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James P. Ronda (1943- )
James P. Ronda holds the H. G. Barnard Chair in Western American History at the University of Tulsa and is the past president of the Western History Association. A specialist in the history of the
exploration of the American West, he is the author of many books, essays, and presentations at scholarly conferences. Professor Ronda’s books include: Lewis and Clark Among the Indians (1984); Astoria and Empire (1990); Revealing America: Image and Imagination in the Exploration of North America (1996); From Conquest to Conservation: Thomas Jefferson and the Changing West (1997); Voyages of Discovery: Essays on the Lewis
and Clark Expedition (1998); Jefferson’s West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark (2000); and Finding the West:vExplorations with Lewis and Clark (2001).
In addition to an active research and writing career, Professor Ronda has been a consultant for many museum projects, including the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Great Falls, Montana; the Washington State Historical Society’s "The Army Explores the West" exhibition; the Library of Congress Lewis and Clark Exploration exhibition; and as a member of the board of advisors, for the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibition. Professor Ronda has been a consultant and on-camera commentator for a number of television documentaries including those made by PBS, Disney-Discovery; Arts and Entertainment Channel, C-SPAN, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the Oklahoma Public Broadcasting Service. Professor Ronda is a member of the Advisory Committee of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
Lewis and Clark among the Indians
Ronda's book takes thinking about the Lewis and Clark expedition to another very important level: that of considering the voyage from a Native American point of view. Using the journals and drawing upon research and his extensive knowledge, Ronda makes the reader consider the significance of major encounters in terms of what could have been mutually understood, and what was probably misunderstood.
Soon after the expedition left Camp Dubois to ascend the Missouri, it met tribal people. Tribe after tribe lived along the way that they took up the river, so the captains had ample chance to relay their message to those people. That meant informing them of the change in government since the Louisiana
Purchase, giving gifts, admonishing them not to fight traditional enemies, and demonstrating technologically superior power. Usually, this performance was followed by music and dancing, offered by both parties.
The experiences with native peoples varied from tribe to tribe, but generally the natives up the Missouri River and on the Pacific Ocean had experience with Europeans, whereas the Plateau people in what is now Idaho and eastern Oregon did not. Moreover, the friendly encounters with Arikara, Mandan,
Shoshoni, Nez Perce, Walla Walla and others contrast sharply with those of the Teton Sioux and the Piegan Blackfeet. Yet with each tribe, Ronda informs readers about the possible gaps in giving and receiving messages and about the differences in goals and in understandings.