Meriwether: A Novel of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis & Clark Expedition (The American Story)

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9780312863074: Meriwether: A Novel of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis & Clark Expedition (The American Story)

Meriwether is a young man of genius, power , drive, and single-minded determination to make one of the greatest marches in the world history--to chart the two thousand uncharted miles from the Mississippi to the Missouri to the mysterious Stoney Mountains, then down Colombia to the Pacific.

But President Thomas Jefferson has other plans for the young Meriwether Lewis. It is 1800, and Jefferson calls upon Lewis to be his secretary, ignoring Lewis' request for expedition. The job, though a necessary duty, frustrates Lewis, whose mind is transfixed on his destiny to cross the continent.

Freed at last, Lewis calls upon his friend, William Clark to set out on a cross continental trek that will give them towering stature among explorers and assure that the young nation will have its shores washed by opposite oceans.

It is a dangerous expedition, as the unexplored territories are filled with huge grizzlies and wild waters, hostile Indians and they will lose their way. They will also be blessed by Sacagawa, the Indian woman whose skill and insight will guide them and in many cases save them. Until they reach the Oregon Country, where the breakers roll unbroken from China.

But for all Lewis' fortitude and genius, the man who made the impossible possible has touched the heights of his life and now steps towards his darkling future.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

David Nevin has spent more than twenty years researching and writing The American Story, a series of novels dealing with the history of the United States from 1800-1860. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling Dream West, 1812, Eagle's Cry and Treason.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
On the Ohio, October, 1803
 
 
For years he had dreamed of this, speculated, imagined, planned; he had lived it in his mind, how he would assemble his party and supply them and the adventures they would have and the wonders they would see. A recurring image haunted his youth, himself at the head of a column of men that crossed a broad valley, climbed a far ridge, and disappeared into the mists beyond. But that was then; now he was a man, strong and ready. Now it was real.
So in this October of 1803 Meriwether Lewis floated down the Ohio River in a keelboat made to his order. Ahead lay the Falls of the Ohio and just below was Louisville, and across the river, Clarksville, Indiana Territory. There he would join William Clark whom he had invited to share the command of the trek into the vast unknown. With a handful of men and all the supplies they could carry--which Lewis already worried would not be enough--they would set out from St. Louis to be gone two years or three or four or perhaps forever. They would cross the uncharted continent, going where no man had gone before. Indians traveled their own terrain but they didn't travel the whole distance.
They paused at the Falls, three huge limestone ledges over which water poured as the river dropped some eighty feet in a mile or so. Then, on Lewis's shouted command, they plunged ahead, down a narrow chute to the right, and fetched up shaken and whirling in the rapids that boiled below each ledge. The boat was strong; it was intact but for maybe a split hull plank. Clarksville appeared ahead and in a minute Lewis made out Clark's stalwart figure on the landing, legs spread and arms akimbo. Before they could get lines over Clark leaped aboard and swept Lewis into a bear hug, pounding him furiously on the back. It had been six years since they had met, Clark then commanding the First Infantry's Chosen Rifles, Lewis his lieutenant.
Lewis's letter inviting Clark to join the expedition had sketched out the vast magnitude of what lay before them. Follow the mighty Missouri up to its source that surely was in the Stony Mountains. Leading thinkers, the president of the United States among them, held that these mountains--sometimes called the Shining Mountains and more and more often these days the Rocky Mountains, and always stars of dreams and myths--would match the Appalachians in the East in height, complexity, and roughness Lewis had to wonder a little at that...as if the continent needed opposing mountain chains of equal size for balance, lest it all tip over.
"You know how folks work things out on paper," Lewis said, "and it always comes out just right? And then you go on the trail and--well, you ever found the trail went the way you figured?"
Clark laughed, that go-ahead laugh, full of confidence and, yes, happiness, too, happiness at something new. "Ain't never what you expect," he said. "That's what makes it fun."
By God, that was the ticket--going somewhere new. Ma told Lewis he was a rambling fool, but that was when she was hot at him, trying to get him back to Virginia to run the plantation. Anyway, he put it right back on her, told her it was her fault, naming him Meriwether. That was her maiden name and the Meriwethers were famous ramblers, packed their wagons in Virginia and poured through the Cumberland Gap and spread over Kentucky. Hell's fire, Ma, that's real rambling! And she would say don't you cuss in the house but she'd be smiling and he'd kiss her cheek and laugh and be gone again. Clark understood him. They knew each other well, knew how their complementary strengths melded to a whole of iron.
Clark was Lewis's height, good six feet, broad in the shoulders, big in the hands, looked like he could heave a two-hundred-pound hog over his shoulder, genial but very dangerous when riled. Like Lewis overall, comparable size, strength, willingness to fight. Maybe not the genial part, Lewis couldn't really call himself genial, he'd admit that, but the rest of it, certainly. Clark's good humor evened out Lewis's moods. They were a natural pair.
When they reached the mountains their orders were to find an easy portage. All the best thinking from Mr. Jefferson on down, learned men who'd never seen the country talking to other learned men who'd never seen the country, said that after a modest climb there ought to be a nice level. It would be like a saddle, probably, perhaps a mountain meadow, with two streams a mile or so apart or maybe nearer. One stream would run east to form the Missouri, the other west to form the Columbia and thence on to the Pacific. This based on a century or more of thinking, wondering, hearing rumors, analyzing, working it all out in logic. If a stream ran one way from a height, why shouldn't another run the other way? It just stood to reason. Go up one and down the other. Didn't that make sense?
Well, it was different, sitting in Mr. Jefferson's study, sparrows chirping on the outer sill, cows wending up L'Enfant's classic oval for milking in the barn behind the President's House, painters chattering as they laid another coat of white on its yellow sandstone walls. It was different, sitting there while the president's easy voice plotted an expedition thirty years in his own dreaming. Then it was like a sorcerer's spell and you could hardly doubt that it would be just so. This even though any man who had walked into wilderness, as Lewis had done all his life and the president had never done, not once, knew full well that the day you found things just as you'd figured you'd better start all over because something had gone wrong.
It really was one hell of an undertaking.
"You know, Merry," Clark said the night Lewis arrived, "we might just make us some history, we get to the Pacific and back."
"Might just do that," Lewis said. "Might just." Yes, and might do more than that, too, lots more. Their success would help anchor the new democracy that the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 had brought to the country and that had been under siege ever since. Come back in triumph and democracy would have another feather in its cap; die in some coulee and the expedition never heard from again, and the hounds and hyenas always ready to attack the noblest concept since Moses took down the commandments would be baying and snapping. Failure would shake confidence in government that not only believed but that acted on the basis that free men could live in self-control, stand free and yet hold to stable and reasonable government. But if they returned in triumph it could only strengthen democracy.
And then there was the West, American settlers steadily advancing through the woods beyond the Appalachians. Lewis, on the president's behalf, intended to open the way to the Pacific. A rising West seemed to terrify the East--certainly it would dilute New England's power. But the West was where free men could flourish--more so than the Northeast with its gray factories rising to chain men to machines. Of course, Lewis had to admit that this was Democratic Party dogma but it made sense to him.
And the British were making trouble again. Couldn't seem to accept the fact that we won the Revolution and kicked them out. They harassed our shipping for reasons that made sense to them and none to us. Now they were eyeing the Pacific Northwest, their navy charting the waters, their traders on the move. Wanted to beat us there.
But he didn't burden Clark with such political geography. It was enough to contemplate the real geography lying before them. It was simply awesome--and that suited Lewis just fine. He'd always had a sense of holding himself apart, of being different. He was happiest when he was alone and moving, long strides carrying him for miles--maybe he really was a rambling fool. But he felt an inner capacity to do great things and the certainty that they would come along. Destiny? Too grand a word for a Virginia plantation boy or an infantry captain? Call it what you want, but now the grand and spectacular lay before him--he was going to walk across North America and he was going to anchor his country as a continental nation and anchor its new democracy as strong and solid and successful.
All this if he came back at all...
Now, on this October day, a bite in the air signaling that winter was impatient in the wings, the keelboat was floating downstream toward the Ohio's juncture with the Mississippi. Waterbirds swooped and plunged and fought each other with shrieks of rage. The two men sat forward, backs to the cabin structure, sun on their faces, scanning the way ahead.
"So, Merry," said Clark, "how'd this all come about?" Clark had been privy to none of the planning which had been held a careful secret, and had only learned of the idea of the expedition in Lewis's letter of invitation. The letter had come out of the blue maybe a month or so before, drop what you're doing and walk across the continent, Will, how about that? Clark had rolled it around in his mind a bit before answering but he'd known by the time he'd finished reading the letter that he was going. What could have held him back, after all?
"I know you was the president's secretary," Clark said, rapping his corncob pipe on the gunwale and refilling it, "and maybe that's how you was chose. But how come Mr. Jefferson picked you for secretary anyway, a soldier like you? Writing notes, carrying paper, serving tea? Don't sound much like you."
Lewis sighed. "Take me a while to tell it right."
Clark smiled. "We got time." They were alone on the broad river, no other boat in sight, riding the current. Men with poles stood by fore and aft to fend them off when the boat veered toward shore. The day would come when there wouldn't be time for talk.
Meriwether Lewis cleared his throat...
 
Copyright © 2004 by David Nevin

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