Model for Lewis

Page 3 of 3

Lewis's Inscription to Benjamin Smith Barton

Lewis's inscription

The Library Company of Philadelphia

What was it about the History of Louisiana that so interested Lewis? The 1774 edition was divided into four books, published in one volume. The first book gave a history of the exploration and colonization of Louisiana. In Book Two, du Pratz described Louisiana, "the Country and its Products." He discussed the many rivers that empty into the Mississippi; the lower Mississippi region and its highlands, with descriptions of the soil, vegetation, wildlife, and minerals; the Missouri River; the Mississippi's agricultural products and their cultivation, and other natural resources (timber, fur, minerals, etc.). Du Pratz admitted that the land north of the Missouri was Terra Incognita. Book Three was devoted to the natural history of Louisiana, in which he described the various crops that were grown, the plants from fruit trees to creeping plants, quadrupeds (including the buffalo), birds and insects, and fish and shellfish. Book Four discussed the origins of the Native Americans. Du Pratz listed the tribes that lived along the Mississippi and described their languages, customs, occupations, and ceremonies, with special attention given to the Natchez.

In his instructions to Lewis, Jefferson stated that the mission of the expedition was to explore the Missouri River and any other river that might offer a direct and practicable water route across the continent. Along the way, the members of the expedition should note the soil and face of the country, its vegetables, animals, minerals, and climate. They should also become acquainted with the Indian nations along the route, their numbers, territory, language, customs, occupations, etc.13 In other words, du Pratz's work could serve as a paradigm for the kind of information Jefferson wanted the expedition to acquire. What du Pratz had done for the Mississippi River valley Jefferson wanted Lewis to do for the Missouri River system.

In addition, du Pratz's work contained other information of particular interest to the Corps of Discovery, namely, the first published account of Etienne Venyard Sieur de Bourgmont's expedition to the Paducah Indians in 1724.14 This narrative was extracted and abridged from Bourgmont's journal, which described a mission to conciliate peace between the Paducahs and several neighboring tribes, the latter allies of the French. Starting out from Fort Orleans on the north bank of the Missouri River (present-day Kansas City, Missouri), where he was commandant, Bourgmont journeyed westward to the village of the Kansas Indians (near present-day Doniphan, Kansas). He continued his journey further west to the Paducahs, who were in an encampment on the prairies east of the Big Bend of the Arkansas. Scholars are divided as to whether they were Comanche or Plains Apache who had traveled east of their normal hunting grounds. They gave a warm reception to Bourgmont. When Bourgmont returned to Fort Orleans, he had traversed the future state of Kansas end to end—from the Missouri to the plains bordering the front range of the Rocky Mountains. He noted the streams, the boundless prairies, the millions of buffalo. On his map, du Pratz showed the country of the Paducahs extending from the headwaters of the Republican River to south of the Arkansas, the great village of the tribe being located near the source of the Smoky Hill River. "Lewis and Clark would have access to far better information once they reached St. Louis, but at the earliest stages of their journey, Bourgmont's account as given in du Pratz added one more piece to their understanding of the Missouri River."15

Du Pratz also described the journey, as recounted to him, of the Indian Moncacht-Apé, who presumably traveled to the Pacific Ocean via the Mississippi, Missouri, and Columbia rivers. After moving a great distance along the Missouri River, he headed northward on land until he reached the Beautiful River, which runs westward in a direction contrary to that of the Missouri. After traveling nearly a month along this river, he finally arrived at an Indian nation that was only one day's journey from the Pacific Ocean. These Indians told him of white men with beards who from time to time arrived in "floating villages." He traveled further with these Indians and actually participated in an attack on the whites who landed on the coast. The journey of Moncacht-Apé, as reported by du Pratz, was an early record of an overland trip to the West.16 Significantly, this account makes no mention of the Rocky Mountains.

Special mention must be made of du Pratz's map of Louisiana province. The early French explorers were responsible for two geographical theories that played an important role in cartographical representations of western North America, including du Pratz's. The pyramidal height-of-land theory postulated that America's great rivers all originated from one mythical spot in the mountains before they flowed eastward to outlets in the Mississippi River, northward to Hudson Bay, or westward to the Pacific Ocean. The sources of the rivers were thought to be so close together that there was only a short portage between them.

The second geographical theory, known as symmetrical geography, held that the topography of the western half of the continent was a mirror image of the continent's eastern landforms and waterways. Thus the drainage patterns of the rivers on the Pacific slopes of the western mountains would resemble those of the rivers on the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains.17

A corollary to these two theories was the Long River theory that postulated that there was a system of interlocking lakes and rivers that formed a water route to the West Coast. Later this system was replaced by a rumored pair of rivers, one running east and the other west, connecting near their sources. The westward-flowing river provided a direct route to the Pacific Ocean. This concept had the benefit of some basis in reality, in the Columbia River. The first apparent documentation of this river was the account of Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron de Lahontan. His book, Nouveaux voyage de M. le baron de Lahontan, dans l'Amérique Septentrionale (The Hague, 1703), was an account of an expedition he said he had made down a mysterious, westward-flowing river that was a tributary of the Upper Mississippi. This he called the Rivière Longue, or Long River, and he illustrated it in considerable detail, suggesting it as a passage to the Pacific Ocean.18

