Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition

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9780803229594: Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
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One of the greatest challenges faced by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their 1804–6 Corps of Discovery expedition was that of medical emergencies on the trail. Without an attending physician, even routine ailments and injuries could have tragic consequences for the expedition’s success and the safety of its members. Of these dangers, the most insidious and potentially devastating was the slow, painful, and oftentimes fatal ravage of venereal disease. Physician Thomas P. Lowry delves into the world of nineteenth-century medicine, uncovering the expedition’s very real fear of venereal disease. Lewis and Clark knew they were unlikely to prevent their men from forming sexual liaisons on the trail, so they prepared for the consequences of encounters with potentially infected people, as well as the consequences of preexisting disease, by stocking themselves with medicine and the latest scientific knowledge from the best minds in America. Lewis and Clark’s expedition encountered Native peoples who experienced venereal disease as a result of liaisons with French, British, Spanish, and Canadian travelers and had their own methods for curing its victims, or at least for easing the pain it inflicted. Lowry’s careful study of the explorers’ journals sheds new light on this neglected aspect of the expedition, showing in detail how sex and venereal disease affected the men and their mission, and describes how diverse peoples faced a common threat with the best knowledge and tools at their disposal.

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From the Author:

I studied at Stanford Medical School in "the old days," when they still had a neurosyphilis clinic. Penicillin hadn't cured everybody. As an Air Force doctor in Texas, I saw both early and late syphilis and gonorrhea. Working at a large state hospital, I saw people permanently demented by brain syphilis, treated far too late. As a doctor I tried to combine clinical attentiveness, lab tests, and a big dose of sympathy.  Lewis and Clark, with fewer resources, did the same. I'm happy to praise yet one more facet of their bold journey and professional leadership.

About the Author:

Thomas P. Lowry is a retired psychiatrist and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco. He is the author of Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools: Courts-Martial of Civil War Union Colonels, available in a Bison Books edition, and The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War. Edwin C. Bearrs is historian emeritus of the National Park Service.

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