The Young Republic 1787 To 1860

The assignment—to select 10 books suitable for a lay reader that cover American history between the Constitution and the 1850s—sounds easier than it is. There are tens of thousands of books on the period, which saw massive economic, social, and political change, an extension of the United States from the Mississippi to the Pacific, and a series of crises leading to the Civil War. Clearly my list will have to be idiosyncratic, favoring titles that I have read and loved, that seemed to work well with my students, or that my friends and colleagues praise. Read more »

The Perilous Afterlife Of The Lewis And Clark Expedition

The explorers who set out two hundred years ago were in danger for three years. Their legacy was in danger for decade after decade—and it was Meriwether Lewis who almost killed it.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the other members of the Corps of Discovery, thoroughly fed up with the long, rainy winter they had spent on the West Coast, left the home they had built for themselves, Fort Clatsop, in what is now Oregon, late in March 1806 and paddled into St. Louis six months later, on September 23. Of the two captains, Clark was the only one keeping a journal by then. Lewis had stopped writing when one of their men, Pierre Cruzatte, who was blind in one eye, had mistaken him for an elk and shot him in the buttocks.

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Where’s Sacagawea?


Have you ever gotten one of the new dollar coins in change? Most people haven’t, and it’s no surprise, because Americans have a long history of shunning dollar coins. Even in the nineteenth century, silver dollars rarely circulated except in Western mining districts. The rest sat in bags at the Treasury Department for decades until they were eventually melted down.

If Lewis And Clark Came Back Today

AFTER THREE TIMES traveling the trail they blazed, the author imagines what the two captains of Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery would make of the civilization we have built on the tremendous promise they offered


In the Spring of 1804, in a heavily loaded keelboat and two oversize canoes, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and nearly four dozen men crossed the Mississippi River and started up the Missouri, fighting its muddy, insistent current. Sent by President Thomas Jefferson, they were embarkins on the United States’s first official exploration into unknown territory, launching a legacy that reaches all the way to the modern space program. Read more »


Piskiou,Vaches Sauvages, Buffler, Prairie Beeves—

One morning in July, 1966, a lone buffalo bull grazed near the highway on the mountain between Virginia City and Ennis, Montana, unmindful of the click of camera shutters or the rustle of hesitant tourists getting in and out of automobiles. Nor did his tail rise and kink at carloads of miners and cowboys and store owners and the rest of us, come up from the towns below.Read more »

Ursus Horribilis In Extremis

The Last Stand of King Grizzly

Bears and people have been at war for a long time-possibly longer than two predatory mammals should be, with any hope of mutual survival. In the beginning, the bears won almost every time, though not as often as the great cats did. Together with the great cats, bears provided spice to the human experience. People were obliged to defend themselves, were forced to think . Fires were lit at the mouth of the cave. Weapons were invented. Then the bears began to lose. People pictured them on the walls of caves.Read more »

“this Nation Never Saw A Black Man Before’

With the current wave of interest in black history, authentic Negro heroes have been eagerly sought in the American past. It has been hard going, since the disposition of the white majority from colonial times until rather recently was to prevent blacks from playing any role that could possibly be viewed as heroic, and to ignore the exceptions that failed to conform to majority prejudices. And indeed, where a black man’s historical reputation has overcome all this, it has sometimes been in despite of honest historical evidence.Read more »

Ordeal in Hell’s Canyon

The first men to follow Lewis and Clark across the continent to the Pacific were John Jacob Astor’s fur traders. They discovered the formidable chasm of Idaho’s Snake River—and almost never got out

On October 21, 1810, a large party of fur traders left St. Louis, bound up the Missouri River for the mouth of the Columbia. Before it reached its goal, its members experienced hunger, thirst, and madness, suffering perhaps the most extreme privations and hardships of any westering expedition in American history.

“I Gave Him Barks and Saltpeter...”

Medicine was primitive and their knowledge of it limited, but in their hazardous journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark lost only one patient

On February 23, 1803, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, professor of the Institute of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the foremost American physician of his day: Dear Sir: I wish to mention to you in confidence that I have obtained authority from Congress to undertake the long desired object of exploring the Missouri & whatever river, heading with that, leads into the Western ocean.