The Lewis and Clark expedition set out in 1804 to explore the vast territory west of the Mississippi that had recently been acquired from France through the Louisiana Purchase. The main purpose was to discover the Northwest Passage, a navigable waterway that linked the Atlantic with the Pacific. In that endeavour they failed of course, but they crossed the continent and reached the Pacific. The expedition is one of the greatest in American history.
Non-military subjects are all too rare in 1/72 plastic, and they must require more thought as to the items to include in the set. The first thing that strikes you about this set is the sheer number of different pieces - almost nothing has been repeated. There is plenty of diversity too, with explorers, natives, horses, boats and camp items.
The Corps of Discovery, as the explorers were grandly termed, were about 45 men, mostly woodsmen and soldiers, and this set includes 10 figures to depict them. The men are standing or walking - not doing a great deal, but of course exploring is mostly travelling with not much happening. One man is firing his musket, which is most likely to be hunting for food as the expedition was almost entirely peaceful. Another looks through a telescope (which he should be holding with two hands), perhaps straining to see the ocean that was their ultimate goal. All the poses are very well sculpted, with authentic civilian clothing and equipment. Our only reservation was with the hat on the man with the telescope, which is not a style we recognise.
Clearly the expedition could not have gone very far without the aid of the various natives they encountered along the way. Their vital role is recognised with several figures including a woman who is pointing, and a man with an impressive headdress and carrying a lance who is perhaps some local chief who has come to investigate the strangers.
The third row of figures shows the mounted explorers and the figures meant for the canoes. These simply rest in the canoes rather than being fixed in, but they fit well and really look the part.
Next there are the two horses for the mounted explorers. They are well done and seem to be properly equipped for the period. Beneath them are the pack animals - absolutely vital in any expedition like this, and an essential element of this set. The baggage is moulded as part of the piece rather than being separate, which makes it look more realistic in our view.
The expedition traveled much of the time on rivers (its main boat was a 17 metre keelboat), and it is fitting that canoes have been included here. The first canoe in the scan is the classic native type. It is a good deal shorter than the traditional canoe, measuring 46 mm (3.3 metres) in length, though we cannot be sure that this is not historically authentic. The canoe is waterline only, so it has a flat bottom which means it stands well. The same goes for the other craft, a rather smaller vessel that is being crewed by one of the explorers. This is small, quite rounded, and clearly not a good way of travelling any great distance. However the expedition did bring a small collapsible boat and this may be that item.
The bottom scan shows a raft being punted by one of the expedition. The raft is convincingly constructed with logs bound together and a platform of branches on top. Holes in the logs allow the man to be placed at the rear, though the join is not very firm and should be glued. The man is stripped to the waist and has been well done, really looking like he is putting effort into pushing the raft along. The package and barrels that can be seen on the raft are a separate item, and have been sculpted to fit the raft very comfortably. However the raft is clearly quite small, and we wondered whether such a small construction would have been worth the effort to make since it could only carry a small amount of baggage or perhaps two people. Our knowledge of the expedition is not sufficient to say whether this is inaccurate or not.
Finally there are several items for recreating a native village scene. Most obviously, and most prominently on the sprue, is the tepee. This comes in two halves which fit together snugly to make quite a large model. It stands about 45mm (3.25 metres) tall and is definitely the most authentic model of a tepee yet made, much better than those from Atlantic. It is still rather smaller than the real thing, but if it had been made to the proper size then the depth of the mould, which is already extremely impressive, would have been absolutely phenomenal and probably technically all but impossible. The design looks very accurate, though the doorway should be a hole with a flap over it rather than the simpler affair shown here. Other camp items are the cooking pot over a fire and the skin being dried, though this was usually done pegged out on the ground rather than vertical like this.
In so many ways this is a very impressive set. The level of detail is superb and is very sharp and clear. The complete absence of mould lines and flash means there is no trimming required on any figure. Anatomically these are well proportioned and realistic, though they are rather taller than most figures in this scale.
The sheer quantity of parts and the quality of each make this a set that stands out from the rest. Most of the figures and kit could also be of use in other scenarios, but this is an unusual subject that has been skilfully realised, and IMEX have shown that they could still make top quality sets after their disappointing Mexicans. A great product.
Our thanks go to Mr Arlin Tawzer, who has conducted some further research into whether some of the figures in this set can represent particularly individuals. The following text describes his findings.
Firstly, there are several character poses in the set. In the first scan, the man in the coonskin cap is Captain Meriwether Lewis. The third man from the left is York, Captain William Clark's slave who accompanied him on the journey. Clark called him 'my servant' in his journals, and freed York a few years after the journey. York was said to be a big man and a good hunter. This being 1804, the Indians they encountered were fascinated by a black man. They had seen many white men but not a black one and also examined him very closely. The figure does appear to have African-American features in his face. The hunter firing the rifle is from a picture of the Lewis-Clark party joining the Indians in a buffalo hunt. The last guy in the first scan, with the tri-corn hat(?) and telescope is Captain William Clark. Again, like the Lewis figure, he's based on many archetypal illustrations of the man. Many of these figures are based on illustrations in a Dover picture book about the expedition.
The Indian chief and brave in scan number two are Teton Sioux Indians. The Chief is identical to an illustration of a chief from a drawing about the Teton Sioux welcoming the party to their village on September 26, 1804. They carried Clark to their village on a buffalo robe, an honor reserved for visiting chiefs. The brave next to him is a Sioux hunter. I thought these Indians would be Mandan (actually Mandan are Sioux, just a northern splinter group) since they helped the party during the winter during the expedition. But viewing source materials, the Imex set obviously depicts Teton Sioux, suffice to say, the Indians and their village just depict 'Sioux Indians'. Teton and Mandan looked and dressed very similarly, as did most of the Plains tribes. The woman in the second scan is none other than Sacajawea, carrying her son Jean-Baptiste on her back. She was an interpreter (not a guide) with the party along with her husband, a Frenchman named Toussaint Charbonneau. I can't see a figure in the set depicting him. Sacajawea was a 17-year old Shoshone from the Rocky Mountains who had been captured by Hidasta when she was twelve. She did recognize places in southern Montana from her childhood, but that was the only times she helped point the way. She spoke Shoshone and Hidatsa.
The two mounted figures in scan three could also depict Lewis and Clark, respectively, with Clark wearing his top hat. But maybe they are meant to be generic members of the party in this set.