Useful Information

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The bountiful store of intelligence Lewis and Clark accumulated held far-reaching implications for the future of the new nation, both scientifically and politically. Many of its details, however, such as the natural history discoveries, didn't fully come to light until a century later, when the original journals were edited and published by Reuben Gold Thwaites.1 The completion of an accurate map of their route based on coordinates derived from the explorers' celestial observations, which was another of Jefferson's primary objectives, was not realized during his lifetime.2


Hubbard Lester's Apocrypha

American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia

Title page of the first of the apocrypha—referring to "writings of questionable authorship or authenticity"—purporting to be accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The appearance of nine such publications, almost identical to one another, within thirty years beginning in 1809, attests to their popularity, and to the public's indifference to authenticity.

However, the expedition did have one major outcome that was made available to the public well before the expedition was over. That was the "Estimate of the Eastern Indians,"3 which Lewis and Clark compiled during the winter of 1804-05 and sent back on the keeled barge that left Fort Mandan for St. Louis on April 7. Retitled "A Statistical View of the Indian Nations Inhabiting the Territory of Louisiana and the Countries Adjacent to its Northern and Western Boundaries," it officially became a public document on February 19, 1806, when Jefferson made it part of his annual Report to Congress, seven months before the Corps got back. At the request of Congress, a thousand copies were printed the following month. Within another few months it was reprinted numerous times in whole or in part, in the popular press. It was reprinted from the government document published in Natchez, Mississippi, in March of 1806, as the first part of Discoveries Made in Exploring the Missouri, Red River and Washita by Captains Lewis and Clark, Doctor Sibley, and William Dunbar, and Compiled by Thomas Jefferson.4 Between 1809 and 1840 the narrative paragraphs about each of the tribes, based on War Department guidelines, also appeared in seven separate books known now as "apocrypha" or "clandestine" journals, which otherwise were somewhat of the quality of today's supermarket tabloids.5

The captains sent two maps along with their draft of the Estimate. One consisted of 29 manuscript pages charting in detail the course of the Missouri River as far as the Knife River villages. The other was "A Map of part of the Continent of North America, . . . Compiled from the Authorities of the best informed travellers by M: Lewis. . . . The Country West of Fort Mandan . . . laid down principally from Indian information." In early July of 1805, Jefferson forwarded both maps to Nicholas King for copying and publication, intending to distribute them to Congress along with the "Statistical View of the Indian Nations." For some reason, never explained and still unknown, they were not published, and therefore were not circulated. Three manuscript copies of Clark's larger map do still exist, however. They include the locations of many of the Indian tribes the captains listed east of Fort Mandan, and several to the west of it.

The second one was Clark's 1814 map of the "Track Across the Western Portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean." It materialized eight years after the expedition as a feature of Nicholas Biddle's paraphrase of the captains' journals, thereafter serving until the middle of the 19th century as the authoritative chart of the entire region, and the baseline for subsequent maps. It also showed the locations of many Indian tribes and bands from the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast.

Most valuable of all would have been the fourteen or more Indian vocabularies that Lewis painstakingly collected. Jefferson had provided him with forms listing 315 English words for which he was to seek Indian equivalents. Each list would have been extremely useful to government agents, fur traders, and future scientists, had they not all been destroyed accidentally in 1809 by "an irreparable misfortune."6

1. Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804-1806, in Seven Volumes and an Atlas (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1905).

2. In 1816, at age 73, Jefferson was still trying to find someone who could work out the data for longitudes that Lewis had accumulated from the more than 100 points of observation he recorded along the route, which would be used to draft an accurate map of the expedition's journey. From those astronomical observations alone, he wrote to his friend José Corrèa da Serra in 1816, "can be obtained the correct geography of the country, which was the main object of the expedition." Jackson, Letters, 2:618.

In fact, ever since the mid-1970s, Professor Robert N. Bergantino, of the Montana School of Mines and Geology in Butte, has been studying Lewis's data and solving the equations according to procedures Robert Patterson laid out in a manual for Lewis in 1803. Dr. Bergantino's discoveries are at last coming to light on this website. See "Celestial Navigation."

3. Moulton, Journals, 3:386-450. The reference to "Eastern Indians" sounds confusing today. Clark meant the eastern part of Louisiana Territory. His own description of the chart read: "A List of the Names of the different Nations & Tribes of Indians Inhabiting the Countrey on the Missourie and its Waters, and West of the Mississipi (above the Missouri)," etc. Ibid., 388.

4. Erickson, Jeremy Skinner and Paul Merchant, eds., Jefferson's Western Explorations (Spokane, Washington: Arthur H. Clark, 2004). Excerpted from Dunbar's journal are 32 "Historical Sketches of the Several Indian Tribes in Louisiana, South of the Arkansa River, and Between the Mississippi and River Grand." Ibid., 159-178.

5. The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke, by Order of the Government of the United States, Performed in the Years 1804, 1805, & 1806, . . . (Philadelphia: Hubbard Lester, 1809), 154-178. The one cited here, attributed to the pseudonymous "Hubbard Lester," was published in Philadelphia in 1809; another was issued in London the same year. Subsequent knock-offs of the "original" fake came out in 1811 (two in German), 1812 (one in German, two in English), 1813, and 1840. Each consisted partly of genuine reprints of public documents from and to President Jefferson, including reports from Lewis and Clark, Sibley, and Dunbar, pertaining to various unrelated subjects, plus plagiarisms—mostly unattributed—from other explorations such as those of Jonathan Carver (1778) and Alexander Mackenzie (1792), and shamelessly fictitious filler. Several of the books were illustrated with five execrable engravings, including a bare-breasted "Sioux Queen." Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 33-39. Stephen Dow Beckham, et al., The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: A Bibliography and Essays (Portland, Oregon: Lewis and Clark College, 2003), 121-143.

6. Jackson, Letters, 2:465; Ronda, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians, Bicentennial edition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 126.