Listen With Others

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Listener No 4641, Continental Drift: A Setter‘s Blog by Opsimath

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 Jan 2021

My interest in the Lewis & Clark Expedition goes back about 6 years (before I even thought of setting a puzzle) to when my American neighbours went away for a month and I would pop into their house for a check now and then. I picked a book at random from their shelves, and was instantly hooked.

Bernard de Voto’s edition of “the Journals”, I still find un-put-downable. Bear in mind that the “Captains” wrote these diaries every evening at their latest campsite — and encouraged a number of Sergeants and men to keep their own journals too, on the assumption that they were all likely to die, yet at least some written records might survive. Turn a page and you read how they find a mangled pile of buffalo carcasses that have been stampeded over a cliff by the Indians who send a fit young man in skin and buffalo horns to lure them. A few pages later we read of the first encounter of Europeans with a grizzly bear. The men’s curiosity about this animal “was soon satisfied”, and they sincerely hoped not to meet one again.

They set off up the Missouri river in 1805 and were not heard of again for two years, by which time the President and the public had given them up for lost. In fact, due to their extraordinary discipline and co-operation – amongst themselves, but also with the Native Tribes they encountered and lived with — they all survived (apart from Sgt Floyd who died early on of appendicitis).

Indeed, more of them came back than set out, since the famous Sacagawea (native Shoshone, taken from her tribe by the more aggressive Hidatsa and sold to the trapper / guide Charboneau, gave birth to a little boy who was already a toddler when they returned to “civilisation”. [Clark later adopted him – as soon as he was “old enough to leave his mother”, and gave him an education. Later, as a speaker of native languages as well as French, English, and German, Jean Baptiste became a guide and companion to the Emperor of Austria.]

I have huge admiration for the two Captains. Meriwether Lewis was personally selected by Thomas Jefferson, and trained for the project in many disciplines. Lewis then chose Lt Clark — an expert navigator and cartographer – and requested he be granted equal rank. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Army decided this was inappropriate for a military expedition. Lewis never revealed to the men of the “Corps of Discovery”, that his colleague “Captain” Clark was in fact his subordinate in rank.

This spirit of democracy went further: when the group held a meeting to decide how to manage the approaching winter beyond the Rockies, a vote was held. The opinions of 17-year old native Sacagawea and Clark’s black servant York were given equal weight in the ballot.

Of the setting process I remember little beyond the desire to share this interest with some Brits who may know less of this story than our friends over the Atlantic possibly do.

Many of my clues were tweaked, improved or completely changed by the editors, to whom many thanks of course. Thanks also to John Nicholson (Wan) who cast an eye over the puzzle early on and quickly spotted that the position of two Rs at the head of the mountain range made for an ambiguity, dammit.

As I write this, in late 2020, there is so much dreadful news swirling around that I find it difficult to focus, despite avoiding as much exposure to “the news” as I can. When the editors sent me their proof, I found I was unable to solve my own puzzle, and had to rely on You-Know-Who for proof-reading. I suspect that any mention of festive drinks has disappeared from the clues, and the puzzle may not even have my trademark mention of Turkey, my adopted home. Fingers crossed it may still be a pangram, but I’m not even sure of that!

I thought to look at what happened with the Corps of Discovery on any anniversary of the publication date of my puzzle: January 9th. So here goes…

9th of January 1805

…Several Indians call at the fort nearly frosed,

10th of January 1805

…last night was excessively Cold the Murckery this morning Stood at 40° below 0 which is 72° below the freesing point, we had one man out last night, who returned about 8 oClock this morning. The Indians of the lower Village turned out to hunt for a man & a boy who had not returned from the hunt of yesterday, and borrow’d a Slay to bring them in expecting to find them frosed to death about 10 oClock the boy about 13 years of age Came to the fort with his feet frosed and had layed out last night without fire with only a Buffalo Robe to Cover him, ….

… we had his feet put in cold water and they are Comeing too. Soon after the arrival of the Boy, a Man Came in who had also Stayed out without fire, and verry thinly Clothed, this man was not the least injured. Customs & the habits of those people has anured [them] to bare more Cold than I thought it possible for man to endure.

[A year later the Corps have crossed the Rockies and settled for the winter on the Pacific shore. Capt. Lewis discovers from the native “Clatsops Chinnooks and others” that white traders have in the past visited by ship to trade with them and hunt for beaver, elk etc. ]

Friday January 9th 1806

The persons who usually visit the entrance to this river for the purpose of traffic or hunting I believe are either English or Americans; the Indians inform us that they speak the same language with ourselves, and give us proof of their varacity by repeating many words of English, as musquit, powder, shot, nife, file, damned rascal, sun of a bitch &c.…

I’ll sign off from this setter’s blog now, at the very start of a New Year, hoping that by the time this is published we will have said goodbye to the worst of Anno Domini MMXX: Trump, Brexit, Aegean earthquakes — oh, and yes, that freaking Virus.


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