IN EUROPE there was a long-standing tradition by which the expedition’s commander penned his own narrative. But Secretary Abel Upshur had other ideas. He had decided that a literary friend of his from Virginia named Robert Greenhow should chronicle the voyage. By this point, Wilkes had gained the support of a new and powerful ally in Senator Benjamin Tappan, a Democrat from Ohio and an amateur conchologist. During a dinner party back in March 1840, Tappan had fallen into conversation with then Secretary of the Navy James Paulding, who had promised some of the Expedition’s shells for the senator’s collection. Whether or not Wilkes ever provided him with the shells, Tappan took up the lieutenant’s cause soon after his arrival in Washington. As chairman of the Senate’s Joint Library Committee, Tappan was in a position to thwart Upshur’s attempts to appoint Greenhow as author of the Expedition’s narrative. With Tappan’s help, Wilkes maintained possession of the officers’ journals and was able to begin work on his book that fall.
But Upshur wasn’t through with Wilkes yet. At the beginning of the Expedition, Wilkes had instructed his purser to pay him as if he were the captain of a squadron. Soon after his court-martial, he was informed by a naval auditor that he should have been paid as a lieutenant-commandant and that he owed the government more than twelve thousand dollars. “I was well aware it was done with a view of harassing me,” Wilkes wrote. Not until years later, long after Upshur was no longer secretary, was the matter finally settled in Wilkes’s favor.
Then there was the issue of his promotion. Shortly after his trial had ended, Wilkes mounted an effort to gain his long-anticipated captaincy. Arguing that it was general practice in Europe to reward the commander of a successful expedition, Wilkes pressed hard for the promotion. But Upshur remained unmoved. That fall, Hudson was promoted to commander. But not Wilkes. Not until the following July would Wilkes become a commander. He would have to wait another thirteen years, until September 14, 1855, before he was finally awarded the rank that he had felt was his due when the squadron first sailed in 1838.
Wilkes knew that his book constituted just a small part of the work that lay ahead. No one had anticipated that one voyage could have possibly generated such a massive amount of material. The number of ethnographic objects alone was staggering: four thousand pieces, a third more than the total number of artifacts collected during all three of Cook’s voyages. Indeed, the ethnographic collection of the U.S. Ex. Ex.—including war clubs from Fiji, feathered baskets from California, exquisitely carved rattles from the Northwest Coast, fishhooks from Samoa, and flax baskets from New Zealand—is now thought to be, according to anthropologist Adrienne Kaeppler, the largest ever made by a single sailing expedition.
Even larger than the ethnographic collection was the number of pressed plants accumulated by the botanist William Rich, the horticulturalist William Brackenridge, and the naturalist Charles Pickering: 50,000 specimens of 10,000 species. There were also more than a thousand living plants, plus seeds for an additional 648 species. Titian Peale had brought back a total of 2,150 birds, their skins ready to be mounted for display, along with 134 mammals and 588 species of fish. The geologist James Dana, who had also taken over the department of the conchologist Joseph Couthouy, had collected 300 fossil species, 400 species of coral, and 1,000 species of crustacea, along with what was described as an “immense” number of duplicates. There were 208 “spirit jars” of insects and zoological specimens, along with 895 envelopes containing 5,100 larger specimens.
In addition to all the stuff brought back by the Expedition, there was an equally awe-inspiring amount of data. The Expedition’s linguist Horatio Hale had amassed notebooks of observations that were unprecedented in their scope and thoroughness, while the naturalist Charles Pickering’s voluminous and wide-ranging journal stood as a monument to the incredible diversity of the peoples and places visited over the last four years. Then there were the charts—a total of 241 of them, outdoing the achievements of any previous surveying expedition. Laid down in these charts, with a precision rarely before seen, were 280 Pacific islands, including the first complete chart of the Fiji Group; 800 miles of the Oregon coast; a 100-mile stretch of the Columbia River; the overland route from Oregon to San Francisco; and 1,500 miles of the Antarctic coast. But Wilkes and his officers had also assembled mountains of meteorological, astronomical, magnetic, and oceanographic information. “The results of the expedition were larger and more complex than anyone could have imagined,” writes William Goetzmann, the foremost historian of American exploration, “and they outran the intellectual resources of the country.”
