This Vast Land: A Young Man’s Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Stephen Ambrose


A man’s honor and reputation survive him for his entire life, and this story is no different…it certainly changed it’s author for the rest of his life. Being a part of the group of men that were the first civilized beings to find a route to the Pacific Ocean was the motive of this story of extreme dedication to a goal that could cost him his life. The heartbreak endured would have been enough, but to see the heartbreak of others on a daily basis was almost too much for him. He had occasional joy, but it was fleeting at best. His successful journey as part of the Corp of Discovery was worth it, but he longed for so much more…a life of exploration, a life of excitement outside of civilization. He never achieved that goal, but he played his role in the adventure, and the lessons learned in the process changed him for the rest of his life. This is his story, a story that shows us all the true meaning of pain, sorrow, and determination.


This is the fictional account of George Shannon, the actual youngest member of the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery in 1803. He was 19 at the time, and the events mentioned in this journal actually did occur on the expedition, this is just a creative point of view based on the more precise journals of Captain Clark and others. George had to convince Captain Lewis to allow him to go by explaining that he could trudge through mud with the best of them, and that he was willing to learn and try anything to make the mission a success for the nation. He wasn’t experience in much more than the ability to work hard, for he had no language training, no hunting skills, no skills of medicine or medical procedure, and he certainly had no idea of what type of terrain they would experience… none of the crew of 22 had any idea what to expect.

Around the North Dakota area, the crew encountered their first large Indian tribe, the Mandan. It is here that George truly leaves his heart, and his seed, with one of the Indian squaws named Peme. That was January of 1805, and she informed him of her pregnancy in early April of that same year, the same month that the corp needed to leave. Many events occurred before their reaching the ocean in December of 1805, but they are too many to list here. The most important involved the acquiring of Sacajawea as their guide and interpreter, and the creation of peace with hostel Indian tribes along the way. It took the Corp 25 months to make it to the coast, but their return trip would last only 9 months until late September of 1806. On the way back, George returns to his squaw partner and sees his baby boy for the first time. The leaders decide that Peme and their son Robin, along with the Mandan chief, will return to Washington with the Corp…which they do with anxiety flooding their hearts longing for home.

In January of 1808, George, Peme and Robin, and many other men, ventured on an expedition to join the Mandan with their tribes once again…but in the process they encountered some vengeful Ricara and Sioux Indians that attack their boat and end up killing Peme, Robin, and others in the process. George ends up losing his leg from a wound, and the end of the book is his recount 30 years later about the trip with Captain Lewis and others involved with the members of the excursion. Heartache returns to his heart, but more than that, he realizes the impact that their sacrifices created for the rest of his great nation. He remembers the qualities of his crewmates, the leadership and teamwork that united them all in the tough times, and the feeling of accomplishment that has encompassed his life as a result of the profound life lessons he learned during his three years on the monumental expedition and in the few years following.