Previous Unpublished notes from the Lewis & Clark Expedition

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98. CLARK, William. The Field Notes of Captain William Clark 1803-1805 edited with an introduction and Notes by Ernest Staples Osgood. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1964. [i-xii] xiii-xxxv [3], [1-2], 3-335 [1, blank] pp., portrait of Clark on title, collotype facsimiles of the complete collection of 67 field note documents with a few sketches and maps. Folio (36.4 x 26 cm), publisher’s original black cloth over green cloth, spine lettered in gilt, facsimile of Clark’s signature on upper cover. Exceptionally fine in price-clipped d.j.

     First edition of the great explorer’s field notes during his epochal journey with Meriwether Lewis. Plains & Rockies IV:4 (note). Review by Dale L. Morgan in Minnesota History, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Winter, 1964), pp. 164-165:

Early in 1953 Miss Lucile M. Kane, the Minnesota Historical Society’s knowledgeable curator of manuscripts, made in a St. Paul attic one of the classic discoveries of recent times: a packet of manuscripts relating to the Lewis and Clark expedition. The sequel—protracted litigation to which the federal government became a party, and eventual acquisition of the manuscripts by the Yale University Library—is a well-known story. Now Miss Kane’s find is spread before scholars by Ernest Staples Osgood in a notably handsome book, designed in a folio format to permit photographic reproduction of each of the sixty-seven new documents. Mr. Osgood has prefaced the photographic plates with an edited transcript, extensive notes, and a thoughtful introduction. Publication in this satisfying form was made possible through a subvention by a Yale benefactor, Mr. Frederick W. Beinecke.

It had long been hoped that additional records covering the first leg of the historic exploration of 1804-1806 might one day come to light, for several of the rank-and-file members of the expedition kept diaries. Moreover, it seemed strange that no daily record by Meriwether Lewis had been found from the close of his so-called “Ohio River Journal” on December 12, 1803, to the time he left the Mandans in April, 1805. The “Notebook Journals” covering the first stage of the Missouri River voyage were the work of William Clark.

Nevertheless, the documents now published are almost exclusively in Clark’s hand, with only a few scattered entries by Lewis. One of the contributions of the enlarged record, in fact, is that we are given cause to doubt that any such memoranda were ever kept by Lewis; at one point, mentioning the loss of some notes, Clark says the omission was remedied by reference to the journals of the sergeants —an indication that no Lewis diary was at his disposal. Since the Missouri as far as the land of the Mandans was well known in 1804, we might conclude that Lewis left the making of earlier records to his executive officer and buckled down to the serious labor of keeping a diary himself only when the expedition pushed into relatively unknown country.

In publishing the Ohio River journal in 1916, Milo M. Quaife observed that apparently no notes were made during the five months’ stay at the camp on River Dubois, opposite the mouth of the Missouri. Now we know otherwise, for besides making the last few entries in the Ohio River journal proper, which ended with the arrival at Camp Dubois on December 12, 1803, Clark kept almost daily memoranda to create what Mr. Osgood has justly termed the “Dubois Journal,” covering the period down to May 14, 1804. This section is necessarily the most original contribution of the present volume, although it is lacking in some things. It has little to say, for example, about Lewis’ experiences when visiting St. Louis that winter and spring, even though he there witnessed the formal transfer of upper Louisiana to American sovereignty.

The bulk of the volume is made up of Clark’s field notes written during the voyage to the Mandans, May to October, 1804, with a few scattered entries carrying the story on into the following April. Mr. Osgood concludes—and most scholars will agree with him—that the notes now published were jotted down daily by Clark on handy scraps of paper, to be periodically copied and expanded in the notebook journals. Thus they are the counterpart of the pocket diaries in which Clark recorded the journey west from the Mandans. Although no mention is made in this book of the existence of these other Clark field records in the Missouri Historical Society’s collections, students should keep them in mind.

In his introduction Mr. Osgood argues at length that the field notes as well as the note book journals were sent off to Jefferson in April, 1805. To this reviewer the record he sets forth makes it clear that the field notes were sent to Jonathan Clark instead; when Lewis wrote Jefferson that Clark did not wish his uncorrected journals exposed to public view, he merely meant that there were errors of fact as well as of spelling and grammar in the notebook journals. Probably no one saw the field notes until they went sent to Nicholas Biddle in 1810, as Mr. Osgood records.

The editorial framework of the volume is generally good, in part because it is solidly based on the recent work by Donald Jackson, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is extraordinary that within a period of three years two lastingly important documentary works have been published on a subject to which scholars have devoted so much attention. The field notes, as would be expected, do not materially alter the accepted history of our national epic of exploration, but there are many fresh details to delight scholars. Those who make Clark’s intimate acquaintance for the first time in this book must respond to the singular charm of his spelling. Not least among Mr. Osgood’s contributions to the volume is his application to Clark of a remark by Havelock Ellis respecting Martin Frobisher: “When...he entered on one of his rare and hazardous adventures with the pen, he created spelling absolutely afresh, in the spirit of simple heroism with which he was always ready to sail out into strange seas.”

     A necessary adjunct to the scholarship of Lewis and Clark’s American odyssey.


Sold. Hammer: $100.00; Price Realized: $122.50.


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