Two Fun Books
Hello and happy new year to all my readers. Let’s hope 2005 brings us closer to peaceful solutions to some of the sad and discouraging events of the past year.
I am getting ready for another trip to the Oregon coast, but before then, I want to tell you about a couple of interesting books I’ve acquired on my travels. One is a full-length comic book version of the Lewis and Clark expedition, or what nowadays is called a graphic novel. It’s a self-published book by Orville Evjen, a young man I talked to at the Circle of Cultures event in Bismarck. He said he’s been drawing comics for a long time and wanted to do a full-length book about the expedition. The book is called Jefferson’s Lewis and Clark Expedition: Heroes Unlimited (2004), and portrays the events of the expedition and the few years following in that sort of lurid comic book style, complete with lots of POW’s and BOOM’s and AAAHHH!!!’s. I got a kick out of the general idea, although I was put off by the many typos and misspellings throughout. I ask you: how many people misspell “hell”? I can see misspelling “Monticello” (which he does), but “hell”?
Anyway, I received another review of the book from my daughter, who read the whole thing and enjoyed it. She said she could forgive the typos because she said it really made the expedition come alive for her. It made me think differently about graphic novels, which always seemed a bit silly to me. (On a recent radio interview, a writer was saying that there should be book awards for graphic novels and I thought “you’ve got to be kidding.” But, hey—I could be wrong!)
The second book is not about L&C specifically, but about historic site mis- and dis-information. It’s called Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (1999), by James W. Loewen (who also wrote an earlier award-winning book about history mis-education called Lies My Teacher Told Me). I looked in the table of contents and there was La Grande, Oregon! According to the author, a historic marker near La Grande states that the 1811 Hunt fur trade expedition “discovered the route over the Blue Mountains” after they “obtained the guidance of a Shoshone Indian.” Loewen pokes fun at this crediting the discovery of something to white men even while stating that it was Indians who showed them the way.
The author then provides numerous other examples of whites “discovering” things that had long been familiar to the native inhabitants. (Some older buildings on the EOU campus in La Grande are named after members of the Hunt expedition, but only recently was a building named after a Native American.) I have been aware of this language of discovery for a long time in my own research. Loewen’s book spends a lot of time giving credit to those who deserve it. The titles of his chapters are hilarious. This one is called “Don’t ‘Discover’ ‘Til You See the Eyes of the Whites.”
One thing in the book that has nothing to do with L&C, but is too amusing to pass up here, is that Loewen discusses many statues around the country commemorating military officers mounted on their favorite horses. In many cases, the real horses were known to be mares, but sculptors often turn them into stallions. In Lexington, Kentucky, a statue is actually called “General John H. Morgan and his Bess,” but Bess has the anatomy of a stallion. The sculptor himself supposedly cried, “No hero should bestride a mare!” In another case, the grandchildren of General Winfield Scott insisted his Washington, D.C., sculpture should portray him upon a stallion, not his beloved mare. The title of this chapter is “Putting the He in Hero.”