By the time the Corps of Discovery reached St. Charles in the fall of 1806, its members were more concerned with pressing on to St. Louis than with socializing with the settlement's elders. Who could blame them? Led by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the corps had journeyed more than 7,000 miles through the Louisiana Territory, over the Bitterroot Mountains, through the then-unknown Oregon Territory to the Pacific Ocean and back over a 28-month period.
The corps knew it was returning to a hero's welcome in St. Louis, and in their excitement the men often clocked a beastly 60 river miles per day. It's a magnificent distance, made all the more remarkable when seen against the many unthinkable hardships the crew endured. Captain Lewis had been shot in the rear during a hunting accident only one month earlier. The crew had encountered hostile Indian tribes, eaten dogs and slaughtered horses to avoid starvation. They'd spent an entire winter with nothing to drink but water and were often plagued by clouds of mosquitoes. When St. Charles finally hove into sight on September 21, 1806, many of the men suffered from eye infections, not to mention the venereal diseases they'd picked up on the trail.
Many could no longer paddle their canoes, which had obliged the expedition to abandon two boats the day before. That same day, Captains Lewis and Clark were so desperate for a drink that they paid an exorbitant $8 for two gallons of whiskey.
Nonetheless, Corps members must have felt a swelling of pride as they paddled into St. Charles. The entire village came out to greet them, and Clark marveled that the residents were "much delighted at our return and seem to vie with each other in their politeness to us all."
On a cloudy day 200 years later, a similar crowd of well-wishers gathered on the very same Missouri River bank to meet the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, a Lewis & Clark re-enactment group. Just like the original Corps of Discovery, members of the Discovery Expedition were clad in a motley assortment of buckskin outfits, moccasins, fur hats, period uniforms and blue felt caps. The re-enactors touched land in St. Charles at 4 p.m. on the dot, just like their predecessors. Just like the original corps, the re-enactors paddled up in dugout canoes and a larger pirogue. And just like Lewis & Clark's original expedition, the re-enactors heralded their homecoming by firing the small canon at the helm of the pirogue.
Unlike the original expedition, whose average age was in the midtwenties (Lewis himself was 32, Clark, 36 years old), the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles is culled largely from the ranks of the semi- and fully retired. Whereas the original expedition paddled the entire length of the Missouri River, the re-enactors traveled much of the trail in automotive convoys. And while the original Lewis & Clark expedition was forced to hunt for their breakfast, lunch and dinner before sleeping in hastily set-up camps, the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles often dined out on the municipal tab of the towns along their route, before bedding down for a good night's rest in one of the many RVs that accompanied the voyage. Finally, unlike the original crew, whose boatmen "plyed thear ores with great dexterity" to reach St. Charles, the re-enactors' motorized pirogue got hung up on a sandbar and had to be pulled ashore.
But though members of the original Lewis & Clark expedition knew they were heading for a triumphant return, they also must have felt a pang of remorse. After all, they had failed in their primary mission. Namely, they were unable to find the legendary Northwest Passage, an interior waterway that linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. They had, however, discovered plenty along the way.
The corps had come face to face with grizzly bears, bison and pronghorn antelope. It had collected several species of unknown animals and even managed to send a few living examples back to President Thomas Jefferson. They'd discovered more than 130 previously unknown bird species, more than 175 plant species, and befriended several Indians of various tribes, including the now-mythic Shoshone girl, Sacagawea.
Perhaps most important, the young explorers returned home with the first maps of the obscure Louisiana and Oregon Territories. The Corps of Discovery was the first American detachment to travel deep into the unknown west. It was now returning with strange and fabulous tales of the bounteous country that would become the United States.
Two hundred years later, the Discovery Expedition had a less elaborate message when it finally straggled ashore in St. Charles:
"Hip, hip, huzzah! Hip, hip, huzzah! Hip, hip, huzzah!"
To reach the town of Lupus, Missouri, follow I-70 west past Rocheport and over the Missouri River until you reach Highway 179. Take 179 south about ten miles, until you reach a dirt track called East Splice Creek Road. Then hang a left. As you head east back toward the river, the road dips and the Missouri River Valley unfolds as a series of gently sloping horse farms carved from the verdant pasture. Rambling clapboard homes surrounded by barns and outbuildings sit at a distant remove from the road. Sows loll under mammoth oaks, and although slumping split-rail fences divide parts of the road from farmland, such barriers are rare. The valley is cooler than the surrounding area, and as dusk sets in, possums, raccoons and deer tentatively emerge from the foliage.
