child according to the strict military discipline of their antecedent, General Anthony Wayne, who was the only American army commander feared by the Indians.
Fearless, forest-knowledgeable, young, strong, unmarried, healthy: these adventurous stalwarts conquered the wilderness in epic fashion, and Dr. Peck's work tells how and why this magnificent exploration made us all a westering people. It is to be remembered that the journals are an American classic. This beautifully designed and illustrated volume is strongly recommended for anyone caught up in the current Lewis and Clark enthusiasm.
1. Bernard DeVoto, The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1953).
2. Eldon G. Chinuard, Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Fairfield, Wash.: Galleon Press, 1979).