All organisms that must compete for resources—sunlight, air, water, food—are territorial. They have no choice but to stake their claim to a portion of the earth's resource base and defend it. If they don't, they don't survive. The higher the order of an organism, the more territorial its behavior becomes until, with humans, just the threat of territorial competition is enough to cause conflict. Since we humans are the most territorial of organisms, we have the most well developed abilities to recognize, organize and symbolize our territory with actual and mental maps. Because of our legal systems and institutions, we also have the greatest need to do so and that is what Jefferson was conveying in his instructions to Lewis. More than anything else, the objective of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was to lay claim to the new territory, and map it.
Mapping is the human equivalent of an animal marking its territory by leaving scent, spoor, or other traces. Jefferson's instructions to fix the trading route to the Pacific by observation meant that Lewis and Clark should mark territory—measure and map it by making marks on paper like a bear makes claw marks on trees. These marks would allow those who followed Lewis to understand new American territory by using concepts they could readily comprehend, just like bears immediately know when they encroach on one another's territory. For us to understand what the captains did in terms of mapping—recognizing, organizing, and symbolizing territory—and how they did it, it is necessary to go both backward and forward from the time of Lewis and Clark, and to establish some baselines and principal meridians of our own.
The Unknown Lands
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—John Logan Allen