With a population of just 29, Lupus does not seem poised to disrupt this bucolic idyll. Huddled by the banks of the Missouri, Lupus is a town with no stoplights. Its Main Street intersects with a dirt road, and last year the town's largest public-works project was the addition of a bathroom to the one-room community center. Life is slow in Lupus, and the people seem to like it that way.
Imagine, then, the excitement when the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles' RV convoy pulls into Lupus and begins to set up camp.
The Discovery Expedition boasts more than 200 active members from across the country. Many drop in and out of the tour, typically showing up on the weekends for a night or two of adventure. But Lupus is one of the last stops on the expedition's two-year journey, and even on a Tuesday night the corps' numbers have swelled to more than double the town's population.
That doesn't stop village elders from feting the boys in buckskin aside from Sacagawea, women aren't allowed on the canoes as if they were the intrepid explorers they pretend to be. After treating the travelers to dinner and live banjo music al fresco, former Lupus mayor Jim Denny, a portly man sporting a beefy mustache and a Hawaiian shirt, delivers an impromptu speech, presenting corps member Josh Loftis with a pink flamingo lawn ornament to commemorate Loftis' entry into the "Procession of the Flamingo."
Loftis, who at age twenty is one of the Discovery Expedition's youngest members, has been on the trail for as long as anyone in the group. He's tall and wiry, with shaggy brown hair and a narrow, hairless chest. This last characteristic manifests itself frequently, as Loftis is known for boarding the boats wearing nothing but a loincloth and chaps. He says he's a descendant of George Shannon, one of the members of the original expedition. Accepting his lawn ornament, Loftis recounts that when the expedition reached the Pacific, he ran clutching an American flag in one hand and a pirate flag in the other headlong into the surf.
It's only nine o'clock, but the festivities are beginning to wind down. Tomorrow the ersatz corps will hook canoes to pirogue and motor to Jefferson City. After supping upon a feast provided by the city, Mayor John Landwehr will read a proclamation signed by Governor Matt Blunt. Dressed in buckskin and a billed fur hat, Jan "Meriwether Lewis" Donaldson will give each dignitary a friendship medal silver-colored coins the Discovery Expedition has been doling out along its route. The festivities will conclude with a serenade by the Jefferson City Cantorum's Lewis & Clark Singers.
But for all the evening's bonhomie, one topic prompts the re-enactors to emit disapproving whispers: First Squad.
Led by Churchill "William" Clark and Scott "Meriwether Lewis" Mandrell, First Squad is significantly smaller, and younger, than Discovery Expedition. This squadron has propelled itself down the river in a pair of elaborately carved dugout canoes and a third "banana boat" canoe. Unlike the Discovery corps, this crew has paddled nearly every mile of the Missouri River, portaging only around impassable dams.
Long-haired and scruffy, First Squad's ten or so members dress in a hodgepodge of styles ranging from period dress to Tevas. They wear do-rags, and their clothes are filthy and full of holes. Nonetheless, they're quick to proudly point out that "this shirt's logged thousands of miles." They've fueled their journey with equal parts liquor and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Many of them smoke incessantly.
For much of the trip they've shadowed the Discovery Expedition like a bad conscience, occasionally disrupting its ceremonies and showing up the family-friendly Discovery corps with their tales of brute paddling force. Today two hours after Discovery Expedition has landed in St. Charles, after Mayor Patti York, tarted up in period dress, has honored the corps with a speech and after the assembled crowd has visited Discovery's campsite to learn about medical practices of the early nineteenth century First Squad quietly docks its canoes on the St. Charles riverfront.
Since Mandrell has had to resume his teaching duties in the Clayton School District, this week First Squad is led by Clark, who says he's a great-great-great-great-grandson of William Clark. A 42-year-old bartender from Denver, Clark has long, curly brown hair, blue eyes and cheeks flecked with a perpetual two-day stubble. He has the sort of chin that slopes almost seamlessly into his neck and wears a pair of nascent muttonchops that reach out toward his mouth. Today he's got a red bandana tied on his head, a pair of knee-high leather boots and a long-sleeved white shirt with a massive tear in the right armpit.
Climbing out of his canoe, Clark heads for land, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a shared bag of tortilla chips. As he clambers through a small patch of reeds, he passes a tall, blond woman who has brought her young son down to see the boats.
"Oh! They're a couple of beauties," she exclaims, complimenting the canoes, which the crew has carved and painted with colorful eagles and turtles.
