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What happened to the Indians in the years after Lewis and Clark?

Gerard Baker
Gerard Baker

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In a nutshell, what happened to our people in the years after Lewis and Clark is that we went downhill. In a nutshell, we lost. Like, like all the other tribes that Lewis and Clark, not only opened up a route, established a waterway and established a new country and did scientific value for, after Lewis, after the Louisiana Purchase. But, they, they changed the people. We, we, we started going from a dependency on the environment, on the spiritualism of the land, to a dependency on the traders and the military and everything else that came after Lewis and Clark. So it, it, we, we, we essentially lost.
 


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Was it the beginning of the end?
The Indian people see the expedition, especially today, that yes, it was the beginning of an end. We already start seeing dependencies going from a traditional way of life to, to more of a European style. We already see them, I’m not gonna to say lose respect, but maybe losing, lose a small identity towards, towards the environment, by Lewis and Clark coming. It was, it was a good time for that year, for 1804-1805, but there’s been a lot of changes, there’s been a lot of negative changes after that. It wasn’t, you know, they didn’t know it was going to be that way I guess for the future. They had no idea to see the future, and it’s been gone ever since.

What draws us to the story of Lewis and Clark?

Dayton Duncan
Dayton Duncan

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It’s America’s story, I think. There’s something in there for, for everybody. It’s accessible to so many people for so many different reasons. If you’re interested in an adventure, a road trip – it’s got that, you know. Two guys go West. If you’re interested in science, you know, they’re out discovering new plant, new animals, new territory. If you’re interested in, “What did the Indians look like before the United States moved West,” it tells you that, it answers those questions for you. Whatever it is that you want, it’s there. It’s a tremendous cast of characters, it’s an adventure story, it’s science, it’s history. It’s everything rolled up into one. I know a guy who has a doctorate degree in Lewis and Clark--he’s studied it all his life. And one night he was camping in the mountains of Idaho, and next to him he discovered as he was camping, he came to a guy who was a plumber, who spends part of his summer camping somewhere along the Lewis and Clark trail. So here was a guy who has a doctorate degree, a man who had a sixth grade education – the only thing they had in common was this desire to camp where the first Americans who went west camped. So it brings us together.

How is the expedition historically significant?

Jim Ronda
Jim Ronda

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Sometimes we talk about the expedition as the great American odyssey. If the Civil War is our Iliad, then this is our odyssey. You know, one of the ways to to understand American history is to think about our history as a series of journeys. We’re forever going somewhere. All the coyote stories begin, Coyote was going there. So Coyote is going there. Kiowa people are going somewhere, we’re always going somewhere. We’ve attached great meaning to the Lewis and Clark story because it’s an emblem of us being on the road. We’re a people on the road, we’re a people caught in a in a tension between wanting to be at home and yet being always on the road. It’s a tension that is pervasive in our culture. It’s hard sometimes to to understand why the Lewis and Clark story is so important. After all, Lewis and Clark didn’t start the western fur trade. They don’t pioneer a route that other overland immigrants will use. Those routes are pioneered by others. Lewis and Clark don’t provide the legal framework for an American claim to the Pacific Northwest, that came from other travelers. I think that we’ve seized on them because they remind us about the journey. Life is a journey. They were on the road. We’re on the road too. We see that in our literature, in our writing. From Pilgrim’s Progress and Canterbury Tales to John Wayne in Stagecoach. We think about life as a journey. The Lewis and Clark journey is so accessible. We can all get on board. We can be members of the Corps of Discovery. We can slip our own lives into their lives and then we can make the journey with them. A journey of wonder and excitement. But also, a frightening journey, a journey of danger, we can be with them. We can also stand on shore and watch them as they come to us. This is one of the central American stories. It has, like few other stories, a place for all of us. All of us want to find a place in story. And this is one of those stories that reaches out and says, there is a place in this story for you.

Is there any lesson we can take from the story of Lewis and Clark?

Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose

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Teamwork. The number one story here is there is nothing that men can’t do if they get themselves together and act as a team. Here you have 32 men who had become so close, so bonded, that everyone of them could recognize a cough in the night and know who it was. They could hear a footstep and know who it was. They knew who liked salt on their meat and who didn’t. They knew who’s the best shot on the expedition. Who is the fastest runner. Who is the man who could get a fire going the quickest on a rainy day. They knew, because they sat around the campfire, about each other’s parents and loved ones. Each other’s hopes. And they had come to love each other. To the point that they would sell their own lives gladly to save a comrade. They had developed a bond, they had become a band of brothers, and together they were able to accomplish feats that we just stand astonished at today when we look at them. The crossing of the continent with nothing but rifles to depend on in the face of dangers, of the, the greatest possible imaginable dangers and physical difficulties. To, to manage the portage of the Great Falls, to get over the Lolo Trail, to go down that Columbia River, these are feats that, had they not welded themselves together into that team, they just could not possibly have accomplished. So, I think the number one human lesson of the Lewis and Clark expedition is, what can be accomplished by a team of disciplined men who are dedicated to a common purpose.
 


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They weren’t just men.
Very much so. It’s not just a team of men. It includes a young Indian girl, who saved the expedition on numerous occasions, sometimes even from starvation, when she could find roots that nobody else knew about. And obviously in dealing with Cameahwait and the Shoshonis. And she brought a woman’s touch to this expedition. I like to think as she was nursing Pomp at night around the campfire, that scene had to have had a great effect on the men, to hear a woman’s laugh at night around the campfire bolstered spirits. To have Sacagawea say to them, “That’s the Beaverhead, we’re getting close to the Three Forks, we’re on the right trail.” All that lifted spirits when spirits were very low and they thought they’d never come to an end of this journey.
 

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