Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 148
In the freshet of scholarly and popular studies accompanying the recent bicentennials of Lewis and Clark's and David Thompson's westward explorations, Dark Storm Moving West forms an eddy of reflection on the practical, communicative, and philosophical challenges of understanding Euro-American exploration in western North America. English professor turned exploration historian Barbara Belyea eschews traditional narratives or grand theses in favor of dense rumination on particular episodes, personalities, and questions. Swirling and riffled at the surface, these waters yet find more subtle coherences in their depths than Belyea herself admits.
Her essays are focused loosely on the figure of Peter Fidler, a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) fur trader and explorer. Fidler's exploration and surveys of the northern Great Plains and the Athabasca district made key contributions to the HBC's struggle with David Thompson's Northwest Company for domination over the interior fur trade and, more generally, to the completion of Euro-American maps of western North America. The elusive, protean figure of Fidler guides Belyea's observations on scientific cartography, field surveying and exploration, the use of Native cartographic insights and methods, and the nature of Native-newcomer interactions along the fur-trade frontier.