Tom Clavin and Bob Drury's New Book 'Throne of Grace' Tells of Western Adventure - 27 East

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Tom Clavin and Bob Drury’s New Book ‘Throne of Grace’ Tells of Western Adventure

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The cover of

The cover of "Throne of Grace" the newest book by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

Western explorer Jim Bridger, a contemporary of Jedediah Smith. COURTESY TOM CLAVIN

Western explorer Jim Bridger, a contemporary of Jedediah Smith. COURTESY TOM CLAVIN

A drawing of mountain man Jedediah Smith (1799–1831), created from memory a few years after his death. COURTESY TOM CLAVIN

A drawing of mountain man Jedediah Smith (1799–1831), created from memory a few years after his death. COURTESY TOM CLAVIN

Tom Clavin, co-author of

Tom Clavin, co-author of "Throne of Grace." GORDON GRANT

Bob Drury, co-author of

Bob Drury, co-author of "Throne of Grace." ANNE DRAGER

authorAnnette Hinkle on May 7, 2024

In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase added 530,000,000 acres of land to the United States. Stretching from New Orleans to beyond the northern border of Montana, President Thomas Jefferson’s $15 million purchase from the French nearly doubled the size of the country and it included all or part of 15 states, as well as a bit of Canada.

The following year, Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with their Corps of Discovery west to explore the new land. Their mission, which was well documented in their journals, inspired awe in those who read about it, including the next generation of explorers — mountain men who were eager to learn more about what was out there.

“Lewis and Clark’s journals were inspiring to men of a young generation. But as important as Lewis and Clark were, they took the same route out and back, so there was much more that they hadn’t seen,” explained Sag Harbor’s Tom Clavin in a recent phone interview. “There was virtually unexplored land out there and they didn’t know what was in it. There were rumors of giant animals and giant people and swaths of quicksand. It was very exciting.”

Among those young men intrigued by it all was a 23-year-old named Jedediah Smith who, in 1822, set out from St. Louis to see what could be discovered in the newly acquired territory.

“He was born in New York State and moved west looking for adventure,” said Clavin. “He was the second coming of Lewis and Clark — and 95 percent of people haven’t heard of him.”

But all that’s about to change.

On May 7, “Throne of Grace,” a new book by Clavin and his writing partner, Bob Drury, was published. It tells the tale of Smith and other adventurous souls who set out into the wilderness of the American West to uncover the secrets it held. On Saturday, May 18, both Clavin and Drury will be at Barnes & Noble in Bridgehampton to discuss “Throne of Grace,” followed by another talk on Wednesday, June 12, at Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library.

Though born in New York, Smith was intrigued by the idea of western adventure and Clavin explained that Smith’s first expedition into the territory came in response to an advertisement looking for men to join a party to trap beaver. It was a very lucrative profession in those days, if one could survive.

“Once they saw he could shoot the eye out of a sparrow, he was hired as a hunter to go up the Missouri River into Wyoming, Montana and Yellowstone,” Clavin said. “He killed game to supply food for expedition members. As time went on, they saw he was cool under pressure, and a good leader under Indian attacks. He became one of the main explorers of these mountain men.

“These fur trapper mountain men, as rough and tough as they were, were also emissaries. The tip of the spear of U.S. migration.”

Meanwhile, the public back home was eager to hear what these explorers were finding on their travels. The War of 1812 had paused western expansion after Lewis and Clark’s mission , and it wasn’t until several years after the war ended that mountain men like Smith had renewed ambition to go deep into the heart of America. People in the East wanted to know if the rumors of unusual and overgrown flora and fauna was true.

“They didn’t know what was there. They had heard of beasts with two heads, 10 or 15 foot tall tribes of giant men,” said Clavin. “It was the equivalent of the 1960s and the first Gemini astronauts to go to the moon. There were photos of Mars and stories that it was occupied. This is what people of America were following breathlessly.”

Smith and his crew were the first white men to explore many western areas, including parts of the Black Hills in South Dakota and Wyoming. Along the way, though they didn’t encounter two-headed creatures or human giants, they did come across all forms of adversity and were forced to battle the elements as well as grizzlies and several Native American tribes. Smith’s beaver hunting expeditions eventually took him all the way to the West Coast, from Washington State down the coast to Southern California, which was not yet part of the United States in those days.

