I'm reading the old classic by Ambrose, Undaunted Courage. There are several striking aspects to the story.
One of the first things I did to day was play Time Machine with Capt. Merriweather Lewis. He materialized in the passenger seat of my Toyota as I was northbound on Inglewood Avenue headed to the 405 and so I had to explain to him what had taken place in the past 200 years. He kept pointing out things that I hadn't noticed, and had me trying to explain grafitti. Instead I told him about aircraft. He was impressed.
It's difficult for me to read Ambrose without hearing his revisionist critics take him to task for not talking enough about York, the African and Sacagewea and her baby, the Shoshones. But they don't represent. In fact, that's a good excuse for everything that Progressives hurl. They don't represent just because you say they do. Tangentially, I have in-laws in Monroe LA who actually did pick cotton. So nobody in media represents on that Duck Dynasty thing.
Nevertheless, I am impressed with the extent to which national identity and the want for feeling of national identity is interposed into the relationships beween the Captains and the various tribes they encounter north and west of the Mandan Villages. The ability for Lewis to say that he speaks for the President without actually being responsible of actually speaking for the President and of the intentions of the US is rather remarkable. In one way, L&C understand very well, as did the ruler of France, that millions would come to America in search of cheap land and that there was no way to stop them. With that foreknowledge, what indeed could be promised with any certainty. It's very much like the promise of the Internet when people were still talking about the Information Superhighway and the Digital Divide a short 15 years ago. It's a whole new world and none of the specific promises matter, or can be remembered. What force do the pioneers have, ultimately? Not much.
The second thing that I find rather astonishing is how my understanding of economics makes it so easy to reconcile the trades made by the expidition and various tribes. $6 worth of manufactured goods like steel knives and pants and coats could hardly be called a fair trade for a good horse. But how else could you get manufactured goods way up the Missouri?
So far the most astonishing thing is how poorly they understood disease and the human body, yet how far they pushed themselves in their journey. The thought of rowing every day all day for weeks and months on end in mindbending considering what diseases they had and what primitive treatments were doled out. Everybody had syphillus and took mercury for it! Amazing.
The Missouri Breaks and other such remote areas still remain empty territory; territory that I find increasingly interesting. And yet these men went there when there were no roads, negotiating with what amounted to gangs along the way. While nothing done by L&C compares with the incredible trek of Shackleton, there is something quite clearly monumental about the effort the expidition made.