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Clay banks on the Mackenzie River

Unknown Artist

Two sailboats passing a tall bluff on the river

National Archives of Canada/C-093016

The idea that the Americans consulted Mackenzie's account along the way is reinforced by some literary echoes found in the Lewis and Clark journals:

  • Mackenzie's memorable notice that he had arrived at the Pacific "by land" from Canada probably inspired Clark's own inscription on a big tree near the western end of his journey. The captain said he "engraved my name & by land the day of the month and year, as also Several of the men."6
  • The Scottish explorer made a lyrical entry just eight days westward of his wintering post on the Peace River: "At two in the afternoon the Rocky Mountains appeared in sight, with their summits covered with snow, bearing South-West by South. They formed a very agreeable object to every person in the canoe." Lewis knew it was an important milestone when on May 26, 1805, he "beheld the Rocky Mountains for the first time," so he fancied up his prose a notch to mark the occasion: "these points of the Rocky Mountains were covered with snow and then the sun shone on it in such manner as to give me the most plain and satisfactory view."7
  • Lewis gushed optimism as his expedition left Fort Mandan in North Dakota for the Pacific on April 7, 1805. This trip, he wrote, "had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years." A curious expression, "darling project," but it could have been picked up from Mackenzie's lament on the Fraser River that "my darling project would end in disappointment" if no native guides were found.8

Mackenzie ultimately enticed a come-and-go series of local people to show him the way west from the Fraser River, where he abandoned his canoe, to Canada's indented coastline. Not for him was the Lewis and Clark luxury of buying Indian horses for this two-week, 218-mile trek over mountains streaked yellow and red by vulcanism. There seemed to be no horses at all in that country, so Mackenzie and his eastern voyageurs had to walk like everybody else.

The journals of both expeditions dwelt on the ups and downs of relations with Indians, due more to like circumstances than to any literary copying. Both parties depended on the neighborhood people for food and direction. Like the later Americans, Mackenzie tried to cultivate good relations by acting as a wilderness doctor for various native ailments. Like them, he awed the locals with simple displays of European technology. The use of a magnifying glass to make fire from sunbeams so astounded some coastal Indians, he reported, "that they exchanged the best of their otter skins for it." More than once, on meeting families of wary natives, Mackenzie melted the adults' reserve by handing out sugar to the kids. His long descriptions of the appearance and manners of Cree, Tsattine, Sekani, Kluskus, Bella Coola and Bella Bella people anticipated the even more detailed ethnography of Lewis and Clark.

6. Mackenzie's account of his inscription in Sheppe, First Man West, p. 239. Clark's tree carving on Nov. 18, 1805, is in Gary Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. (13 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 6:66.

7. Sheppe, First Man West, p. 88; Moulton, Journals, 4:201.

8. Moulton, Journals, 4:10; Sheppe, First Man West, p. 174.