As you may know after reading my column here in The Journal for a while…I am an adventurists, a traveler and someone who loves to read and experience the history of our great nation-The United State of America. Before leaving on my most recent trip to Montana I purchased a copy of a book written by Peter Stark (Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier). I wanted to read this book for many reasons but mostly because I knew much of the content would be wrapped up in the states of the upper Missouri River area…right smack dab in the middle of Montana, where I would be spending a few days.
If you know your history then you know that the original Lewis and Clark mission began way back in 1804 under our third president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson you see was and is still known as our ‘science president’ due to his many and varied interests in the sciences. Jefferson had just purchased this great land mass (most of the US west of the Mississippi) for a mere 15 million dollars from Bonaparte and the French. 827,000 square miles of wilderness of which, very little to nothing was actually understood. 15 current US states and two Canadian Provinces were purchases in one fell swoop of Jefferson’s pen and thus The Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on a mission to explore and find a water route to the ‘Great Salt Lake’ (The Pacific Ocean). Think about this one fact; The Corps traveled a bit over 7,000 miles through uncharted territory full of unknowns-like Native Americans, stories of monsters, real perils like grizzlies…much of which they did by going against the Missouri River…and over the course of 28 months lost only one of its members, Sergeant Charles Floyd-who died of appendicitis! Go and travel the same route today and you might not be as fortunate as was this group of pioneering Americans.
Fast forward about 6 years and the incredible book, Astoria by Peter Stark will take you on even more of a fantastic journey; one that will have you sailing aboard the high seas on one of John Jacob Astor’s ships named The Tonquin…or crossing the continental United States, following mostly in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, on the overland route from St. Louis to Astoria, Oregon.
The author, Peter Stark, throws you into this epic journey by land and sea and along the way you learn more, much more, about Presidents Jefferson and Madison, many of the great Native American Nations, the geography of The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as much of our heartland through current day states like Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
As I said, I purchased the book before taking off on my own cross country journey in early October and truly enjoyed reading the book while traversing North Dakota and Montana. In fact one night while cozied up in my little camper I began to read a section that involved the decision made by the overland route leader, Wilson Price Hunt, whereby one evening in northwest Missouri the group was just finishing up a day’s trek up the Missouri when they noticed a canoe with four members slicing through the water and heading directly at them. The individuals within the canoe began to tell stories of The Blackfoot Nation and how brutal they were with white travelers; one of which had survived being scalped and had the bad hairline to prove it. As I sat reading the book, miles out upon the open prairie of Montana…I knew that I was just a short drive away from this very Blackfoot Nation. I also went on to learn that the ‘bad blood’ between this particular group of Indians and whites could be traced back to Lewis and Clark. While traveling through this country on July 27, 1806, on their way back to St. Louis, Meriwether Lewis and a group of his men had a skirmish with eight young Blackfoot braves. Before all was said and done, Lewis shot one of the braves in the stomach and another Corps member stabbed and killed another. Lewis and his group managed to ‘ride like the wind’ and get out of the country unscathed…but this proved to be troublesome and less peaceful for any future white travelers though this area.
Wilson Price Hunt stewed all night long and finally came to the decision that the overland group would not risk traveling up and through the hostile Blackfoot lands…but would turn due west across Wyoming to the Snake River in order to arrive at the Columbia River and eventually west to the Pacific Ocean. This route would prove to be troublesome at best but on the return trip the group traveled just a bit further south through what we now know as southern Wyoming…this route would soon be known to thousands of travelers as The Oregon Trail.
If I had more print space I would go on and on…but suffice it to say that if you are a lover of traveling our great country and have spent any amount of time in our American West-do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Astoria. I think you will find it to be one of those reads that is almost impossible to put down. For sure the forward thinking of John Jacob Astor changed forever our country, its borders and the people that still live within. I am sure that you will find yourself lost in this great journey as you once again Enjoy the Great Outdoors.
Buy the book on Amazon.com >>> Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier