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Lewis and Clark’s Attitudes Towards Native Americans

A watershed moment in American history, the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 brought together European-American explorers and representatives of numerous Native American tribes. “The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” the primary source, illuminates the perspectives and ideas of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis regarding the indigenous peoples they encountered during their western expedition through firsthand accounts of these encounters. As Ambrose and Ronda point out in the secondary sources, understanding these feelings requires viewing them through the lens of a broader historical context. The goal of this comprehensive analytical paper is to look at the nuances of Lewis and Clark’s viewpoints and actions while keeping the historical context in mind and striving to give it a contextual understanding. This analysis aims to grasp the fundamental reasons and motivations behind Lewis and Clark’s perceptions and actions, with assistance from secondary sources provided by Ambrose and Ronda.

Due to the cultural differences, the explorers’ intentions, and the circumstances surrounding their interactions, their behavior toward Native American tribes evolved during the expedition. The primary sources from the journey reveal various experiences, including initial awe and appreciation for Native American practices, as well as instances of misunderstandings, cross-cultural disagreements, and even hatred. According to Clark et al., Lewis and Clark’s intense interest in the indigenous cultures they visited as they made note of the various tribes’ rituals, languages, and ways of life as they traveled. They attempted to understand and learn from the Native American people with whom they came into touch, as indicated by the thorough notes they took about the tribes’ customs, social systems, and natural environment. Besides, there were complex and contentious occasions, generally caused by misunderstandings, differing cultural traditions, and the explorers’ interests clashing with those of the tribes they encountered. These disagreements were a brilliant example of the difficulties inherent in intercultural communication during this period in American history.

There were also several instances throughout the journey in which Lewis and Clark displayed a variety of attitudes and acts toward Native Americans. According to Clark et al., they occasionally interacted with native tribes they encountered with attention, respect, and an eagerness to learn (263). They kept detailed records of their observations, displaying an interest in the various tribes’ customs, languages, and lifestyles. Their contacts with the Mandan tribe, for example, reveal that they value their hospitality and culture throughout their winter stay in the village. Besides, misunderstandings were expected due to competing interests and cultural differences. Disputes over trade, territory, or divergent expectations occasionally resulted in relationship conflicts. Interactions with the Shoshone people, particularly after Sacagawea’s return, revealed a reliance on native wisdom for guidance. However, it showed the contrasts in the explorers’ and tribe’s interests and goals.

The broad historical context is also essential in understanding the pair’s intentions, objectives, and influences that led to their association with the Native Americans. Both Ronda & Ambrose provide a more in-depth and complete picture of the environment in which the expedition occurred. According to Ambrose, this journey had much significance since it acted as a continuation of Thomas Jefferson’s strategy for westward growth and the collection of knowledge about the surrounding area. In this context, the explorers served not just as scientists but also as missionaries of American imperialism (Ambrose 117). They wanted to survey and examine the vast quantity of newly acquired territory due to the Louisiana Purchase.

There were also cultural exchanges that occurred between the Lewis and Clark expedition and numerous Native American tribes. Ronda emphasizes the complexities of these relationships by highlighting how miscommunications and disputes were frequently caused by the indigenous tribes’ and explorers’ varied worldviews, values, and aspirations. This emphasizes the fact that these connections were highly intricate. Some instances and exchanges documented in the source are particularly illuminating for conducting a historically grounded analysis. Among these instances and interactions are Lewis and Clark’s encounters with Native Americans. Their contacts with other groups of people, such as the Shoshone and Mandan tribes, represent a variety of viewpoints. There was a mix of attention, respect, and connection with the Mandan traditions. This is especially significant given that they spent the winter inside a fortified town. Exchanges with the Shoshone people, on the other hand, demonstrated how much the explorers relied on indigenous expertise for navigation (Ronda 217). However, these exchanges revealed the differences in goals and priorities between the explorers and the Shoshone.

