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The explorer who made Lewis and Clark look like tourists.
http://www.nvo.com ^ | Old Article | TIMOTHY HARPER

Posted on 04/15/2012 7:48:33 PM PDT by Rebelbase

D avid Thompson was a monumental figure in North American history. A fur trader, an explorer and perhaps the greatest land geographer ever, he led expeditions through incredible hardship and danger to safety. His 77 journals made important contributions to our understanding of culture, history and everyday life in North America before Europeans brought horses, guns, alcohol and disease. And he and his American Indian wife lived one of the great love stories of all time.

So why haven’t you heard of 19th-century frontiersman David Thompson? No doubt one reason is that he spent most of his long life in Canada, and like most Canadians, even in the early 1800s, he wasn’t one to blow his own powder horn.

Another reason might just be chance. Consider the hoopla— documentaries, books, commemorations—for the bicentennial of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 1804–06 expedition. Yet it’s been said that Thompson made Lewis and Clark look like tourists. Thompson covered 80,000 miles by foot, horseback, dog sled and canoe—compared with Lewis and Clark’s 8,000-some miles. His maps, made with relatively crude instruments and seat-of-the-buckskin-pants reckoning, covered more than 1.5 million square miles and stand up well to today’s satellite images.

But if Thompson has been overlooked before, he’s now beginning to get the recognition he deserves. “He had an uncommon thirst for knowledge,” observes historian James Hanson of the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska. “He posed questions that other fur traders never asked. He had a special affinity for native people.” As the wild places Thompson mapped become more precious and the cultures he chronicled in his journals renew their links to the past, many have new reasons to appreciate that uncommon thirst for knowledge.

A Young Man on the Frontier
David Thompson was born in England in 1770. After the death of his father, 7-year-old David was placed in London’s Grey Coat School for orphans and foundlings. He showed an aptitude for mathematics, and at age 14 the Hudson Bay Company sent him to work as an apprentice clerk at its fur-trading posts in North America. Thompson learned the ritual of smoking tobacco with American Indians for the palaver of fur trading, and devoted himself not only to riding, shooting, hunting and fishing, but also to becoming a woodsman in the Indian style, as he wrote about years later:

I had always admired the tact of the Indian in being able to guide himself through the darkest pine forests to exactly the place he intended to go, his keen, constant attention to every thing; the removal of the smallest stone, the bent or broken twig; a slight mark on the ground, all spoke plain language to him. I was anxious to acquire this knowledge.

At 17, Thompson spent the winter in a camp of the Piegan tribe, part of the Blackfoot nation, learning the language and culture. He began keeping journals describing the nature and people around him. Here’s his description of a fishing scene:

With a Woman or a Lad to paddle and steer the canoe, the Indian with his long spear, stands on the gunwales at the bar behind the bow, and ticklish as the canoe is, and the Lake almost always somewhat agitated, he preserve his upright posture, as if standing on a rock. On the Lake, especially in the fore part of the day, a low fog rises on the surface of the water, caused by the coldness of the water and the higher temperature of the air; which hides the Canoe; and only the Indian Man, with his posed spear ready to strike is seen, like a ghost gliding slowly over the water.

Unlike Lewis and Clark, who described their encounters with American Indians in much the same way they catalogued the flora and fauna, Thompson could admire them as people, and even be envious of them at times. In one passage, he dwelled on the Indian men’s posture and grace as they walked. It’s easy to see why he might focus on this when one learns he was short and compact, more like the rough-hewn French Canadian voyageurs he often traveled the rivers with. Though no photographs exist of Thompson, descriptions tell us he was not a handsome man. He had weathered skin, deeply furrowed features and dark hair cut straight across his forehead.

An Adventuring Cartographer
At 19, laid up with a broken leg, Thompson wintered with the Hudson Bay Company’s top surveyor, Philip Turner, who showed him how to use surveying instruments. Until then, maps of Canada and the American Northwest were dominated by large blank spaces. Thompson literally filled in the blanks that covered one-fifth of the continent.

Using a sextant, compass, telescope and watch, Thompson often took sightings while standing in a moving canoe. He used the positions of the moons of Jupiter, and sometimes hours of calculations, for his reckonings.

Both Canadians and Indians often inquired of me why I observed the Sun, and sometimes the Moon, in the day time, and passed whole nights with my instruments looking at the Moon and Stars. I told them it was to determine the distance and direction from the place I observed to other places; neither the Canadians nor the Indians believed me for both argued that if what I said was the truth, I ought to look to the ground, and over it; and not to the Stars.

He found and mapped the headwaters of the Mississippi and Columbia rivers. He was the first white man—and maybe the first man, period—to traverse the length of the Columbia. By 1812, he had done what many others, including Lewis and Clark, had tried but failed to do: map a navigable water route from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. “Fur traders, immigrants and adventurers followed this route until the Canadian Pacific Railroad was completed 74 years later,” notes editor Barbara Belyea of the University of Calgary in David Thompson: Columbia Journals, a selection of Thompson’s journal entries.

Mapmaking required not only Thompson’s scientific skills, but also his sheer physical endurance. Each day of his travels was difficult and dangerous. Once, while fording a raging river, members of Thompson’s party had to grab onto their horses’ tails to keep from being swept away. Thompson’s canoes—up to 40 feet long, bearing up to 1 1/2 tons of furs and paddled by six to 12 voyageurs each—sometimes had to be carried around rocks and rapids or pulled upstream with ropes. It once took Thompson three days to cover 2 1/2 miles. Another time, his canoes shot 74 miles downstream in less than six hours. Going over one set of falls, Thompson and his men lost their canoes and almost all their gear. (A member of the party managed to save Thompson’s sextant.) They were near starvation when they limped into an Indian encampment a week later.

Through it all, Thompson never seemed to lose his enthusiasm for whatever lay around the next bend or over the next mountain. “A fine day,” he repeatedly exclaimed in his journal, even when it was sleeting or he was plagued by mosquitoes.

A Thoughtful Businessman
Across land that’s now Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, through much of present-day Montana, Idaho and Washington, wherever Thompson went, he was often the first white man there. He built trading posts, which helped bring modernization to the area. “He was an agent of revolutionary change in the region: Its history turns on the moment of his arrival,” historian Jack Nisbet wrote in Sources of the River, a 1994 book retracing some of Thompson’s journeys.

Instead of tanning animal skins and using thorns to sew garments from them as before, American Indians could make clothes with fabric and needles that Thompson traded for beaver and other pelts. He brought iron arrowheads, the first pots and pans, good tobacco for peace pipes, and guns that made the Indians more productive hunters.

Thompson was unusual among fur traders in that he did not like to trade liquor to Indians. “He saw many tragedies of abuse, maimings and killings that he attributed directly to the sale of liquor as a trade item,” Canadian historian Pat McDonald says. Here’s what happened when he told one tribe that he would not trade liquor:

The Women were pleased, and said all the Men were fools that drank fire water . . . the Women in general kept themselves sober, and when the men were about to drink hid all the Arms, and Knives and left them nothing but their teeth and fists to fight with.

Once when he was packing for a trading trip, his partners insisted that he take along two casks of rum:

I placed the two Kegs of Alcohol on a vicious horse; and by noon the Kegs were empty, and in pieces, the Horse rubbing his load against the Rocks to get rid of it; I wrote to my partners what I had done; and that I would do the same to every Keg of Alcohol, and for the next six years I had charge of the furr trade on the west side of the Mountains, no further attempt was made to introduce spirituous Liquors.

Thompson apparently never had any gun battles with Indians, though he talked his way out of numerous sticky situations. The Blackfeet, especially, threatened him for trading guns to rival tribes. Thompson bargained, cajoled and once in a while tricked Indians, and he wasn’t above giving a belligerent warrior a bloody nose.

But he was respected by Indians for his morality and fairness, and was occasionally asked to arbitrate their disputes. They called him “Koo-Koo-Sint,” or “Stargazer,” and some believed he saw the future in the stars. When word spread that Koo-Koo-Sint was approaching a tribe’s territory for the first time, a chief would come out to meet his party, knowing that Thompson would have goods to trade.

A Doting Father and Husband
At 29, Thompson took a wife: Charlotte Small, the daughter of a Cree woman and a Scottish fur trader. Many white fur traders had one or more native families, and most of them, like Charlotte’s father, abandoned those families when they retired to the East or Europe. Thompson doted on his wife, and she often helped him in his work; her knowledge of various dialects and languages was particularly helpful. When they started having children—they had five while living in the wilderness—Thompson often took the whole family on the trail. It must have been quite a sight: Charlotte, often pregnant, and a gaggle of small children in canoes or on horseback amid the voyageurs and Indian scouts, moving from camp to camp every night. During winters the family holed up together in cabins at trading posts.

David Thompson left the West in 1812, at age 42. He had been in the wilderness for 28 years, and never returned. He took his family to Montreal, where he and Charlotte formally married and had eight more children. He worked as a surveyor, primarily charting U.S.-Canada boundaries, and his maps were official for both countries into the 1950s.

