Influences on Children's Literature

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Naturalists and fiction writers influenced readers in subtle ways. They depicted an American west based on and inspired by Lewis and Clark's journals, but the authors of juvenile literature wrote explicitly about the Expedition. Although difficult to quantify, it is possible that this literary genre did more than any other to elevate the Expedition in the minds of the public.

British Versions

The earliest works of juvenile literature about Lewis and Clark were British in origin. The early nineteenth century education system in Britain was more developed than that in the United States, and as a global power its readers were interested in all regions of its empire (or previous empire). While printers in North America issued numerous copies of the New England Primer (a Puritan text first issued around 1690) for the teaching of reading, "For most colonists of European descent, the household remained the most important site for preliminary instruction in how to read," and there is no doubt that British texts would have remained in use in some of those homes, even well into the nineteenth century.1

The first known book of this nature was the Reverend William Bingley's Travels in North America from Modern Writers With Remarks and Observations; Exhibiting a Connected View of the Geography and Present State of that Quarter of the Globe. (London: Harvey and Darton) published in 1821.2 This title is the North American volume from a series on world travels presented in daily lessons, which includes descriptions of North American cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Quebec, and Montreal and contains stories of travel within the continent. The Lewis and Clark material included under the section Western Territory of America in three parts, the Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Days' Instruction. The Fifteenth Day's Instructionis a narrative of the voyage from St. Louis to the source of the Missouri. The Sixteenth Day's Instruction begins with the winter at Ft. Mandan and extends to the Expedition's arrival at the supposed source of the Missouri. The Seventeenth Day's Instruction covers the journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific and the return to St. Louis. The practice of compressing the second half of the journey into a single chapter has become standard practice, even for academic works about the expedition.

Taylor's Scenes in America

Also published in London in 1821 was Isaac Taylor's Scenes in America, For the Amusement and Instruction of Little Tarry-at-Home Travellers. Taylor was a major contributor to English children's literature during the nineteenth century; Scenes in America was reprinted many times and even translated into Dutch. The text covers the travels of explorers such as Columbus, Cortez, Balboa, and Lewis and Clark. The Lewis and Clark information begins under a section entitled North American Indians, and is notable as being the first known account to establish Sacagawea as an individual from the narrative. A poem about Sacagawea, "Meeting of Two Indian Women," was the first to invoke her name. Taylor's many copper engravings include twelve Lewis and Clark-related plates associated with numbered passages of text.

Three Scenes from Isaac Taylor's Scenes in America

Figure 16

"Captains Lewis and Clarke at the Pacific Ocean"

historic illustration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

November 17, 1805: Lewis and several men of the Corps of Discovery explored Cape Disappointment; Clark and a separate party arrived there two days later.

Figure 17

"Child preserved from fire"

historic illustration of an Indian woman covering a baby with a buffalo hide

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

October 29, 1804

A boy of the half white breed escaped unhurt in the midst of the flames; his safety was ascribed to the great medicine spirit, who had preserved him on account of his being white. But a much more natural cause was the presence of mind of his mother, who, seeing no hopes of carrying off her son, threw him on the ground, and covering him with the fresh hide of a buffaloe, escaped herself from the flames; as soon as the fire had hassed, she returned and found him untouched, the skin having prevented the flames from reaching the grass on which he lay.
–Biddle (1814)

Figure 18

"Clarke's escape from a flood"

historic illustration with Clark climbing up a cliff to escape high waves

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

June 29, 1805: Clark, Sacagawea, Charbonneau and Jean Baptiste were nearly swept to their deaths when a flash flood swept down a deep ravine that emptied into the Missouri a short distance above the Grand Fall of the Missouri.

Bell's Tales of Travels

The first American juvenile book to include significant material about Lewis and Clark was Solomon Bell's (William Snelling) Tales of Travels West of the Mississippi published in Boston by Gray and Bowen in 1830. This work is a volume in a series dealing with geographical voyages that is similar to the travelogue prepared a decade earlier by Isaac Taylor. It adapts the accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Major Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the Arkansas River, and John Jewitt's captivity by Indians on Vancouver Island. Chapters 2 to 28 of the book recount the Expedition. Clark's accompanying slave York and Mrs. Chaboneau, a.k.a. Sacagawea, are named in the text, and the book is clearly paternalistic in its treatment of Native Americans.

These early primers were notable not only for their retelling of the Lewis and Clark story in often romantic and terms, but for their attempts to illustrate the Western landscape. Although crude, the illustrations provided readers with images of natural settings and iconic images to assist in remembering the stories.There is little doubt that as these texts were implemented in the growing American school system, Lewis and Clark eventually became ingrained in the minds of American students.

The three books described above are just a sampling of the earliest juvenile books written about the Expedition. By the end of the nineteenth century the American school system had become much more expansive and large numbers of such texts were being produced in the United States.

Three engravings from Solomon Bell's
Tales of Travels West of the Mississippi

Figure 19

Captain Lewis and Clark setting out with their men
on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean

Town folk waving as Lewis and Clark row away

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

In the month of May 1804, the two captains started from St. Louis. They took with them twentyseven white men, and a negro who was named York. They went on board three boats. One of them was a large one, with a deck and a cabin. The other two were small open boats.

Figure 20

Council or Talk with the Indians

Histori illustration of soldiers talking to Indians

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

The next day, the Captains held a talk with these Indians, and gave them some presents. They behaved very politely. I will tell you a few of their tittles, to show you what strange names they have. There was Crow's Head, Iron Eyes, Great Blue Eyes, Black Cat, Big Ox, and Brave Man.

In the above, Bell quoted the names from Biddle's paraphrase (1814) of Clark's journal for August 19, 1804. Crow's Head was a Missouri Indian; the rest were Otos.

Figure 21

The Travellers in Winter Quarters on the Shore of the Pacific Ocean

A cabin within sight of a large bay

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

The whole party went to this place; and on the tenth of December they cut down trees, and began to build houses. The spot they had selected was near a very lofty mountain.

Clark estimated that the snowcovered mountain—perhaps Saddle Mountain—was about ten miles southeast of Fort Clatsop. See his journal for December 17, 1805.

The Romance of the Expedition

After the initial publication of government documents related to the expedition and the first-hand accounts published in the early nineteenth century, the American public was re-introduced to Lewis and Clark by nature writers, fiction writers, and reading teachers. By understanding Lewis and Clark's initial introduction into the corpus of American literature, we can begin to see the ways in which Lewis and Clark became commonplace in the Western American mythology.

Perhaps the true measure of Lewis and Clark's growing influence by the late nineteenth century can be seen in Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, which Turner first introduced in a July 12, 1893 paper read to the American Historical Association during the Chicago World's Fair. This thesis, which has continued to dominate historical debate in relation to the American West, claimed that a virtuous and independent American character was dependent on the frontier experience and mankind's interaction with an untamed landscape. While Jackson's framing of his argument is considered monumental among American historians, his ideas were clearly steeped in his own upbringing, which included primers that romanticized Lewis and Clark's exploration, fiction that lauded the frontier independence and democracy personified by the Corps of Discovery, and scientific treatises that attempted to capture in time the "untainted" landscape seen by Lewis and Clark.3 In fact, after the success of his frontier thesis, Turner considered writing a book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition to be published by G. P. Putnam's. One can only conclude that the defining historical theory of the last one hundred years was in a sense an unconscious coming to terms with the nineteenth century understanding of Lewis and Clark. In his thesis, Turner wrote:

To the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.4

If one were to remove this passage from Turner's thesis and insert into any twentieth century book on Lewis and Clark, such as Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, and replace the word "frontier" with "Corps of Discovery," the text could serve as an apt summary of the modern perception of the expedition.


Figure 22

1904 World's Fair Seal

Portland, Oregon

Three Angelic figures floating towards the sun

Special Collections and Archives, Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

Liberty escorts Lewis and Clark to the western verge of America.

Wheeler's Trail

Ten years after Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis, one finds even more evidence of the depth to which Lewis and Clark had permeated American thought. The 1904 World's Fair in Portland was actually titled the "Lewis and Clark Fair." In this year, Olin Wheeler issued his two volume work, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, which retraced the Lewis and Clark route and encouraged others to do the same (except by train, Wheeler was on the payroll of Northern Pacific Railroad). Thousands followed Wheeler's advice and visited Portland, where they had the opportunity to purchase the newly published Lewis and Clark journals in their entirety, edited by one of the United States' leading historians, Reuben Gold Thwaites. In fact the fair was so captivating that thousands actually relocated to the Pacific Northwest, hoping to live out the romance of Lewis and Clark.5 These settlers, following the Expedition story's evolution from manuscript to book to fictionalized account, were themselves contributors, perhaps more than their predecessors on the Oregon Trail, to the formation of a Western American epic.


1. See Hugh Amory and David Hall, eds., The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (Worcester, Mass., American Antiquarian Society, 2000), 382.

2. Most of the information about juvenile books dealing with Lewis and Clark is based on research by Elaine Gass-Hirsch, librarian at Lewis and Clark College's Aubrey Watzek Library.

3. See Ray Allen Billington, Frederick Jackson Turner: Historian, Scholar, Teacher (New York: Oxford, 1973), 383-398.


5. Carl Abbott, a scholar of the Fair's history, extimates that it attracted over a million people from outside of Portland, and as a result, Portland alone grew by 184,000 residents between 1900 and 1916. Carl Abbott, The Great Extravaganza: Portland and the Lewis and Clark Exposition (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1981).

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