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William Clark's World

William Clark's World: Describing America in an Age of Unknowns

Peter J. Kastor
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    William Clark's World
    Book Description:

    William Clark, co-captain of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, devoted his adult life to describing the American West. But this task raised a daunting challenge: how best to bring an unknown continent to life for the young republic? Through Clark's life and career, this book explores how the West entered the American imagination. While he never called himself a writer or an artist, Clark nonetheless drew maps, produced books, drafted reports, surveyed landscapes, and wrote journals that made sense of the West for a new nation fascinated by the region's potential but also fearful of its dangers.William Clark's Worldpresents a new take on the manifest destiny narrative and on the way the West took shape in the national imagination in the early nineteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16855-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note on Terms
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    How do you describe a continent?

    That deceptively simple question was a central concern in North America during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was a question that faced William Clark throughout much of his life. Time and again, Clark found himself struggling to describe North America and its residents. He did so in words and in pictures alike, all the while doubting his abilities to describe what he had seen and learned. At issue was the definition of accuracy. At stake was the future of nations. The linkages between the two are the subject of this book....

  5. Prologue
    (pp. 13-24)

    In his office William Clark kept a history of his own devising. That history could not be missed, and it was unmistakable to anybody who came to visit. It was a prominent object in a prominent building. As a public official, Clark occupied various offices in the public buildings of St. Louis. But the history that Clark kept on public display was in the office he maintained at home. Completed in 1818, the Clark house was not the largest in St. Louis, but it was an imposing presence made of brick, this in a frontier outpost better known for its...

  6. Part I A World Encountered

    • 1 A Western Future
      (pp. 27-58)

      Twenty years before William Clark created his master map, he made some of his first attempts to describe his place in the North American West. He did so in the brief, often unrevealing sentences typical of men of his background and experience. In 1789 the nineteen-year-old Clark marched through some “first-rate land” and plenty of “second-rate land.” He used these phrases repeatedly in the journal that chronicled his first venture across the Ohio River. Two years later, he kept a similar journal on another western trip. In both cases, Clark traveled with men bent on vengeance, and in both cases...

    • 2 Three Treaties, One Nation
      (pp. 59-74)

      The Clark family may have staked its future on Kentucky, but William Clark did not remain there. He soon found himself drawing on his experiences in the campaigns of 1789 and 1791 as he led an expedition on an unfamiliar river, its banks populated by unfamiliar people governed by officials who proved suspicious of the American newcomer. At first glance, this event in Clark’s life seems obvious: his journey west with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But rather than the distant West of the Missouri and the Columbia rivers that Clark eventually explored with Meriwether Lewis, Clark descended the Mississippi...

    • 3 Expansion
      (pp. 75-98)

      Whether he was campaigning in Kentucky in 1789 or descending the Mississippi in 1795, William Clark had described the West in a way that placed him at the center of the action even as his personality seemed banished to the periphery. Clark described events rather than feelings. He described the land in the technical language of a surveyor rather than in the romantic imagery of the poet or novelist.

      Clark had developed the means of describing the West and himself during an eighteenth-century childhood, and he carried those techniques with him into the nineteenth century. How Clark understood himself and...

  7. Part II A World Explored

    • 4 Explorers
      (pp. 101-125)

      When the explorers returned, they had a story to tell. William Clark certainly did, although telling it pushed him to the limits of his abilities.

      As he traveled through the Far West, Clark carried with him the bits and pieces of a story. In a series of small notebooks, he scribbled records of the daily activities of the expedition, coordinates of longitude and latitude, descriptions of flora and fauna, and observations on the residents of the Far West. So, too, did Meriwether Lewis and five other members of the expedition: Sergeants Charles Floyd, Patrick Gass, and John Ordway and Privates...

    • 5 Careers
      (pp. 126-159)

      Throughout much of his adult life, William Clark had written portions of an autobiography, not that he ever would have recognized it as such. To the contrary, he wrote and drew in ways that seemed to remove him from the picture. Yet these efforts were very much about him. Clark’s autobiography appeared slowly in various journals as well as in the growing correspondence he sent to family members and government officials. That autobiography also appeared in numerous maps through which Clark situated himself in the history of the North American West.

      If an autobiography is meant to create a portrait...

    • 6 Books
      (pp. 160-190)

      By the timeHistory of the Expeditionrolled off the presses in 1814, all of Jefferson’s explorers were finished both with exploration and with writing books. But what had they created? What did those books and maps say about the North American West? A suggestion of the answer emerges from the difficult circumstances facing William Clark in 1816, a moment that indicated not only the content of those books and maps, but also the ways in which the production of those objects had a profound effect on the stories they told.

      As Clark and Biddle tried to tie up the...

  8. Part III A World Transformed

    • 7 Return to the West
      (pp. 193-215)

      In 1820, William Clark had it all. He had built the family, the career, and the reputation that had so long eluded him. IfHistory of the Expeditionhad failed to deliver on its financial promise, Clark was nonetheless pleased to have published his comprehensive map of the West. More important, though, Clark no longer needed that project in the way he had only a few years earlier. As the leading citizen of the Missouri Territory, his status seemed secure. Happily married with a growing family and living in a manner that satisfied his gentry pretensions, Clark, in his midforties,...

    • 8 Moving the Far West
      (pp. 216-250)

      In old age William Clark found himself surrounded by men trying to describe the West. Clark occasionally met those men. They visited him, sought his advice, and even found themselves at odds with the aging gatekeeper in St. Louis. Some of the most welcome visitors reminded Clark of the way in which western description had elevated him from the descending ranks of the Virginia gentry to the leading ranks of the western government. They consulted Clark’s Master Map of the American West. They peppered Clark with questions about the topography and demography of the Far West. And they sought his...

  9. Conclusion: A Western History
    (pp. 251-264)

    One of the last things William Clark wrote was his will. His health failing, Clark attempted to put his affairs in order in a seven-page document executed on April 14, 1837. Yet he recovered, as he had so often before. Washington Irving had described Clark as a “fine healthy robust man,” mistaking the sixty-two-year-old of 1832 for a man “about 56.” Clark returned to work, in large part because he could ill afford to retire. He continued to worry that his investments, primarily in western lands, would never substitute for the regular salary he received as an Indian agent.


  10. Notes
    (pp. 265-306)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-333)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 334-338)
  13. Index
    (pp. 339-344)