Modern history


Jefferson and the West


From the spring of 1804 until the summer of the following year, President Jefferson had no direct communication with Lewis. People of that era accepted such anxiety. Much as he wanted to know about the safety, progress, and discoveries of the expedition, there was nothing Jefferson could do. He could not issue any orders, provide any warnings, consult on any decisions. He could only wait and hope.

In July 1804, Jefferson got his first return on the investment in the Corps of Discovery. A delegation of fourteen Osage Indians, from present-day Missouri, whom Lewis had convinced to make the journey in April, arrived in Washington.

Captain Stoddard made the final arrangements. Horses, food, shelter, and soldiers for guides and security made it an expensive trip, but the often penny-pinching president considered it a good investment. “The truth is,” he wrote Secretary of War Dearborn, “the [Osages] are the great nation South of the Missouri, their possession extending from thence to the Red river, as the Sioux are great North of that river. With these two powerful nations we must stand well, because in their quarter we are miserably weak.”

The representatives of the Osage nation arrived on July 11—which chanced to be the day of the Burr-Hamilton duel at Weehawken. The Osage men impressed Jefferson mightily: “They are the finest men we have ever seen.” They were gigantic, he said, and noted with high approval that they were unused to spirituous liquor.

He intended to win their loyalty through a combination of bribes and threats, the traditional American Indian policy. “We shall endeavor to impress them strongly not only with our justice & liberality,” he wrote, “but with our power.”1

St. Louis businessman and friend of Lewis Pierre Chouteau accompanied the Osages as interpreter and general manager of the tour. Chouteau had his eye on the main chance; he met with Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, who sized him up thus: “He seems well disposed, but what he wants is power and money.” He asked for a monopoly on the Indian trade west of the Mississippi. “I told him this was inadmissable, and his last demand was the exclusive trade with the Osages. . . . As he may be either useful or dangerous I gave no flat denial. . . .”2

Thus did the intense competition between frontier businessmen for the Indian trade continue under new management. The Chouteau family, along with Manuel Lisa, Joseph Robidoux, and others were adept at currying favor with corrupt Spanish bureaucrats for precious trading licenses with the western tribes. And no wonder: it was the most immediate and by far the most profitable source of wealth in the trans-Mississippi West.

There was a ritual to the Indians’ visits: they were taken to the cities (Philadelphia, New York, Boston), some cannon were fired for their edification, troops paraded, and then they called on the president.

Jefferson’s speech to the Osages, given in the President’s House, was typical: “You have furs and peltries which we want,” he said after announcing that he was their new father, “and we have useful things which you want.” But a mutually beneficial commerce could not begin until the United States knew more about the Osages and their country. “For this purpose I sent a beloved man, Capt. Lewis, one of my own household to learn something of the people with whom we are now united, to let you know we were your friends, to invite you to come and see us, and to tell us how we can be useful to you.”

When Lewis returned, “we shall hear what he has seen & learnt, & proceed to establish trading houses where our red brethren shall think best, & to exchange commodities with them.”

Jefferson went on, in a passage that is almost poetry: “It is so long since our forefathers came from beyond the great water, that we have lost the memory of it, and seem to have grown out of this land, as you have done. . . . We are all now of one family, born in the same land, & bound to live as brothers; & the strangers from beyond the great water are gone from among us. The great Spirit has given you strength, and has given us strength; not that we might hurt one another, but to do each other all the good in our power.” He concluded, “No wrong will ever be done you by our nation.”3

(Two weeks later and more than a thousand miles west, Lewis made the same points in his speech to the Otos, and persuaded Chief Little Thief, two other Otos, three Pawnees, and a Missouri Indian to visit the president.)

In the fall of 1804, the Osages returned to St. Louis, thence on to their homes on the Osage River. According to Major James Bruff, who had replaced Captain Stoddard as commandant of the newly created Department of Upper Louisiana, they were “puffed up with ideas of their great superiority to other nations” because of all the presents they had been given and the attention lavished on them.4

That same fall, Jefferson began to get garbled reports on Lewis’s progress. On November 6, he wrote Reuben Lewis, “I have the pleasure to inform you that we have lately received thro a channel meriting entire confidence,I advice that on the 4th of Aug. he [Lewis] was at the mouth of the river Plate, 600 miles up the Missouri. . . . Two of his men had deserted from him.” According to the informant, Lewis’s plans were to send one of his boats and half the men back to St. Louis before winter set in. In the spring, he would leave half the remaining men with the Mandans, to make corn for his return, and would proceed with the rest to cross the mountains and journey to the Pacific.

That was sketchy, and only about half true, but it was something. Jefferson, typically thoughtful, sent it on to Lewis’s brother so that Reuben might inform his mother that her oldest son was safe so far.5

On November 5, Major Bruff passed on an even more garbled report that he got in St. Louis from some French trappers who had been on the Missouri River that summer. They told Bruff that “two of [Lewis’s] boatmen deserted . . . that the others were much dissatisfied & complained of too regid a discipline. I am not, however, disposed to give full credit to their story, as they report other unfavourable circumstances that cannot be true:—Such as a difference between the Captains &c.”6

That was awfully thin, and we may suppose that Jefferson joined Bruff in doubting the possibility of trouble between the captains, but it was the only news Jefferson was to get until the summer of 1805, following Corporal Warfington’s arrival in St. Louis with the keelboat and the dispatch from there of the captains’ reports, maps, and specimens to Washington.

For practical purposes, Lewis and Clark were almost as out of touch with the civilized world as Columbus had been. Even parties of experienced soldiers sent out to find them, couldn’t.

The search for Lewis came about because the commanding general of the U.S. Army was secretly a Spanish spy, code name “Agent 13.” General James Wilkinson (born in 1757) was a fabulous if despicable character. As an officer in the revolution, he had entered into the Conway Cabal (a group trying to supplant General Washington), and from then until his death in 1825 he never met a conspiracy he didn’t embrace. Charming, amoral, shrewd, a high risk-taker, and a survivor, he was a double agent. As Donald Jackson writes, “One never really knows at any given time whether Wilkinson is acting on behalf of the United States, Spain, or—as was often the case—his own arcane greed for power and money.”7

He had betrayed Washington; he betrayed his superior, General Anthony Wayne, intriguing against him for his job; he betrayed George Rogers Clark, his rival for popular leadership in the West, spreading rumors and telling lies about him; he betrayed his country when he swore to Spain in 1787 that he would work for the secession of the western states from the Union.

He further betrayed his country in a March 1804 message to Madrid. At the time, he was in New Orleans. He reported that Lewis’s expedition was about to depart from St. Louis to ascend the Missouri River, and that its objective was to cross to the Pacific. In New Orleans, the established French and the newly arrived Americans were making bets on how long it would be before the United States established a seaport on the Pacific. Wilkinson told Madrid the big money was saying five years.II

Madrid was full of fear that an avalanche of Americans was about to cross the Mississippi and begin to descend on their gold and silver mines. Wilkinson therefore touched a raw nerve when he reported on the Lewis expedition, and so he got an immediate response to his suggestion: “An express ought immediately to be sent to the governor of Santa Fe, and another to the captain-general of Chihuaga, in order that they may detach a sufficient body of chasseurs to intercept Captain Lewis and his party, who are on the Missouri River, and force them to retire or take them prisoners.”8

Nemesio Salcedo, commandant general of the Internal Provinces of New Spain, with headquarters in Chihuahua, read Wilkinson’s advice and tried to act on it. He feared that “Captain Merry” intended to “penetrate the Missouri River in order to fulfill the commission which he has of making discoveries and observations.” Those discoveries, he further feared, would be of gold and silver mines that were on Spanish territory. “The only means which presents itself is to arrest Captain Merry Weather and his party.”9

The governor of New Mexico tried. Over the next two years he dispatched at least four armed parties from Santa Fe to search for Lewis. He was realistic enough to write, “Even though I realize it is not an easy undertaking, chance might proportion things in such a way that it might be successful.”10

None of the four parties had any luck. They didn’t even come close enough for the Indian grapevine to pass on word to Lewis that the Spanish were looking for him. Like Jefferson, the Spanish were going to have to wait for Lewis to get back to St. Louis to learn what he had done and discovered.

In the spring of 1805, in response to Lewis’s entreaties the previous summer, Oto chiefs and warriors, as well as Indians from other tribes living along the Missouri, began descending on St. Louis. They wanted that grand tour at government expense Lewis had promised them. General Wilkinson—in St. Louis, about to assume the governorship of Louisiana Territory—complained to Secretary Dearborn. There were too many Indians, it was too expensive to send them to Washington, and the lines of authority were unclear.

