Mackenzie’s journey preceded Lewis and Clark’s journey by 10 years. Unlike Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie’s pilgrimage was neither proposed by nor financed by the US government.
Once he reached the Pacific, he wrote the following words on a rock from paint he created from grease: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.”
Why was this courageous journey largely overlooked? Because Mackenzie failed to find a commercial route across the country. However, his attempt inspired Thomas Jefferson.
In fact, in 1801 Jefferson ordered a copy of the book entitled, Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Lawrence, through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans. Written about the exploration by Alexander Mackenzie and nine companions, the book made a number of things clear to Jefferson.
First, Mackenzie indicated that his portage over a 3,000 foot mountain pass to cross from land draining to the Atlantic Ocean to land draining into the Pacific lasted only one day.
He did not find a navigable river on the western side of the mountain range, but Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis knew that 400 miles south of Mackenzie’s crossing was the navigable Columbia River. If the mountains were as easy to cross near the Columbia as the area where Mackenzie portaged, the possibility of a waterway to the Pacific looked promising. Second, the book reconfirmed Jefferson’s fears about British colonization in the West.
Words of Wisdom
Logic, sometimes has very little to do with political action.