One of the greatest challenges faced by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their 1804–6 Corps of Discovery expedition was that of medical emergencies on the trail. Without an attending physician, even routine ailments and injuries could have tragic consequences for the expedition’s success and the safety of its members. Of these dangers, the most insidious and potentially devastating was the slow, painful, and oftentimes fatal ravage of venereal disease.
Physician Thomas P. Lowry delves into the world of nineteenth-century medicine, uncovering the expedition’s very real fear of venereal disease. Lewis and Clark knew they were unlikely to prevent their men from forming sexual liaisons on the trail, so they prepared for the consequences of encounters with potentially infected people, as well as the consequences of preexisting disease, by stocking themselves with medicine and the latest scientific knowledge from the best minds in America. Lewis and Clark’s expedition encountered Native peoples who experienced venereal disease as a result of liaisons with French, British, Spanish, and Canadian travelers and had their own methods for curing its victims, or at least for easing the pain it inflicted.
Lowry’s careful study of the explorers’ journals sheds new light on this neglected aspect of the expedition, showing in detail how sex and venereal disease affected the men and their mission, and describes how diverse peoples faced a common threat with the best knowledge and tools at their disposal.
"Tom Lowry has given us a brilliantly contextualized story of the significant role that sex and syphilis played in the Lewis and Clark Expedition."—Gretchen Worden, former director, Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
"You needn't be a doctor to follow the story of syphilis and gonorrhea since 1498, what Lewis and Clark knew of venereal disease, night-life along the trail, and the search for post-expedition late syphilis. Entertaining and highly recommended."—Jack D. Welsh, author of Medical Histories of Union Generals and Medical Histories of Confederate Generals
“This slim book is written with wit, intelligence, and a humane understanding of venereal disease. . . . It belongs on the shelves not only of Lewis and Clark fans, but in any library of American history because it offers so much insight into frontier health and sickness.”—Montana: The Magazine of Western History
“Lowry has given careful and reasoned thought to an aspect of history that until now has been virtually unmentioned.”—Sandra D. Speiden, Free Lance-Star
“Surely, I thought, this little book can’t be a serious evaluation of the conjunction of two never-to-be united subjects. I was completely wrong. Dr. Lowry, a retired psychiatrist and a historian of aspects of the Civil War, has thrown light on his two subjects, both of which are fascinating looked at in the light of the other. Lowry points out that the subject of sex has been broached by historians of the famous expedition, but having been broached, it is mentioned in passing. . . . This has meant that not all of the history of the expedition could be written.”—The Times of Acadiana
“In this intriguing and fascinating monograph, Lowry demonstrates that venereal disease was a major threat to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”—Military Heritage
“There is much to ponder in this compact book. . . . It offers new questions and new modes of considering the Lewis and Clark Expedition during this bicentennial when no topic is out of bounds. Lowry’s is a welcomed volume on the shelf of Lewis and Clark books.”—Patricia Ann Owens, Chronicles of Oklahoma
"Overall, Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a worthwhile read and much will be learned from it."—Kerri Inglis, Bulletin of the Pacific Circle
“Lowry’s writing and references will pique the interest of any learner and will guide the reader to a deeper appreciation of the human beings who inhabited the tight-knit community of the expedition. . . . This work will be a good addition to the library of any fan of the Voyage of Discovery.”—Western Historical Quarterly
"This is a well-written book: compact, informative, sticks to the narrative, and is a valuable contribution to the burgeoning literature on America's most famous expedition."—Bruce C. Paton, M.D., Oregon Historical Quarterly
"The quotations about Indian sexual practices and Lowry's demonstration of the extent of Lewis and Clark's concern about venereal disease are fascinating."—Ronald G. Walters, Bullentin of the History of Medicine
“Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition supplies valuable context for our understanding of the expedition and the era of westward expansion in succinct, informative, and readable prose.”—Paul Rubinson, Pacific Northwest Quarterly
“Lowry writes with historical honesty. He uses primary documents—namely, the written journals—as the basis for facts and analyses and avoids speculation to suit any presumed theory. Packed with contextual information and historical and social insights, this small entertaining volume makes the expedition’s epic venture appear all the more remarkable.”—Ronald V. Lage, Great Plains Research