« Continue Browsing

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

By Betsy Taylor, Published April 15 2005

Paths diverge for Lewis and Clark re-enactors

ST. LOUIS - Lewis has left Clark. But re-enactors insist the parting was an amicable one.

Schoolteacher Scott Mandrell has portrayed Lewis with living history re-enactors at dozens of events related to the bicentennial of the explorations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

But Mandrell wanted to spend more time physically retracing the explorers' route, and the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles re-enactors are also committed to taking part in the educational events and celebrations along the way.

"Our paths diverged," Mandrell said Friday, talking by cell phone from 20 miles outside of New Town, N.D., where he was working to put canoes in the river with five other men. "We wanted to really be in the water, to be as close as possible to the route."

Mandrell wasn't worried about how his separate travels might be perceived. "People can turn anything they want into a soap opera."

The St. Charles group now has three people taking turns representing Lewis at different events this year, said that group's executive director, Larry McClain. Those re-enactors also travel as much of the rivers as they can on replica boats.

William Clark's great-great-great-grandson, Bud, continues to frequently portray the explorer Clark, McClain said. But sometimes others fill in for him as well.

"This commemoration has become something really huge. The crowds and the school groups, that's just what we like to do," McClain said. The Discovery Expedition re-enactors are based out of St. Charles, a community about 25 miles west of St. Louis. But they have members from all over who join them.

The re-enactors love to meet new people along their travels, but are rarely out of the public eye, McClain said. While the re-enactors also are committed to retracing the explorers' trail, McClain thought Mandrell perhaps just wanted more time for that aspect of the commemoration.

Is it possible that two sets of Lewis and Clark could meet up at a bicentennial event?

"I guess that could happen," McClain said, but he didn't think it would be a problem.

"It's not competing," Mandrell said. "It's more Lewis and Clark for people."

Mandrell said he never pretended to be Lewis, rather focused his efforts on educating the public about the explorer and issues related to the exploration. Mandrell, of Alton, Ill., said he'll continue to gather information for the Clayton school district in St. Louis County, part of an educational project he's been doing.

Two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark and their crew explored the Louisiana Territory and sought a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. The explorers logged about 8,000 miles; they navigated the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached the Pacific before returning with knowledge of the land and its native people.

The St. Charles re-enactors have some modern conveniences - engines on their wooden boats and cell phones - and maintain a tight schedule, timed for dozens of appearances in several states.

The new expedition traced the eastern part of Lewis and Clark's route in 2003 and traveled from Missouri to North Dakota last year. They paused for the winter and resumed their voyage this month, returning to North Dakota to continue to the Pacific. In 2006, they'll go to Oregon to trace a path back to St. Louis by September.