Plotting the Course of Lewis
Four documents from the J. Neilson Barry collection at Boise State University
A web exhibit marking the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's exploration of Idaho, August-October 1805
Senator William E. Borah and Congressman Compton White, Sr., at North Fork, Idaho, in the late 1930s, standing before the monument to Old Toby (Swooping Eagle), the Lemhi-Shoshoni guide who led Lewis and Clark from the Salmon River to the Lolo Trail. Photo from the J. Neilson Barry collection, affixed to a flyleaf of Barry's personal copy of the Hosmer edition of Lewis and Clark's journals (1902).
The trail of Lewis and Clark back and forth across the continent has been of interest to the American public since the Corps of Discovery completed its epic journey in 1806. While most general readers are satisfied with the small-scale maps that accompany popular printed editions of the Corps' journey, intense Lewis and Clark scholars, as well as local historians who have lived along the route, have wanted to know their exact path of travel down to the footstep. Even though the Lewis and Clark journals contain a wealth of geographic detail, the numerous references to unnamed creeks, hills, meadows, and mountains have presented challenges to all who have wanted to trace their path with precision.
Generations of scholars have worked with Lewis and Clark's journals and notes to pinpoint these details. One of them was J. Neilson Barry (1870-1961), a retired Episcopal clergyman who lived in Portland, Oregon. He did not travel much, so he never actually saw much of their trail beyond Washington and Oregon, but he corresponded widely with historians, forest rangers, and local people who knew the country. He took Lewis and Clark's survey notes and plotted them out against the highway and topographic maps that were available to him in his day, questioned people who knew the terrain, and meticulously as possible tried to trace the footsteps of the explorers. In the pre-email, pre-Internet era in which he worked, research could be slow and painstaking, involving exchanges of letters over the course of years. But he was persistent, and he made real contributions to the knowledge of the Lewis and Clark trail.
In 1957, Mr. Barry donated his notes, papers, and correspondence to the library of Boise Junior College, now Albertsons Library of Boise State University. Among those papers are his letters, notes, and sketch maps documenting his study of the Lewis and Clark trail. This web exhibit presents four sample documents from the Barry collection that illustrate his research methods. They pertain to the expedition's foray into the Salmon River country of Idaho in August of 1805 and the Corps of Discovery's perilous journey across the Bitterroot Mountains in September and October. The entire Barry collection, covering a wide range of topics of Pacific Northwest history, is available for research in the Special Collections Department of Albertsons Library.
Click on the thumbnail images below to see the entire documents