A new map for the New World

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A community editor gets a plentiful amount of press releases from a wide swath of agencies, organizations, private companies, public entities and so forth.

No matter the topic, it’s in the best interest of the newspaper for me to get the gist of them, then decide whether they’re relevant to my job, or to forward them on to another reporter/editor, or relegate them to the circular file.

Recently, the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation emailed a press release with rather fascinating news that a rare historical map pertaining to the Lewis and Clark expedition had been brought to light.

A natural lover of maps, this news also resonated with me because it sheds light on how much the Corps of Discovery relied on Native Americans to help chart its course across the western half of the continent.

The map had been drawn by an Arikara leader named Too Ne´ who, according to the press release, Lewis and Clark had met Oct. 8, 1804, on today’s North Dakota-South Dakota border.

The map originally had been discovered by a graduate student who was researching Native American cartography in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France — the national library in Paris — whose extensive collection dates back to the Middle Ages.

This extraordinary map is the focus of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s May issue of its quarterly journal, “We Proceeded On.”

Truth be told, until now I’d never known the foundation even existed, however, Clay Jenkinson, editor of the quarterly journal, informed me that, in fact, the foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Headquartered in Great Falls, its mission is to preserve the trail and protect access both to the trail and sacred sites while promoting cultural diversity and tribal stewardship.

Anyone who has traveled much in Montana has crossed the path of the Lewis & Clark Trail countless times and probably pictured the expedition’s hardships and challenges.

“This map deepens our understanding of how dependent Lewis and Clark were on Native American geographers,” Jenkinson said. “We tend to think that they were traveling blind into terra incognita. That is simply not true …

“It proves that individuals like Too Ne´ were as important to the success of the expedition as, say, Sacagawea.”

The map is described as the best preserved of the Native American maps drawn for Lewis and Clark and the most important discovery since 55 letters written by Clark to his brother from 1792 until Jonathan’s Clark’s death in 1811 were found in a trunk in an attic in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1989.

Too Ne´ traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition in the fall of 1804, having joined temporarily to negotiate a peace settlement between the Arikara and Mandan tribes. His map, drawn sometime in 1805 or early 1806, depicts a big piece of North America, including the Missouri River, surrounding landmarks and Native American villages as far east as the Platte River in modern-today Nebraska northwest to the Yellowstone River and Rocky Mountains in modern-day Montana, even stretching north into Crow country. The map is an impressive 12-by-36 inches in size.

Unique to the Native American cartographic tradition, its details include the sacred, the legendary and the historical, as well as the geographical.

Lewis and Clark later persuaded Too Ne´ to make the long journey to Washington, D.C., where he met the “Great Father” Thomas Jefferson. He then traveled to Baltimore and Philadelphia. Upon returning to D.C., he fell ill and died. He was buried there in April 1806.

As Kevin O’Briant, a Montana-based archaelogist and ethnohistorian, states in his article, “In creating this document, Too Ne´ knew precisely where his people belonged in the world — geographically, politically, spiritually — and he had the paperwork to prove it.”

Herman Viola, a leading American historian of cartography, calls the Too Ne´ map monumental.

A detailed analysis of the map and its significance can be found in the May issue of “We Proceeded On.” To see about purchasing a copy, contact the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation at 888-701-3434. For more information, go to lewisandclark.org.

Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or community@dailyinterlake.com.

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