Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September Book of the Month

Lewis and Clark: Across The Divide
Carolyn Gilman
Smithsonian Books, 2003
Washington and London

It is not often that I would recommend a tabletop book worthy of consideration for C-133 crew members; but, so many of us were raised in the “country” as outdoors men, had minimal modern creature comforts, an early love for hunting and fishing; and spent serious time exploring our then less populated surroundings of the 40’s and 50’s. We were dreamers of a time past and we were explorers of our country’s landscape that still seemed remarkably empty. Imbued with a sense to intellectually and physically conquer the world unknown drew many of us to join the USAF. That same spirit may lead you to read this lavishly illustrated history of America’s first major peaceful military expedition exploring America’s vast land from St. Louis to the Northwest. No exploring party is more famous and their journey is richly reconstructed on its two hundredth anniversary.

Lewis and Clark is a stunning volume resulting from a five-year effort by the author, Carolyn Gilman, to trace and authenticate artifacts from more than fifty lending institutions and individuals throughout the United States. Each page is a visual joy that depicts in great detail the artifacts that include maps, original artwork, and documents. The author’s learned commentary about this renowned expedition vividly details a seemingly impossible trek through a mystical land largely unknown except to the native cultures that existed in a state of near isolation from our burgeoning nation; America’s newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The Lewis and Clark expedition has become America’s very own epic as it gave us our first insights into territory east of the Alleghenies that we considered empty. Thomas Jefferson stated in his instructions to his Corps of Discovery that the mission was to find a ‘practicable water communication across this continent” and “the names of the nations & their numbers; the extent & limits of their possession; their relations with other tribes of nations: their language, traditions, monuments; their ordinary populations.” Jefferson knew the Expedition would need the goodwill of the natives in order to survive their journey into the uncharted lands of the Louisiana Territory that composed part of his dream of empire.

Thus, America’s history was forever changed by this amazing expedition with its most important objective to find the fabled Northwest Passage for the purposes of commerce. America, then largely an agricultural economy, was foremost a capitalistic country rewarding successful efforts of individual production. That in turn, ensured citizens their utmost personal and economic freedoms. The dream of a Northwest Passage was important, as it would provide more commerce for Jefferson’s expanding empire.

Lewis and Clark is separated into ten chapters each with a great degree of historical interest for those wanting to take this trip through our past. While reading, I could feel and see our country as it existed before the industrial age and before modernity changed the topography. It was a wilderness country of indigenous animals and native cultures. It was magnificent in its expanse and beauty and Gilman is able to portray it in such a manner that the reader becomes a participant. In few other readings over the years have I felt so much a part of the story. I shiver at the winters, I am a part of the hunt, I meet with the Natives, I am tired at the end of the day; and finally, I begin to understand the importance of the trip and the purchase. At the last of the outgoing leg of the journey I see the Pacific and dreaming about that kept me going.

For the reader, it is a romantic trip through our past and one that is worthwhile. It becomes impossible to not feel as if you were a member of this glorious expedition with its vast distances giving rise to many emotions. After all, our military service was ultimately an extension of theirs.

This new land was a different kind of Eden than what was expected for along with its beauty was its tempestuous power. Completion of the trip in 1806 that began in 1804 ushered in a new era for America. The country was now ocean to ocean and within these East/West boundaries and through the creative abilities of the people we increasingly became a world power. Many would say that this geographic area is still our ‘true north’, the heart and soul of our country. I would not disagree, especially after serving with so many of our fellow crewmembers from there.


Reviewed by:
Richard Spencer
39th ATS, KDOV, 1962-65


Our own 133 Crew Colleague and prolific Book Reviewer, Rick Spencer, is now officially published (somewhere besides this blog!) INTERNATIONALLY in the Canada Free Press!

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