Wilkinson charged that there had been a collision between Lewis, Stoddard, Bruff, and Chouteau. Lewis, he said, had given Stoddard authority to make all the arrangements for Indian delegations to proceed to Washington, with a blank check to draw on the War Department. But Bruff claimed the sole right to issue passports, “and Mr. Shoto has contended for the entire controul in all Indian relations.”

Wilkinson believed out that “such conflicts produce pernicious animosities, & disgrace the Publick Service, and by confounding authorities destroy all responsibility.” He asked Dearborn to put one man in command.11 Later, he complained that Indians kept coming to St. Louis demanding their free trip to Washington and lots of presents. He held the delegates through the summer, on the grounds that it was too hot for them to travel. Costs for keeping them happy in St. Louis were escalating, as were expenses for the tour. He had to pay fifteen hundred dollars for horses (because “these Personages will not walk on an Embassy to their Father”); some of this he would recover for the government by selling the horses in Louisville, where he intended putting the Indians on a boat to Wheeling, making them march to Pittsburgh, then putting them on a stage to Washington.

Stoddard would be in charge of the tour. Wikinson ordered him to see to “the comfort and accommodation of our red Bretheren,” but held him strictly accountable to an expense allowance: “Every unnecessary expense should be carefully avoided. You must guard against Tavern rates, by the purchase of your provision or by encamping and cooking, and by every others means in your power.” Sleeping on the ground certainly saved the government money, and the event showed that Wilkinson was realistic about how much it would cost to feed the Indians at taverns—Stoddard later reported that these hearty travelers consumed nearly twelve pounds of beef a day during the journey. Each.12

Jefferson didn’t mind the expense of courting the Indians. As he later explained to Congress, good relations with the tribes on the Missouri were “indispensable to the policy of governing those Indians by commerce rather than by arms,” and the cost of the former was much less than the cost of the latter.13

Lewis was the advance agent of Jefferson’s Indian policy. He was able to do exactly what Jefferson wanted, because he knew Jefferson’s thinking so well. In his dealings with the Missouri River tribes, Lewis had represented the American government. He had announced that Jefferson was the new father of the red children, had served as mediator to establish peace, had warned the natives of the power of the United States, had promised that American trading posts would soon be set up in their country, had offered them steady jobs and a secure income if they would go to work instead of war, take furs rather than scalps.

If the policy succeeded, commerce would rule in Upper Louisiana. Happy red warriors would dance around the campfire with their good friends the white agents; guns and other manufactured goods would come up the Missouri; prime furs would float down to St. Louis.

The policy Lewis was establishing represented, in Jefferson’s thinking, only a first phase. Jefferson knew that such a system of commerce could not last long. For one thing, the beaver east of the Rocky Mountains were not a renewable resource; the whole history of the fur trade in North America was one of overtrapping the beaver and moving west.III For another, immigration and emigration—the most important factors in shaping the United States—precluded leaving Louisiana to its current inhabitants. Americans, whether U.S. citizens or recent immigrants, would push west. No power on earth could stop them, certainly not the feeble U.S. Army or the distant government.

In the process of moving through Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky, these emigrants and immigrants would push the natives westward. In the immediate future, Jefferson proposed to deal with that problem in three ways. As he put it in February 1803 in a directive to Governor William Henry Harrison of Indiana Territory, he first proposed to remove the white population of Upper Louisiana across to the east side of the river (giving them equal or larger holdings) and forbid emigrants access to Upper Louisiana. Second, he hoped to civilize at least some of the Indians living east of the Mississippi. Third, those Indians who remained uncivilized could be sent west of the river, into what would be a vast reservation. Jefferson told Harrison his hope was that the Indians would “incorporate with us as citizens of the United States,” or, failing this, “remove beyond the Mississippi.”14

From the government’s perspective, that made perfect sense. The frontier would move forward at a regular pace, but only after the Indians had been civilized or removed. Pioneers would have to purchase regular deeds and titles to the land they farmed, rather than just squatting on it. Frontier clashes between red and white men would be reduced if not eliminated. There would be law and order, bureaucratic regularity, taxes collected, and a reduced need for the U.S. Army.

But it was all a pipe dream. As well try to stop an avalanche as to stop the moving frontier. American immigrants and emigrants wanted their share of land—free land—a farm in the family—the dream of European peasants for hundreds of years—the New World’s great gift to the old. Moving west with the tide were the hucksters, the lawyers, merchants, and other men on the make looking for the main chance, men who could manufacture a land warrant in the wink of an eye.

This had been the experience in Virginia, and it was currently being acted out in Indiana Territory. And within a year of the day Lewis and Clark set out up the Missouri River on their expedition, it was taking place in Upper Louisiana. Wilkinson had his orders to block any movement into Upper Louisiana, but, as he told Secretary Dearborn, “No opposition can be given to the bands of migrants who are crossing the Mississippi, because almost the whole Country is covered by Grants real or fictitious, and it would be hazardous in a publick office to remove a settler, until the merits of the title under which he Squats is ascertained.”15

He had no clerks or officials to conduct such examinations of the titles. His situation was impossible. It was an experience he shared with every frontier governor in American history.

Jefferson was as responsible for this mad rush west as any man. He had purchased Louisiana. He had sent out his “beloved man” Lewis to explore and publicize it. He had printed and widely distributed the captains’ glowing descriptions of the land along the lower Missouri. He was thus encouraging what he said he wanted to restrain.

Hypocrisy ran through his Indian policy, as it did through the policies of his predecessors and successors. Join us or get out of the way, the Americans said to the Indians, but in fact the Indians could do neither. By pushing them ever west, the Americans made it impossible for the Indians to become civilized as they meant the term, and it turned out there was almost no place where the Indians would be out of the way of the onrushing pioneers.

Jefferson said he believed the Indian was almost as capable as the European, and although not ready for assimilation soon would be (in contrast, blacks would never be ready). In this he differed from other presidents, yet only in theory, not in action. In fact, he stole all the land he could from Indians east of the Mississippi while preparing those west of the river for the same fate, after the beaver were trapped out.

How could the greatest champion of human rights in American history do such a thing? Jefferson (and his contemporaries) would not have regarded the question as valid. In their view, Indian ideas about land ownership were a lot of foolishness. As one historian observed, “A band of Sauks, say, rode twice a year through a tract as big as a couple of eastern states and claimed it as their own.”16 That same land could support thousands of farms, tens of thousands of settlers.

Anyway, no matter how much compassion Jefferson felt toward the Indians, however badly he wanted law and order and bureaucratic regularity on the frontier, on this question the people, not the government, ruled. Americans had but one Indian policy—get out of the way or get killed—and it was nonnegotiable.

The only thing that separated Jefferson from the settlers was that he wanted to buy the Indians out rather than drive them out. But that too was more rhetoric than reality. He wrote Harrison that the policy was “to exchange lands which they [the Indians] have to spare and we want for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want.” Trading posts should be established among them, and the agents should extend credit. Soon the Indians would “run into debt.” When their debts mounted, “they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.”

Jefferson concluded, “In the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them. . . .”17

Keep the peace. Civilize the tribes, trade with them, and get title to their lands. As Donald Jackson comments, “These ends could be accomplished by fair or foul means, and fair was better, especially if it cost less. ‘The Indians can be kept in order only by commerce or war,’ Jefferson said. ‘The former is the cheapest.’ ”18

However cynical Jefferson’s long-term policy, his short-term decision to establish an American trading empire on the Missouri was eminently practical—if the Sioux could be brought into it. The immediate payoff on the Louisiana Purchase, he wrote Dearborn, was that it gave “us a perfect title [and thus] strengthens our means of retaining exclusive commerce with the Indians, on the western side of the Mississippi.”19 In other words, we can kick the British out of one of their most profitable markets—certainly something that would give the author of the Declaration of Independence satisfaction. As a bonus, it would be profitable to the United States and its citizens, and begin the process of extending American power to the Pacific.

Jefferson’s Indian policy, with which Lewis would be associated all his adult life as advance agent, was subsidiary to his overall western policy, with which Lewis was also associated as advance agent. That policy was to make the United States into a continental power stretching from sea to sea. The first step was to find the Northwest Passage, if it existed, and in the process map and describe Upper Louisiana. The next steps were to map and describe the other parts of the Louisiana Purchase, which meant sending similar expeditions up the southern tributaries of the Mississippi and up the Mississippi itself to discover its sources. Government-sponsored explorations could only feed the frenzy of the frontiersmen, but that was a price Jefferson was willing (eager?) to pay.

As Lewis and Clark were preparing to shove off from Wood River in the spring of 1804, Jefferson was setting up other expeditions. One was designed to go up the Arkansas River to the mountains, march to the headwaters of the Red River, and descend it back to the Mississippi. Another was to find the sources of the Mississippi. A third would explore the Ouachita. None was completely successful: the one going up the Red River was turned back by the Spanish; the one going up the Mississippi failed to find the source, as did the one going up the Ouachita. They all got started in 1806, after Lewis and Clark had reached the Pacific. Their failure illustrates how lucky, how good, and how well led the Corps of Discovery had been.

Jefferson’s first goal was good maps—he wanted to know what he had bought. He explained his purpose to naturalist William Dunbar: “The work we are now doing is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeat it. . . . We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin.”20 That the maps thus produced, once published and distributed, would encourage more westward movement, was a risk Jefferson was willing to take. That the westward movement might someday bring American settlers to the Pacific Coast was another risk he accepted. Indeed, it was his policy. Through the winter of 1805–6, Lewis was thinking of ways it could be implemented.

In May 1805, as Wilkinson was making the arrangements for the Indian delegations to go to Washington, Corporal Warfington brought the expedition’s keelboat into St. Louis. News moved fastest by the newspapers, which copied articles from one another. On June 24, via that route, Jefferson got word of the keelboat’s arrival and some information on the expedition. “We have just heard from Capt. Lewis,” he wrote his daughter, “who wintered 1600 miles up the Missouri: all well.” He expected to soon receive reports, maps, and specimens. That was all the news he had. Jefferson added that forty-five chiefs from six different nations “are forwarded by him to St. Louis on their way to this place.”21

Because of the agonizing slowness of the mails, it wasn’t until three weeks later that Jefferson learned that documents and boxes were on their way from St. Louis, the documents by land and the boxes via New Orleans. He was also told to expect a letter from Lewis by the next mail.

The next mail, however, wouldn’t come for nearly two weeks. Jefferson postponed his annual trip to Monticello from July 15 to July 17 to wait for “the Western mail” to come in.22 Jefferson was philosophical about the delay. On July 10, 1805, he wrote Reuben Lewis, “It is probable they are coming on by a special messenger who travels slow.” He enclosed a newspaper account of the progress of the expedition to the Mandans.23

Three days later, Jefferson received the documents, including Lewis’s letter of April 7, 1805, Clark’s journal covering the period May 1804-March 1805, Clark’s map of the lower Missouri, and an invoice from Lewis listing the items coming in boxes from New Orleans. Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone notes that “the invoice from Lewis could not have failed to arouse the eager anticipation of such an enthusiast for natural history as Jefferson.” It listed animal skins, horns, and skeletons; specimens of plants and minerals; cages holding four live magpies, a prairie dog, and a grouse.

It was August before the boxes arrived in Washington. Jefferson was in Monticello. He sent instructions to have the furs dried and brushed and then done up in strong linen. The grouse and three of the magpies were dead, all killed by the survivor. Jefferson ordered that special care be given the remaining magpie and the prairie dog so that he might see them on his return to the capital.24

On October 4, Jefferson got back to the President’s House, where he reveled in the specimens from the trans-Mississippi. He sent some to the American Philosophical Society, some to Charles Willson Peale for his museum in Philadelphia, some seeds to his botanist friends, and kept some articles for his Indian Hall at Monticello, where some horns and Indian artifacts are on display today. He entered into a long correspondence with his fellow naturalists about the discoveries, which, Malone writes, “gave him greater satisfaction than he gained from politics.”25

But politics was his business, and the political payoff of the expedition was not curious animals and plants but maps and solid information about the trans-Mississippi Indians. These were contained in Clark’s map of the Missouri and Lewis’s statistical report on the tribes. The map would later be superseded by the much more accurate one Clark made at Fort Clatsop, but it was a great step forward in geographical knowledge. Lewis’s statistical view of the Plains Indians, running to some sixty printed pages, provided a description of the tribes, their location, population, and activities, along with his glowing account of the fur trade and other commercial possibilities.

