Society for the History of Discoveries


Holmberg, James J., ed. Exploring with Lewis and Clark: The 1804 Journal of Charles Floyd. Foreword by Gary Moulton and introduction by James J. Holmberg. The American Exploration and Travel Series, vol. 80. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press (in association with the Friends of the Wisconsin Historical Society), 2004. xiv + 98p., maps, ill. ISBN 080613674-X. $45.00.

It is fitting that this book should be published in 2004, for that is the bicentennial both of the start of the Lewis and Clark expedition and of the death of the book’s protagonist, Charles Floyd. Floyd, one of three sergeants on the expedition, was one of the “nine young men from Kentucky” recruited by William Clark as Clark, then a resident of Clarksville, Indiana Territory, awaited the arrival of his friend and fellow Army officer Meriwether Lewis from Pittsburgh in the fall of 1803. On 20 August 1804, a little over three months after the Corps of Discovery departed Camp Dubois, Floyd died – the victim, it appears, of appendicitis. He was in his early 20s, and was buried with full military honors on a bluff near present-day Sioux City, Iowa.

Sergeant Floyd was one of six known journalists on the Lewis and Clark expedition, the others being Lewis, Clark, Sergeant John Ordway, Sergeant Patrick Gass (who was Floyd’s replacement), and Private Joseph Whitehouse. Floyd’s journal appears to have been returned to St Louis in the spring of 1805 from the first winter encampment at Fort Mandan. In 1893, it was discovered by historian Reuben Gold Thwaites in the Lyman Draper collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. How it came into Draper’s hands remains a mystery. Thwaites published the journal in 1905 as volume seven of his edition of the Lewis and Clark journals. The only other publication of Floyd’s journal was in 1995, when Gary E. Moulton published it – together with Ordway’s journal – as volume nine of his 13-volume edition of the Lewis and Clark journals for the University of Nebraska Press (1983-2001). Moulton’s notes on the Floyd journal are sparse, and justifiably so, for he had already written voluminously about the events of the expedition in previous volumes.

One might wonder about the value of a new edition of Floyd’s journal, given that Moulton’s edition is only a decade old. But I believe it is warranted. First, the editor, James J. Holmberg, Curator of Special Collections for the Filson Historical Society, provides facsimiles of every page of Floyd’s 56-page journal, which began on 14th May and ended on 18 August 1804 – two days before Floyd’s death. The facsimile appears on the reverse of a page, Holmberg’s transcription of it on the obverse of the succeeding page. This allows the reader to compare Holmberg’s transcription with the original. Second, Holmberg provides far more annotation than Moulton – some 98 notes overall. Holmberg does not try to duplicate the identifications of places, flora and fauna provided by Moulton, but he covers just about everything else, including those respects in which Floyd’s journal differs from the others (in some cases, Floyd is the only journalist to write about some person, object or event). The notes run along the right side of each obverse page. The pages lie open on their own, which makes for easy reading. Third, Holmberg has written a long, interesting introduction to the journal. It is based on an essay which he wrote for We Proceeded On, the official publication of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation, which has done so much to preserve and promote the trail.

Holmberg’s edition of Floyd’s journal runs to 112 pages, counting prefatory and concluding matter. The journal proper occupies 58 of those pages, or just over half. The remainder consists of a table of contents, a foreword (by Gary. E. Moulton, who calls the book “a splendid example of new scholarship on the expedition” [p. viii]), a preface, acknowledgements, and a thirty-page introduction. The book is printed on glossy paper and is well worth the purchase price. I counted only a handful of typographical errors, and about the only annoying feature of the book is Holmberg’s propensity to express frustration at Floyd’s journalistic parsimoniousness. In note 80, for instance, Holmberg finds it incredible that Floyd did not mention his fellow Kentuckians Reubin and Joseph Field by name.

All in all, this is a valuable addition to Lewis and Clark literature. The book enhanced my understanding not only of Charles Floyd the person and of his contribution to the expedition, but of the expedition as a whole. The story of Floyd’s burial and many reburials, painstakingly told by Holmberg in the introduction, is worth the book’s price by itself. It reads like a mystery novel – but with a happy ending. Sergeant Floyd would be honored to have such a meticulous and sympathetic editor.

Keith Burgess-Jackson
The University of Texas at Arlington


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