« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

By James MacPherson, Published April 08 2005

Lewis and Clark re-enactors resume journey west

WASHBURN, N.D - As hundreds of people watched re-enactors launch boats to continue retracing the journey of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Rhoda Star was thinking about Eagle Feather.

On April 7, 1805, the same day the explorers left Fort Mandan to continue their journey west, the Arikara chief headed east for Washington, D.C., at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson.

"It's a proud but sad day for me," said Star, who said she is one of about 100 living descendants of Eagle Feather. "He was going to see the great father to tell him about our people. He never returned. He died there."

Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-05 at Fort Mandan near present-day Washburn as they explored the Louisiana Purchase at Jefferson's request.

About 30 re-enactors in the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., launched a replica 55-foot keelboat and two smaller boats in the Missouri River on Thursday to mark the day the explorers restarted their journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Organizers estimated that about 700 people attended Thursday's commemorative event.

Bud Clark, who portrays William Clark on the expedition, said his great-great-great-grandfather would likely be surprised at the attention the explorers have received as the nation celebrates the bicentennial of their journey.

"The nation has come to realize the significance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," said Clark, a retired automotive engineer from Dearborn, Mich.

The original explorers were anxious to resume the journey, Clark said. The re-enactors, who spent the winter at home and didn't have to deal with North Dakota's harsh weather, also were ready to get under way, he said.

"The men (200 years ago) were all in great spirits and had everything to look forward to and nothing to fear," Clark said. "Like them, our spirits couldn't be higher."

Amy Mossett, a Sakakawea scholar from the Three Affiliated Tribes, portrayed the Indian guide and translator who joined Lewis and Clark in what is now North Dakota.

"This is a huge day for North Dakota and for Lewis and Clark," Mossett said. "But this was a defining moment for Sakakawea, because it was the day she left on the journey and onto history."

Josh Loftis, 18, said he is a descendant of George Shannon, the youngest member of the original expedition. Loftis also is the youngest re-enactor.

The Belleville, Ill., resident graduated from high school early to join the expedition when it began in Pennsylvania in August 2003.

Loftis, whose father was stationed at Minot Air Force Base about 14 years ago, said he still remembers the state's cold winters. He said that helped him gain respect for the explorers.

"I remember when it was 60 below and four feet of snow," Loftis said.

Lewis Bryant, a retired Jackson, Miss., dentist who portrays Lewis, said about 250 re-enactors from 38 states are slated to participate in this year's leg. Most are retired, and at least double the age of the original crew, organizers said.

Bryant said he joined the group in 1999 "with the love of history, the love of camping and the permission of my wife."

He said the re-enactors will attempt to keep pace with the original journey. But the replica boats, equipped with modern engines, may have a tough time keeping their schedule since several portages will be necessary to deal with low water on the Missouri River, Bryant said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers let out more water from Garrison Dam this week so the 55-foot keelboat could be launched, but Bryant said it wasn't enough. The boat needs water to be at least four feet deep to float.

Bryant said the keelboat launched Thursday will be trucked back to St. Louis.