4. How Nature is Conceived and Valued

In the reading of the letters and journals it is clear that in the early 1800’s,nature was conceived as vast and strong, but ultimately, a commodity to be understood, conquered, divided up and traded.

It is evident that Lewis saw the nature surrounding him as larger and more powerful than himself in many respects. “The difficulties which oppose themselves to the navigation of this immence river, arise from the rapidity of its current, its falling banks, sandbars, and timber…” (Lewis to Lucy marks, pg 49) He also describes one bear in particular as “ a terrible looking animal which [he] found very hard to kill” (pg 21) These two examples show in part the explorer’s conception of the nature as larger than himself.

However, despite all this, nature is largely valued as a resource meant to profit humans; white, “non-savage” humans, moreover. The very purpose of the venture was to explore and understand the land to see how best it could be used for human’s good. What’s perverse about this is the way in which Lewis and Clark seem uninterested in co-existing with nature. Instead, they want to conquer it. “It is now only amusement for Capt. C and myself to kill as much meat as the party can consume”. (pg 20) Here, nature has moved from a source of amazement to one of amusement.

Further appalling was the statement found on page 50, “in short there can exist no other objection to it except that of the want of timber, which is truly a very serious one.” This epitomizes the habit of humans to expect nature to be altered in order to suit their purposes, rather than humans change to accommodate non-human nature. This suggests a hierarchy where man assumes his position at the top.

If we were ever, without bias, to assume that humans saw themselves as superior to other nature, and valued the land as much as he valued his coat, shoes or house, these letters would lend much insight and justification of that assumption.


Jackson, Donald, ed. “47. Jefferson’s Instructions to Lewis.” Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition /with Related Documents. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962. Print.

Lewis, Meriweather and William Clark. “Journal Entry July 18, 1805.” The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  Ed. Bernard De Voto. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953. Print.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by lpeake on September 8, 2011 at 8:21 am

    I agree with your point that exploitation of the land by white humans was a large part of the journals. Rather than using each part of the animals they kill efficiently, they make a game out of hunting. This is in opposition to the Native Americans they write about who do not treat the land or animals so frivolously, and yet they are criticized in the journals for not exploiting the land.

    Lewis, Meriweather and William Clark. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Ed. Bernard De Voto. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953. Print.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: