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Lewis and Clark exhibition examines 'other half of the story,' historian says

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


Fred Hoxie with paintings in the background
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Kwame Ross
Fred Hoxie, the Swanlund Professor of history, is curator of a new exhibition, "Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country,” which opens Sept. 28 in Chicago.The free public exhibition will run through Jan. 14, in The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., and is the sole Chicago-area exhibit dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition during the national bicentennial celebration.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Lewis and Clark traveled 4,000 miles over more than two years on their epic journey west. But, says the curator of a new exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of their odyssey, they weren’t often blazing trails. Far from it.

That’s the message historian Fred Hoxie hopes the exhibition conveys.

Hoxie, the curator of “Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country,” which opens Sept. 28 (Wednesday) in Chicago, says that several messages have been lost or have never been conveyed concerning the explorers’ venture, “the encounters that would shape future relations between the American and Indian nations and the modern-day repercussions from the perspective of five Native American communities who continue to live along the expedition route today.”

Foremost among the lost messages, says Hoxie, is “the other half of the story”: that Lewis and Clark did not explore a wilderness, but rather, they traveled through an inhabited homeland.

“So this expedition is part of the history of the native peoples the explorers met,” Hoxie said, “and the bicentennial offers us an opportunity to understand an Indian perspective on our shared American past.”

The free public exhibition will run through Jan. 14, 2006, in The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago. The sole Chicago-area exhibit dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition during the national bicentennial celebration, the exhibition features some 120 items, including books, manuscripts, maps, artwork and photography from The Newberry Library’s renowned American Indian and American history collections, as well as artifacts on loan from peer institutions, cultural organizations along the Lewis and Clark route, and private collections.

Highlights of the exhibition include a handwritten diary of the expedition by Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse, the earliest printed journal of the expedition by Sgt. Patrick Gass, a manuscript map of the expedition from 1811, six original sketches of western Indians by George Catlin and rare editions of tribal folklore.

Hoxie is the Swanlund Professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of several books dealing with American Indian history. He has served as consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the National Park Service and the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. Hoxie was a founding trustee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and he is the former president of the American Society for Ethnohistory. He was vice president for research and education at The Newberry, and before that, director of the D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian History at the library.

Lewis and Clark’s epic journey from the Illinois Territory to the Pacific Northwest was sponsored by President Thomas Jefferson, his third such attempt to mount an expedition across the continent. It would involve 33 explorers, 4,000 miles of uncharted territory and the presidential mandate to find a northwest trade passage. During its journey west, the Corps of Discovery – Jefferson’s term for the expeditionary group – would encounter and be assisted by nearly 50 Native American tribes.

Hoxie’s desire is to disabuse exhibition visitors of the many misconceptions regarding that fateful voyage of discovery, chief among them, that the land they traveled was wilderness. In fact, the members of the expedition “traveled through a settled ‘country’ filled with people, traditions, histories and webs of commerce and social interaction.”

Second, Hoxie hopes to demonstrate how Indians provided “a vital source of assistance” for the expedition as it traveled to the Pacific Ocean.

“While Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were heroic, they probably would not have made it without Indian aid,” Hoxie said.

Third, meetings with Indians were sometimes positive, sometimes troubled, and “most productive when the Americans could find common ground with their hosts.”

Fourth, “The promising alliances and partnerships established by Lewis and Clark were largely destroyed during the 19th century expansion of the United States. The Indian Country remains today in the form of Indian settlements, traditions and institutions.”

The exhibit has four sections: The Indian Country in 1800, Crossing the Indian Country, A New Nation Comes to the Indian Country and The Indian Country Today.

According to Hoxie, the first section sets the Indian context for the expedition, the third describes the experience of the five featured Indian communities in the wake of the exhibition, and the fourth focuses on the five communities today – including an examination of “a set of contemporary efforts to protect and preserve native cultures.”

Only the second section of the exhibition deals directly with Lewis and Clark, and each of its six subsections is focused on a key event, Hoxie said:

• November 1804 to April 1805: Winter with the Mandans and Hidatsas;

• September 1805: Meeting with the Salish and acquiring horses for the trip over the Lobo Trail;

• September 1805: Rescued by the Nez Percé;

• Winter 1805 to 1806: On the Pacific Coast and rising tensions with Indians;

• April 1806: Celebrations and meetings with Umatillas as the expedition heads east;

• July 1806: Encounter with Blackfeet turns violent; Lewis shoots Indians.

The exhibit Web site is at