May 10, 1805 – Thirty Point Buck?


This is why you should support your local National Park. Help a volunteer out.

This is why you should support your local National Park. Help a volunteer out.


A slight delay in getting this written, as I spent the weekend wandering my little town with my grandma and going to see my mom in celebration of Mother’s Day. Although, maybe I should feign a bit of planning as today, May 14th, marks the 210th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery’s departure of Camp DuBois.

(Note: As usual, all spelling and grammatical errors in quotations are the theirs. The rest are mine.)

Thursday, May 10, 1804

In just four days time, the Corps will leave Camp DuBois for the vast, uncharted Western expanse. I imagine this is the reason that entries are brief and discuss only the basics: weather and preparation, but the dramatist in me would love to know the inevitable tensions of camp, the fears of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but all the latter gives us on this day is:

“…continued to fix Tents Covering, adjust the Load & c. order every man to have 100 Balls for ther Rifles & 2 lb. of Buck Shot for those with mussquets…”

Unfortunately, I will not be volunteering on the 14th, the genesis, but I read the entries for the 14th and found much the same in way of detail and tone. Perhaps the most anxious statement by Clark indicates a readiness to begin the trek:

“…fixing for a Start.”

Friday, May 10, 1805

Near Garfield or Valley County, Montana, at this point, the journals reflect the uneasiness that accompanies the Corps, as they criss-cross land owned, hunted and inhabited by Natives:

“we still believe ourselves in the country usually hunted by Assinniboins, and as they are a vicious ill disposed nation we think it best to be on our guard…”

It seems that despite the ominous potential of an encounter on the hunting lands it does not deter the group from hunting for their necessary protein. They regularly record the type and number of animals killed, but, on this day, Lewis sermonizes…lengthily…on the differences between the Mule deer and the common deer. Size, antler characteristics, general habits. Going so far as to describe in the Mule deer,

“the inner corner of each eye there is a drain or large recepicle…which gives it the appearance of weeping…”

(The Mule deer being the name Lewis uses in describing what the French referred to as the black-tailed deer. He finds this name irritating and “…by no means characteristic of the anamal as much the larger portion of the tail is white.” Those damn French.)

One can imagine if a simple tear in time and space were to find Lewis bellied up at any dim, wood-paneled bar in Smalltown, USA, can of Old Style in hand, his strong opinions and vast knowledge of the hooved beast would find him right at home.

In addition to this lengthy biological study, Lewis includes a short note about the human biology of the Corps. Specifically, that nearly a year in, the camp has become a roving cesspool.

“Boils and imposthumes have been very common with the party. Bratton is…unable to work with one on his hand; soar eyes continue also to be common…”

It’s hypothesized by some, that these ailments are the result of malnutrition due to a the predominately meat diet. It appears the Corps could have done with advertising for a few competent gatherers to join the ranks of sharpshooters.

It’s in this few days that I wish William Bratton would have kept a journal, though a depressing read it may have been, as only a day after this entry about his pustulous hand, he is chased and nearly attacked by a bear.

Saturday, May 10, 1806

“This morning the snow continued falling…8 inches deep on the plain…”

Still low on provisions, the returning group went to a village, Tunnachemootoolt, near present-day Lawyer Creek (originally called Commearp Creek) in Lewis County, Idaho. A previously established relationship, formed on their way West, with a

“…cheeif at whos lodge we had left a flag last fall. this flag was now displayed on a staff…” 

led to a very generous gift of horses for consumption. Lewis wrote,

“This is a much greater act of hospitality than we have witnessed from any nation or tribe since we have passed the Rocky mountains.”

An interesting insight, considering the five months the Corps spent at Ft. Clatsop. No attack on the fort was made during their winter encampment and while there may have been rightful tension, the Corps was camped on land previously inhabited for many years. I’d argue an extended, uninvited stay would be the epitome of hospitality, but Lewis seems to have had higher expectations.

(Indicative of the tenuous relationships expected or, actually developed, are the two entries regarding encounters (or possible encounters) with local Natives exactly a year apart.)

Lewis continues in his description of the welcome time spent in the village. He mentions the medals brought by the Corps as a sign of good will and a means of open communication to be given to chief’s and other individuals deemed significant. There were various sizes of medals, the

“…one of small size with the likeness of Mr. Jefferson…

was included in the presentation at this occasion. In reality, these medals were gifts with mighty strings attached. They were more a means of subjugation. When accepted, they were unknowingly agreeing to the superiority, the might, the power of the United States.

