By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
The Discovery Expedition's arrival at Fort Mandan in the winter of 2004 was decidedly less harmonious.
As with most of its stops along the trail, the customary crowd had gathered to greet the re-enactors and snap photos.
"There was this woman standing on the front of the boat with one foot on the gangplank and one foot on the bow of the boat," Mandrell recounts. "The river was raging. It was not good."
Crew members, concerned the woman might fall, asked her to step back. Mandrell says that when she ignored the warnings, he ordered her to get off.
"She took her camera down, smiles at me smugly, and then starts taking pictures again," Mandrell says. "I walked over [after she got off] and said, 'I don't know who you are, but that was exceedingly rude. I hope those pictures don't appear in print, because I'm not giving you authorization to use those photos.'"
Bad move. Mandrell later learned that the woman ran the local newspaper, and that her husband had contributed to the local heritage association. When Mandrell returned home for the winter break, he met with the Discovery Expedition's board, which urged him to apologize. He refused. Executive director Larry McClain and another board member invited Mandrell out for a drink and lowered the boom.
"They said, 'We're not sure we're going to renew your membership,'" Mandrell recalls. "I just laughed at the absurdity of it. I was at the table when we incorporated as a 501(c)3 before either of these guys had even heard of the Discovery Expedition. I said, 'Well, I guess I'll have to go on without you.'
"Larry McClain flew into a rage and said, 'You'll never be on the trail again!'"
Mandrell ordered another beer. "These guys were idiots."
Larry McClain declines to comment about the split. "I'd rather focus on the positive," the executive director says. "People have different visions. They have different dreams, and Scott's group grabbed the spirit of the trail in a different way."
Sniffs one Discovery corps member: "Let's just say there was a personality conflict. [Mandrell] had a lack of people skills and was asked not to return."
In the spring of 2005, when Discovery Expedition returned to Fort Mandan to pick up the trail, Mandrell arrived with a rival crew.
"The silliness started right away," says Churchill Clark, as he describes a camp-out on the shores of Lake Sacagawea. "Those guys came in and camped below us. Some of our friends [from Discovery Expedition] snuck up to see us they were told they were forbidden to see us. These were grown men!"
Tempers soon flared on the Idaho-Montana border, when First Squad disrupted one of Discovery Expedition's flag-raising ceremonies on Lost Trail Pass.
"We came riding into camp on horseback, and here they come riding in their cars. My cousin is getting dressed in the parking lot,'" Churchill Clark says scornfully. "I asked him how the trip was going. He said, 'All right,' and walked away."
When Discovery's two principals stepped up and introduced themselves as Lewis and Clark, Mandrell came forward and said he was Meriwether Lewis. A shouting match ensued.
"We could've arranged it better," Churchill Clark allows.
Bud Clark calls the encounter an isolated incident.
"We haven't butted heads on the trail. If anyone said that, it isn't true," says Clark, who's a dead ringer for distant cousin Churchill (if you age the latter 20 years). "The only time we had a real confrontation was on Lost Trail Pass, and it was all their doing.
"Certain individuals behaved in an unacceptable, intrusive and despicable manner during a color ceremony. And that's as much as I'm going to say about this, because I'm not into media jousting. I'm not going there," he concludes.
But members of First Squad say mutual animosity dogged the fractured expeditions from then on. They paint their Discovery counterparts as a crew of aged peacocks, eager for the glory of the trail but unwilling to endure the slightest hardship.
"It increasingly became an old guys' club. They want to dress up and get patted on the back for something people did 200 years ago, but they never really do it themselves," Mandrell scoffs.
Discovery crew members dismiss Mandrell's claims as mere braggadocio.
"That's their only out," says Norm Bowers, a steely ex-Army Ranger. "The long and the short of it is that there were a lot of folks who were relieved to have them gone. Whatever you call it, rustic or a re-enactment I don't think coming out of a canoe in a flyfishing outfit is very rustic, no matter what they may think."
First Squad-ers say that after Lost Trail Pass, Bud Clark attempted to sabotage them by badmouthing them to park rangers and law enforcement officials. While on horseback in the Lolo Mountains, they say, a "cop" stopped them.
"[The cop] says, 'I heard you guys were trouble,'" says Churchill Clark. "And then he says we can proceed but that we can't set up any tables or give any presentations. Now, I wonder who could've tipped him off?"