Gary E. Moulton: The Historian Who Edited the Journals of Lewis & Clark--All 13 Volumes

Bill Graham, writing in the Kansas City Star (Feb. 1, 2004):

In January 1804, William Clark felt ill as he waited near St. Louis for a trek with Meriwether Lewis to the Pacific.

He had broken through ice the day before while trying to cross a pond on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

After the dunking, Clark wrote, “I returned before Sun Set, and found that my feet, which were wet, had frozed to my Shoes, which rendered precaution necessary to prevent a frost bite, the Wind from the W, across the Sand Islands in the mouth of the Missouries, raised Such a dust that I could not see in that derection, the Ice Continue to run & river rise Slowly – exceeding Cold day.”

This year, as America celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from St. Louis to Oregon and back, history buffs will be able to track details and daily life along the trail largely because a University of Nebraska historian — Gary E. Moulton — labored two decades to bring the words of “the writingest explorers of their time'' to life. Such as:

“Christmas 25th Decr:'' Clark wrote in 1803. “I was wakened by a Christmas discharge (gunfire) found that Some of the party had got Drunk (2 fought), the men frolicked and hunted all day, Snow this morning, Ice run all day, Several Turkey Killed Shields returned with a cheese & 4 lb butter, Three Indians Come to day to take Christmas with us.”

Such are the passages to be gleaned from The Definitive Journals of Lewis and Clark , a 13-volume edition edited by Moulton, 61, of Lincoln, Neb.

The authors are Lewis and Clark and four of their enlisted men on one of America's greatest scientific explorations and wilderness adventures.

Modern writers have mined phrases from expedition records for books billed as the journals of Lewis and Clark. But they used only excerpts, often focused mostly on the Rocky Mountains and the Far West.

Only Moulton has compiled every journal, map, field note and scribble on a scrap of paper into a complete and authoritative account of what the explorers wrote.

“Our goal,” he said, “was to get every word of Lewis and Clark accessible to the public. We couldn't slight a particular place because we weren't interested in it.”

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