Between 1807 and 1812, North West Company fur trader, explorer, and cartographer David Thompson established two viable trade routes across the Rocky Mountains in Canada and systematically surveyed the entire 1,250-mile course of the Columbia River. In succeeding years he distilled his mathematical notations from dozens of journal notebooks into the first accurate maps of the entire northwest quadrant of North America. The writings in those same journals reveal a complex man who was headstrong, curious, and resourceful in ways that reflected both his London education and his fur trade apprenticeship on the Canadian Shield. In The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau, Jack Nisbet utilizes fresh research to convey how Thompson experienced the sweep of human and natural history etched across the Columbia drainage. He places Thompson's movements within the larger contexts of the European Enlightenment, the British fur trade economy, and American expansion as represented by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Nisbet courses through journal notebooks to assemble and comment on Thompson's bird and mammal lists, the explorer's surprisingly detailed Salish vocabulary, the music Thompson and his crew listened to on a barrel organ, and the woodcraft techniques they used to maintain themselves under shelter or while on the move. Visual elements bring Thompson's written daybooks to life. Watercolor landscapes and tribal portraits drawn by the first artists to travel along his trade routes illuminate what the explorer actually saw. Tribal and fur trade artifacts reveal intimate details of two cultures at the moment of contact. The Mapmaker's Eye also depicts the surveying instruments that Thompson used, and displays the series of remarkable maps that grew out of his patient, persistent years of work. In addition to these visual aspects of Thomson's journeys through the Columbia country, Nisbet taps into oral memories kept by the Kootenai and Salish bands who guided the agent and his party along their way.
The Mapmaker's Eye
Washington State University Press
David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau