Picture it; St. Louis, 1803. The President of the United States turns to you and says, “I just bought some land – a bit west of here, sight unseen, and was thinking maybe you could head out and see what we got.”
I am not quite sure I would have been as excited as Lewis was. Clearly, Lewis responded to the President with “Sure! This is gonna be sweet. Hey, I have a few others in my crew that would be up for the trek. They have all been looking for a reason to escape into the unknown. This is going to be so epic! Thanks, man.”
Lewis must have been an extremely confident guy, to think his skills, and those of the people who would accompany him, would get him back from this journey, with colossal tales to retell. The exact opposite could have very well happened. The President, 4 years later, could have been running for reelection fielding the following questions from a reporter, “Whatever happened to those fellas you sent to check out the Louisiana Purchase? Are we doing anything with land or was that just another waste of taxpayer dollars from your administration?”
Clearly, times have changed. I ask you, sit back in your comfy chair, kick your feet up, close your eyes and just imagine yourself on the journey. Ask yourself, “Could I have done it?” The answer for me, a resounding no. As much as I appreciate the tenacity of the Corps of Discovery, there is no way I would have made the trek. Now, I could have been peer pressured into starting the journey, but I would have given up or been asked to establish a settlement, long before the crew hit North Dakota.
I can imagine Lewis and the President hyping this trip, talking about all the scenery we are going to see, the discoveries we will make, the quality time we will have together, going down in history, the government providing all the snacks, vessels, and state of the art equipment for us to play with, and you can bring your dog! Well, there it is – that was the hang-up for me. I had no idea who I was going to ask to watch my dog for an infinite amount of time. Seaman can go with – I’m in and I really have been looking for a way to spend some time with Sgt. Floyd, we haven’t hung out as much since he got that promotion. But, I want second billing on this, if we don’t die – we are naming this the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Ultimately, the Corps traveled 4,142 miles, documenting new flora, fauna, and meeting the indigenous inhabitants of the land that encompassed the Louisiana Purchase. My family narrowly survives a summer vacation, traveling 800 miles in an air-conditioned van, with iPods, tablets, phones, and GPS, staying in hotels with swimming pools all to immerse ourselves in a journey to discover the world’s largest ball of twine.
The corps documented their journey with detailed journals, which we can look back on and piece together their experience. While no official records indicate ill will among the Corps, I am sure there was the public set of journals kept, as well as a private set. My journal wouldn’t have been fit for public consumption as I can guarantee you it would have read something like this:
So, Floyd died. He’s the only reason I decided to come on the trek. Stupid appendix. Of all the things we have been through, an appendix! Smith and Jones haven’t once offered to fish, hunt or gather wood but they both want to have a warm place to sleep and food in their belly. Lewis keeps telling us to buck-up buttercup, but I don’t think any amount of bucking-up is going to bring us food. Johnson refuses to jump into the river to wash the smell off himself, and I have been sitting next to him for four days – the smell is obtrusive, so I really haven’t yet wanted to eat. If Johnson doesn’t jump in tonight, I am pushing him overboard tomorrow.
We have found these massive animals, looking most like a huge ox, that cannot be manhandled with the super fancy equipment Jefferson said would be adequate. Oh, and Jefferson – don’t get me started. Between him and Lewis, I feel shafted. Jefferson must have thought he bought 300 acres, he packed us snacks for a month. We have been headed west for 7 months now, and we just keep seeing more and more land! The vessels were crap. We carved a canoe our of a huge tree we found and it’s working well to haul the dog and any berries we can gather. If I make it out of this, I am going to demand towns and buildings named after me – maybe even a national holiday!
Although a National Holiday has yet to be established to honor the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Great Falls Montana has established North America’s most extensive display of the entire expedition at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, the Lewis & Clark Festival occurs every year in June, the five falls the corps portaged still exist, a mural depicting Lewis’ close encounter with a brown bear is in downtown Great Falls, and statues of corps members are placed throughout Great Falls on the River’s Edge Trail.
Journey to Great Falls, retrace the steps of this epic experience, learn a little more about what really happened during the expedition.* Get all those questions you have answered, like – how many people died on the trek, what was the role of each of the explorers, what was it like to run into people along the expedition, and in the process, learn just how impressive the Corps of Discovery truly is.
*Portions of this blog are complete fiction for entertainment purposes only, some of it is fact. Find the facts during your next visit to Great Falls Montana at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center.