Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
In their memorable journey of 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark faced many obstacles: fatigue, heat, cold, grizzly bears, biting insects, sometimes hostile Indians, uncharted mountains, raging white water torrents, and starvation. The powerful currents of the Missouri River exhausted the men who towed and pulled their heavy boat upstream. In the Bitterroot Mountains, the trackless, nearly vertical hillsides threatened frozen death. On the Pacific Coast, the endless rain rotted their shoes and clothes. Yet an invisible enemy followed them everywhere – the spirochete of syphilis. Using the explorers’ own words, the author makes a case for widespread occurrence of venereal disease in the expedition. This was no surprise: in Philadelphia, the leaders had made large purchases of remedies for gonorrhea and syphilis. Later historians minimized or omitted this less heroic aspect of the great journey, but the facts tell a different story. 2004, University of Nebraska Press, 117 p.
Ralph H. Peters: Branching out from his breakthrough research on the Civil War (Stories the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell and other classics), Lowry examined the medical challenges faced by Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery in their journey to plot and open the great "unknown" west. Setting aside the debate as to the geographic origins of syphilis, it appears incontestable that the spirochetes were delivered to the Indians of the Great Plains and the Pacific northwest by French, Spanish, Russian, English and American trappers, explorers, wanderers... often indirectly, through other tribes. Further, the Corps of Discovery itself suffered serious debilities, thanks to such infections–in a historical turnabout, American explorers were infected by Indians, rather than the other way around (although some members of the Corps doubtless carried such ailments with them when they embarked). Lowry tells a taut, lucid, compelling and peculiarly inspiring story. Without sensationalism or lurid nonsense, Lowry deepens and enriches our appreciation of the very human men who made history--and of the nameless Indians with whom they interacted, for better and worse.