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Individuals from left are Coulter, guide; York, Clark's servant; Captain Meriwether Lewis; Captain William Clark; Sacagawea; Charbonneau, Sacagawea's husband. From the painting "Lewis and Clark at Three Forks" by Edgar S. Paxson. 


 

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Lewis and Clark Expedition

(More coming soon....)

 

THEN (1804) AND NOW (1904)

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 11, 1904

To the Editor of the Telegraph:

Ever since I heard from a University Extension lecturer that the mouth of Wood river was of sufficient historical importance to be marked by a monument, I have desired to know the historic facts, and in the light of them to visit the place which I have heretofore known only as the site of a fishing camp. Upon application at the Jennie D. Hayner Library, the courteous attendant showed me where to find the information I wanted in "Lewis and Clark," one of the "Riverside Biographical Series." I found that at the mouth of Wood river was located the rendezvous or establishment of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, commissioned by the U. S. government for the exploration of the recent Louisiana Purchase. From this point, the expedition started May 14th, 1804, crossing the Mississippi and going up the Missouri, making only six miles the first day. There were three boats, two of which were open row boats with six or seven oars each. The third "was a keel vessel fifty-five feet in length, carrying a large square sail and manned by twenty-two oats. In the bow and stern, ten foot decks formed cabin and forecastle, and in the middle part were lockers whose tops could be raised to form a line of breastworks along either gunwale, in case of attacks from Indians. Besides these conveyances for men and baggage, horses were led along the banks of the river to be used by the hunters in their daily occupations and in case of emergency. At first the party numbered twenty-nine, including Captains Lewis and Clark. Nine young Kentuckians, fourteen soldiers of the regular army, two French boatmen, one interpreter and hunter, and a negro servant of Captain Clark. Later, sixteen were added - one Indian interpreter and hunter, and fifteen boatmen, to go as far as the Mandan Nation - Total forty-five.

 

The diary of Private Patrick Gass gives this excellent young Irishman's opinion of the importance of the expedition. He writes: "On Monday, 14 of May, 1804, we left our establishment at the mouth of the River du Bois, or Wood river, a small river which falls into the Mississippi on the East side, a mile below the Missouri, and having crossed the Mississippi proceeded up the Missouri on our intended voyage of discovery. The day was showery and in the evening we encamped on the north bank six miles up the river. Here, we had leisure to reflect on our situation and the nature of our engagements as volunteers on an expedition which the government had projected, and which had been undertaken for the benefit and at the expense of the Union."  He adds that the best authenticated accounts informed them that they were to pass through a country possessed by numerous powerful and war-like savages of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous and cruel, and particularly hostile to white men. Also that mountains were in their course which human enterprise and exertion would attempt in vain to pass.

 

So much for the mouth of Wood river a hundred years ago, and the plans and thoughts of the explorers who rowed their boats away from it, May 14, 1804. Today I walked to the spot, leaving the main St. Louis road a little below the Wood river schoolhouse, a walk of about fifteen minutes after crossing the tracks of the Terminal, Big Four, Chicago and Alton, Bluff Line, and the new electric roads. On the side where I walked the mouth of the river is not easily accessible, and is apparently not often visited. But once reached, the view of the Mississippi is as always, grand. Doubtless old residents are correct in their opinion that the mouth of Wood river is not where it once was, but further up the stream by the whole width of the great river, which has so extensively cut away its banks. But this is no reason why it should not be regarded as a historic spot. As I came back to the railroad tracks so near the spot my imagination fancied the surprise of Private Gass and his fellow explorers if they could have looked into the future a century and seen the hundred and fifty passenger and freight trains that daily pass so near the site of the "establishment," some of the freight cars bearing the names of railroads from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Let me add that it would have been gratifying in the library to find "Lewis and Clark" showing more signs of having had many readers, or was it because readers take such excellent care of books now-a-days? All the volumes of the Riverside Biographical Series are well worth reading, but this one is specially timely in connection with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. 

 

M. Jameson.

"Chicago Day,"  East Alton

October 7, 1904

 

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