Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke


This week's post is by Rosenbach collections intern Kara Wentworth.
 - - - 
As a native of the Great Plains I was thrilled to find that Dr. Rosenbach had a strong interest in documentation of Western Expansion. In searching through these materials I came across this book, now known as the Lewis and Clark 'Apocrypha,' a word meaning "statements or claims that are of dubious authenticity." The text is certainly one of the bestselling examples of stolen intellectual property in history and an excellent indicator of the unbridled hunger for information about the west and American Indian culture in the U.S. in the early 19th century.
The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke. Philadelphia: Published by Hubbard Lester, 1809. Rosenbach Museum & Library A 809tr
The full title of the book is The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke, from St. Louis, by way of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, to the Pacific Ocean; Performed in the Years 1804, 1805, & 1806, by Order of the Government of the United States. Stated on the title page is that the book is “Compiled from Various Authentic Sources, and Original Documents, and A Statistical View of the Indian Nations, from the Official Communication of Meriwether Lewis.” Despite the seemingly official title, this book was definitely not an official publication. The majority of the book is written in first person, but rarely is mention made of the speaker’s identity, the reader seems to be lead to believe that it is Lewis. In some cases he may be, in fact in modern re-printings Lewis is generally listed as a co-author which surely makes him turn in his grave. 


Immediately upon completing their epic journey, Lewis and Clark were concerned with controlling how and when their findings reached the public. They purchased the journal of one of their comrades to prevent it from being published and Lewis even ghost-wrote a letter Clark sent to his brother, knowing it would reach the papers. When rumors of intent to publish several journals like this one about the expedition reached Lewis in 1807, he issued a notice to the public warning them that "several unauthorised and probably some spurious publications [are] now preparing for the press, on the subject of my late tour to the Pacific Ocean by individuals entirely unknown to me." In the same notice he shared his intent to publish the first of his journals in 1808, a promise he unfortunately was not able to keep. The official account remained unpublished until 1814, after his death.

In this drought of information one man saw an opportunity. The Travels of Capts. Lewis and Clarke was the work of a man using the pseudonym Hubbard Lester. In 1809, capitalizing on Americans’ hunger for an account of the expedition, Lester compiled his plagiarized text, drawing on information from Jefferson's report to Congress published in numerous papers in 1807, from the only published journal from the expedition, that of Sergeant Patrick Gass from 1807, and from Lewis's "Estimate of the Eastern Indians," which had been made public in 1806 and was a description of the tribes encountered between St. Louis and Fort Mandan, and sent back to Jefferson from the fort there.

The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke. Philadelphia: Published by Hubbard Lester, 1809. Rosenbach Museum & Library A 809tr
Though an inaccurate and incomplete account, the book did provide the public with some information about the Western Territory. A large section is dedicated to a summary of Lewis’s “Estimate of the Eastern Indians,” with brief descriptions of the many tribes they encountered on the eastern side of the Rockies, though some sections of the “summary” are actually taken from other texts about different tribes Lewis and Clark hadn’t even encountered. Five engravings of Indians were created specifically for the book, including the two pictured of a Sioux Queen and a Sioux Warrior. The fold-out map just inside the cover was drawn for the book, and though inaccurate was the earliest published map based on Lewis and Clark’s actual route.

The Travels of Capts. Lewis & Clarke. Philadelphia: Published by Hubbard Lester, 1809. Rosenbach Museum & Library A 809tr
The text was first published in Philadelphia in 1809 and versions were printed in 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1840 in multiple languages. It was an instant best-seller and remained one for several years in America and abroad, regardless of the fact that its authenticity was called into question immediately.    

No comments: