Next to Be Canceled: the Lewis and Clark Expedition

by James A. Bacon

The culture wars rage unabated in Charlottesville, although the latest excess emanates from City Council, not the University of Virginia. Council plans to seek proposals to remove the West Main Street statue commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition, which was launched from Charlottesville.

The last I recall from my racist, white-privilege history books, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a scientific and exploratory expedition. They didn’t conquer any territory, they didn’t enslave anybody. Indeed, they managed to cross the North American continent with a minimum of conflict with the indigenous peoples.

The problem isn’t with the expedition, per se, as with the rendering of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who befriended the explorers and acted as their scout. She is depicted as crouching behind Lewis and Clark in a posture commonly interpreted as tracking. Well, that’s clear enough to any normal person, who grew up thinking of Sacagawea as a heroine who saved the expedition. But not to those who view the world through the prism of racism and oppression.

At some point during the controversy over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, attention turned to the Lewis and Clark statue, and those who are easily offended and outraged found themselves, well… offended and outraged. Why wasn’t Sacagawea standing and looking forthrightly ahead like Lewis and Clark? Why was she crouching and looking toward the ground? Wasn’t that somehow demeaning?

The absolute imbecility of this view is impossible to overstate.

Sacagawea’s contribution to the expedition, like Pocahontas’ was to Jamestown, was part of American lore long before the age of politically correct thinking about native Americans. Why on earth would Charles Keck, the artist who created the state or Paul McIntire, the stock broker who donated it to the city in 1919, have included Sacagawea in the memorial if not to honor her? And what could possibly be wrong with highlighting her role as a scout and guide by portraying her examining signs on the ground?

But Charlottesville being Charlottesville, a number of people viewed the statue as offensive. To gin up the verisimilitude of legitimacy for removing the statue — which was tied up in a debate over overhauling the streetscape of downtown Charlottesville — descendants of Sacagawea were brought in to view the statue, and they promptly pronounced themselves dismayed.

As the Daily Progress reported at the time, Rose Ann Abrahamson, a descendant of Sacagawea and a Shoshone-Bannock woman, described her ancestor as “cowering and recoiling.” Of all the statues of Sacagawea she had viewed, and she had viewed them all, she said, “This statue in Charlottesville was the worse we have ever seen.” The status, she added, should become “an object of discussion of America’s intolerant past.”

So, who appointed Rose Ann Abrahamson the officials spokesman of the views of the Shoshone people? A “contextualizing” plaque placed by the statue in 2009, which lauded Sacagawea’s contribution, was installed by Rozine George and Emma George, “great-great-great grand nieces of Sacajawea.” Were their views consulted? Did anyone ask them of their interpretation?

Abrahamson is known among the Shoshone for a spin on Sacagawea’s life that is far from universally accepted. Reports the Missoulian back in 2003: “Abrahamson insists that her relative’s name was given her by Lemhi Shoshone elders and means ‘burden,’ a prophesy of the difficult life she led as the wife of an abusive Frenchman and the captive of another tribe. She pronounces the name with an emphasis on the fourth syllable.”

The same article describes the view of another Shoshone woman, Amy Mossett, who, drawing from extensive oral tradition among the Shoshone, had an entirely different interpretation.

Like every ethnic group in American, indigenous Americans have members who subscribe to leftist tropes and worldviews. It is not surprising that the leftists in Charlottesville last year invited Abrahamson — as opposed, say, to Rozine and Emma George, or Amy Mossett — to represent the Indian perspective on the statue and respond with the required offense and outrage.

By removing the statue, City Council is destroying the city’s cultural and historical heritage. For some people, I suppose that’s the point. The past to these people offers nothing of value in a nation conceived in sin. All the old heroes must be de-legitimized and cast aside.

History will not judge these people kindly. One day people will view them as the pillagers and barbarians they are.

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55 responses to “Next to Be Canceled: the Lewis and Clark Expedition

  1. I still maintain and proudly display a number of W&M items sporting the now-verboten feathers. Clearly I’m not qualified to jump in on this. I suspect the real problem is not the statue and her portrayal, but the white supremacist/manifest destiny/capitalist exploitation ethos that sent the Corps of Discovery on the mission in the first place. How dare we take pride in that!

    • Do you have any Washington Redskins memorabilia? Because that would be VERY bad…

    • Haven’t been by the campus for a few years. Is Lord Botetourt still there in front of Wren? In my day (class of ’49) we frosh wore beanies and scrubbed him with toothbrushes. How demeaning that would be to today’s priviledged students!

      • The original Botetourt statue was moved many years ago to Swem Library due to deterioration from weathering, vandalism, and over-eager freshmen. There is now a duplicate in front of Wren. When I was a freshman (class of 1970), we had to wear beanies, but there was little hazing. The beanie tradition died a few years later.

        • We didn’t have real hazing. but what we did have were some wild pledge parties. From what I can remember about the SAE bash it was a blast with me not being very used to alcohol at that tender age of 17, or was it 18? Somehow I made it back to Tyler dorm.

          • Geeze John – it sounds like you’re not with the tut tut folks who, these days, decry contemporary college student behavior?


            They were always “wild” ? fond memories? lordy!

      • UVa invented the toothbrush. Had it been invented at W&M, it would be a teethbrush.

  2. The Taliban couldn’t do a better job of erasing our antiquities than we ourselves.

  3. One can google to find the issue and it’s similar to the one of Teddy Roosevelt in NYC that is being moved.

    • That one is a bit obvious… 🙂 Of course, they could have shown him sabering some poor Spanish soldier in Cuba in that very immoral little war. See, I can form and hold the judgement that the war was immoral. I don’t need signs for context because I am not….ignorant and whiny.

      So I can post now, but have you noticed Jim that the site statistics have all disappeared on the admin page? Did you have to start from scratch on the program?

      • Certainly not ignorant, but isn’t having to claim you are not whiny whining?

      • I don’t think killing the enemy upsets near as much as claiming some are heros and others like Native Americans and Blacks are subservient goats.

        It’s the whole “manifest destiny” of one group of folks who hold dominion over critters and others….

        The really odd thing about Lewis & Clark is that they could have come up the Yellowstone – take a short hike over the height of land and launch in the snake. Instead, they had to climb the Rocky Mountains and almost starve to death.

        Perhaps their marching orders was to “survey” the Louisana Purchase close to the Northern border?

        • “The really odd thing about Lewis & Clark is that they could have come up the Yellowstone – take a short hike over the height of land and launch in the snake. Instead, they had to climb the Rocky Mountains and almost starve to death.”

          I’m pretty sure they didn’t have that map.

        • wrong expedition! 😉

          They even screwed up on Clarks Fork:

          • I’ve been to that area. Neither cell service nor GPS is reliable. Given that, I surprised they didn’t just turn back and hit The White Spot for a Gusburger.

          • tis true, but word has it she might have had knowledge of the geography and terrain…

        • Just because they are on foot they are “subservient goats?” This is in your head, Larry, not the sculptors. That’s total BS.

          • not in my mind Steve – in the minds of others… I’m “explaining” it to you – and you just deny it…. right?

            A “tracker” would be in front with the others looking at what the tracker was showing if the purpose of the statue was to show how Lewis & Clark were carrying out their mission with Sacawagea in a prominent role?

            Do you want me to go get the words of those who do oppose it? Would that then not convince you that there really are others who do think it is subservient including those who agree and remove it?

            at some point – reality has to have a role in this.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Remember the Maine! Many of the dead from the USS Maine are buried in Key West Florida on Whitehead Street.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Maybe C’ville will remove and update the statue with a replacement. I hope they include Lewis and Clark’s dog Seaman. He might be the first famous dog in American history. When I taught this lesson in class devious minded teens would always chuckle about that dog.

