Part 2 of 2
The three-year Lewis and Clark Expedition Bicentennial is nearly at its midpoint. The original project was sanctioned by President Thomas Jefferson starting in 1803. The experiment was completed when the 33-member team, headed by Capt. Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark, returned to St. Louis in September, 1806.
A reenactment group, the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles (DESC), is recreating the entire trip in that same time frame. They are trying to portray the lifestyle and conditions of the original group. Brazil resident Aubrey Williams is using his blacksmith skills as a member of the DESC.
To be as authentic as possible, the reenactors wear the period dress and live out the daily activities required to travel and survive at that time. They even made their own keelboat, which measures about 55 feet long and weighs more than two tons.
During the Lewis and Clark expedition, the services of a blacksmith were essential. For the reenactment, Williams forges much of the metal needed for the boat, tools, weapons and housewares.
Each member of the original expedition is portrayed by various DESC members. Besides Lewis and Clark, another high-profile explorer is Sacajawea. The Indian guide was married to a Frenchman. He and their infant son traveled with the expedition. Also portrayed is York, Clark's black slave. And to capture the entire Lewis and Clark essence, the reenactors included Seaman, Capt. Lewis' large Newfoundland dog.
Williams pointed out that during the three-year trip, every person involved had a voice in decisions made. Even Sacajawea, an Indian woman, and York, a black slave, had an equal vote. That might have been the first time a true democratic process was used in the new America. It must have been a difficult transition for York, who was a free man on the trail, but reverted back to being a slave when he returned home.
Beginning the second year of their trip to the Pacific Ocean, in April, after leaving the river the DESC members will secure the keelboat and travel by horseback, canoe and by walking. They will make their own canoes out of logs as necessary. When done, the canoes will be left on the river for others who might have need of them.
The physical demands of the trip are extreme, Williams said. The average age of the 300 member DESC organization is about 50. Though each member has spent some time with the bicentennial reenactment expedition, their age and stamina will not allow any to complete the entire trip.
Williams spent about 10 weeks total each year in 2003 and 2004 for various treks with the expedition. He spent two to three weeks at each sojourn. He plans to do the same this year.
"I'm interested in the precise technology that they used in making their tools," Williams said when talking about his experience recently. "I did a good deal of research making sure I accurately presented what they did."
But Williams said, as much as they wanted to recreate the expedition exactly, it was nearly impossible due to major changes in the earth's surface in the past 200 years.
"Comparing the landscape now to what it was then, it's been completely changed," Williams said. "Very seldom did we see anything close to what Lewis and Clark saw."
Williams said that dams caused a lot of the problems. Some major geography has been altered with waterways blocked or redirected, and with civilization and population growth, vast wooded areas no longer exist in some parts. The DESC members worked closely with the Army Corps of Engineers to establish the route taken by Lewis and Clark.
The DESC's completed trip will end with the return to St. Louis expected in the fall of 2006.
"It's been an absolutely wonderful adventure," Williams said of his experience. "On the river at Clarksville, Ind., last October, I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.
"I've seen some of the most fantastic natural scenes going through southern Indiana," he continued. "One fellow said it was like driving though a calendar.
"It's a very spiritual experience. It'll make a believer out of you, real quick. God's glory is out there."