As he got older, Thompson slipped into blindness, obscurity and poverty. Money he had loaned and invested was never repaid. He spent years going through his old journals and writing a narrative to raise money. Charlotte and the daughter they lived with often heard him chuckling as he relived his adventures. But his narrative was not published until 1916, decades after his death. He finally pawned his sextant to buy food.

Despite all his woes, Thompson was not bitter in old age. He said he had accomplished “all that one man could hope to perform.” He died in 1857, at age 87. Charlotte, his wife of 58 years, “proud to be the wife of such a fine man, who knew the ways of my people and would never disgrace me before them,” died three months later.


TOPICS: Education; Outdoors; Science; Travel
KEYWORDS: cartographer; davidthompson; explorer; furtrader; godsgravesglyphs; hudsonbaycompany; lewisandclark; trapper
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I've been reading the Lewis and Clark Journals and got sidetracked into David Thompson whom I'd never heard of before.

His accomplishments are mind blowing for the time.

1 posted on 04/15/2012 7:48:43 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: SunkenCiv

Ping


2 posted on 04/15/2012 7:49:40 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase

Great post! Really puts things in perspective.


3 posted on 04/15/2012 7:54:39 PM PDT by GlockThe Vote (The Obama Adminstration: 2nd wave of attacks on America after 9/11)
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To: Rebelbase

Thanks for posting. I’ve never heard of him.


4 posted on 04/15/2012 7:55:59 PM PDT by BipolarBob (Yes I backed over the vampire, but I swear I did not see it in my rearview mirror.)
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To: Rebelbase; Pharmboy; fanfan; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Rebelbase. This looks pingworthy, despite being a modern history topic.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


5 posted on 04/15/2012 8:01:42 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FReepathon 2Q time -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: BipolarBob

His journals are available online at this link. Well written and absolutely fascinating.

http://link.library.utoronto.ca/champlain/item_record.cfm?Idno=9_96855&lang=eng&query=thompson%20AND%20david&searchtype=Author&startrow=1&Limit=All


6 posted on 04/15/2012 8:03:04 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase

Ray Mears did a show about him ..... Interesting pioneer indeed.

Stay safe !


7 posted on 04/15/2012 8:03:46 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet)
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To: Rebelbase

Thanks for posting.


8 posted on 04/15/2012 8:06:34 PM PDT by rawcatslyentist ("Behold, I am against you, O arrogant one," Jeremiah 50:31)
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To: GlockThe Vote
Thompson's travels:


9 posted on 04/15/2012 8:06:54 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase; BipolarBob

Dittoes to what BiPolar Bob said!


10 posted on 04/15/2012 8:09:33 PM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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To: Rebelbase

Not really fair to compare a 2 year expedition to 28 years.


11 posted on 04/15/2012 8:12:53 PM PDT by Kirkwood (Zombie Hunter)
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To: Rebelbase

thank you for the thread and the link - I am anxious to read them!

I like reading from the source when it comes to recounting the days/lives of our first North Americans.


12 posted on 04/15/2012 8:19:22 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("If you bought it - a truck brought it" - and because of the price of gas/it costs more.)
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To: All

Great read. I needed something like that this evening.

Thanks for the post.


13 posted on 04/15/2012 8:19:39 PM PDT by I_Publius
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To: Rebelbase

“I placed the two Kegs of Alcohol on a vicious horse; and by noon the Kegs were empty, and in pieces, the Horse rubbing his load against the Rocks to get rid of it; I wrote to my partners what I had done; and that I would do the same to every Keg of Alcohol, and for the next six years I had charge of the furr trade on the west side of the Mountains, no further attempt was made to introduce spirituous Liquors.”

Lemme guess, he’s a mormon explorer. And then... why pack your animals unballanced? Never had a horse ‘freek’ out on me for pulling a bottle of tequila out of the saddle bag...


14 posted on 04/15/2012 8:20:14 PM PDT by Carthego delenda est
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To: Rebelbase

Some Toob about the man........

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id0OZN8nL2E


15 posted on 04/15/2012 8:21:52 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet)
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To: Rebelbase

Would make a great movie. No sex, forget it.


16 posted on 04/15/2012 8:24:35 PM PDT by AGreatPer (Obama has NEVER given a speech where he did not lie!!!)
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To: Rebelbase

Great post, I love all the history of North America. There were quite a few frontiersmen who are not well known. The voyageurs tread many a remote path, to of seen the things they saw would be a treasure beyond measure.


17 posted on 04/15/2012 8:25:58 PM PDT by dog breath
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To: Rebelbase

From today’s perspective, I gotta say ?why?

