Kings of the Wild Frontier

Until 20 years ago, one could count on Hollywood to produce at least one film every few years dealing with early American history. John Ford gave us Drums Along the Mohawk in the 1940's, and Disney gave us the Swamp Fox in the 1960's. Such movies may have given the public only "popular" history (before the 20th century was there any other kind?), but they still carried the benefit of giving people (young people especially) a desire to learn more about what they saw on the screen.

These thoughts crossed my mind as I read David Lavender's book on Lewis and Clark. I hope I don't trivialize the two men by saying they would have been ideal subjects for a good four- or five-part Disney serial. They were cast in the heroic mold and, therefore, were perfect for that kind of presentation. Lavender is, in the words of one critic, the "ultimate authority" on Lewis and Clark. His book will tell most readers all they could wish to know and then some about the explorers Thomas Jefferson sent to survey the Louisiana Purchase. Like their journey, reading it can be both tiring and fascinating. At 444 pages, it's a pretty long haul. But it's worth it.

How does one begin to do justice to the story The Way to the Western Sea presents? The journey proper began in St. Louis in 1803. It lasted three years and covered approximately four thousand miles. They journeyed by water,...

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