The Daily Dose/December 21, 2016
By Gaylon Kent
America’s Funniest Guy
CAPSULE BOOK REVIEW: UNDAUNTED COURAGE BY STEPHEN AMBROSE: For someone who enjoys reading history as much we do, we were surprised to note this was the first significant reading of the Lewis and Clark expedition we can remember doing. Undaunted Courage is a biography of Meriwether Lewis, with a particular emphasis not only on the expedition, but on his relationship with President Thomas Jefferson, whose vision for exploring the area got everything started.
Oh Yeah: The other half of the Lewis and Clark expedition, William Clark is, of course, featured prominently, however this is a biography of Lewis.
Dry, Technical Matter: The big picture details of the Lewis and Clark expedition are, of course, familiar to a lot of people: commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis was charged with commanding an expedition that would explore the Missouri River to its source and find an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean, observe and write about plants and animals, meet Indians without pissing them off and establish US sovereignty in the area, a lot of which the United States had just acquired via the Louisiana Purchase.
More Dry, Technical Matter: The expedition left St Louis in May, 1804, winters in South Dakota, reaches the headwaters of the Missouri River in August, 1805 and in November reaches the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. They returned to St Louis in September, 1806, every man a hero following a journey of two years, four months and ten days.
Back On Message: Ambrose carefully and thoughtfully establishes that having Meriwether Lewis headman this operation was an example of a man being allowed to do what he was put on this Earth to do. Jefferson did not pick Lewis’ name out of a hat. He had known him for years, with Lewis even serving as President Jefferson’s private secretary for a couple of years before the expedition and Jefferson knew Lewis was perfect for what he wanted to accomplish.
Ladies And Gentlemen Of The Jury: Lewis’ brilliance was evident from the start, when he commissioned old friend William Clark to co-command the expedition, one of the few instances in human history where having two people in command worked out.
While the entire book is good, Ambrose’s chronicle of the expedition is brilliant. You feel you are right there with Lewis and Clark and the 31 enlisted men that made up the US Army’s Corps of Discovery.
Uh-Oh: Having done what he had been put on this planet to do and unable to find a worthwhile way to pass the rest of his life, Lewis’ time after the expedition was not well spent. Part of it was Jefferson’s fault. For reasons that in retrospect make some zero sense, Jefferson appointed Lewis as governor of the Louisiana Territory, a job Lewis was eminently ill-suited for. As Ambrose notes, Lewis would have been better served being assigned to an office in the War or Interior departments with a couple of clerks to help him polish up his journals of the expedition.
Most of it, though, was Lewis’ fault. He was a lousy politician. He was also a drunk and a lousy land speculator and had no small amount of debt.
The End: Lewis ended up killing himself one October night in 1809, an episode that is brilliantly and rather warmly chronicled by Ambrose. Also, if you are not familiar with how Lewis died, it sort of catches you by surprise.
It really shouldn’t though. Personal demons, booze and genetics conspired – as they sometimes do – with an accomplishment early in life that will live down the ages to compel Lewis to take his life.
“…I Am So Strong…It Is So Hard To Die.”: Though an expert hunter and a former professional army officer, Lewis was a terrible shot that night and it took several hours for him to end his life. He first tried to shoot himself in the head, but the ball only grazed his skull. Later, he tried to shoot himself in the chest, but the bullet missed all vital organs and merely passed through his back. After wandering around a while he returnd to his room and his servants would later find him cutting himself with his razor and Lewis died after imploring his servants to shoot him the head.
Official Daily Dose Ranking Scale: 1 – The finest this species can offer in every respect. 2 – Very Good. 3. Good. 4 – Not Too Bad 5 – Utterly Without Merit
Official Daily Ranking: 2 – Very Good. Meriwether Lewis, with William Clark right there with him, belongs on any short list of History’s great explorers: Magellan, Columbus, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, there are others of course. Ambrose has provided a richly researched, graciously written and brilliant account of a man who had the good fortune to do exactly what he was put on this planet to do, did it and then called it a day.
ANOTHER PRETTY GOOD ADVENTURE: Apollo 8, mankind’s first visit to another celestial body, takes off from Earth on this date in 1968.
Commanded by Frank Borman, with James Lovell and William Anders, Apollo 8 would become the first flight to leave Earth’s orbit and the first to orbit the moon, making ten orbits over the course of 20 hours. They would return to Earth on December 27, the first humans to see the moon up close.
Speaking Of Great Explorers: The night before liftoff, the crew was visited by Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne.
Thought For The Day: …with all these qualifications as if selected and implanted by nature in one body, for this express purpose. – Thomas Jefferson, on Meriwether Lewis
Answer To The Last Trivia Question: South Carolina was the only state to reject the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Today’s Stumper: How many of the Apollo 8 astronauts would eventually land on the moon? – Answer next time!