Thursday, May 8, 2014

Meriwether Lewis

This morning, I finished "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West."  Although I enjoy most books that I read, rarely do I find books that suck me in like this one did.  I was very sad when it ended - not only because it ended tragically but because I was left wanting more.  As good of a writer as Stephen Ambrose is, it's just not the same as actually seeing what the men of the Expedition saw... and that's what I want. 

The story ends tragically with Meriwether Lewis' suicide.  He had a lot of debt, drank heavily, probably suffered from attacks of malaria and the effects of syphilis, was mostly likely a manic-depressive, and, most depressing of all for him, believed that his beloved country and government no longer believed in him or trusted him.  After coming back from the Expedition, Thomas Jefferson appointed him Governor of Lousiana Territory.  For someone who had lived with and constantly conversed with Lewis for two straight years before the expedition, Jefferson's decision was a grave error of judgment and he should have known his friend better than that.  Lewis was no politician.  He was an officer, a woodsman, a hunter and fisherman, an adventurer.  For two and a half years during the Expedition, Lewis was pushed to the limits, physically and mentally.  He used every bit of his knowledge to describe and document the prairies, mountains, rivers, birds, fish, animals, and Indians that he encountered.  He made celestial observations so latitude and longitude could be pinpointed along the way.  He led his men in such a way that they were willing to follow him into the most dangerous situations with complete confidence in his ability to keep them safe.  His mistakes were extremely few.  One can't help but wonder how long Lewis would have lived if, rather than becoming a politician, he went back out on another expedition.  Leading men through the wilderness was what Meriwether Lewis should have been doing. 
And now I'm on to my next book, "One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd."  Evidently the book is about a thousand women who volunteered to marry into the Indian tribes in the west to help civilize them and turn them into normal American citizens - the government's idea of course.  I've never heard of this program before so I'm excited to start reading.  Should be interesting!

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