Modern history


FOR TWO DECADES, I have wanted to write about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As a biographer, I was drawn to the two captains and wanted to do Lewis, but other projects intervened; besides, there already existed a good biography, written by Richard Dillon and published in 1965. Since I like Clark as much as I do Lewis, and since there was no biography of Clark, in 1992 I called my friend Harry Fritz of the History Department at the University of Montana to ask if he knew of anyone doing Clark. Harry said James Ronda was writing a biography. Since Ronda is one of the leading Lewis and Clark scholars in the country, a fine historian and writer, that was that for Clark.

But then Harry pointed out that in the thirty years since Dillon’s biography there has been a tremendous amount of research and writing on Lewis and the expedition. Many new documents by and about Lewis have appeared since 1965, including those in the revised edition of Donald Jackson’s great work, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Further, there are scores of outstanding articles published in We Proceeded On, the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.I Best of all, there was the new edition of the journals edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, and including among other gems Lewis’s journal of his trip down the Ohio River in 1803. Using these new materials and others, Lewis and Clark historians have published more than twenty monographs with various university presses on different aspects of the expedition.

Harry urged me to do an updated biography of Lewis incorporating the new material. Thus this book.

I am grateful to all the Lewis and Clark scholars who have preceded me. I owe a special thanks to Arlen Large and Gary Moulton, who read the manuscript and saved me many errors, while providing innumerable insights.

A special thanks to John Howard, Hans von Luck, and Dick Winters for teaching me what makes for a good company commander.

I give up on finding some new way to say what a wonderful editor Alice Mayhew is, but I must thank her for using her blue pencil to curb some of my boyish enthusiasm for Captain Lewis. Her combination assistant, chief of staff, and executive officer, Elizabeth Stein, is a model of efficiency, patience, and good humor. Without Liz, working with Alice would be impossible; with Liz, working with Alice and the entire production team at Simon and Schuster is a joy.

Obviously, WordPerfect Spell Check doesn’t work with the imaginative spelling of Lewis and Clark. I had my son Hugh, who has his M.A. in history from the University of Montana (where Harry Fritz was one of his teachers), check each quotation against the Moulton edition of the journals—a demanding task which he carried out splendidly. And I incorporated almost all his suggestions, ranging from questionable word choice to matters of interpretation.

I thank all those who have joined us on one or another part of the Trail, sharing the trials, tribulations, and triumphs.

But most of all Moira and I owe more than can ever be repaid to our children and grandchildren, whose enthusiasm for our outings never flags. They make us so proud and give meaning to our lives. Together we have followed in the footsteps of Crazy Horse and Custer, Lewis and Clark—these were the best days of our lives. Without our children, there would have been no book.

It is our dream that someday they will be taking their grandchildren on horseback over the Lolo, or by canoe down the Missouri, or camping at Lemhi on the Fourth of July, and that for them it will be as it has been for us, the greatest experience of all, one that draws their families together as it has ours.

I. To join the Foundation and become a subscriber to We Proceeded On, write the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 3434, Great Falls, MT 59403.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!