United States has just acquired Louisiana from France. An expedition led by Lewis and Clark is sent to survey the territory and go where no white man has gone before. Are they able to ... See full summary »
United States has just acquired Louisiana from France. An expedition led by Lewis and Clark is sent to survey the territory and go where no white man has gone before. Are they able to overcome the dangers with the help of Sacajawea? Written by
Timo Lamminjoki <email@example.com>
During her talk with Sacajawea, Julia calls The President's Mansion "The White House". The scene takes place in 1806; the earliest reference to The President's Mansion being called "The White House" is in 1811. See more »
This is the year of the bi-centennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which (with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory) is the best recalled accomplishment of the Thomas Jefferson administrations. This is also the sole major film made about this first step into westward expansion. I suppose one should be grateful for any such film but one wishes it was closer to the truth and was a bit more detailed. Meriweather Lewis (Jefferson's nephew and secretary) and William Clark (half-brother of frontier legend George Rogers Clark)were chosen to leave from the formerly French settlement of St. Louis up the Missisippi and Missouri Rivers into what became Montana, Idaho, and Washington until they reached the Pacific Coast, and then returned by a southern route back to St. Louis again. Their expedition was assisted by Sacajawea, an Indian woman, who helped the two explorers communicate with the various Indian tribes on the trek. Remarkably only one man died (of a ruptured appendix) in the two year journey. They returned in 1806, and their final report and drawings were published in 1808.
Jefferson was keen on showing that his deal with Napoleon I of France was not ridiculous. After all, it had cost fifteen million dollars to buy the territory of Louisiana (originally Jefferson just wanted to buy the city of New Orleans). Napoleon's reasons were a combination of need (he could use the money) and rationalism in the face of disaster. Napoleon had wanted to reestablish France's overseas power, and hope to base it on the rich colony of Haiti. Unfortunately the former slaves of Haiti had been revolting for over a decade, led by a brilliant soldier and politician Toussaint L'Overture. Although L'Overture was captured and died in prison, his three associates (Jean Dessalines, Henri Christophe, and Jean Petion) were highly capable in keeping the French at bay. So was yellow fever and plague that decimated the French armies. Napoleon knew he could no longer build up his overseas empire, so he took the money for what was now a white elephant. Jefferson was the beneficiary of all this, but he was aware that many questioned if the country should have spent all the money it did for this land. Since Jefferson had been critical about military expenditures that the Federalists had practiced under Washington and Adams he really had to demonstrate the purchase was not a blunder.
The expedition did exactly that. It suggested the huge natural resources now under American control. It also countered claims from other European countries to the west coast of the U.S. (Russians in Alaskan and California, Spaniards in the Southwest, and England in Canada - especially after the exploration of MacKenzie in British Columbia). Therefore it can be said that Jefferson's deal was of critical importance to the future of the U.S.
The film concentrates of the expedition to the point of it reaching the Pacific, with MacMurray as Lewis and Heston as Clark, and Donna Reed as Sacajawea. A fictitious romance between Heston and Reed is created (actually a triangle, as she is married to French trapper Alan Reed). She eventually has to decide to stay with Clark, to the detriment of his career, or leave him. And in the end the only person who can help her is the President (Herbert Heyes).
As the sole film about this great undertaking it is a good film, not a great one. It ends with the successful return of the leaders to Washington. It does not follow the other events of the westward expansion of the period to be discussed: the controversy of the expedition of Zebulon Pike into what is now Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas in 1805 - 06, the Burr Conspiracy and treason trial (see "Magnificent Doll"), and the tragedy of Lewis. Lewis was appointed first governor of the territory, but had political problems from the first day. He was ordered to return to Washington in 1809 to answer questions, but he died violently on the trip at Grider's Mill, a spot on the desolate "Nachez Trace" of Tennessee. Either he committed suicide (most books say he did) or he was murdered by his enemies. Clark died in 1837.
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