Equipping the Grand Excursion

Part 5: Equipping the Grand Excursion

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This Southwestern exploration—which Jefferson, by the way, and the principals involved, took to calling "The Grand Excursion"—I think has a really interesting kind of background history to it in terms of how it's equipped, and how it's manned. Because clearly there was no second Meriwether Lewis in Jefferson's household, to lead a second expedition into the West. And I think that's borne out by the fact that it took Jefferson almost two years to find a suitable leader for that Southwestern Expedition.

Another thing about the Expedition and its manning and equipage that is interesting is that it's often been said that some of the members of the scientific community at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, were concerned that Jefferson was entrusting the scientific component of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to Meriwether Lewis, who basically was an amateur scientist, who had a few weeks of crash courses in Philadelphia to prepare him for all the array of scientific discoveries that he was expected to do. And yet Lewis did not avail himself of a professional naturalist on that expedition.

A third aspect of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that's probably germane to the Southwestern probe is the one that has bedeviled students of the expedition for two hundred years now, and that is that Lewis and Clark almost don't provide us with any visual images at all. They scribbled a few drawings in their journals over the two-and-a-half-year course of the Expedition, but by and large, in order to envision what the West was like between eighteen-four and six, you have to really kind of put your imagination to work trying to extrapolate Meriwether Lewis's words into visual images.

The Southwestern Expedition, on the other hand, is not only going to have a professional naturalist attached to it, which answers that critique of Meriwether Lewis's skills and qualifications, but it also included a device known as a camera obscura among many of its other technological devices for up-to-date exploration, that was going to enable the Southwestern party to actually take profiles of the landscape. That camera obscura box is the forerunner of the modern camera. The Southwestern party took it along, but no images ever taken with it have survived. So we don't know whether or not they ever actually used that camera obscura, but at least they did have the capability of doing visual images.

The descent of the river from July the 29th to September first was not really exploring, in fact, and the party, when they returned to the Alabama Cashatta village above the Great Raft actually borrowed horses from the Indians and detoured around the Great Swamp this time, and arrived back in Nacogdoches on September the first. I might point out that this is the same month that Lewis and Clark arrived in St. Louis from their 28-month, 8,000-mile Expedition to the Pacific.