While workcamping in Yellowstone Association bookstores this season, we were encouraged to read books off the shelf during slow times so I picked up Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, a historical accounting of Thomas Jefferson’s orders to send Meriwether Lewis and William Clark across uncharted country to discover a watery trade route from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.Only able to read in bits and pieces at the store, I downloaded the Kindle version to read at home. Hundreds of pages later I had read the background history, lists of provisions and enlistees included or excluded and Kindle kindly informed me that I was already 25% through the book. Boring…
Several customers saw the book by my workstation and commented on how much they’d enjoyed it. Seriously? Yes – keep going they encouraged. So, like Lewis & Clark’s cross country adventure from 1803-1806, I just kept going. A woman looking for a good read mentioned that she had read the story of Sacajewea told “in her own voice” by Anna L. Waldo. Finding the book through the Kindle store, I started reading voraciously about the native guide and her husband, a French fur trader and translator, who accompanied the team.
This book filled in what was missing from the well documented Undaunted Courage – what enquiring minds want to know: How Sacajawea discovered medicinal and edible plants and how they were prepared. What everyone wore. How her history and times in captivity with different tribes changed her, What her marriage to Charbonneau was really like. How the Corps entertained themselves. What happened when they met up with various tribes. How everyone got along during the trip. I realized I wanted to read both books concurrently – one for my right brained imaginative side and one for my left brained factual side.
In August I attended the annual Summerfest music festival with a coworker held in Sacajawea Park in Livingston, MT. We explored the park a bit and discovered this statue featuring the teenage explorer on horseback carrying her infant son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (nicknamed Pomp). A plaque on the statue said she and Pomp had stopped for a drink from the Yellowstone River on August 15, 1806 along with William Clark and part of the Corps of Discovery on their way back east. Today was the anniversary of their footsteps on this very ground!
In September on my way home from the Bear Hug Contra Dance Weekend in Flathead Lake, MT, I detoured to Great Falls, MT, home of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. My annual park pass got me in for free, and I had two hours to take in a movie narrated by Ken Burns and tour the museum, which was just enough time. The center is open from 9 am to 6 pm each day and seemed geared towards school groups. As it was raining, I did not take the outdoor trails along the Missouri River.
The main feature of the center is the two story display depicting the journeymen hoisting their boats up steep banks of the Missouri at Great Falls which encompassed ed a series of five waterfalls that took 18 miles to portage around. Murals and artifacts represented several of the native tribes they encountered, including Shoshone (Sacajawea’s original tribe), Nez Perce, Salish, Clatsop, Mandan, Hidasta, Blackfeet, Crow, Sioux and Otoe.
On my recent trip back east, several historical markers and visitor centers invited further exploration into the journey of Lewis & Clark, but will have to wait for next time. I did stop at Pompey’s Pillar in South Dakota, but the gates were closed for the season, and once again it was raining. So much history, so little time…