Most of the book is taken from David Thompson's own accounts of his explorations from the Hudson Bay westward, across the Rockies and into the Kootenays and south along the Columbia River to it's mouth on the Pacific Ocean. Thompson tells of the fur trade that was the impetus for his exploration, his companions the voyageurs that made his travels possible, his encounters and cooperation with the peoples he met on his journeys and of the land that so fascinated him. Thompson's is likely the earliest account of this region, my native region, and I thought about this as I drove a very short stretch of the David Thompson Highway this afternoon. This book is fascinating and difficult to put down and the author's own retracing of Thompson's travels fixes the places of Thompson's time with those of our own recognition.
David Thompson was the first European to explore and map the full reach of the Columbia River from its source in the northern Rocky Mountains in what is now British Columbia. He ranged over the inland upper northwest, surveying and arranging trade houses for the NorthWest Company, a competitor to Hudson's Bay Company for the fur trade. His sharp eye and meticulous practices lead to such accurate latitude and longitude readings that they stand up to modern techniques. He also observed the social practices of the First Nations he encountered (sometimes as the first white man they'd seen). His work was motivated by a curiosity for the land and a desire to do a good job. The stories of his travels -- compiled from several remaining notebooks, and a "Narrative" unfinished at the time of his death -- are riveting, I can barely imagine the difficulties he and his crews faced as a matter of course. Nisbet interposes his own travels in the modern day inland NW, on a heavily dammed Columbia River.
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