There are several ways to take a vacation. You can book it and go. Or you can do what many American Queen Steamboat Company guests do: book it and then dive into the history of the places you’ll be visiting. For those who travel with us on the grand American Queen for the first time, we always suggest that they pick up a copy of the immortal Mark Twain’s fascinating Life on the Mississippi. While many of his other books such as the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn give a brief peek into small town life and what it was like grow up along the banks of the Mississippi River, his Life on the Mississippi takes a broader view. Though the book is about his experiences as a riverboat cub pilot, it encapsulates the details of sailing the river in the 1800s – both is beauty and its perils. Because of its detail, the book has become much more than just the amusing tales of a humorist on the river and is now a historical reference to how certain riverboat procedures were performed.

When we announced that we would be sending our new acquisition, the elegant American Empress, to the Pacific Northwest for voyages along the Columbia and Snake rivers, we began to get questions regarding what our guests could read that would prepare them to better appreciate the history of the region. I’m happy to say that since the American Empress follows along in the footsteps of legendary explorers Lewis and Clark, we have discovered that the duo’s journals of their trek are available online. We invite you to go to the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online and discover history for yourself.

Transferring, interpreting and translating the handwritten journals into online text and readable documents were no easy tasks. The University of Nebraska in Lincoln has undertaken a monumental project that is best described by the project’s co-director, Katherine Walter.

“The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online owes much to the exemplary documentary editing work of Gary Moulton and his editorial team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Great Plains Studies. Moulton’s twenty-year plus project has been recognized for its excellence by many scholarly organizations, including the American Historical Association, which awarded the J. Franklin Jameson Prize to the Journals.

The idea for the digital project was conceived originally by Stephen Hilliard, interim director of the University of Nebraska Press. Hilliard approached what is now the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and University of Nebraska–Lincoln Vice Chancellor for Research Prem Paul. With funding from Paul’s office in 2002, a team of scholars, librarians, and Press staff developed a pilot site featuring 200 pages of the Nebraska edition of the Journals edited by Moulton. During the pilot period, the team explored numerous issues and decided upon international standards to follow in encoding elements. Among our goals were to enhance searching within the Lewis and Clark journals.

In 2003, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Division of Public Programs funded a Bicentennial project to complete the Journals and to present other Lewis and Clark resources. With this funding, we were able to create a stellar advisory board and to hire a text encoding specialist, Laura Weakly.

The content of the digital site is much broader than the Journals themselves, with presentations of audio, video, text, and images. By adding new materials, the site offers valuable Native American perspectives to readers. Links to other Lewis and Clark resources are ones of interest to the educated public, Native Americans, scholars, and Lewis and Clark enthusiasts.”

The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online website is a fascinating stop for anyone considering a voyage on the American Empress. It contains not just the journals, but images and maps as well. Reading through the journals provides a clear picture of the hardships that the explorers faced in the early 1800s as they worked to map and understand the new lands America had acquired and to expand the country’s destiny westward to the Pacific Ocean.

Guests of the American Empress explore the area across which Lewis and Clark trekked, but do so in far more luxury than the intrepid pioneers could ever have imagined. White tablecloths, complimentary wine and beer with dinner, and cuisine inspired by the Pacific Northwest but prepared with the delicate touch of a gourmet, are in sharp contrast to the world of Lewis and Clark.

Consider this entry from March 20, 1806 and you can see why a review of the journals makes for interesting reading and puts a voyage on the American Empress into perspective (the lack of capitalization at the beginning of sentences and the odd punctuation and misspellings appear exactly as they do in the handwritten journals):

It continued to rain and blow so violently today that nothing could be done towards forwarding our departure.    we intended to have Dispatched Drewyer and the two Fieldses to hunt near the bay on this side of the Cathlahmahs untill we jounded them from hence, but the rain rendered our departure so uncertain that we declined this measure for the present.    nothing remarkable happened during the day.    we have yet several days provision on hand, which we hope will be sufficient to subsist us during the time we are compelled by the weather to remain at this place.—

Altho’ we have not fared sumptuously this winter and spring at Fort Clatsop, we have lived quite as comfortably as we had any reason to expect we should; and have accomplished every object which induced our remaining at this place except that of meeting with the traders who visit the entrance of this river.    our salt will be very sufficient to last us to the Missouri where we have a stock in store.—    it would have been very fortunate for us had some of those traders arrived previous to our departure from hence, as we should then have had it our power to obtain an addition to our stock of merchandize which would have made our homeward bound journey much more comfortable.    many of our men are still complaining of being unwell; Willard and Bratton remain weak, principally I beleive for the want of proper food. I expect when we get under way we shall be much more healthy.    it has always had that effect on us heretofore. The guns of Drewyer and Sergt. Pryor were both out of order.    the first was repared with a new lock, the old one having become unfit for uce; the second had the cock screw broken which was replaced by a duplicate which had been prepared for the lock at Harpers ferry where she was manufactured.    but for the precaution taken in bringing on those extra locks, and parts of locks, in addition to the ingenuity of John Shields, most of our guns would at this moment been untirely unfit for use; but fortunately for us I have it in my power here to record that they are all in good order.