In 1842, the United States lacked the national institutions required to store, analyze, interpret, and display a collection of this magnitude. In truth, even the most scientifically advanced nations in the world, Germany, France, and England, would have been hard-pressed to handle the returns of the U.S. Ex. Ex. But there was reason for hope. In 1838 an emissary had arrived in New York with the proceeds from the estate left by the Englishman James Smithson for the establishment of a new kind of institution. Beyond Smithson’s stipulation that his money—more than half a million dollars in gold coin (worth approximately eleven million in today’s dollars)—be used for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” no one was sure what this institution should be. Some argued that it should be a national observatory; others said it should be a university, a library, perhaps a museum. A stalemate ensued and the Smithson bequest lay idle. In an attempt to force Congress’s hand, former secretary of war Joel Poinsett created the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, the organization that hosted Wilkes’s first lecture about the voyage. Central to Poinsett’s ambitions for his fledgling institute were the collections of the U.S. Ex. Ex. If he could establish the Institute as the collections’ caretaker, he was hopeful that he could persuade Congress to assign the interest from the Smithson bequest to the Institute, which would then become, by default, the nation’s museum.
Poinsett, with the help of outgoing secretary of the navy Paulding, arranged for the Expedition’s collections to be directed to Washington, where he secured space in the newly built Patent Office Building. He then hired a curator and staff to begin the job of unpacking the Expedition’s crates and preparing the specimens for display. But as soon as Wilkes arrived in Washington, he realized that the Institute had made a mess of the collections. Prior to being shipped to the United States, each crate of specimens had been carefully catalogued using a color-coded number and letter system that keyed the objects to the scientists’ field notes. Since the Institute’s curator was without the catalogue lists, he had no way of determining what was in each crate unless he opened it up and looked inside. Soon the Expedition’s collections were in chaos. Titian Peale was horrified to find that a taxidermist had combined the skins of a male and female bird of the same species into a single bird. James Dana discovered that some of the more delicate marine organisms he had collected had been taken out of their bottles of preservative, dried, and then stuck with pins.
Even though the Institute’s curator was fired in September and Charles Pickering was brought on to supervise the collection, Wilkes and the scientists remained leery. For his part, Senator Tappan believed that the Expedition’s collection should remain a government-subsidized entity unto itself, and he secured the necessary funding from Congress for that. Pickering began to reassemble the Expedition’s scientists in Washington. Soon they were unpacking the collections and preparing the objects for exhibition in the Patent Office’s huge, 265-foot-long Great Hall.
Pickering provided an early and much-needed rallying point for the Expedition’s scientists, but he had little interest in being the head of what was rapidly becoming the country’s first national museum. Pickering was a scientist, not a curator. It wasn’t the objects themselves that were important, he insisted, it was the knowledge that could be derived from those objects. In Pickering’s view, the Expedition’s greatest achievements were yet to come since a scientist’s true role was not simply to collect and exhibit objects, but to study them. In July, Pickering resigned as superintendent of the collection so that he could continue researching the book he was planning to write about the races of man.
Tappan immediately replaced Pickering with Wilkes. As his conduct on the voyage amply demonstrated, Wilkes had no apparent fear of overcommitting himself. In addition to writing the narrative, he was also directing the production of the Expedition’s charts—yet another enormous task for which he had assembled a team of officers that included Expedition veterans Thomas Budd, Overton Carr, Joseph Totten, Frederick Stewart, the artist Joseph Drayton, and eventually Henry Eld. Undaunted by his already considerable responsibilities, Wilkes took charge of the exhibition in the Great Hall of the Patent Office.
One of Wilkes’s first acts was the installation of a sign over the hall’s entrance that read COLLECTION OF THE EXPLORING EXPEDITION in large gold letters. He then went about overhauling the exhibits—moving the cases into areas of the hall with better light and posting signs that helped visitors find their way around this huge room of specimens and artifacts. Accustomed to the immaculate condition of a man-of-war, Wilkes showed little tolerance for visitors who insisted on using chewing tobacco in this hall of wonders. When the placement of spittoons at the base of columns did little to keep the tobacco juice off the floor, he hired a man, equipped him with a bowl of water and a large sponge, and directed him to follow anyone who dared chew “the weed.” “No party could withstand the operation of the man with the sponge,” Wilkes proudly reported, “and the custom was greatly abated if not wholly abolished and the Hall kept clean.”
The Collection of the Exploring Expedition became wildly popular. Over the course of the next decade, more than a hundred thousand people made their way each year to the Patent Office. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was in town on a speaking engagement, judged the exhibit to be, with the sole exception of the Capitol building, “the best sight in Washington.”
In the back of the Patent Office Building was a greenhouse, where William Brackenridge presided over hundreds of living plants. Many influential Washingtonians, including President Tyler’s wife, assumed that these tropical seedlings would be made available to them for their private gardens, but Wilkes instructed Brackenridge to deny all requests for plants. One congressman became so angered that he threatened to stop the Expedition’s funding, but Wilkes stood firm. “The restriction was carried out,” he wrote, “and our plants preserved.”
In January 1843, William Reynolds, who had just spent his first Christmas at home in eleven years, traveled to Washington to lobby in Congress for the extra pay that had been promised the Expedition’s officers. He stayed at the house of William May, who had just been promoted to lieutenant. The two friends traveled to Baltimore to attend the wedding of Lieutenant George Emmons. Reynolds reported to Henry Eld, who was then stationed in New York, that there were “a dozen Explorers who graced the occasion. We had a merry time, you may be sure. The very idea of seeing Old George spliced—to me, it was an ocean of fun.” During the ceremony it became apparent that Emmons had escaped from the Peacock with more than his life, for there he stood, resplendent in the dress uniform he had “preserved with so much cunning & forethought from the wreck of the Peacock.”
These dozen explorers had a bond that would unite them for the rest of their lives—a bond made all the more powerful by their shared loathing for their former commander. Reynolds undoubtedly knew that Eld was one of the few officers whose relations with Wilkes were almost cordial, but he could not help but vent his own bitter emotions in his letter. He revealed that he had run into Wilkes while in Washington and “had the Supreme gratification of cutting him dead” by refusing to acknowledge his presence. Marriage and the passage of time had done nothing to assuage the vehemence of Reynolds’s feelings for Wilkes. He closed his description of their meeting with a denunciation that outdid anything in his journal: “God everlastingly damn him!”
Reynolds would never admit it, but Wilkes had taught him well over the last four years. He had taught him how to hate.
When he wasn’t stalking the Great Hall of the Patent Office or overseeing the completion of the Expedition’s charts or finishing up a final round of pendulum experiments, Wilkes worked on his narrative. In addition to his own journal of the cruise, he consulted those of his officers and the scientific corps. He claimed to have been amused rather than angered by the many “malicious remarks” he came across, resolving that his own narrative would be “truthful and free from all vituperation.” Inevitably, however, he could not resist the opportunity to settle some scores with his officers, particularly the ones who had spoken against him during the court-martial.
With Jane serving as his “amanuensis,” he wrote at what can only be described as a ferocious pace. “I am afraid you’re pushing it so hard,” his sister Eliza wrote him in April, “[that] you are making a toil out of what should be a pleasure.” By the winter of 1844, he was approaching the end of a manuscript that had swelled to three thousand pages. Wilkes considered it “a monument to my exertions in overcoming all impediments.”
In late February, he and Jane were invited to attend a gala event aboard the Princeton, a new propeller-driven warship that had been equipped with an experimental weapon known as the “Peacemaker.” Constructed out of wrought iron and weighing close to ten tons, this “Monster Cannon” had been designed by John Ericsson (who would later gain fame for his ironclads in the Civil War) and was being promoted in naval circles by Captain Robert Stockton. Stockton had invited President Tyler and his cabinet, along with a host of influential senators and diplomats, to a demonstration on the Potomac River, and after being entertained in the cabin with wine and champagne, they were all invited on deck to witness the firing of the great gun.
Since Secretary Abel Upshur had been responsible for funding this expensive vessel, he was offered a prime spot, only a few feet from the Peacemaker. Wilkes later claimed that he held “many misgivings” about the safety of this wrought-iron gun, and he urged Jane and their friends to watch from amidships. “The gun was fired,” Wilkes wrote, “but instead of its noise and [the] whistling of its far [flung] shot, a cloud of the blackest smoke arose & scarcely any report.” The breech of the experimental cannon had exploded, hurling a deadly spray of metal fragments into the crowd. Wilkes ran forward to offer assistance and soon discovered that Upshur and seven others had been killed. “He went to his [grave] with all his Sins upon him,” Wilkes wrote, “and I admit I could not mourn his loss.”
While Wilkes wrote the text, Joseph Drayton assembled the hundreds of illustrations that would grace the Expedition’s narrative—steel engravings and woodcuts based on paintings and drawings by the artist Alfred Agate, who often worked from sketches provided by the Expedition’s officers, as well as the naturalist Titian Peale. The Library Committee had decided that the five volumes of Wilkes’s narrative were to be volumes of the highest possible quality. Bound in dark green morocco, hand-sewn and gilt-edged, they were to be stamped in gold with the seal of the United States. The Committee insisted that only a hundred copies of the narrative be published, making them, according to the estimates of one historian, “some of the most expensive books in the history of American printing.”
Recognizing an opportunity for personal gain, Wilkes insisted that the narrative be copyrighted in his name and that he be given free use of the illustrations in future editions. Since the government had paid for the Expedition, as well as for the writing and illustration of the book, many naval officers viewed this as an outrageous windfall for Wilkes, especially when his own commercial edition of the narrative appeared almost simultaneously with the publication of the government’s edition. However, when the matter was finally investigated by Congress, Wilkes was allowed to keep his copyright.
Upon the publication of the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition in the fall of 1844, many navy officers were shocked to discover that Wilkes had used an official publication of the government to excoriate some of the very same officers upon whom the success of the Expedition had depended. Lieutenant Alden, who had dared to deny seeing Antarctica on the morning of January 19, was a particular target. Wilkes even suggested that Alden was responsible for the death of Underwood and Henry. He also felt compelled to pad the book with information from secondary sources, much of it with little or no bearing on the voyage.
And yet there were times when the narrative would take flight, especially when Wilkes quoted freely, but often without attribution, from the journals of his more articulate officers and scientists. Even his own prose could sometimes rise to the occasion. His description of the battle to survey the Antarctic coast is riveting. His description of the burial of Underwood and Henry is wonderfully sad. But these patches of clarity only made it all the more achingly obvious how good a book this could have been. “A work of oppressive dimensions has been constructed,” wrote the naval officer Charles Davis in the North American Review, “and the real narrative of the cruise, a story of surpassing interest, is crushed under a weight of irrelevant matter.”
Despite its failings, Wilkes’s Narrative garnered plenty of positive reviews and sold surprisingly well; fourteen different editions would be published in the years prior to the Civil War. The book would also have an impact on some of America’s most important and influential writers. James Fenimore Cooper, an old family friend of the Wilkeses, would integrate information from the Narrative into at least two of his sea novels. Herman Melville would purchase his own set of Wilkes’s work, and scholars have found traces of the U.S. Exploring Expedition throughout his masterpiece Moby-Dick. Melville appears to have been most taken with the book’s illustrations. For example, his description of Ishmael’s Polynesian companion Queequeg has been attributed to an engraving of a tattooed Maori chief in volume two. In an age before the widespread use of photography, the pages of the Narrative provided a visual link with the exotic world of the South Pacific (as well as Antarctica and the Pacific Northwest) that no other American book could match.
For many readers, it was Wilkes’s description of the Oregon territory and California that was of the greatest interest. James Polk had won the presidential election in 1844, partly on the basis of the expansionist slogan “Fifty-four forty or fight,” which as Wilkes had urged two years earlier in his repressed report to Congress, called for the annexation of the entire Oregon territory. But once again, events would transpire to distract the American people from a proper appreciation of the Expedition’s findings. Almost coincidental with the appearance of the Narrative was the publication of another account of a government expedition to the American West, this one led by the army officer John C. Frémont. Frémont’s narrative about his overland journey to the Columbia River and then on to California was everything Wilkes’s wasn’t. Ghostwritten by his wife, who had a gift for romantic, overwrought prose, Frémont’s tale involved his readers in a glorious quest to unlock the mysteries of the West, and in the spring of 1845 Frémont gained the kind of fame that Wilkes had been craving all his life.
Just when he had hoped to command the country’s attention with the publication of his own great book, Wilkes was distressed to discover that his past was about to catch up with him. Not long after the conclusion of his court-martial back in the summer of 1842, the four marines he had confined and repeatedly flogged in Honolulu sued him for damages. Not until two and a half years later, in the spring of 1845, would their case be heard in U.S. Circuit Court in Washington. The trial attracted yet another crowd of Exploring Expedition veterans, but this time, in addition to the officers and scientists, there would be a significant number of marines and sailors in the gallery. After eight days, the jury found that Wilkes had been “justified in all his acts save that of imprisonment in a foreign port and neglect.” Two of the plaintiffs were awarded just $500 in damages.
The marines were not the only ones who wanted Wilkes to suffer, in some way, for his sins. After a long cruise in the Mediterranean, William Reynolds returned home to discover that Wilkes had maligned him and his fellow officers in his Narrative. Reynolds, with the help of twelve others, would spend the next several months preparing a memorandum to Congress demanding that Wilkes retract the slurs from future editions of his book. The memorandum would eventually be published along with a rebuttal from Wilkes that enraged Reynolds all the more, especially when the Joint Library Committee voted not to alter Wilkes’s Narrative in any way. “[T]he only result of our appeal by Memorial to Congress,” Reynolds complained to James Alfred Pearce, Tappan’s replacement as head of the Library Committee, “has been to afford the person of whose slanders we complained, opportunity to repeat them, with additional grossness, under the sanction of a congressional document.” Reynolds would then embark on yet another refutation of Wilkes’s Narrative that would expand to seventy-eight single-spaced manuscript pages and never be published.
In June 1846, the Oregon question was finally resolved with the signing of the Buchanan-Pakenham treaty, establishing the boundary between the U.S. and British Canada at the forty-ninth parallel. This compromise was supported by the influential senator Thomas Hart Benton, who happened to be the father-in-law of the explorer John Frémont. Benton took an active role in touting Frémont’s accomplishments and as part of this promotional campaign felt compelled to question and criticize the explorer he viewed as one of his son-in-law’s chief rivals—Charles Wilkes. In his Narrative, Wilkes had insisted that the mouth of the Columbia River was exceedingly dangerous. Benton, on the other hand, was convinced that the river provided a safe and accessible anchorage. In the summer of 1846 he put together a pamphlet attacking Wilkes’s claims, and since it offered an opportunity to malign Wilkes, Reynolds, along with the other two officers from the Flying Fish, gladly agreed to contribute to the publication.
Reynolds knew better than anyone that the bar was a frightful piece of water, and yet for the purposes of the pamphlet he was willing to state that “By the erection of a few plain and conspicuous beacons, the sailing directions for the Columbia will be more simple, and may be more easily comprehended, than those for the principal seaports on our eastern coast.” That the entrance to the Columbia River is regarded to this day as one of the most dangerous in the world is a disturbing indication of how severely Reynolds’s judgment had been distorted by his feelings for the leader of the Ex. Ex. In response, Wilkes would publish a cool and devastating letter that used testimony from the officers’ own journals against them.
The continuing battle between Wilkes and his officers would take on another even more distressing dimension. Soon after the death of Underwood and Henry in Fiji, the officers had created a fund to build a monument to their fallen comrades. Wilkes’s family desperately wanted the monument to be located at a cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, so that Henry’s mother and sister might regularly view it. The officers, however, insisted that the twenty-foot-high white marble obelisk be constructed at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since it was closer to Underwood’s widow. This skirmish would go to the officers.
With the publication of his narrative behind him, Wilkes turned his attention not only to writing his own scientific reports, which included his two-volume atlas of charts and the volumes on Meteorology, Hydrography, and Physics, but to overseeing the publication of the other fourteen reports. It would become a lifelong endeavor. When Senator Tappan retired as chairman of the Library Committee in 1846, congressional funding for the reports became harder and harder to find. “I had more trouble and difficulty in securing the appropriation annually,” Wilkes wrote, “than I experienced in the command of the Expedition.”
A nation that had prided itself in its democratic scorn of book-learning was reluctant to acknowledge that publishing volumes about “bugs, reptiles, etc.” was a necessary expense. When asked to vote on yet another appropriation to pay for the seemingly never-ending publications of the Exploring Expedition, one vexed senator complained, “I am tired of all this thing called science here.” But for decade after decade, the U.S. Ex. Ex. would not go away. Wilkes’s relentless and combative personality was perfectly suited to being a nettle in the side of government. He would often be as much of an annoyance to the scientists he was supposedly championing as he would be to the congressmen he hounded for appropriations, but it is doubtful whether there was anyone else in America who could have accomplished so much.