Together, the map and report surpassed both in scope and reliability anything hitherto available to the American government on the American West. By themselves, they justified the expense of the expedition. With considerable pride, Jefferson reported to the Congress on the achievements to date, and ordered the map and the statistical view to be printed and distributed as a part of his annual message.26

They were the first printed fruit of the expedition. There was an impatient audience for them. Publishers in Washington, New York, Natchez, and London printed editions in book form.27

In his message of transmittal of the Lewis and Clark documents to Congress, Jefferson mentioned the command structure of the expedition—the only time he did so. He reported that “Capt. Meriwether Lewis, of the 1st regiment of infantry was appointed with a party of men, to explore the river Missouri from it’s mouth to it’s source, and crossing the highlands by the shortest portage, to seek the best water communication thence to the Pacific ocean; and Lieut. ClarkeIV was appointed second in command.”28 As far as the president was concerned, it was the Lewis expedition.

In October 1805, Stoddard’s tour left St. Louis, including forty-five Indians from eleven tribes. They arrived in Washington in January 1806. Jefferson gave them the standard Great Father talk: “We are become as numerous as the leaves of the trees, and, tho’ we do not boast, we do not fear any nation. . . . My children, we are strong, we are numerous as the stars in the heavens, & we are all gun-men.” He followed the threat with the carrot: if they would be at peace with one another and trade with the Americans, they could be happy.

(In reply, one of the chiefs said he was glad the Americans were as numerous as the stars in the skies, and powerful as well. So much the better, in fact, for that meant the government should be strong enough to keep white squatters off Indian lands.)29

How much good these tours did for Jefferson’s Indian policy is questionable. Surely the visitors were impressed, but they had their own constituencies at home, who were not likely to embrace the program no matter what tales the returning warriors told about American power. Further, as almost always happened when trans-Mississippi Indians traveled to Washington, a number of the chiefs died from diseases picked up along the way, which created considerable resentment and mistrust back in the villages.

The Indian delegates brought with them grapevine news of Lewis’s progress. On January 12, 1806, Jefferson wrote William Dunbar: “We have no certain information of Capt. Lewis since he left Fort Mandan. But we have through Indians an account of his having entered on the passage over the high lands dividing the Missouri from the waters of the Pacific.”

The next day, he wrote Reuben Lewis that he had a letter from Pierre Chouteau in St. Louis informing him that two Otos had said that “Capt. Lewis & his party had reached that part of the Missouri near the mountains where the Indian tract [road] leads across (in 8 days march) to the Columbia, that he had there procured horses and had, with his whole party entered on the tract.” He did not expect to hear from Lewis again until he returned to St. Louis, but, “Knowing the anxiety of a mother in such a case, I mention this information praying you to present her my respects.”30

Although his original orders gave Lewis permission to return by sea if it was possible and if he thought it best, obviously Jefferson expected the expedition to return overland. Why he was so certain is unclear. In 1805, he informed various sea captains headed around the Horn and onto the mouth of the Columbia of Lewis’s possible presence there.31

Lewis and Clark hoped to find a trading vessel to replenish their supplies, but never did. Jefferson has been severely criticized, by historians Bernard De Voto and David Lavender and editor Elliott Coues among others, for failing to send a U.S. Navy vessel to pick up the explorers. The criticism ignores some fundamental factors.

In 1805, the navy was fighting a war in the Mediterranean against the Tripoli pirates. It had half its strength stationed there—six frigates, four brigs, two schooners, one sloop, two bomb vessels, and sixteen gunboats—or under orders to go there. All the remainder of the fleet was laid up for repairs and refitting. There were no vessels to send.

Even had there been, Jefferson couldn’t be sure the expedition had reached the mouth of the Columbia, or would still be there when a ship showed up (indefinite at best, since it could take from one to three weeks to round the Horn, depending on the winds). Arlen Large’s conclusion seems inescapable: “Jefferson’s non-action seems justified by so many ‘what ifs.’ ”32

The president could only wait, hope, conjecture. In February 1806, he told a correspondent that he guessed Lewis “has reached the Pacific, & is now wintering on the head of the Missouri, & will be here next autumn.”33 He was right about the first point, wrong about the second. Whether he had gotten the third point right or not remained to be seen. It depended on the captains.

I. What that channel was, is a mystery. Donald Jackson suggests that an interpreter for the Oto tribe (to whom Lewis had just spoken) had come down to St. Louis with the news.

II. A good estimate: in mid-April 1811, John Jacob Astor’s trading house at Astoria on the Oregon coast was established.

III. There is an exact parallel with the Virginia planters who grew tobacco for three years and then moved west.

IV. Jefferson consistently misspelled Clark’s name.

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