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.