Monday, December 05, 2005
Lewis & Clark - Dirty, Rotten Explorers?
Monday, December 5, 2005
By JUSTIN CARINCI, Columbian staff writer
If much of the United States thought of Lewis and Clark as the gallant
leaders of a daring expedition two centuries ago, American Indian groups had
several different ways to see them.
Some had little interest in the pair, noting that they didn't have anything
worth trading for. Others debated killing them and their whole party.
Many found them repulsive, American Indian historian Pat Courtney Gold of
Scappoose, Ore., said Sunday at the Tent of Many Voices, part of the Corps of
Discovery II commemoration in Vancouver.
"Chinook women said, 'Who are those dirty men in those rotten clothes?' "
Gold said. "They didn't want to talk with them."
Gold recounted histories she said had been passed down from her ancestors in the Wasco tribe, a branch of the Chinook tribe. Whereas some tribes came for miles to see the new visitors, the Chinook had less interest, Gold said.
"They didn't impress us at all," she said.
The savvy river traders were instead impressed by the natty uniforms and
fancy ships of their European visitors. So when Lewis and Clark's party came by in crude canoes and tattered clothing, "They didn't do anything for us," Gold said.
The groups that did trade with Lewis and Clark found their tastes a bit odd,
Gold said. "They would ignore the sacred salmon we offered, and they would
point at our pets and say 'I want him, him and him.'
"We didn't realize that was breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Hearing no reaction from the two dozen or so in attendance Sunday, Gold said, "You must be dog owners; you don't find that funny."
Lewis and Clark's party left more behind than is typically acknowledged, Gold
said. "Lewis and Clark were the first deadbeat fathers," she said.
"What I find disturbing was the men didn't mind leaving these kids behind and
never coming back to check on them."
In their other relations, Lewis and Clark's inability to understand local
customs led to misunderstandings that have become legendary among Indians, Gold said. Typically, when Indian groups traveled across other tribes' land, the visitors laid out gifts for the host tribe on a deerskin.
The host tribe would help itself to gifts and offer the visitors food, Gold
Lewis and Clark's party laid out its belongings for a different reason.
Because their canoes often capsized, members frequently needed to dry their
goods. From their writings, it was clear Lewis and Clark didn't consider it a
friendly exchange when the Indians gathered the "offerings," Gold said. "They
were constantly complaining about the conniving Indians, the thieving Indians," she said.
Which, Gold said, was too bad for Lewis and Clark. Had the explorers taken
cues from the groups they came across, they could have kept their party
healthy, warm and dry throughout their journey...
Although the arrival of Lewis and Clark signaled the start of a tragic era
for local Indian groups, Gold said, the journey's bicentennial offers an
educational opportunity. "No matter what happened to us as Columbia River
people, we're still here."
"We still have our culture, we still make our baskets, and we commemorate
Lewis and Clark in our own way."
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