To understand the explorers’ thoughts and deeds, one must first understand Jefferson’s expansionist intentions and the trip’s mission, which was to learn about the territory. Because the expedition’s intentions and the native tribes’ interests are at odds, miscommunication and violence will occur throughout the route. According to Clark et al., respect for Native American traditions, appreciation of their local knowledge skills, and an interchange of cultural practices between the two groups (128). However, other scenarios help to emphasize cultural misunderstandings and a belief in Western civilization’s superiority. Preconceived notions about “civilization” and the view of Western norms as superior to other cultures impacted the exchanges. According to Clark et al., their friendship extended far beyond the scientific and diplomatic arenas. Furthermore, the voyage’s goals and the values advocated by Thomas Jefferson impacted the individuals who participated in the mission. The submissions show a complicated mix of adoration, curiosity, and a Western-centric attitude toward ‘other’ civilizations.

Lewis and Clark’s interactions with Native Americans were varied and influenced by various factors. Cultural differences, a conflict of goals, curiosity, and a desire to learn were all factors. The complexities of the scenario highlight the difficulties of communicating across cultural barriers during this period. Besides, the historical background of Lewis and Clark’s attitudes toward Native Americans presents a varied and complex picture of their relationships with the inhabitants of the Americas. It displays many emotions, including affection, curiosity, disagreements, and misunderstandings caused by the collision of fundamentally different goals and civilizations. The explorers’ experiences illuminate the obstacles and complexities that emerge at this critical moment in American history when people from many cultural backgrounds come into contact with one another.

Final Thoughts on the Comprehensive Evaluation

Navigating Lewis and Clark’s many and varied meetings with Native American tribes during their journey illustrates that the intricacies and complexity of these conversations reflect the broader difficulties of conflicting cultures and competing goals at a pivotal point in American history. In addition to being a trip of geographical discovery, the expedition featured a complex interaction of many purposes, understandings, and worldviews. These interactions exemplify the intricacies of intercultural connections and underscore the significance of comprehending the interplay between colonists and indigenous populations by situating historical occurrences within their proper framework and eliminating any prejudiced interpretations of the present.

Lewis and Clark’s perspectives on the Native Americans they encountered were intricate. Cultural prejudices, diplomatic maneuvers, and scientific curiosity were all part of the ties between people. Given the inherent inconsistencies and extensive webs of interrelationships that exist between distinct attitudes, it is critical to approach their interpretation in a just and objective manner. Lewis and Clark’s treatment of Native Americans reflected the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. Cultural differences, competing goals, and the larger historical backdrop of American expansion during the early nineteenth century posed challenges for the explorers. Still, they also demonstrated curiosity, respect, and an effort to learn from the tribes they encountered. To understand how they treated Native Americans, a careful examination of the specifics of each encounter within the larger historical and cultural context of the time is required.

Without a doubt, Lewis and Clark’s viewpoints were impacted by the dominant worldview of their period, which was defined by a firm belief in European culture’s superiority over other cultures around the world. The difficulties that Lewis and Clark faced throughout their expedition had a profound impact on their perceptions and engagements with Native American communities. Lewis and Clark’s approach to dealing with Native Americans was multifaceted rather than one-dimensional. Admiration, respect, miscommunications, and sporadic conflicts marked it. Their interactions revealed a desire to understand and learn from the indigenous cultures they encountered, but competing goals frequently caused obstacles and miscommunications.

Work Cited

Ambrose, Stephen E. Stephen E. Ambrose Opening of the West E-Book Boxed Set: Undaunted Courage and Nothing Like It in the World. Simon and Schuster, 2013.

Clark, Gass, Ordway, Whitehouse, et al. October 23-25, 1805. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Ed. Gary Moulton. Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 2002. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 2005. U of Nebraska Press / U of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries-Electronic Text Center. 5 Oct. 2005.

Ronda, James P. Lewis and Clark among the Indians (Bicentennial Edition). U of Nebraska Press, 2014.


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