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Lewis & Clark: A Scientific Interest...
After the American acquisition of the Louisiana "surprise package" in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson moved quickly to gain a firmer understanding of the resources, opportunities, geographic dimensions, physical characteristics, and people of the new territory.
Questions to Consider
- To what extent were the Native Americans viewed as a part of the natural environment? How do the documents clarify the explorers' view of the human element in the ecology of the West?
- Why is Lewis so interested in the "venerial?"
- On the one hand, Lewis concludes that the "venerial" is a New World disease. What is his evidence for venereal disease as a New World malady? On the other hand he seems aware that smallpox was a European import. Is it clear what he concludes about the origins of diseases in the New World? Might some other considerations be influencing his thinking?
[Lewis] Monday August 19th 1805.
They seldom correct their children particularly the boys who soon become masters of their own acts. they give as a reason that it cows and breaks the sperit of the boy to whip him, and that he never recovers his independence of mind after he is grown. They treat their women but with little rispect, and compel them to perform every species of drudgery. they collect the wild fruits and roots, attend to the horses or assist in that duty, cook, dress the skins and make all their apparel, collect wood and make their fires, arrange and form their lodges, and when they travel pack the horses and take charge of all the baggage; in short the man dose little else except attend his horses hunt and fish. the man considers himself degraded if he is compelled to walk any distance; and if he is so unfortunately poor as only to possess two horses he rides the best himself and leavs the woman or women if he has more than one, to transport their baggage and children on the other, and to walk if the horse is unable to carry the additional weight of their persons. the chastity of their women is not held in high estimation, and the husband will for a trifle barter the companion of his bead for a night or longer if he conceives the reward adiquate; tho' they are not so importunate that we should caress their women as the siouxs were, and some of their women appear to be held more sacred than in any nation we have seen. I have requested the men to give them no cause of jealousy by having connection with their women without their knowledge, which with them, strange as it may seem is considered as disgracefull to the husband as clandestine connections of a similar kind are among civilized nations. to prevent this mutual exchange of good officies altogether I know it impossible to effect, particularly on the part of our young men whom some months abstanence have made very polite to those tawney damsels. no evil has yet resulted and I hope will not from these connections....
I was anxious to learn whether these people had the venerial, and made the enquiry through the interpreter and his wife; the information was that they sometimes had it but I could not learn their remedy; they most usually die with it's effects. this seems a strong proof that these disorders bothe ganaraehah and Louis Venerae [syphilis] are native disorders of America. tho' these people have suffered much by the small pox which is known to be imported and perhaps those other disorders might have been contracted from other indian tribes who by a round of communications might have obtained from the Europeans since it was introduced into that quarter of the globe. but so much detached on the other ha[n]d from all communication with the whites that I think it most probable that those disorders are original with them....
"Flathead Indians," William Clark, c. 1805, William Clark Newberry Library, MHS # L/A 181d and Bernard DeVoto, ed., The Journals of Lewis and Clark
(Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., 1953), pp. 207-209.