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About Lewis and Clark

• Missouri Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, (573) 522-9019,
• Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, (314) 655-1700,
• Missouri Historical Society, (314) 454-3150,
• St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, 1-800-916-0040,
• St. Charles Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, 1-800-366-2427,
• Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-366-2427,
• Kansas Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, (913) 367-8412,
• Kansas Travel and Tourism, 1-800-252-6727
• Missouri Tourism, 1-800-519-4800,

Lewis and Clark
Follow in the footsteps of the famed explorers during the 200th anniversary of their expedition when exhibits, re-enactments and activities will celebrate their courageous adventure

Published: Mar/Apr 2003
By Durand Young

The explorers who made the daring journey (above). /St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission photo. The Lewis and Clark Center in St. Charles, Mo., contains artifacts and exhibits about the expedition, which rendezvoused in St. Charles (right). /Missouri Division of Tourism photo.
Thomas Jefferson entertained thoughts of western exploration and expansion long before he became the third president of the United States and in 1804 sent Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark on an expedition to explore the trans-Mississippi West. As early as 1783, the year the Revolutionary War ended, he urged his friend Gen. George Rogers Clark (older brother of William) to lead such an exploration, even though the territory was not then part of the United States. Clark, though supportive of the idea, declined.

Two other such ventures encouraged by Jefferson in the new nation’s infancy ended without results. With the British, French and Spanish engaging in the fur trade up the Missouri River, Jefferson in late 1802 began preparations for an official U.S. expedition to ascend the Missouri and, he hoped, discover a short, easy route across the Rocky Mountains and on to the “Western ocean.” The lands would not become part of the United States until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when all or parts of what later became 13 states stretching from Louisiana to Montana doubled the size of the nation.

In Missouri and Kansas

Plans for commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery’s 1804-06 epic venture began several years ago. New Lewis and Clark interpretive centers–including the center in Hartford, Ill., (see sidebar), re-enactments of the journey, new statuary, and museum exhibits of unique treasures from the expedition will attract millions of visitors.

A major focus of events marking the anniversary is the St. Louis area, where the trek began and ended. Come along with the 40-some explorers on the nearly 600 river miles they traveled through what would become Missouri and Kansas.

Members of the corps were assembled–along with equipment, boats, food, medicines, gifts for the Indian tribes they would meet and other supplies–at the mouth of the Wood River, above St. Louis and across the Mississippi.

They spent the very cold winter of 1803-04 training and readying their 55-foot keelboat and two smaller, canoe-like pirogues. On May 14, 1804 from the Wood River area in Illinois, they set off up the Missouri on a journey that would change a continent. At the settlement of St. Charles, they found “abot 450 Inhabetents principally frinch, those people appear pore and extreemly kind,” Clark penned in his field notes. Leaving St. Charles, they headed upstream.

Tough going

Rowing and often towing the heavily laden boats against the strong spring current that troubled them greatly, they made but a few miles each day. Heavy rains and mosquitoes also were bothersome.
On May 23, they passed Tavern Cave, where Lewis nearly fell 300 feet from Tavern Rock. An interpretive marker in St. Albans recounts his peril. As they traveled, men were sent out to hunt. Deer and other game were plentiful. Using horses brought from St. Louis, they packed meat back to the river bank. When possible, venison was turned into jerky to preserve it for later use.

On June 26, the party camped just above the mouth of the Kansas River in today’s Kansas City, Kan. They stayed three days to repair the boats and dry provisions and equipment. During this time, corps member John Collins was convicted by a court martial for “getting drunk on his post this morning out of whiskey put under his Charge as a Sentinal and for Suffering Hugh Hall to draw whiskey out of the Said Barrel intended for the party.” The penalty was 100 lashes for Collins and 50 for Hall. Punishment rendered, they proceeded on, narrowly avoiding serious damage to the keelboat by a dead tree, bobbing in the water, a hazard frequently encountered.
The Corps of Discovery began the day on July 4, 1804, by firing a small cannon off the keelboat’s bow. They noted that a large lake on the Missouri side of the river harbored “great quantities of Gees and Goslings.” The lake adjoins today’s Lewis and Clark State Park south of St. Joseph. They continued on through what is present-day Kansas, camping that night just north of Atchison. They concluded the day with another shot from the cannon.

On July 18, the expedition passed today’s boundary line between Missouri and Iowa. Continuing up the river to North Dakota, they spent the winter at the Mandan Indian villages before journeying on to the Pacific.

Bicentennial celebrations

As part of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, 15 National Heritage Signature Events will be held across the country. Four of those will be in Missouri and Kansas. They include:

• “Three Flags Ceremony,” the 200th anniversary of the transfer of the Louisiana Territory from Spain to France to the United States, to be celebrated beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis March 12–14, 2004;

• “St. Charles–Preparations Complete, the Expedition Faces West,” a re-enactment of the departure of the Corps of Discovery from St. Charles in replicas of the expedition’s keelboat and two pirogues from May 14–23, 2004;

• “Heart of America: A Journey Fourth,” a salute to the 1804 Independence Day celebration by Atchison and Leavenworth, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. on July 3–4, 2004.

• “Confluence with Destiny: The Return of Lewis and Clark,” re-creation of the return to St. Louis Sept. 23, 2006.

Other commemorative activities will take place at many points along the expedition’s route. Devoted crew members of Discovery Expedition of St. Charles will continue up the Missouri, scheduled to reach Washburn, N.D., in late October 2004 about the same time the Corps of Discovery halted there for the winter 200 years earlier. St. Charles will dedicate a new $2.25 million Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Nature Center this May.

The Missouri History Museum in St. Louis will present “Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition.” Organized by the Missouri Historical Society, the most extensive Lewis and Clark exhibit ever mounted will reunite rare artifacts and documents of the expedition, many of them loaned by the Clark and Lewis families. It will open Jan. 14, 2004, and run through Sept. 6, 2004, and then travel to to a number of other cities.

The Museum of Westward Expansion, beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, plans special events and exhibits in 2004 and 2006.

Activities planned for this year
Numerous communities along the Missouri River will hold Lewis and Clark-related events this year. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis will present the third of four scholarly symposia on March 20–22, entitled “Lewis and Clark: Observations on an Expedition.”

Lewis and Clark Heritage Days in St. Charles May 17–18 feature an authentic re-enactment of the party’s encampment in 1804.
The expedition will receive special emphasis at the St. Joseph, Mo., Trails West! Annual Arts Festival, which will be held Aug. 15–17.

When the two captains and a few of the men brought the keelboat from Pittsburgh, Pa., to the Wood River, they visited at the settlement of Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Nov. 23, 1803. Re-enactors will portray that landing on the same date this year.
In Missouri and Kansas, a series of new interpretive signs and information stations will follow the route of the expedition.

Though a water route to the Pacific was not found, the Corps of Discovery’s courage and dedication paved the way for opening the American West. Take advantage of the many opportunities to learn more about Lewis and Clark’s heroic expedition as we prepare to celebrate its bicentennial.

Durand Young is a contributor from Bella Vista, Ark.

Along the river

Visitors are flocking to the new Lewis and Clark center in Hartford, Ill.

Lewis and Clark left the Wood River area in Illinois nearly 200 years ago on their bold expedition, and now people from across the country are heading back to where that journey began.

Visitors are flocking to the new Lewis and Clark interpretive center in Hartford, Ill., located just south of Alton. The site, which opened Dec. 12, examines how the explorers prepared for their journey, and visitors’ impressions of the center have been positive so far, said Brad Winn, site manager.

“You Yankees know how to do it up right,” wrote a visitor from Louisiana.

Winn said he’s surprised at the number of visitors. “We’re doing great,” he said. “It’s an average of 300 to 400 people a day, and we’re only open five days a week.”

Many of those coming to the center are not Missouri or Illinois residents, another surprise. “That speaks to the fact that a lot of people are out on the (Lewis and Clark Heritage) trail already,” he said.

The center tells the story of the 154 days that the Corps of Discovery spent at Camp River Dubois in preparation for the historic journey west. In the $7 million building, the western wing houses a replica 55-foot keelboat with 30-foot mast. A movie, “At Journey’s Edge,” offers a good overview of the expedition. Outside, a re-creation of Camp River Dubois is in the works, scheduled for completion later this year.

Visitors will want to see the nearby Lewis and Clark Confluence Memorial, 11 columns representing the states the explorers passed through en route to the Pacific Ocean. Next year, the Lewis and Clark Memorial Tower, located adjacent to the visitor center, will give spectacular views of the meeting of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

It’s time, Winn said, that people hear Illinois’ part of the Lewis and Clark story. “This is the beginning of the expedition,” he said. The period from Dec. 12, 1803, to May 14, 1804, is the only part of the Lewis and Clark story that’s interpreted. And what a story it is.

“Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script. It’s such a good story–the cross-country journey–that has something for everyone,” Winn said.

And special events are beckoning visitors to the center. On May 10–11, the center will host its first Point of Departure event at the re-created Camp River Dubois. Costumed re-enactors will be busy preparing for the journey west, so it will feel to visitors as if they’ve stepped into the camp, Winn said.

In nearby Wood River, the fourth annual Camp Dubois Rendezvous will be May 3–4. Period demonstrations include black powder shooting, crafts and more. For details, call (618) 258-1759.

The Lewis and Clark interpretive center is open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday. Admission is free. At press time, the center was working on a new Web site, For more information, call the center at (618) 251-5811.

–Deborah Reinhardt

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