I find it incredible learning about the pursuits of a few generations ago, or the travails of our unemployed grandfathers during the depression;

As I put my feet on the Ottoman, click the remote, and laugh at old Seinfelds, until bedtime in a sleep number bed, whilst writing a deposit ticket for my SS check and pension!


18 posted on 04/15/2012 8:33:51 PM PDT by Noob1999 (Loose Lips, Sink Ships)
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To: Rebelbase

Well, if your reading Lewis and Clark stuff, might as well bring up John Colter. He was another cool dude, to say the least, and inspiration for the classic The Naked Prey movie and a great explorer and pathfinder in his own right.


19 posted on 04/15/2012 8:34:12 PM PDT by Theoria (Rush Limbaugh: Ron Paul sounds like an Islamic terrorist)
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To: Squantos

“Some Toob about the man........”

So....


20 posted on 04/15/2012 8:36:36 PM PDT by Carthego delenda est
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To: Rebelbase

Bump for Monday.


21 posted on 04/15/2012 8:39:28 PM PDT by Deaf Smith
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To: Rebelbase

ping


22 posted on 04/15/2012 8:40:24 PM PDT by rogue yam
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To: Pontiac

for later


23 posted on 04/15/2012 8:43:53 PM PDT by Pontiac (The welfare state must fail because it is contrary to human nature and diminishes the human spirit.)
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To: Theoria

Coulter was one of the hunters on the Lewis and Clark trip. Two weeks from St. Louis on the return he left the expedition and joined with two Frenchmen on a fur trapping venture the eventually led to his famous “Coulter’s Run”.


24 posted on 04/15/2012 8:44:49 PM PDT by Rebelbase
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To: Rebelbase

Great post! Thanks!


25 posted on 04/15/2012 8:50:26 PM PDT by Graewoulf ((Dictator Baby-Doc Barack's obama"care" violates Sherman Anti-Trust Law, AND U.S. Constitution.))
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To: Rebelbase

The Birth of Lesbians...

“The Women were pleased, and said all the Men were fools that drank fire water . . . the Women in general kept themselves sober, and when the men were about to drink hid all the Arms, and Knives and left them nothing but their teeth and fists to fight with.”


26 posted on 04/15/2012 8:50:45 PM PDT by Carthego delenda est
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To: Theoria

Not to mention Jedidiah Smith...


27 posted on 04/15/2012 9:02:40 PM PDT by AlmaKing
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To: Carthego delenda est

Who knew Janet Napolitano was a Blackfoot?


28 posted on 04/15/2012 9:04:17 PM PDT by AlmaKing
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To: AlmaKing

“Who knew Janet Napolitano was a Blackfoot?”

LOL!


29 posted on 04/15/2012 9:18:42 PM PDT by Carthego delenda est
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To: Rebelbase

“His accomplishments are mind blowing for the time.”

80,000 miles in the field is good for today, particularly for land travel.


30 posted on 04/15/2012 9:19:13 PM PDT by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon freedom, it is necessary to examine principles."...the public interest)
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To: Rebelbase
Interesting. Here's to David Thompson.
31 posted on 04/15/2012 9:19:22 PM PDT by hinckley buzzard
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To: Rebelbase

Another person that is not often mentioned in helping people get to Oregon is Marie Dorion, a native American who was married to a Frend man Not nearly as famous as Sacajawea. But she did similar things.


32 posted on 04/15/2012 9:22:35 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Carthego delenda est

Looks like you drained that bottle ;)


33 posted on 04/15/2012 9:29:33 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("If you bought it - a truck brought it" - and because of the price of gas/it costs more.)
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To: Rebelbase

Great post, amazing story! Thanks for posting.


34 posted on 04/15/2012 9:31:01 PM PDT by davisfh
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To: Rebelbase
His 77 journals made important contributions to our understanding of culture, history and everyday life in North America before Europeans brought horses, guns, alcohol and disease.

Other than horses, guns, alcohol and disease, there apparently isn't anything else to note about the Europeans.

35 posted on 04/15/2012 9:32:04 PM PDT by Talisker (He who commands, must obey.)
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To: Carthego delenda est

YOu really should go to bed and sleep it off


36 posted on 04/15/2012 9:32:19 PM PDT by maine-iac7 ("If you bought it - a truck brought it" - and because of the price of gas/it costs more.)
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To: Rebelbase

Alas the author takes the PC modern approach which will get less traction here than the conservative approach to this story. Rather than tell us that David Thompson was a late 20th or early 21st Century leftist before his time and probably had a COEXIST bumper sticker on his horse or something, the author might have drawn the comparison that Lewis and Clark were government funded and Thompson appears to have at least initially come over via the private sector and maybe struck out as an entrepreneur.

