Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lewis And Clark: How The Corps Of Discovery Reached The Pacific A Decade Late

Clark and Lewis

Between 1804 and 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led what was known as the Corps of Discovery, a group of soldiers, frontiersmen, and guides, from the mouth of the Missouri River at St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean. It was an epic journey into unknown territories, the first Americans to cross the continental divide, and one of the great stories of all time.

Mind you, Alexander Mackenzie had made the trip a few years earlier, crossing Canada to the Arctic and the Pacific. Try explaining that to our American cousins.

During the expedition, Lewis and Clark ascended the mighty Missouri, made first contact with Native tribes (for the most part, in a friendly way), mapped large sections of the West, made a difficult crossing over the mountains, and put an end to the myth of the Northwest Passage. All the while travelling through some of the most picturesque sceneries on the continent. And in all that time, they lost only one member of the expedition to a sickness that no one at the time could have done anything about.

White Cliffs of the Missouri

Oh, and there's the oft-ignored member of the expedition who never actually got started on the expedition, so he doesn't count in the annals of history. Jebediah "Blabbermouth" McLaughlin, the legendary Blowhard of the Shenandoah, only made it to St. Louis. By which time the other expedition members were so sick and tired of him that they got him drunk and left him in front of a local insane asylum. There McLaughlin was taken into custody, living out the rest of his days claiming he was the most brilliant human being in history.

It's an extraordinary tale of American history, this Corps of Discovery. I've read the story many times. I've passed by certain areas where the explorers travelled two centuries ago. There'll come a day when I retrace the full journey myself, as many have before me. It's a story of friendship, courage, and teamwork. And setting up a loudmouth for a lifetime of insane asylum residency.

Rumors have dogged the expedition for two centuries. French-Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau, who came along with his wife Sacagawea, was dismissed as a "man of no particular merit" by Lewis. His chronic complaining annoyed the rest of the expedition; indeed, two years after the return, Clark wrote his brother with details. "Charbonneau kept asking are we there yet? How much ferther is it? It was most vexxing. We considerred having him meet with an accident, but the opportunity never showed itself." The spelling is his original, by the way. Clark was an entertaining writer and genius at mapmaking, but a horrible speller.

A page of Clark's journal
Another rumor is less well known, but may have more substance. Some have said that the reason for Lewis' depression and ultimate suicide was his inadvertantly forgetting his housekeys at Fort Clatsop in March of 1806.

The names of the explorers have been put all over the map, from trails to lakes to towns to parks. It's even been used in some more... creative ways.

Today, in St. Louis, where it all began, stands a statue of the explorers, on the banks of the Mississippi.

Unfortunately the river has this annoying tendency to overflow its banks, which it's doing yet again this year. So the statue commemorating these extraordinary leaders winds up getting submerged.

Don't believe me?

What did I tell you?

Common sense would dictate that the statue be moved uphill. Perhaps in the vicinity of the Arch. Common sense, however, does not prevail in City Hall, however (a common affliction in city halls).

And so the statues are doomed to spend at least some time submerged in water every few years. What would Lewis and Clark have to say about this blight on their reputation?

"Well, Lewis, looks like we're drowning again."

"See you in June, Clark."


  1. This is priceless, partner!

    "Blabbermouth" McLaughlin? I love it!

  2. I've always loved the Lewis and Clark story...your version is particularly wonderful.

    Gosh, it sure is vexing to forget your housekeys...but to kill yourself over it? These explorer types sure are sensitive!

  3. I remember being a kid in the back seat and asking,
    "Are we there yet?" like a hundred times. It would have been a good time to give me a history lesson.
    "most vexing." I love it.

  4. Remind me to have my statue erected in New Jersey.

  5. Love this blog! Well done...Love the drowning statue!

  6. Smarty Pants! You're smarter than Sir Poops-A-Lot.

    Hair Ball

  7. I'm more familiar with James Alexander Thom's version in "From Sea to Shining Sea." But yours has a few more interesting interpretations. I love the photos at the end.

  8. I loved this article. I'll have to read the Corps of Discovery. But honestly, in the river? Where it floods? Uh duh. We visited Salmon, Idaho where they have a small museum and statue dedicated to Sacagawea - always one of my fav subjects. Well-done.

  9. I'm surprised the government hasn't spent 1,000,000 dollars to move them to a worse location.

  10. @Mike: Don't give the government ideas.

    @Donna: I've got to see that museum sometime.

    @Eve: my brother hates the word vexing...

    @Lynn: I love the Lewis and Clark story too.

    @Norma: Yes, Blabbermouth. It fits, doesn't it?


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