My Reading Corner : Undaunted Courage

Before I dive into the main point of my post today, I just want to say wow!  I was alerted by WordPress yesterday that my blog was booming with visitors, the graph line was zooming upwards and as of today, I now have 104 followers of my blog!  That statistic just boggles my mind-I feel akin to The Little Engine that Could-so thank you to all of my followers for reading my posts.  I will refrain from quoting actress, Sally Field, who’s honesty on accepting an Academy Award led to a wince-inducing reaction.  Now, on to may main post for today.

I am a book worm.  I love to read.  As a kid, I loved to ride my bike across town to the public library, one of many libraries built via donations from that ancient philanthropic rich guy, Andrew Carnegie.  I would take my time, peruse the books in the Children’s section, and take my selections home and pore over them.  I can recall my frustrated younger brother, begging me to stop reading and play with him outside!

Defiance, OH's public library that I would visit a lot!

Defiance, OH’s public library that I would visit a lot!

When I hit my teens, I began to put the kid lit behind me and aimed for the Classics.  I did discover that through all of my years of reading, I loved history books the best.  Whether they were books written by Augusta Stevenson that I devoured from the public library or books written by adult historians, I always prefer to read such books over mysteries, or romance writings.  Becoming a mom in 1991, I discovered that my reading had to be put on hold.  I would still read, but it now took me quite a while to finish a book.  Now that my kids range in ages from 12-23, I am starting to speed up my reading, just a bit, but hopefully in another year I ‘ll be back at my former fast-reading ways.

With my love of books, I decided that for some of my blog posts,  I will  focus on good reads, books that I’ve enjoyed reading; my own Reader’s Corner Review type of blog post.  I will still plan on my Friday/Weekend posts to be about a classic movie, but  my Tues./ Wed. mid week posts may be about a book.

My first review is the late  Stephen Ambrose’s  Undaunted Courage, the saga of Lewis and Clark’s amazing exploration and journey of the land purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase.  Living in Missouri as I do, Lewis and Clark are still pretty important men to the state’s history and as I read about their endeavor and outcome, it amazed me at how well the journey progressed.   It amazed me as to  how they were able to avoid the potential pitfalls and dangerous outcomes due to their God-given talents and wisdom, in leading about a group composed of young soldiers, fur trappers, Lewis’s slave, and one Native American woman, who was expecting a baby!

Undaunted Courage-cover art for the book

Undaunted Courage-cover art for the book

Ambrose goes into great detail about Meriweather Lewis’s life, his family’s background in Virginia, Lewis’s boyhood, military career, and his work as a secretary for the new President, Thomas Jefferson.  After Jefferson had made the purchase of that great swath of land, he wanted Lewis to lead a team to explore it and find an all water route from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.  Jefferson was convinced that the two rivers were somehow connected.  He also wanted Lewis to make allies of all the Native American tribes that they would meet.  Jefferson had a “kooky” plan for the tribes in my opinion; he wanted Lewis to evaluate the idea of placing all the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River, and have them live all together in a specific area, learning how to farm, read, write, and to assimilate into American ways of life, yet making them stay on the west side of the Mississippi.

The book also introduces us to Lewis’s co-leader, William Clark and how they had known each other, respected each other, and were friends due to past military service together.  4 sargeants, 23 privates, 6 civilian adults, eventually 1 baby, and Lewis’s Newfoundland dog, Seaman, made up the expedition.  Only one man died along the way west, and now historians think he died from appendicitis.  Amazing that during that entire journey, which was begun in St. Louis in May of 1804 and ended with their return to St. Louis in September of 1806, that only the one soldier had died.  Many Americans at the time had given all of the expedition up for dead and there was even a rumor that Lewis and Clark had been captured by the Spanish, who still controlled a lot of California at the time, and that they had been forced to work in a silver mine somewhere in the Southwestern territories!

Lewis was also called upon by Jefferson to take copious notes about plants, animals, insects, birds, fish, reptiles, and to make nightly measurements using the stars as to their latitude and longitude when ending each day’s travels.  To get Lewis ready for his scientific notes and drawings, he was sent to Philadelphia months before the expedition began to be trained by leading scientists of the day.  Lewis was also in charge of gathering all of the supplies, trinkets for the Native Americans, and he also learned medical treatments and gathered the medicines available at that time for any future illnesses that would occur.  Map of Lewis and Clark Expedition

After the success of the expedition, we learn of Clark’s courtship and marriage to Miss Julia Hancock and the birth of their first child, a boy.  We learn how the US Congress complained loudly about the expedition, the costs associated with it, how it was Jefferson’s folly to have it done.  We also sadly learn of the decline and demise of Meriweather Lewis.  Ambrose looks at the theories that exist as to why Lewis would commit suicide: his family’s genetic leanings to depression and mental instablility-was he a manic/depressive?  There was the young lady he was in love with and tried to court but she didn’t care for him at all and married another man.  There was the pressure to get the journals that he and Clark kept of the expedition published and Lewis procrastinated to have them published.  Why?

Undaunted Courage, something the two leaders and all of the members of this great journey had in spades.  Lately, when I am feeling a bit daunted by a task, I just ask myself, “Is what you have to face as difficult as what Lewis and Clark had to face?”  The answer to my rhetorical question is usually “No!” and off I march to face my task and get it done.

Lewis and Clark

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