Even if you think you know about the Lewis and Clark expedition, trust me, if you haven’t read Undaunted Courage, you probably know very little. My idea about the expedition was so narrow before reading this book. There is so much that we just don’t think about.
First, what a tremendous undertaking this was. To know they would be gone for years and had to pack supplies for such a trip. They had no idea what would be available to them, and actually did find that there were times when there was very little to eat. Meriwether Lewis was knowledgeable in medicines (a gift taught him by his mother). Between that knowledge and the medical supplies he made sure to bring, undoubtedly many lives were spared.
Second, they were extremely lucky to have survived at all. They would never had made it to the Pacific Ocean without the Indian guides, and the Native American territory they traveled through was not always peaceful. They could easily have been slaughtered by the Sioux or starved on the plains, or froze in the mountains. Like most early Americans, they were arrogant and paternalistic when it came to the Native Americans. But their lives were literally in the hands of natives during this expedition.
Third, it wasn’t just a hike through uncharted territory – it was a fact-finding mission. Lewis and Clark both took great pains to journal their experiences, and Lewis, in particular, did an amazing job of collecting specimens of animal and plant life, including written descriptions and drawings that rivaled the works of Audobon.
Lastly, the information Ambrose provides about these people after the expedition was jaw dropping. I won’t give anything away, but it’s amazing how much their lives changed following their return to civilization.
I have always enjoyed Stephen Ambrose’s works and this one is no exception. So glad I took the time to read it!
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2003