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Published October 15 2004

Group re-enacting historic expedition moves into North Dakota

MANDAN, N.D. - A group retracing the steps of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark moved into North Dakota on Friday, finding the weather nearly as much of a challenge as the explorers faced some 200 years ago.

The group camped along the Missouri River south of Mandan with temperatures around 40 degrees but a brisk north wind that made it seem colder.

Scott Mandrell, an Alton, Ill., teacher who portrays Lewis, said the weather conditions seemed remarkably similar to those that greeted Lewis and Clark during the winter of 1804-05 as they made their way West.

"It's still cold in North Dakota," Mandrell said.

The re-enactors were dressed for the weather, in wool and buckskin.

Gary Ulrich of St. Louis, who portrays a crew member, said he has been a part of the expedition since early May.

Ulrich, 65, has found it tough going.

"Remember, these guys _ a lot of them were half our age," Ulrich said of the original expedition. "They were picked because they were the smartest and strongest of men. They were the cream of the crop."

Ulrich said about 200 people, mostly history buffs, are taking part in the re-enactment. He said the oldest is 72.

Robert Frazier of West Virginia said the re-enactors are trying to stay within two days of the original journey. The river today is moving three times as fast as it did 200 years ago, he said.

The group is averaging about 15 miles a day. Mandrell said the explorers averaged about eight miles daily.

The re-enactors in the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., launched a replica 55-foot keelboat and two smaller boats from St. Charles on Aug. 23. The boats on this expedition, however, are equipped with modern engines.

"This has been hard going," Frazier said. The original explorers, he said, were "men of iron."

The journey will end for the season on Nov. 4 at Washburn, Mandrell said.

The South Dakota National Guard has helped the re-enactors portage through the Missouri dams and given them support. On Friday, that job was turned over to the North Dakota National Guard.

The group spent 49 days in South Dakota.

No protesters were on hand at the site near Mandan. In South Dakota, Indian protesters confronted the re-enactors, saying they were celebrating a trip that led to the end of traditional Indian culture.

Mandrell said he spoke Thursday with the tribal council on the Standing Rock reservation, which straddles the border between North Dakota and South Dakota, and did not expect a protest.