Title Reviewed:
Among the Sleeping Giants: Occasional Pieces on Lewis and Clark

Author Reviewed:
Donald Jackson

Richard A. Van Orman


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 66-67

Article Type:
Book Review

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Among the Sleeping Giants: Occasional Pieces on Lewis and Clark. By Donald Jackson. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Pp. xiv, 136. Maps, figures, notes on sources, index. $17.95.)

The late Donald Jackson was an outstanding editor and a respected historian. Over the last three decades he produced nearly twenty volumes of journals, letters, diaries, and histories. Among the significant figures in American history about whom he has written are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and George Armstrong Custer, but Jackson had a special interest in the lives of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their magnificent expedition. His Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a brilliant work of editing. Among the Sleeping Giants does not, however, meet the high standards that Jackson had established in his previous works. Perhaps because of his illness the work is a melange of casual comments, random musings, and leftovers from earlier literary repasts.

Following an introduction dealing with incidents that occurred at the mouth of the Yellowstone River in 1805 are seven chapters, two of which have fewer than ten pages. There is a chapter entitled "If the Spanish Had Captured Lewis and Clark" that incites other "what ifs"—"What if Lewis and Clark Came Back by Sea?" and "What if Lewis Had Not Become An Alcoholic?" The game of "what if" is unending, if diverting; for example, what if Lewis and Clark had captured a Spanish patrol? While this intellectual discussion might stimulate lethargic freshmen, it can easily be overdone unless one possesses the wit of a James Thurber.

Another chapter deals with Lewis's and Clark's search for volcanoes while a third solves the question of the correct name for Lewis's dog. It appears that for seventy years editors and historians have perpetuated the error that the Newfoundland's name was Scannon. Jackson points out with some glee that its correct name was Seaman. Though it is nice to have things set right, this emendation hardly merits a chapter.

The larger question is, of course, do these casual articles merit a book? While there is an engaging reminiscence about the trials and tribulations of editing the Lewis and Clark letters, followed by fifty pages on Lewis and Clark place-names in Montana, little else other than Jackson's reputation warrants this volume.

RICHARD A. VAN ORMAN is professor of history, Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana. He is currently working on a book on crime in nineteenth century America.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.