Living History & Reenactment Music


Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson

An Irreverent Look at Lewis and Clark

With the wisdom of hindsight, we now all applaud and celebrate the Lewis and Clark expedition, but at the time, it was not so universally admired. A ball was held in Washington to celebrate the heroes. For the occasion, Joel Barlow, a politician and writer who considered himself America’s leading poet wrote a flowery poem to be read after dinner. Barlow had also suggested that the Columbia River should be renamed the Lewis River, a suggestion wisely ignored. The poem was some eight stanzas long, full of bombast, bad rhymes and mixed metaphors.

Then let the loud voice of the nation proclaim, And all ages resound the decree:
Let our Occident stream bear the young hero’s name, Who taught him his path to the sea.

An anonymous Federalist, probably John Quincy Adams himself, lampooned this poem and the expedition in the Monthly Anthology and Boston Review (March 1807). It should be remarked that Lewis and Clark did discover prairie dogs, but did not find “the lost Welsh Indian tribe” of the 12th century, or salt mountains. Nor did they find still-living mammoths, as Jefferson had hoped they would find in the Interior region.However, Lewis did visit Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, and send mammoth bones back to Jefferson to study. The song even includes a nasty dig at Sally Hemmings.

This song should be sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle.


Good people listen to my tale, ‘Tis nothing but what true is;
I’ll tell you of the mighty deed Atchiev’d by Captain Lewis -
How starting from the Atlantick shore By fair and easy motion,
He journied, all the way by land, Until he met the ocean.

Heroick, sure, the toil must be To travel through the woods, sir;
And never meet a foe, yet save His person and his goods, sir!
What marvels on the way he found He’ll tell you, if inclin’d, sir -
But I shall only now disclose The things he did not find, sir.

He never with a Mammoth met, However you may wonder;
Not even with a Mammoth’s bone, Above the ground or under -
And, spite of all the pains he took The animal to track, sir,
He never could o’ertake the hog With navel on his back, sir.

And from this day his course began,Till even it was ended,
He never found an Indian tribe From Welchmen straight descended:
Nor, much as of Philosophers The fancies it might tickle;
To season his adventures, met A Mountain, sous’d in pickle.

Let dusky Sally henceforth bear The name of Isabella;
And let the mountain, all of salt, Be christen’d Monticella -
The hog with navel on his back Tom Pain may be when drunk, sir -
And Joel call the Prairie-dog, Which once was call’d a Skunk, sir.

True - Tom and Joel now, no more Can overturn a nation;
And work, by butchery and blood, A great regeneration; -
Yet, still we can turn inside out Old Nature’s Constitution,
And bring a Babel back of names - Huzzah! for REVOLUTION!

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