It’s further written that,

“(Lewis)…directed the men not to croud their lodge surch of food in the manner hunger has compelled them to do at most lodges we have passed and which the Twisted hair had informed me was disagreeable to the natives.”

In my initial reading, I was struck by what seemed to be Lewis’s abominable manners, yet again, and his seeming lack of knowledge of basic social norms and niceties. Clearly, strangers forcing themselves into your home would be considered “disagreeable.” But as the brief moment of naivete passed, I recognized the idea that this practice would be considered acceptable by white men in the villages of Natives.

A sobering reality then and, rightfully applied to other situations, an equally sobering reality today.



May 3, 1805, Irresponsible Espontoon Ownership

A favorite view from the library at Ft. Clatsop. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

A favorite view from the library at Ft. Clatsop. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Thursday, May 3, 1804

Now the beginning of May, the Expedition is just over a week from departing on their epic journey. It’s easy to imagine the anticipation around camp as the Corps members assemble, accumulating the last of the necessary provisions, finalizing this chapter of their lives before they are to march West into the unknown and indelibly into our collective history. Emotions had to have been taut. Excitement, anticipation, trepidation.

It’s with the same suspenseful eagerness, I find the date in the journals of Clark:

“…writ(ing) letters…worked at boat.”


There must be more though. Some mention, however slight, of the palpable aura of camp?

“Majr. Rumsey was polite enough to examine all my provisions several Kegs of Pork he condemed.”

I guess not.

Friday, May 3, 1805

Nearly a year into the trip, the Corps of Discovery has reached the Poplar River area of Roosevelt County, Montana. Though when they arrived, the christened the water, Porcupine River, owing to the large number of the animal they had seen at the mouth. Compared to the ruddy Missouri, Lewis describes the Porcupine River as:

“…a beatifull bold runing stream…the water is transparent it being the first of this discription that I have yet seen discharge itself into the Missouri.”

In addition to these notes on the clarity of water, Lewis takes fascination with the quilled creatures abound.

“I walked out a little distance and met with 2 porcupines…this anamal is exceedingly clumsy and not very watchfull I approached so near one of them before it perceived me that I touched it with my espontoon.”

To translate: Lewis is poking the wildlife.

He makes no other notes on the reaction of the porcupine, so it’s hard to imagine the act as one of scientific inquiry. Rather it seems to be that of a curious child left unsupervised and with a touch of boredom garnered from monotony.

I found an interesting note that Lewis’s espontoon was considered an odd choice by some to bring on the trip, but it’s a combination spear, walking stick, and, apparently, porcupine poker, so I’m not sure why the entire Corps wouldn’t have carried them.

On this day, both Lewis and Clark make notes about what they determine to be sacrificial offerings by Natives:

“we passed a curious collection of bushes which had been tyed up in the form of a faciene and standing on the end in a the open bottom…this we supposed to have been placed there by the Indians, as a sacrefice for some purpose.” Clark

“…which must have been left also be the natives as an offering to their medison which they Convinced protected or gave them relief near the place…” Lewis

“three of our party found in the back of a bottom 3 pieces of Scarlet one brace in each, which had been left as a Sacrifice near one of their Swet houses…” Lewis

Neither of these entries are accompanied with an explanation as to why they would think these to be sacrificial. No mention of stories from encounters with local Natives giving validity to the claims. I’d be interested in knowing whether these were actually used in spiritual practice, or if they had more practical uses.

On this date, in the journal of John Ordway, is one of the most succinct, yet powerfully accurate notations in all of their written tomes.

“we proceeded on.”

Saturday, May 3, 1806

A common element in everyone’s journal for this day in the Pataha Valley area (near Pomeroy, WA) is the desperate tone of low provisions. Patrick Gass writes they:

“…eat the last of our dried meat; and are altogether without other provisions, as our stock of dogs is exhausted, and we can kill no game in the plains.”

It is with luck though, they are in an area first covered on the westward portion of their trip, and, therefore, a familiar territory with established Native allies. Clark is joyous in meeting up with:

We arh koont (We ark koomt) whome we have usially distinguished by the name of the big horn Chief from the circumstance of his always wareing a horn of that animal Suspended by a Cord to his left arm.”

This Chief and his ancestors are well known to history, by a name other than the entirely uncreative title bestowed by Lewis and Clark. Apash Wyakaikt (‘apaswahayqt), or “flint necklace”, was the Father and Grandfather of prominent Nez Perce leaders, known to the Army and white settlers as Looking Glass Senior and Looking Glass Junior. Looking Glass Junior evaded the First US Calvary after they were sent to arrest him in July 1877 and for three months help lead escaping Nez Perce towards Canada. He was killed in battle in September 1877.

We ark koomt is the bearer of good news for the Corps, promising a village only a short ride on where they will be able to trade for food and other provisions. This may have eased the minds of the weary band only a month and a half into their return journey, who had no other choice but to “proceed on” towards home.

(Notes: As before all spellings and horrendous grammar errors are presented as written in the journals. You can read all the journal entries for May 3, 1805 here.)










April 26, 1805, a Typical Friday Night

There is a fluidity in history that seems to go unnoticed. Unrecognized layers of time and physical space surround our lives and we tend not to see ourselves as contributors to the story.

Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery marked their achievement in reaching the Pacific Ocean, albeit without uncovering that elusive northwest passage, by spending a miserably wet winter (November 1805 – March 1806) at Ft. Clatsop, near Astoria, Oregon. Starting out from St. Louis in 1804, it would be two years before they would return, surprising many and hauling the tomes of their observations of North American flora, fauna, geography, and culture.

About a month ago, I started volunteering in the library at Ft. Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Unfortunately, while the Park draws many visitors with its interpretive programs, comprehensive exhibits, and a replica of Ft. Clatsop on the exact site of that long winter, the research library is down a dark hall, behind closed doors, which is only to say that my volunteer time is usually quiet.

Each Saturday morning, I settle in with copies of famous journals of Lewis and Clark. I enjoy finding the exact date for each year the men kept journals. I can occasionally find a note for 1804, but always for 1805 on their initial trek west and, 1806, on their return. The comprehensive research library also allows access to the journals of other expedition members. Clark noted seven men kept journals on the journey and, although the identities of three are lost to time (or yet to be uncovered in a dusty attic or a government basement), Sergeants Patrick Gass and John Ordway both published their own journals shortly after returning with the Corps.

I intend on sharing a little of each day, as the Corps recorded it, on the day about two centuries later.

(Note: In April 1804, they are yet to leave St. Louis.)

(Note: The appalling spelling and grammar in the direct journal quotes is all unchanged. <cringe>)

Thursday, April 26, 1804

Thursday 26. Mr. Hay arrived, river falls. (Clark)

Mr. Hay refers to fur trader, merchant and postmaster of Cahokia (Illinois) who hailed from Detroit. It seems he was helping with the final compilation of goods and tools in preparation for the departure.

Friday. April 26, 1805

The Corps reached the convergence of the Yellowstone (Rochejhone) and Missouri Rivers. Most of both Lewis and Clark’s journals are full of scientific observations and measurements about the rivers themselves, and the surrounding flora and fauna. It’s hard not to feel slight pangs of jealousy when reading of the abundance of animals (all mentioned on the 26th). The:

“…Antelope, Buffaloe Elk and deer…the growse, the porcupine, hare and rabbit…the bighorned animals, Magpie Goose duck and Eagle…white bears and wolves.”

It’s a safe assumption that the white bear is simply a blonde or light brown colored grizzly (in comparison to the darker black bears they would have been used to in the Eastern US), and not a wayward brother of the polar persuasion. It is noted they killed their first bear of the expedition just three days later.

While the detailed observations of Lewis and Clark were important contemporaneously and historically, I prefer the brevity of Gass, who on this day simply settles for describing the convergence area as “…the most beautiful rich plains, I ever beheld.” He is focused more on a “flock” of swimming goats. Yep.

“…this morning…Capt. Lewises dog Seamon took after them caught one in the River.”

This encampment marked a geographically important region for the journey and what is there left to do but celebrate:

“…after I had completed my observations…I walked down a joined the party…found them…much pleased at having arrived at this long wished for spot, and in order to add in some measure which seemed to pervade our little community, we ordered a dram to be issued to each person.” 