“He sort of defied the legal system by entering territory owned by Mexico — the San Diego Spanish mission. They said ‘What are you doing here?’ He said he was looking for beaver. They told him there were none within a thousand miles,” Clavin said. “He wanted to get to the West Coast through a southern route. He was such a restless and curious man. He encountered hundreds of Indian tribes along the way. In every chapter there is some death-defying situation from an Indian attack or even from other groups of Europeans.”

Because Smith’s encounters were often dramatic and harrowing, few of his written accounts made it back to civilization, which may be part of the reason he remains so unknown today.

“Smith kept journals, but not many survived the attacks, his boat going over in a raging river or blizzards,” said Clavin.

Smith also did not live a particularly long life.

“He died at 32 while leading an expedition on the Santa Fe Trail,” he added.

The year was 1831, and according to Clavin, Smith and his friend, another explorer named Tom Fitzpatrick, left their group behind to head out on their own in search of water after supplies ran low. The two men split up at some point while searching for a water hole and it is believed that Smith eventually encountered a group of Comanches and was killed by them. His body was never found.

“Even though some of his letters survive, he sort of fell into obscurity,” said Clavin. “It’s a shame history forgot him. For all the faults of Manifest Destiny, he is so important.”

The explorations of Smith and other adventurers of his generation sealed the fate on western expansion. Within a decade of his death, his papers and tales of his exploration would give rise to the railroad, which changed everything in the American West forever.

Smith had charted a southern pass through the Rockies that was wide enough for wagons to pass. When the railroad came west in the 1850s in search of a route, Smith’s contemporary, explorer Jim Bridger, led scouts to the trails where they should lay the tracks.

“People like Smith, Bridger and Fitzpatrick had created the trails and the railroad wanted to use established paths,” said Clavin.

When asked why he and Drury decided to write this book, Clavin explained that it fits nicely, if somewhat accidentally, into the middle period of two previous books they had written — “Blood and Treasure” (2021) and “The Heart of Everything That Is” (2014).

“Bob and I had begun work on another book, and one day I was thinking, we had come up with ‘Blood and Treasure’ about Daniel Boone and that story ends in 1820. Then ‘The Heart of Everything That Is’ covers the period from the 1850s to 1870s through the story of Red Cloud, a Lakota Sioux.

“I told Bob, ‘Don’t shoot me, but I think there’s an accidental trilogy we’re overlooking and we need to connect the dots between 1820 and 1850,” Clavin added. “He got excited and liked the idea of tying the three books together, so we had to write this one, which is the one in the middle.”

As they were researching the mountain men who were exploring and expanding the U.S. westward at that time, Smith jumped out at them as a logical subject, and also led them to wonder why nobody knew about him.

“We were intrigued by Jed Smith as a character and how he represented the whole generation of survivalists and mountain men, finding something no white man had seen before,” Clavin said.

Fortunately, though Smith is not well known, there were scholars that had interest in him and the authors found some good sources for their research at the Jedediah Smith Society in Oregon as well as repositories of eyewitness accounts and information in the archives of places like the Hudson Bay Company, which was the largest fur trapping organization in North America, until the industry fell apart.

“What happened to the beaver was an advance of the buffalo — they were eradicated faster than they could breed,” Clavin said. “Their numbers became smaller and smaller until hunters had to go so far and so remote, it was too expensive and dangerous. Consumers in Europe moved on to other animal hides and the market for beaver tanked.”

In researching this book, Drury and Clavin took to the road themselves and went west on adventures of their own to learn all they could about Smith.

“We made separate expeditions out west, to Pine Ridge, small county libraries, finding diaries of teamsters making their way west,” said Clavin. “Our intent is that readers can start with ‘Blood and Treasure’ in 1734 when Daniel Boone was born, then read ‘Throne of Grace’ and then ‘The Heart of Everything That Is’ which ends in the 1870s as the takeover of the West by the white population is complete. Farms are settled, the railroads are in, there are schools, cities, churches and most Indians in the West are now confined to reservations.

“The wide open spaces we wrote about in ‘Blood and Treasure’ have become more consolidated and narrow by the end,” he said. “It’s kind of a sad realization of how things changed, but it’s how the story Manifest Destiny played out.”

Tom Clavin and Bob Drury will be at the Barnes & Noble store in Bridgehampton Commons on Saturday, May 18, at 3 p.m. to talk about “Throne of Grace.” Their talk about the book at Rogers Memorial Library, 91 Coopers Farm Road in Southampton, will be on Wednesday, June 12, at 1 p.m.

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