My conjecture could be why Lewis and Clark became more famous. They had a government and politicians hyping them. Alternatively perhaps if there were more global warming faster, Canada would have 10 times the population of the US rather than the other way around and Thompson would be famous. Or maybe Thompson justly is not famous due to his emotional attachment to the native peoples compared to Lewis and Clark’s more scientific approach. That could justifiably cause people to pay more attention to Lewis and Clark and less attention to that guy with the COEXIST bumper sticker on his horse.


37 posted on 04/15/2012 9:33:50 PM PDT by JLS (How to turn a recession into a depression: elect a Dem president with a big majorities in Congress)
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To: Rebelbase

Really fun reading. He writes very intelligently and clearly. Makes you feel like you are right there with him. Thank you!


38 posted on 04/15/2012 9:47:52 PM PDT by Bellflower (The LORD is Holy, separated from all sin, perfect, righteous, high and lifted up.)
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To: Rebelbase

Quite a story about a tamed polar bear on page 14 and 15. Amazing!


39 posted on 04/15/2012 9:52:04 PM PDT by Bellflower (The LORD is Holy, separated from all sin, perfect, righteous, high and lifted up.)
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To: Rebelbase

Book marked, thank you.

I love this sort of story.


40 posted on 04/15/2012 9:52:08 PM PDT by Islander7 (There is no septic system so vile, so filthy, the left won't drink from to further their agenda)
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To: Rebelbase

Interesting.... but is David Thompsom any relation to Jim Thompson?? ;)


41 posted on 04/15/2012 9:52:49 PM PDT by Reddy (B.O. stinks)
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To: Rebelbase

For sheer grit and determination you have to read about Hugh Glass, a trapper who was mauled by a grizzly bear and then left for dead by his companions, Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald.

He crawled from somewhere on the headwaters of the Missouri back to Fort Kiowa, hundreds of miles distant through Indian country.

After recovering from his wounds, he went looking for the men who left him for revenge.

It’s a helluva story.

I think the two definitive books are probably Hugh Glass, Mountain Man and Lord Grizzly.


42 posted on 04/15/2012 9:57:27 PM PDT by wildbill (You're just jealous because the Voices talk only to me.)
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To: Rebelbase

What a wonderful story. Thank you.


43 posted on 04/15/2012 10:03:12 PM PDT by Sequoyah101
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To: Rebelbase

A good read.


44 posted on 04/15/2012 10:16:00 PM PDT by EternalVigilance ('Throw all the bums out.' It's not a slogan. It's the survival of the republic.)
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To: Rebelbase
David Thompson?....David Thompson?.... Thompson...Thompson..... oh, yeah..now I remember. He invented the Thompson Sub Machine Gun AKA the Tommy Gun. No wonder he was such a good fur trader.... run across a bunch of beavers and just held down the trigger.

Thanks. Will pursue this further as it sound interesting.

45 posted on 04/15/2012 10:26:31 PM PDT by jmax (Aim well if shooting in full auto, or you may run out of ammo before running out of beavers.)
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To: Rebelbase

I’m embarrassed I’ve not heard of David Thompson. What an incredible man!


46 posted on 04/15/2012 10:38:53 PM PDT by WKUHilltopper (And yet...we continue to tolerate this crap...)
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To: Rebelbase

Nothing against Thompson but the article is cloyingly PC


47 posted on 04/15/2012 10:51:58 PM PDT by wardaddy (I am a social conservative. My political party left me(again). They can go to hell in a bucket.)
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To: Rebelbase

“His journals are available online at this link”

Have you downloaded it all? I’d like to read it, but I hate to click a zillion links.


48 posted on 04/16/2012 1:08:07 AM PDT by dsc (Any attempt to move a government to the left is a crime against humanity.)
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To: dsc

Start here. At the top of the page is a Navigation tab for Next Page.
http://link.library.utoronto.ca/champlain/DigObj.cfm?Idno=9_96855&lang=eng&Page=0002&Size=3&query=thompson%20AND%20david&searchtype=Author&startrow=1&Limit=All


49 posted on 04/16/2012 1:36:40 AM PDT by Haddit
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To: Carthego delenda est
The Birth of Lesbians...

Hardly.

Without prejudice, alcohol has done as much for American Indians as cocaine did for yuppies, only yuppies tended not to kill each other.

The women were prudent in their actions.

50 posted on 04/16/2012 1:57:45 AM PDT by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly. Stand fast. God knows what He is doing)
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