A little drink in the wilds of North America 200 years ago seems to have much the same effect as a little drink in the sprawl of our current situation.

“…this soon produced the fiddle, and they spent the evening with much hilarity, singing & dancing, and seemed as perfectly to forget their past toils as they appeared regardless of those to come.”

Friday nights seem to have changed very little.

Saturday, April 26, 1806

At this point, the Corps is returning east and, although, there is no confirmation on the exact encampment site for this date, it’s thought they were near Plymouth, WA. Their travels took the majority of the written thoughts for the day, as they were:

“…overtaken today by several families of the natives who were traveling up river with a number of horses; they continued with us much to our annoyance as the day was worm the roads dusty and we could not prevent their horses from crouding in and breaking our order of mach without using some acts of severity which we did not want to commit.”

I imagine this is akin to an encounter with those drivers who refuse to use the left passing lane as intended, complete with a road rage threat.

While camped, “…a little Indian boy caught several chubbs with a bone in this form.”

I thought this an uninspired drawing by Clark:

until I found this one in Lewis’s:


An interesting note, as many times their journal entries are exact duplicates, as they exchanged and copied each other’s journals as a back up in case of loss. On this day Lewis notes they camped, “…about a mile below three lodges of the Wollah wollah nation…” Clark includes a nearly identical passage save a striking verb inclusion, “…the fritened band of the Wallah Wallah nation.” There is no indication of any interaction on that day or a possible reason as to why he would consider them frightened.

Tomorrow marks the end of National Park Week for 2014. If you can, visit and support your local national park.






Portraits in the Graveyard: An Unexpected Look Into the History of Organized Crime in St. Louis

Graves defaced by some force, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Graves defaced by some force, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Our trip to St. Louis has resulted in a rather strange and entirely unexpected journey for my sister and I. I had heard about the morbid beauty of the gravestone statues at the Calvary and Bellefontaine Cemeteries. We discovered intensely dramatic and artistic pieces adorning many graves. Worn by the elements and, possibly, defaced by vandals over centuries, the weathered sculptures stood as eerie sentinels throughout the cemetery.

Statues on top of gravestones at Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Gravestone statue, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

In addition to the artistic aspect of our search, we were also aware of that within Calvary Cemetery were the graves of Civil War General (and devil-may-care portrait taker – seriously, google it) William Tecumsah Sherman, playwright Tennessee Williams, and original civil rights fighter, Dred Scott.

After finding two of the three, we drove around the expansive grounds, stopping to photograph the striking statues. As dusk began to settle, we decided it would be prudent to find our way through the gates before closing.

Winding our way around the maze of unmarked streets, we found a large section of graves with small photographs built into the marble. It was somewhat unclear from the car to see what the photographs were of, so we carefully weaved our way through the markers. It was then we saw these:

Gravestone portrait, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Gravestone portrait, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Grave portrait, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Grave portrait, Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO

Grave after grave of tragically young men posing for portraits. We noticed that many of the names were ethnically Italian and an alarming number had died between 1924-1932. Without much knowledge of the St. Louis area, we assumed their had been an epidemic that had claimed large numbers in specific neighborhoods, but after returning to our hotel, we could find no record of a disease epidemic during that time frame. What we did find was far more sinister (and intriguing).

Ask me to name prolific, early 20th century mafia cities and I would have come up with Chicago, New York, and Boston. Probably never would have landed on St. Louis until I’d run through the remainder of the coast cities and a few in the South. Turns out St. Louis was home to at least 5 gangs, who frequently swapped the strong-hold and held court in the streets.

In my initial research, I’ve been able to find some information on Sicilian gang, The Green Ones, and, an Italian faction, the Pillow Gang (so named for the pillow its leader carried with him after a couple well place shots affected his ability to comfortably sit). Another group factored into the warring was the Cuckoo Gang.

This preliminary research has piqued the researchers in us to find out what happened to these men. We ended up going back to the cemetery the next day and photographing dozens of graves with the idea that we would determine their fates. We saw thousands of graves across the cemetery in those two days, but weren’t drawn to try to discover the identities of them all. It was the pictures, the literal face-to-a-name that made us want to know more.

Who were these men? Fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, who also played a role in the criminality of a city. It’s easy to find information on the leaders of these gangs and their eventual outcomes. Many succumbing to a life lived by the gun, but what of these foot soldiers?