    Corps of Discovery is such a great story. I visited Fort Clatsop once and I learned so much about the journey those men made.

    • Where is this statue? It is so much better than the one in Charlottesville. I have to agree with Charlottesville statue critics, it does look like Sacagawea is cowering behind the men. If she were examining tracks, she would be in front.

      • It reminded me of the famous Mauldin cartoon where Willie and Joe are asking the lieutenant to stop drawing fire while inspiring them….

      • Does everyone realize that a sculpture is art, i.e, an artist’s interpretation? It was called the Lewis and Clark expedition, right? Of course they were featured in this sculpture. It’s quite a leap for those who are not the artist to then decide that Sacagawea was “intentionally” placed in a “cowering” subservient situation. The quarterback gets all the glory after a Super Bowl win. Doesn’t mean the offensive line had a subservient role in the victory or that they cower before the QB. Of course, we now live in a world where anyone who is looking for an insult or offense to complain about they usually find it.

        • It’s not that it is “art” or the artists right to “interpetation” or even the fact that a 3rd party might have commissioned the art and specified what it depicted and how.

          If all of that was done solely for a private place, it would be nothing more than what that individual wanted and liked – and his right to do so.

          But when it is to be put in a public place where everyone in a diverse society will be – it matters how it affects the various people of differing ethinicities, races, cultures, etc.

          You don’t put a statue of Hitler standing above those on their way to the gas chamber in a public place because the artist wanted to depict that content.

          It does matter what the content is if it will be in a public place.

          • Bad analogy. So who’s the Hitler here, Lewis and Clark or white people? No one knows what Sacagawea even felt about the expedition since Native Americans didn’t keep much written history, well no one other than a descendant who alleges that she knows and other relatives who disagree with the first one. Why don’t we just blame this whole situation on the French guy since he forced his teenage wife to work for L & C. Better yet let’s blame France in general for selling the US land that THEY stole from the Native Americans.

          • Not really. The point is if someone put up a statue that portrayed white folks as racist murders – like Hitler was – would you take that personally as a white guy?

            That’s the problem with other races and ethinicities in American – a place we call a “melting pot” but we portray blacks and Native Americans as subservient to whites. White folks, of course, don’t see it this way but if a blacks as a race or Native Americans as a culture tell you that they find these things as demeaning and insulting – what do you say as a white guy? “No, you’re wrong”?

            Can you not see this?

        • Yes, yes indeed it is art, as is the work of Worhol, Maplethorpe, and Serrano. Art is controversial, ain’t it?

          • and this:

          • Uh Larry, he’s a guy. Those are two dudes

          • hmmm ”
            Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli apparently isn’t fond of wardrobe malfunctions, even when Virginia’s state seal is involved.

            The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, Virtus’ bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.”

          • Androgynous at best. Most refer to Virtus as a diety. Some representations are as an old man, a woman, or teenage boy.

          • Just a minute here. Where’s the outrage? Virginia’s very public state seal shows one white guy/girl who has killed another white guy AND he/she is stepping on him? This is certainly offensive to some of our population. When will Gov. Northam address this? If there is any justice in Virginia, it’s time for a new seal.

          • hard to do: ” A third reworded version was Virginia’s state song from 1940 until 1997,[2] using the word “Virginia” instead of “Virginny.” In 1997, it was retired as the state song, largely due to controversy over the lyrics’ racial content. On January 28, 1997, the Virginia Senate voted to designate “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” as state song emeritus and a study committee initiated a contest for writing a new state song.

            The song was representative of the commonwealth in many ways. “When Clifton A. Woodrum was in Congress, the House of Representatives couldn’t adjourn until the honorable Democrat from Roanoke, Virginia with a rich and varied baritone voice led the body in a rendition of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”.[3]

            In January 2006, a state Senate panel voted to designate “Shenandoah” as the “interim official state song.” On March 1, 2006, the House Rules Committee of the General Assembly voted down bill SB682, which would have made “Shenandoah” the official state song.”

