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By Presidential proclamation, 2003 through 2006 has been designated as the Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Commemoration. Brazil resident Aubrey Williams is experiencing that event with the official reenactment group, Discovery Expedition of St. Charles (DESC), headquartered in St. Charles, Ill. They are reliving the entire trip under as close to the original conditions as possible.
In 1803, Capt. Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark led an expedition requested by President Thomas Jefferson. The multipurpose excursion was to determine if there was a water connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, search out a land route to the Pacific, strengthen American claims to the Oregon territory, gather information about the indigenous inhabitants and the country of the far West and to discover commercial opportunity.
Before the trip began, the Louisiana Purchase increased the need for a survey of the West. The 33-member team was trained during the winter of 1803-04 in Illinois across the Mississippi from St. Louis, the starting point for the nearly 8,000-mile excursion, round trip.
In May, 1804, the Lewis & Clark envoy traveled up the Missouri River in a keelboat and two smaller pirogues. They wintered at the Mandan Native American villages near the present Bismarck, N. D. The hardest part of the trip was yet to come in 1805.
After following one of three forks of the Missouri River as far as they could, the weary travelers obtained horses with the help of their female Shoshone guide, Sacajawea. Then they continued across the high Rockies. They spent a miserable, rainy winter of 1805-1806 in Fort Clatsop, Ore., a crude post they built on the Pacific coast.
The exhausted men started back across the continent in the spring of 1806. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, party arrived in St. Louis in September of that year. Remarkably, only one member was lost during the trip. Sgt. Floyd died in Sioux City, Iowa. It's believed he succumbed to appendicitis and not the rigors of the junket.
Although it was not the first transcontinental crossing in the north, the expedition opened up tremendous new territories to the United States.
Williams, an accomplished blacksmith and former social studies and government school teacher, got interested in the DESC after he retired from teaching about six years ago.
"I was at an event, blacksmithing, in Kansas and a fellow from the DESC was there," Williams said. "That's how I became aware of it."
Williams explained that a St. Charles, Mo., man, Glenn Bishop, started to build an authentic keelboat for the bicentennial more than 10 years ago. Other interested people began to work with him and that group evolved into the privately funded Discovery Expedition of St. Charles organization.
The finished boat was put on the river several times but before the bicentennial started, the boat was burned in a warehouse fire. Another keelboat was built in time for the 2003 start of the bicentennial. Williams got involved with building that boat about 1999 or 2000.
The organization has tried to recreate the exact life style and conditions of the original expedition, making everything they needed. Using his expertise as a blacksmith, Williams helped make much of the metal parts required for such things as the boat, weapons, tools, cooking utensils and houseware items.
Tomorrow: Democracy experienced, American landscape is changed.