Du Pratz's map of Louisiana province depicts the lower Mississippi and lower Missouri rivers fairly accurately but it mistakenly shows the Missouri River flowing eastward, as reported in Moncacht-Apé's tale. This representation was consistent with the widely held pyramidal height-of-land theory. Du Pratz estimated the length of the lower Missouri to be nearly 2,400 miles; the actual distance from the mouth of the Missouri to the Three Forks of the Missouri is 2,547 miles. Du Pratz's map also includes "Lahontan's system of rivers and lakes in the North, although it labels the river running westward toward the Pacific the 'Beautiful River'," rather than the Long River. Lahonton's works were extremely popular in Europe and the Long River appeared on other maps as late as 1785. The map also shows the path of Moncacht-Apé from the Missouri to the Beautiful River.19

Another travel book, owned by Jefferson and perhaps also by Lewis, was Alexander Mackenzie's Voyages from Montreal, published in 1801.20 Mackenzie, a fur trader and partner in the Northwest Company, was the first white man to cross the continent north of Mexico. After wintering at Fort Fork on the Peace River (central Alberta, Canada), he set out in May, 1793 on the last leg of his journey westward and within a month reached the northern Rockies from the east. Crossing the Continental Divide, he wrote, "We carried over the height of Land (which is only 700 yards broad) that separates those Waters, the one empties into the Northern Ocean [now named the Mackenzie], and the other [the Fraser] into the Western." Mackenzie got onto the Fraser River, which he mistook for a northern tributary of the Columbia, but abandoned it when it became impassable, and struck out overland for the coast. Nearly two weeks later he made it to the Pacific Ocean at present-day Bella Coola, British Columbia, about four hundred miles north of the Columbia. The striking feature of this description was the relatively low ridge of mountains and the fairly easy portage, although the river was ultimately not navigable. Perhaps the mountains to the south were of similar height and the Columbia navigable at that point. Influenced by Mackenzie's description and the theory of symmetrical geography, Jefferson and Lewis may have seen the Rockies as resembling the Appalachians in height and breadth.21

There is no doubt that Lewis and Clark referred to du Pratz's work during their journey. In a journal entry, dated July 5, 1804, Clark writes, "Mr. Du Pratz must have been badly informed as to the Cane opposd this place we have not Seen one Stalk of reed or cane on the Missouries, he States that the 'Indians that accompanied M De Bourgmont Crossed to the Canzes Village on floats of Cane'."22 The confusion arose from a faulty translation; the "canes" do not appear in the original French, which states that the Indians crossed the river in cajeux (rafts) made of unspecified materials.23 In another document, known as the Fort Mandan Miscellany, Clark writes, "In the year 1724, they [the Paducahs] resided in several villages on the heads of the Kansas river, and could, at that time, bring upwards of two thousand men into the field (see Monsr. Dupratz history of Louisiana, page 71, and the map attached to that work)."24

At the end of the expedition, when Lewis returned to Philadelphia in 1807, he returned du Pratz's History of Louisiana to its owner. On the fly-leaf he inscribed: "Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton was so obliging as to lend me this copy of Monsr. Du Pratz's history of Louisiana in June 1803. it has been since conveyed by me to the Pacific Ocean through the interior of the Continent of North America on my late tour thither and is now returned to it's proprietor by his Friend and Obt. Servt. Meriwether Lewis, Philadelphia, May 9th, 1807."

The inscribed book today is in the Library Company of Philadelphia. It was purchased in 1823 for $2.60 at a Philadelphia auction sale at which some books from the late Dr. Barton's library were offered.25

While there were other books in Lewis's traveling library that presumably made the journey coast-to-coast, du Pratz's History of Louisiana is the only such book the exact copy of which has been conclusively identified.


13. Jefferson Instructions to Lewis, [20 June 1803], Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, ed. Donald Jackson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), 61-62.

14. Du Pratz, History of Louisiana (1947), 59-69.

15. William H. Goetzmann and Glyndwr Williams, The Atlas of North American Exploration (New York: Prentice Hall, 1992), 95; James P. Ronda, introduction to Gilman, Lewis and Clark, 23; Frank W. Blackmar, ed. Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, etc., 3 vols. (Chicago: Standard Publ. Co., 1912), 1: 226-228. Transcribed on

16. Du Pratz, History of Louisiana (1947), 285-90. This same story appears in Dumont's Memoires, and it is unknown who plagiarized whom.

17.; Gilman, Lewis and Clark, 56.


19.;;, quoted.

20. Alexander Mackenzie, Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence [sic] Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans; in the Years 1789 and 1793 (London: T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies Strand, 1801). James Ronda notes that the last few paragraphs of the final chapter of Mackenzie's book urged Britain, America's nemesis, to permanently settle the West. By 1802 Jefferson had come to believe that America's future lay in the West, and such a challenge finally convinced him to mount the Expedition. In June 1803 Jefferson wrote to James Cheetham, his bookseller, and ordered a second copy of Mackenzie, but he specifically did not want the English quarto edition because it was "too large and cumbersome"—for a voyage across the continent, perhaps? Jefferson's library included the first volume of the two-volume edition published in Philadelphia in 1802. Ronda, introduction to Gilman, Lewis and Clark, 21, 24; Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 4: 249-250.

21. Goetzmann and Williams, Atlas of North American Exploration, 114; Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 73-5;

22. The passage in duPratz (p. 64) reads: "on the 8th [of July 1724] the French crossed the Missouri in a pettyaugre [small boat], the Indians on floats of cane, and the horses were swam over." In the margin opposite this passage Clark wrote: "no can[e] in this country."

23. The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, ed. Gary E. Moulton, 13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001), 2: 351-352.

24. Ibid., 3: 439.

25. Edwin Wolf 2nd and Marie Elena Korey, eds. Quarter of a Millennium: The Library Company of Philadelphia 1731-1981 (Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1981), 111.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program