    • This statue is better than Charlottesville’s? It omits Sacagawea entirely and highlights a dog! Wow! Who was more important to the expedition — Sacagawea or the dog? OMG, how racist can you get? This statue should be removed RIGHT NOW!!!!!!

      • I know then, that you may well find this one disturbing as heck:

        ” Kansas City, located in Case Park at Clark’s Point. Named The Corps of Discovery, the statue portrays Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea and her infant son, Jean Baptiste, on her back. Across from Sacagawea is York, (an African American slave) who was another part of the infamous expedition. This sculpture is the largest of all of hers, 18 feet in height, built in honor of the Corps of Discovery.”

        no news of efforts to remove this “racist” statue either…

  5. We’ve spent several summers retracing Lewis & Clarks path. Last summer, we went up the Clearwater to LoLo Pass. It’s amazing how much ground they covered. They are true American Heros and Seaman was quite the dog. Sacagawea was a pregnant 16 year-old who was essentially “owned” by Charbonneau. She died at age 25 a few years after. She saved Lewis & Clarks bacon more than once.

  6. This particular issue sort of illustrates the inadequacies of “adding context”. If the original memorial lacked that context initially, it can’t necessarily be “fixed” by “adding” if the original portrayal is objectional in it’s entirety.

    It sorta brings a whole new perspective to the phrase “revisionist history”.

  7. Maybe we should just buy this one from Belgium, and be done with all the others? It sums up the American attitude better than the rest.

  8. “Political Books: After the Culture War
    To weather a rising tide of intolerance, these writers want American Christians to prepare themselves for a new kind of struggle. By Barton Swaim, in today’s Wall Street Journal.

    “The American left dominates nearly every major institution in the country, and yet Donald Trump’s presidency continues to inspire progressives with a revanchist zeal. Tacit and sometimes explicit approval of violent protests; embrace of an “anti-racist” agenda that defines the United States as a brutal and twisted regime; policies aimed at the comprehensive reorganization of the private sector; Maoist denunciations of well-meaning people for the slightest offenses against constantly changing norms—all this was happening at lower levels of intensity before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene and will likely not dissipate when he departs.

    A number of serious writers (these are not right-wing ax-grinders) have recently pointed out the chilling resemblances between this country’s ascendant left and the revolutionary movements that brought totalitarian oppression to Central Europe and, especially, Russia in the 20th century. Note particularly Abe Greenwald’s “Yes, This Is a Revolution” and Christine Rosen’s “You Will Be Re-Educated” in the September and October issues of Commentary magazine, and Gary Saul Morson’s “Suicide of the Liberals” in the October issue of First Things. Mr. Morson, a professor of Russian literature at Northwestern, doesn’t say a word about contemporary America because he doesn’t have to. Russian liberals in the years before the Bolshevik Revolution, he observes, capitulated to every demand of the radical intelligentsia, although the radicals openly advocated “the seizure of all wealth, the suppression of dissenting opinion, and the murder of class enemies.” “Evidently [the liberals’] professed beliefs,” Mr. Morson writes, “were less important than their emotional identification with radicalism, of whatever sort. …”

    For much more, see:

    • And, if they were to somehow gain control of the U.S. government, the current crop of radical leftists in this country would show the same level of appreciation to their “progressive” apologists in the democrat party as the Bolsheviks showed Russia’s liberals during the winter of 1917 and beyond.

  9. Now that we’ve sunken to this level of nitwittery, how on earth has the Target store on Rt29 been allowed to maintain that terrible symbol of violence; THE TARGET in their logo? Can you imagine the febrile hysteria of the snowflakes having to deal with that on a daily basis? And what’s up with those big red spheres at the main entrance to the store? There’s got to be some kind of latent symbolism there too; no?

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