[This is the third installment of an academic paper I wrote for a class. You can see that I got tired and just tried to wrap things up at this point. Maybe some day I will return to the essay to finish it up properly.]
Parts 1-3 are here.
Parts 4-6 are here.
Parts 1-3 are here.
Parts 4-6 are here.
VII. William Clark and Indian Removal
The tragic life of Meriwether Lewis following his return to St. Louis is well documented and deeply felt. Most scholars agree that he committed suicide in a wayside tavern along the Natchez Trace. It was October 11, 1809, only three years after the expedition ended. By all evidence, he had completed very little work, if any, preparing his and Clark’s journals for publication. Jefferson, his sponsor, was then out of office; Lewis appeared to be hounded by debts, and he was drinking to excess.
William Clark’s life followed a different pattern. He remained in the armed services, fought in the War of 1812, was named Governor of the Missouri Territory in 1813, and when Missouri became a state in 1820, he was named Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a position he held until his death in 1838. By the time he had died, the United States was composed of 24 states. Every territory east of the Mississippi River, except for Florida and Wisconsin had been admitted into the Union. People continued to move west.
One of Clark’s duties was to help supervise the removal of Native Americans from the states east of the Mississippi and relocate them west of the Mississippi. Among them were the Five Civilized Tribes who were being removed to Oklahoma. “[T]he first stage alone of the Choctaw removal would uproot five thousand people—and because gold had been discovered on Cherokee land in 1829” (Jones 304). With tribes also being removed from the Northwest Territories of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the situation in the west was going worse. One agent wrote, “[T]he Osages appear to be a very unhappy people, and I think it is altogether attributable to the emigration of so many Red People to the West. The game is entirely destroyed and they see that they must now cultivated the soil for a subsistence” (Jones 305-6).
At this point, there was no stopping the western migration of Americans looking for land, work, and commerce. It is estimated that between 1846 and 1869 over 400,000 individuals migrated on the Oregon Trail.
The goal of this essay has been demonstrate that while the Lewis and Clark Expedition was in many ways an amazing accomplishment for its time and place, it was also part of a pattern. I believe that one can argue that it was simply one of many events that opened the western half of the North American continent to people of European and American origins. While there was some acclaim at its inception and completion, as time progressed, other explorations, other commercial ventures, and public policies captured the public’s attention.
One example is that it was not until a hundred years following the expedition that a reliable version of the journals was published. “With only 1417 copies known to have been disseminated, it was a relatively rare book and had to suffice as the only source of information” (Silliman xiii). Wide-scale acknowledgement of Lewis and Clark’s Expedition did not begin until the centennial of the journey, with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland. The recent bi-centennial has expanded our knowledge and admiration of Lewis and Clark. Many sites now available for history buffs to visit have been opened only recently. The site of Fort Clatsop was not identified until 1899, with another fifty years passing before a replica of the fort was built. The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation was not created until 1991. Pompey’s Pillar did not become a Historical Landmark until 1995. It was not until 2002 that archeologists established the real location of Traveler’s Rest, at Traveler’s Rest State Park in Montana.
It is inspiring for some to read Stephen Ambrose’s stirring prose and his assertion that the most important act that Jefferson committed was the purchase of the Louisiana Purchase and its exploration by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I find it interesting to note that in two recent histories of Western Humanities that Lewis and Clark do not receive mention. Both Jacob Bronowski’s The Western Intellectual Tradition and Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence devote considerable space to Thomas Jefferson. However, like Jefferson himself, who for his gravestone listed his greatest accomplishments as “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & Father of the University of Virginia,” Bronowski and Barzun place his importance elsewhere.
I am not attempting to diminish the accomplishments and skills of the men and woman in the Corps of Discovery. I am attempting to see it in context, not as a unique exceptional act. Some say the art of leadership is recognizing where people are going and to get in front. In a very real way, this was Jefferson’s, Lewis’s, and Clark’s genius. They participated in a widespread migration that eventually led to the Pacific Transcontinental Railroad, the Massacre at Wounded Knee, and the final removal of the Sioux to reservations. Today, Thomas Jefferson stares down from Mount Rushmore on land that once belonged to the Sioux, and Crazy Horse glares back. Sometimes our desire to write and interpret history creates a “reality” different from the historical reality.
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