"The journey of the Corps of Discovery, under the command of Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, across the American West to the Pacific Ocean and back in the years 1804-1806 seems to me to have been our first really American adventure, one that also produced our only really American epic, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, now at last available in a superbly edited, easily read edition in twelve volumes (of an eventual thirteen), almost two centuries after the Corps of Discovery set out. . . . This important text has not been fully appreciated for what it is because of two centuries of incomplete and inadequate editing. All three editions previous to this excellent one from the University of Nebraska . . . were flawed by significant omission. . . . Thus my gratitude to the present editor, Gary Moulton, and his assistant editor, Thomas Dunlay, for bringing what I believe to be a national epic into plain view at last. . . . For almost two hundred years their [Lewis' and Clark's] strong words waited, there but not there, printed but not read: our silent epic. But words can wait: now the captains' writings have at last spilled out, and fully, in this regal edition.
When the Atlas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition appeared in 1983, critics hailed it as a publishing landmark. This eagerly awaited second volume of the new Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition begins the actual journals of those explorers whose epic expedition still enthralls Americans.
Instructed by President Jefferson to keep meticulous records bearing on the geography, ethnology, and natural history of the trans-Mississippi West, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and four of their men filled hundreds of notebook pages with observations during their expedition of 1804–6. The result was in is a national treasure: a complete look at the Great Plains, the Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest, reported by men who were intelligent and well-prepared, at a time when almost nothing was known about those regions so newly acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.
Volume 2 includes Lewis’s and Clark’s journals for the period from August 1803, when Lewis left Pittsburgh to join Clark farther down the Ohio River, to August 1804, when the Corps of Discovery camped near the Vermillion River in present South Dakota. The general introduction by Gary E. Moulton discusses the history of the expedition, the journal-keeping methods of Lewis and Clark, and the editing and publishing history of the journals from the time of Lewis and Clark’s return. Superseding the last edition published early in this century, the current edition brings together new materials discovered since then. It greatly expands and updates the annotation to take account of the most recent scholarship on the many subjects touched on by the journals.