Like many men of their era, Lewis and Clark were “blessed” with an overabundance of positivity and confidence (more for Lewis than Clark, but they each believed in the soundness of their society and their technology). Even at this point in their long journey, having encountered many forces that would have turned back lesser explorers, they press on, confident in their ability to surmount any obstacle with their creativity and ingenuity. Their men were obliged to agree with them, but the two women associated with this version of the Corps of Discovery – Mrs. Boniface and Sacagawea – have different opinions. Sacagawea respects the environment and has confidence in her abilities to deal with them, which are decidedly different and more pragmatic than the two Virginian gentlemen. And Mrs. Boniface is the voice of caution. Ever since being rescued from the ruins of La Charette, she’s urged the Captains to run from trouble and end their mission, something that of course Lewis and Clark would never do. Mrs. Boniface isn’t cowardly as much as cautious, and while the expedition leaders aren’t foolhardy, they also have a mission to move forward and that is always their number one priority.
This issue opens with Sacagawea, perched on the highest mast of the keelboat, away from the “stink” of the men, keeping watch over them all. When Mrs Boniface is shown a distant Bigfoot through a telescope, she has only moments to regard the monster before Sacagawea cuts it down with expert precision, after which she asks, “Can I go home now?” It’s an ironic question because, for one thing, to Lewis and Clark and their men, the Native American woman is in some ways already home. They have little conception, alas, of the vastness of the American continent and the domains of the various nations that populate it. And the other irony is that now, more than ever, the men need their Shoshone warrior woman to protect them with her expertise.
In fact, in this issue we re-connect with Sacagawea’s erstwhile husband, Charbonneau, who has survived the wilderness in part by covering himself with rabbit urine to ward off potential threats. Having scouted the area ahead of the Sasquatch habitat, Charbonneau reassures the expedition that they are perfectly safe and despite Mrs Boniface’s urging to the contrary, they decide that that best thing to do in this new, apparently safe area is to camp for the winter. As readers, we might be lulled into thinking that Lewis and Clark are about to make the same mistake that doomed Captain Helm in 1801, but in fact we’ve seen time and again how their leadership style, commitment to logic and common sense and an ability to improvise and team-build give them an edge over the earlier tragedy. For example, they know enough to steer clear of the infamous “arches” they’ve seen from as far back as issue #1, always a telltale sign of a hostile landscape.
Poor old Helm doesn’t fare as well back in 1801. Just like Cedric the Entertainer’s classic joke about white people, they head right to the trouble rather than running away. By the time what’s left of his expedition faces an arch (which they view as a good sign), and we see the truest representation of the forces both expeditions face thus far, and Helm is characteristically less than moved. Some people, it seems, just don’t want to be scared, and ever since Helm’s descent into cannibalism, it’s as if he views his own humanity are so compromised that he’s committed emphatically to his delusions. When he’s asked to make a choice at the end of this issue, there’s little doubt what choice he will make, no matter how many times he tells his fellow survivor that he’s committed to the people under his command.
Many early exploration missions faced these kinds of desperate circumstances, and it didn’t always turn out for the best (just ask Magellan). It seems once again that the reasons for including the Helm story in the pages of Manifest Destiny is not necessarily to show how badly a fictional character did, but rather how exceptional Lewis and Clark really were. Lewis and Clark aren’t about to hold hands with the Sasquatch and sing “Kumbaya”, but they also aren’t going to slaughter them in cold blood for meat until they find themselves eventually running from them, the hunter becoming the hunted. Small moral choices make big moral differences.
The issue ends with the Corps of Discovery settling down for the winter, or at least apparently so. The real corps wound up wintering at Fort Mandan that first season, and then wintering on the west coast near Astoria, Oregon (Goonies country!) the second season. Just how closely Chris Dingess intends to follow the history remains to be seen, but it’s a good bet that the corps isn’t quite ready to put down stakes just yet. We have two more issues in the Sasquatch arc to find out.