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From myth to reality: mapping the Northwest 1790 to 1850 Public Deposited

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https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_projects/vt150j88r

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  • The prevailing image of the Northwest at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as portrayed on maps published at the time, was based more on myth and wishful thinking than on geographic fact. During the next fifty years these myths were exploded as exploration of this previously unknown territory progressed, and knowledge about geographic features replaced imagination. The impetus behind much of the exploration in the early 1800's was politically motivated in order to lay claim to the territory, first for its access to easy trade with China, later for its material wealth in fur, and only towards the end of this period for settlement. From the early charts of Vancouver and the maps of MacKenzie came the idea of an easy cross-continental water passage which would facilitate commerce with the Far East. Lewis and Clark's expedition abolished this idea, and began an era of exploration that centered almost exclusively on the commercial hunting and trading of beaver. Later fur traders such as Jedediah Smith recognized the potential for agriculture and settlement, which led to a decade of exploration with the intent of ascertaining potential for emigration. Finally by the 1840's the federal government began the process of scientifically mapping the Northwest.
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