Between 1801 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 a vast portion of the 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 full 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 the explorer's bird and mammal lists, his surprisingly detailed Salish vocabulary, the barrel organ music he and his crew listened to, and the woodworking techniques they used to keep themselves under shelter or 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 utilized, and displays the series of remarkable maps that grew out of his patient, persistent years of work. In addition, Nisbet taps into oral memories kept by the Kootenai and Salish bands who guided the agent and his party along their way.
"[Jack Nisbet] is Thompson's best, most intimately knowledgeable, biographer to date."
--BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly
"This lavishly illustrated volume should bring added attention to the remarkable work of a Northwest giant too little known outside of Canada."
"Handsomely illustrated. A well-researched, well-written introduction to both Thompson and the land he was first to map."
--Oregon Historical Quarterly
"A well-documented historical narrative of an individual who had a significant impact on the Northwest part of the Northern Hemisphere. A 'Must Read'!!"
--Gem State Surveyor
"An engaging narrative of Thompson's travels in the Columbia Plateau."
--Journal of the West