Research is not for the faint of heart I’ve decided. Yesterday, surrounded by stacks of books that all must be read, I wished I could just set my hand on each and absorb everything I needed to learn from it in a matter of seconds. However, I have always believed that there is something to be learned in the struggle and that bypassing the hardships makes the process and the result less meaningful. The lesson in this current struggle seems to be one of patience. To conduct quality research, one must be thorough, which takes time. So yesterday, I forced myself to read through George Rogers Clark’s entire memoir, jot down page numbers I wanted to return to and why, but refrain from taking detailed notes so I could get a sense of the narrative as a whole.
Despite Clark’s views on American Indians and lack of understanding, I couldn’t help but admire some of his other qualities. I realize that I was reading a memoir, a genre that does not lend itself to objectivity, but I have read other accounts of Clark’s capture of Vincennes that corroborate much of what he wrote about himself. While Vincennes and his mission was not as important as he believed it was to the American cause in the Revolutionary War, he proved himself to be a leader with uncommon motivational gifts. Whether or not his troops were as content as he presented them in his account, the fact remains that he was able to convince them to slog through more than sixty miles of flooded land with water from one to five feet deep and then launch an attack against a fort filled with British soldiers who were supported by 400 allied Indian warriors. He was so outnumbered that when the British surrendered, he worried about managing the defeated army with his much smaller force.
At the same time, he repeatedly demonstrated a somewhat reckless nature in choosing to attack larger forces of trained British soldiers with his meager militia of backcountry farmers, a strategy that proved the undoing of Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair when they attempted it against American Indians in the Ohio River Valley a decade later. The untrained militiamen under Harmar fled when the savvy Indian coalition set a trap, and those under St. Clair nearly all died when they were caught unaware in one of the worst defeats the American military ever suffered.
I digress. Tomorrow, I will return to Clark’s memoir to go through it more slowly to take notes along the way in an attempt to tease out, not the interesting details of his military campaign, but the no-less-interesting accounts of his negotiations with tribes from the Illinois Country and western Ohio Valley.
I have also done as I said I would. I’ve returned to a presentation I gave at the Newberry Consortium in American Indian Studies graduate student conference in August 2010 to revise it and expand it for publication. One of the professors in attendance that day encouraged me to publish it and has recently agreed to critique it before I send it in. It feels like such a small thing, an unexceptional thing, to work on this paper. And yet, it also feels like an enormous accomplishment just to make the attempt. The process of revision and willingly subjecting it to others’ evaluation without fear feels like a success.