I have no delusions that all of these graves hold the remains of St. Louisans with ties to organized crime. There are many family members, friends, and neighbors that are undoubtedly buried alongside them. I intend on including the information we find on these people as well, simply as an honest depiction of our research.

While this is a seemingly morbid journey to embark on, it’s a result of an insatiable curiosity that was piqued and a need to organize the world in a large series of connections. It’s an in depth, intimate way to learn about a piece of the history of St. Louis and the Midwest.

This research will become a series of posts as we find out more and I would love anyone with any ideas, suggestions, or great books or websites on St. Louis organized crime to leave a comment.

Why We Fill Our Museums with Lies

Vancouver - Dec 2010 013I have a tiered collection of soap boxes that I like to scale every once in a while and proselytize about all the things the world is doing wrong and the role that you are playing in its downfall.

The tallest, indicating the need for my loudest sermons, is reserved for my rail against the way America teaches history. Beyond out right lies about discoveries, criminality and immorality, our collective history is taught from a singular view-point. The rich, white male. These men are then carved into marble heroes. We’re taught to idolize and accept without questioning the accuracy of what we are taught.

These heroifications are the reason Oval Office extracurriculars dominate headlines and create a morality backlash. We’ve been taught that people in positions of social or political influence are above human behavior. They should not have a history that includes any poor judgment, miscalculated goals, or indiscretions.

Because lord knows we don’t…

Museums and historical sites have a sordid habit of playing into these historical compartmentalization. The majority of a museums’s space is generally dedicated to history as experienced or viewed through masculine, white eyes. Once they have finished teaching you the “history” they will occasionally include black history or woman’s history or, very infrequently, LGBTQ history.

These separations teach us that their history is not our history. It doesn’t even run parallel, as subconsciously communicated through the size, depth of knowledge, and attention given to these exhibits. These are histories of less significance and their impact is only slightly felt and, even then, only within the segregated groups.

The labels put on these histories are accepted as necessary qualifiers to identify whose history we are learning. Why do we accept these labels, when qualifiers such as white history or man history seem like silly redundancies? It is assumed that when we use the word history without specification we are talking about the rich, white male story.

By teaching singular history, you are teaching an egocentric, singular view of the world. Putting on those labels creates a history for you and him, her over there and me, rather than OUR history. It becomes a fractured story that we then use in our lives as an excuse to continue to live as a segregated global community. We assume that because we have no collective history that it is impossible to understand each other.

I’m not arguing against the individual histories that help identify a group of people. There are certainly experiences that my ancestors as white Europeans do not share with Africans or people of the First Nations. But the museums that present events or social ideas should not limit their points of view to the majority. By doing this the majority becomes the self-appointed authority, even in situations where population shifts have made them racially a minority.

A culture teaches this way to make themselves appear important and to aid in assuming a role of dominance. A national story of moral righteousness and strength in character portrays an indomitable force. The damaging side effect is the delicate façade created. The nation is now forced to cower behind these paper heroes hoping they will hold. Of course, the obvious irony is the strength of character that comes from accepting responsibility and allowing growth in the wake of errors.

The unfortunate reality is that museums are forced to tell false stories and create heroic portrayals. The concealed truths and, often, blatant lies, are a result of thinly veiled demands. Donors with a vested interest in keeping clean historic reputations will only donate with caveats on how the information is presented and what parts of the story must be left out.

Essentially we are selling our history to the highest bidder. If they would like to stay open, museums have little choice but to accept the money or artifacts within the stipulations. The rich have created our history. And will continue to do so, unless we began to demand otherwise.

First, donate time and money, when you can, to museums, historic sites, and other non-profit preservation organizations. It would take a significant amount for most museums to become independent of large donors with agendas, but…I hate to say it…anything helps.

Secondly, don’t accept that the history that you’ve been taught is, in fact, the truth. When you visit historic sites and museums, ask questions. And then see through the well-crafted and rehearsed answers.

Finally, cultivate your own knowledge. Start with James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America for a more involved conversation on the buying of our history. Then read, research, and explore with a critical eye.

This seemingly out of nowhere post was a result of the incredibly honest, refreshing museums in and around St. Louis. I’m hoping to get a post up soon about the surprising way they presented our history.