With the appearance of each new scientific report, the status of the United States in the international scientific community (once nearly nonexistent) would climb a little higher. In its reliance on fieldwork unhindered by the usual Victorian biases, Horatio Hale’s report on languages broke new ground in what would eventually become known as the field of ethnography. James Dwight Dana proved to be the “racer” of the scientists, publishing four comprehensive and essential reports over an eleven-year period. His report on Crustacea, in which he identified more than five hundred new species of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and barnacles, would reinvent the field. Charles Darwin offered Dana his highest praise, insisting that if Dana had “done nothing else whatever, it would have been a magnum opus for life. . . . I am really lost in astonishment at what you have done in mental labor. And, then beside the labor, so much originality in all your works.” What makes this all the more remarkable is that Dana, who would eventually become a professor at Yale, was a geologist. When it came to his volume on geology, in which he offered evidence to support Darwin’s theory about the formation of coral atolls, the response was just as enthusiastic. The German Alexander von Humboldt, whose expedition to South America at the end of the eighteenth century had inspired generations of explorers and scientists, claimed that Dana’s work represented “the most splendid contribution to science of the present day.”
Not all of the reports came as quickly or were as well received. Charles Pickering’s long-awaited The Races of Man was judged by Oliver Wendell Holmes to be “the oddest collection of fragments that was ever seen, . . . amorphous as a fog, unstratified as a dumpling and heterogeneous as a low priced sausage.” At Wilkes’s insistence, Titian Peale’s Zoology would be withdrawn prior to publication in 1848 due to its many taxonomical errors. Ten years later, once the volume had been overhauled by John Cassin of the Academy of Natural Science, the report was reissued as Mammology and Ornithology. It has since been called “a triumph of new science.” The biggest disappointment of the scientific corps would be the botanist William Rich, who lacked the erudition and analytical skills to tackle a collection as big as the Expedition’s. The botany reports would eventually be divided up among close to half a dozen different scientists, with the renowned Asa Gray taking the leading role.
Gray had almost shipped out with the squadron in 1838, but the offer of a professorship at the University of Michigan had given him second thoughts. In the years since, he had moved to Harvard and established himself as America’s preeminent botanist. His high professional standing meant that he had little tolerance for what one scientist called Wilkes’s “quarter deck insolence.” As had been the case during the Expedition, Wilkes could be infuriatingly dictatorial and obtuse, but in just about every instance, the scientists finally succeeded in getting their way.
There is no question that Wilkes’s unceasing advocacy of the Expedition’s publications contributed to a growing realization in Washington that scientific pursuits such as geology, botany, anthropology, and meteorology were crucial to the progress of the nation. Almost in spite of itself, Congress began to see the wisdom and necessity of paying for expeditions on a scale that would have been inconceivable in the era of Lewis and Clark. As the country’s population moved west, so did a succession of sophisticated surveying expeditions, all of which, in the tradition of America’s first exploring and surveying expedition, took along at least one scientist. Between 1840 and 1860, the federal government would publish sixty works associated with the exploration of the West while subsidizing fifteen naval expeditions around the world. The expenditure for these expeditions and other scientific publications would be enormous, representing somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of the annual federal budget. Not even the race to the moon in the 1960s generated a financial commitment to science that rivaled the decades after the U.S. Ex. Ex.
Gradually, but inevitably, the Exploring Expedition would be eclipsed by the very historical forces that it had helped to set in motion. Foreshadowed by Frémont and made an accomplished fact by the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the interest of the American people shifted from the frontier of the sea to the frontier of the West. Instead of whalers, sealers, China traders, and Polynesian natives, it was now mountain men, pioneers, cowboys, and Indians who captured the American imagination. Even though the Ex. Ex. had had such an early and vital role in the exploration of the Oregon territory and California, the nation would quickly lose all memory of the fact that Wilkes and his men had been the first Americans to chart Puget Sound, the Columbia River, and San Francisco Bay. Turning from the oceans of the world, the American people looked to the interior of their own continent, and in the tales of western exploration and conquest that would soon become part of the nation’s mythology there was no place for Wilkes and the U.S. Ex. Ex.