Tag Archives: Red River

We start with the bones.

The work we are now doing, is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeate it. for this we are much indebted to you not only for the labour & time you have devoted to it, but for the excellent method of which you have set the example, and which I hope will be the model to be followed by others. we shall delineate with correctness the great arteries [rivers] of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin.
Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, May 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders build a strong foundation first.
Lewis and Clark were not the only river explorers in Jefferson’s administration. Just months after they departed St. Louis in May 1804, Dunbar (1749-1810) was commissioned to explore the Red and/or Arkansas Rivers in the Mississippi’s western watershed (present day Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma). This lengthy, technical letter following the completed mission concludes with Jefferson’s methodology and grand design.

The excellent work completed by Dunbar’s labor and skill made further investigation of those rivers unnecessary. It also set a high standard for others. The “arteries” or river bones of the nation, once accurately described as Dunbar had done, would become the “canvas” or skeleton which future explorers could begin to fill in.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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You gotta start somewhere.

… The work we are now doing, is, I trust, done for posterity, in such a way that they need not repeate it. for this we are much indebted to you not only for the labour & time you have devoted to it, but for the excellent method of which you have set the example, and which I hope will be the model to be followed by others. we shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin…
To William Dunbar, May 25, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders pioneer so others can follow.
This excerpt came the end of a long, technical letter about Dunbar’s commission to explore Red River from its mouth on the Mississippi between Natchez and Baton Rouge. It flows from the northwest, forms much of the southern border between Oklahoma and Texas, and has its source in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo. Jefferson considered its exploration second only to the one Lewis & Clark had begun of the Missouri River a year before.

This would be the first investigation of the Red River. Jefferson wanted it done in such a manner that it provided an accurate foundation for future explorations. He commended Dunbar for his labor, time, and skill and the excellence of his example. It was for Jefferson’s generation to begin documenting the great rivers, so subsequent generations could “fill up the canvas we begin.”

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