Even Sacajawea had to wash her socks sometimes

  Ed Marston’s review of Alvin Josephy’s new book Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes refers to Bernard DeVoto’s Course of Empire as a “traditional” perspective characterizing the expedition as “one long and heroic act, one close call, one brilliant decision after another."

Having just re-read all three of DeVoto’s Western histories, I must take exception to that assertion. As far as I can determine, Devoto calls it like it is regarding both white and red history. He obviously loves the West and all aspects of its social history, so any “romanticism” evident in DeVoto’s “traditional history” is nothing more than a kind of loving reverence for ways of life that no longer exist.

Marston quotes Vine DeLoria Jr. describing the expedition as “a tedious march from one place to another (with the route) made known to them by Indians and French traders. ...” While this is certainly true, the way wasn’t always spelled out for them. Some locals may have preferred that the whites just get lost and die. You can’t tell me that battling grizzly bears on the plains, seeing new places or negotiating with hostile Arikaras was tedious. Dragging boats up the Missouri or figuring out how to alleviate mass flatulence from a root diet, on the other hand, may very well have been tedious. But Lewis and Clark’s perseverance, regardless of what people already inhabiting the area might think, was relatively heroic.

So regarding the perspectives, why must it always be one or the other? Is there no middle ground for heroism in tedium? Or tedium in heroism, for that matter? I suggest that we stop romanticizing the Native American viewpoint as somehow more legitimate than that of the European invaders. Everybody has a story to tell and everybody’s story tells something of value.

Evan Cantor
Boulder, Colorado

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