Elliot Coues’s Book on Lewis and Clark

photograph of Elliot Coues

Photo:  Creative Commons

Nicholas Biddle’s and Paul Allen’s first sanctioned narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was released in 1814 and it would be another 79 years before another book on the journey would be published.

Elliot Coues’s account of the Expedition was released when nostalgia for the American frontier was high and interest in the Lewis and Clark story was returning.

Coues, an American army surgeon, historian, ornithologist and author, is probably best known for his 1872 book, “Key to North American Birds.” The book was instrumental in promoting the systematic study of ornithology in America, including the currently accepted standards in taxonomic classification of subspecies.

He rediscovered the original journals of Lewis and Clark at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, edited them, and incorporated new material into his manuscript. His research led to a string of new discoveries during the next two decades, including the surfacing of Sergeant Charles Floyd’s journal, Private Joseph Whitehouse’s journal, various maps and letters from William Clark, Meriwether Lewis’s “Ohio journal,” and Sergeant John Ordway’s journal. His account of the Expedition caused an renewed interest in the journey.

Last updated: November 14, 2018