Lewis and Clark: Westward Expansion

The Lewis and Clark expedition to the west brought about many things. In Undaunted Courage, Ambrose gives us an unbiased account of Meriwether Lewis, he presents Lewis as both a hero and a flawed man. I will discuss how he described him in these ways. I will compare and contrast the social conventions of Lewis’s time with those of my ownin particular the social standing and treatment of women, blacks, and Indians. I will discuss how much the harsh physical environment that people endured affect the attitudes of the time in the arena of racial and sexual equality as well. At the end of the book, Lewis commits suicide, i will discuss what Lewis’s suicide left the livingboth in his own time and ours. Ambrose brings to life the diversity of Indians in America in the early 1800s. Now, however, there is little trace of the many tribes that Ambrose described. I will describe what the world lost when a whole culture of people became extinct. There were also many firsts in Undaunted Courage and I will explain the impact and process of these firsts. I will discuss the importance of Lewis’s expedition, the various hardships that the expedition endured, as well as the truly wondrous and spectacular sights they encountered.

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In Undaunted Courage, Ambrose gives us an unbiased account of Meriwether Lewis. He presents Lewis as both a hero and a flawed man. Ambrose reconciled these two sides of Meriwether Lewis’s character in many conflicting ways. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was looked at as a hero, but in his own mind, he failed the expedition. President Jefferson wanted to find an all-water route to the Pacific, but right in the beginning it did not look that way. Jefferson hoped the Louisiana Purchase would give an uncanny amount of land to supply farmland and vast amounts of space for the daily lives of the new Americans. He hoped that there was a water passage flowing from Canada into the Missouri River, but Lewis had to report that the dream river did not exist, and so there was no United States claim to the Canadian prairie lands. Lewis also discovered that the Plains Indians were a hostile group of people and that they would block settlement as well as trade up the Missouri. According to accounts, Lewis took to drink, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, and suffered severe depression.”” In this example it tells that he was a great guy. He risked his entire life and career to extend the country but felt as if he didn’t do his job well enough because of the lack of the river, but that is something he had no part in. There is literally nothing he could do to fix that.

There are many ways to compare and contrast the social conventions of Lewis’s time with those of our own; in particular the social standing and treatment of women, blacks, and Indians. Social conventions are those arbitrary rules and norms governing the countless behaviors all of us engage in every day without necessarily thinking about them, from shaking hands when greeting someone to driving on the right side of the road. Take Lewis and Clark, for example. In there time, the people thought of women, and even more so, Indians and blacks as lesser than white men. One example is as Lewis and Clark left the Brul© village, they were offered young women as bed partners. For the Sioux, the proposal combined hospitality and diplomacy. Women had a value that was much less than that of men and it is terrible what happened to them. Another example of how these different people were treated:

The Arikaras were both attracted to and terrified by his blackness. Having never seen a black man, they were quite unsure if York was a man, a beast, or a strange and powerful spirit being. Clark later explained that Arikaras who had seen whites but not blacks thought York something strange and from his very large size more vicious than whites.’ On the other hand, those Arikaras who had seen neither whites nor blacks were convinced that all members of the expedition, regardless of color, were possessed with extraordinary powers.

This tells how just because of the color of people’s skin, that it not just confused, but stirred fear in others. The harsh physical environment that people endured also affect the attitudes of the time in the arena of racial and sexual equality. During the first bit of the expedition even, the explorers had to deal with a series of hardships, such as making their way along the Lolo Trail through the Bitterroot Mountains. The crossing of the Lolo Trail took 11 days and the travelers nearly starved. The expedition had to carry their boats in a process called portaging; they were only able to cover 4 to 5 miles a day. Lewis and Clark also came upon hail, thunderstorms, extreme heat, frigid cold, and many more north american weather patterns. They also came into contact with all new species of animals, some more dangerous than others. All of these things and many others are reasons for the sexual and racial inequalities because the Indians knew of these things and made them less susceptible to fatalities which created some extra tension between them and whites. Nowadays there is still tension in and around the sexualand racialequality subject, but, of course, not as bad as it was then.

In the book, Ambrose brings to life the diversity of Indians in America in the early 1800s. Now, however, there is little trace of the many tribes that Ambrose described. We often consider what the Indians themselves lost, but what does the world lose when a whole culture of people becomes extinct? In the old definition, a culture was the sum total of all these things??“the behavior of people, along with everything that they produced: shrines, food, housing, burial rituals, and so forth, while taking account of the intricate network of relationships between all these cultural products. In the destruction of a group of people, we lose the people, but one of the hardest things is the loss of the entire cultural aspect of the people as well. With the loss of the culture, the entire entity if the people dies along with them. Do I think the Indians gained anything from their assimilation? The cultural assimilation of Native Americans was an assimilation effort by the United States to transform Native American culture to European??“American culture between the years of 1790 and 1920. I think that the Indians may have gained something from their assimilation, but I think it’s rather sad. The Indians lost their entire culture, and their entire way of life, just because the white men wanted them to be normal and I think about is very wrong. I’m sure that they gained some things that benefited them, like the English culture, English language, and whatever else, but I still think it’s sad.

There were many firsts in Undaunted Courage. Lewis was the first white man to explore territory west of the Rockies. York was the first black man these Indians had ever seen. It was the first scientific discovery of many of the floral and fauna specimens Lewis came across during the expedition. some other things that Lewis and Clark found for the first time in the Americas include 174 plant species and 134 different species or subset of a species already known. Lewis and Clark were the first white men to set foot on the Mississippi soil. They also had their first council with Native American tribes. In general they were the first people to discover what lay in America.

At the end of the book, Lewis commits suicide. in the beginning of the paper I quoted a website that said that he became a drunk, got depressed, and a few other hard things that happened to him. I also talked about how he didn’t feel as though he was a hero because he didn’t find what he was supposed to find: the river going to Canada joining with the Missouri.W I think that Lewis is suicide leaves the living in our time and his time with a sense of sadness, and confusion. People probably don’t understand the way that he felt, having found the new world and all of its treasures, one would not think he would commit suicide, so it’s just a bit ironic that the hero and explorer of the new world would kill himself after a rigorous cross-country expedition who endured many other hardships.

In this paper I have discussed the westward expansion Expedition of Lewis and Clark. I have discussed Meriwether Lewis as a hero and flawed man, I’ve compared the social conventions of his time with hours, the harsh physical environment that attributed to these conventions, the many new things discovered by the explorers, and the eventual suicide of Meriwether Lewis in this paper.


Francis X. Hezel, SJ. Cultural Loss: How Real is the Threat? Micronesian Seminar. https://www.micsem.org/pubs/counselor/frames/cult_lossfr.htm. accessed November 16, 2018.

Gabriel, Brian. What Obstacles Did Lewis and Clark’s Expedition Encounter? Classroom.https://classroom.synonym.com/obstacles-did-lewis-clarks-expedition-encounter-22989.html. accessed November 16, 2018.

History.com Editors. Lewis and Clark. HISTORY. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/lewis-and-clark

Ion, Peter. “”The Reform Begins””. Bill Nye the Science Guy. History Book Club. p. 201. ISBN 0-9650631-0-7. accessed November 16, 2018.

LitLovers Staff. Undaunted Courage. LitLovers. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/fiction/9133-undaunted-courage-ambrose?showall=1&limitstart=

Marmor, Andrei. Social Conventions: From Language to Law. Princeton University Press. https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8925.html. accessed November 16, 2018.

Ronda, James P. Lewis and Clark Among the Indians. The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. https://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/item/lc.sup.ronda.01. accessed November 16, 2018.

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Lewis and Clark: Westward Expansion. (2019, Aug 02). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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