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.