In May of 1805 William Clark -- the Clark of Lewis and Clark -- sent a packet of his early notes taken on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, by courier from Fort Mandan, Dakota Territory, to President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was known to have the notes in 1806 . . . and then they disappeared. They were lost for 147 years, until they appeared in a St. Paul attic in January 1953.
A discovery of such significance cannot fail to provoke litigation: Who owns them? The task of answering that question fell to Chief Judge Gunnar Nordbye of the federal District Court of Minnesota. His decision surprised many but survived appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and impresses still today for its high quality of analysis and explanation.
The complete decisions of Judge Nordbye and Judge Charles Joseph Vogel for a panel of the Eighth Circuit are appended here.
Paul Nelson (University of Minnesota Law School 1977) is the author of many works of Minnesota history including "Fredrick L. McGhee, A Life on the Color Line, 1861-1912" (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002).