"They are a couple of beauties," Clark repeats with a wry smile. When the blonde is out of earshot, he adds, "I know a MILF when I see one. I remember this town. I love St. Charles."
As members of the Discovery Expedition lecture schoolchildren and retirees on the finer points of leeching 250 yards away, Clark settles in at a picnic table and recounts his first meeting with Mandrell, who used to play Lewis for the Discovery Expedition and now plays the same role for First Squad.
"There was a huge re-enactment in 2004 with eight or ten regiments. Scott came in on horseback and commanded the regiments like a general," says Clark. "He rocked me."
Tall, thin and clean-shaven, 40-year-old Scott Mandrell parts his graying hair in a sweep to the left. He has been involved in re-enacting the Lewis & Clark expedition since 1996, when he rode on horseback from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh. He was also a close friend of Glen Bishop.
Among the ranks of the Discovery Expedition, Bishop is a figure of near-mythic importance. A retired general contractor, Bishop built the first keelboat, a 55-foot replica of Lewis & Clark's original keelboat, by himself. In 1996 Bishop and a dozen re-enactors, Mandrell among them, traveled in the boat from St. Louis to St. Joseph, Missouri, re-creating the first seven weeks of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
The trip was an unmitigated success. Part of the journey was filmed for Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, a film by Ken Burns. In 1997 Bishop received the Missouri Division of Tourism's "Wake Up" Award at the Governor's Conference on Tourism. But not long after, a warehouse fire destroyed the keelboat.
Unbowed, Bishop and his fellow re-enactors incorporated the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles as a nonprofit. Volunteers began rebuilding the keelboat, plus replicas of the original expedition's two pirogues and a boathouse. Donations began pouring in, and Discovery's board of directors solicited grants from government agencies to fund a complete re-enactment.
But Bishop never completely realized his dream. He died of cancer in October 2001, before the boathouse and re-enactment were completed.
"Glen was the rock," Mandrell says. "After he died there were disagreements about what the vision should be. We muddled along for a few more years. The boathouse became more important than the re-enactment. Glen never wanted that. Glen was a beer-drinking, chain-smoking, boat-building river rat. He wanted a $300,000 pole barn where we could build boats. But then we woke up, and all of a sudden we were supposed to raise money to pay off a $3.5 million boathouse that was no longer even designed to build boats. It became a $3.5 million gift shop."
Mandrell had been tapped to play Meriwether Lewis (who'd left no descendants). But finding someone to play Clark, who'd left many heirs, was more complicated. In the end, Peyton "Bud" Clark, a retired automotive engineer from Dearborn, Michigan, and the captain's great-great-great grandson, got the role.
Discovery launched its boats up the Missouri in May 2004. Almost immediately the journey encountered adversity. Three hundred miles outside St. Louis, in the town of Waverly, the crew's dog, Seaman, died. There was speculation the 20-month-old Newfoundland had been poisoned, but the town's police chief ruled out foul play after toxicology tests proved inconclusive.
Rifts also began to appear within the corps.
"You make a deal with the Devil when you take money from anyone," Mandrell says. "There were a lot of people who mysteriously had become board members. While we were out trying to maintain the boats and execute this trip, there were people in St. Charles who had no understanding of the mechanics of moving this operation. So they'd tell the lady with the clipboard in Town A that we could wait until 4 p.m. so the mayor could give his speech and cut the ribbon, and then they'd guarantee the woman in Town B that we'd be 50 miles upriver by nine the next morning, standing tall with the boats for the school kids. It was impossible."
Mandrell says he began to complain to board members in St. Charles that the Discovery Expedition was so heavily scheduled that they had to pull the boats from the water just to make their public commitments. Meanwhile, the relationship between Bud Clark, Scott Mandrell and Churchill Clark was beginning to fall apart.
"Bud hated Churchill," Mandrell says. "He hated him because he was another Clark, and you can't own the spotlight if there's another Clark. What really got him was when Church and I would get on horses. There'd inevitably be a photo in the local paper saying that Church was a direct descendant of William Clark. Bud just hated it."
Nor was Bud Clark a big fan of Mandrell.
"Bud hated me," Mandrell says. "He would have preferred that this was the 'Clark Expedition.' He was the heir-apparent of the Lewis & Clark expedition. He was genetically endowed by his ancestry, and Lewis was superfluous."
The Lewis & Clark expedition spent the winter of 1804 at Fort Mandan, North Dakota. The first season on the trail had been marred by insubordination, and the leaders frequently resorted to lashing their mutinous troops. But over that first winter the crew bonded, and discipline problems rarely flared up the rest of the way. It was also during that first winter that the explorers encountered Sacagawea, a pregnant young Shoshone woman. When the corps set out again in the spring of 1805, Sacagawea, along with her husband and their newborn infant, would accompany the corps all the way to the Pacific.
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?"
Early this summer press reports also began circulating that Mandrell had been charged with misdemeanor battery for breaking a neighbor's wrist during an altercation at his home in Alton, Illinois Mandrell's third misdemeanor battery charge in just more than a decade. Also according to the reports, which appeared in local papers, Mandrell had been charged seven times with disorderly conduct.
In two of those cases, Mandrell was fined. The other cases were dismissed, and Mandrell has lawyered up for litigation in latest battery case.
Mandrell says Discovery members tipped journalists off about his legal tussles.
Bud Clark scoffs at the idea: "We've kept the high road all throughout the bicentennial, and if anyone in our organization was involved in anything confrontational, they would get one warning, and then the second time they'd be asked to go do something else," Clark says. "Anybody told you there's been a lot of head-butting along the trail, it's a lie. There's not been. OK?"
Not so, say First Squad members, who contend that Bud Clark tried to get them arrested after First Squad rode in on horseback to a Discovery Expedition event in Darby, Montana. The affair was sparsely attended, and many of the hay bales that had been set up as seating were unoccupied. First Squad grabbed a few for their hungry mounts.
"The cops bring this guy up and ask us if we stole some hay," says Churchill Clark. "This guy obviously didn't want to be there. A bale of hay costs, like, two dollars, so Scott gave him three dollars and the problem went away. But I was livid. I started asking some of the [Discovery] guys if someone called the cops on us. They told me to look to my cousin. I went up to Bud and said, 'Cousin, tell me you didn't call the cops on me,'" Clark goes on. "And he said, 'I've got nothing to say to you. I never want to hear you or see you ever again.'
"That's when the kid gloves came off. I said, 'You're a grown man. You're embarrassing the family, and I know you're embarrassing William.' I'm sure at that point he was thinking: 'William who?'"
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came ashore in St. Louis on September 23, 1806, they were returning to a changed country. Lewis, who'd served as personal secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, would learn that Jefferson's vice president, Aaron Burr, had killed Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, in a duel. Other explorers were forging west; the nation had assumed the Lewis & Clark expedition had met an untimely end and perished. Now, though, the city turned out to greet them.
Wrote Clark in his journal: "[W]e Suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a Salute to the Town. We were met by all the village and received a harty welcom from it's inhabitants."
The Discovery Expedition of St. Charles' landing in St. Louis 200 years later was slightly less of a watershed event. Bud Clark had spent much of the previous week in town, lecturing on the Lewis & Clark legacy and boarding at the Adam's Mark Hotel downtown. But he donned his buckskin one last time for the crowd of a few thousand, which included St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, on hand to cut a ribbon and dedicate a statue commemorating the original expedition.
The Discovery party landed north of the Gateway Arch, beneath the Eads Bridge. The riverfront's prime real estate at the foot of the Arch was already occupied.
An hour earlier, First Squad had come ashore.
As they celebrated the end of their journey with a drum circle led by Chinook Indians, an elderly couple approached.
"I thought you weren't supposed to arrive for another hour," the woman said.
"They're not here yet. I'm sure they'll be here any minute," Churchill Clark replied.
"I thought you were the Lewis & Clark re-enactor group," she persisted.
"Well, we call ourselves the Lewis & Clark stunt doubles," Clark said. "We were with them back in the day, but then they got off the river."
"Oh, I thought you were going to do the whole trip," she said.
"We did," said Clark, who'd obviously had this conversation before. "There were a lot of politics on the trail, and frankly I don't want to be anywhere near them."
The late historian and author Steven Ambrose has called the Lewis & Clark expedition the archetypal story of American discovery and friendship, a mythic forebearer to the nation's can-do spirit and generosity. Though subsequent generations of Americans would slaughter and suppress the Native Americans (who'd doubtless done plenty of "exploring" themselves), Lewis and Clark's crew had, for the most part, befriended the natives. What with the participation of Clark's slave, York, the French trappers and Sacagawea, the expedition can even be seen as a prototypical tale of 21st-Century multicultural inclusion.
In short, the Lewis & Clark legend has a little something for everyone. But none of that prevented the tale from dimming in the country's collective memory. It was partly an accident of history: When the captain's journals were finally published, the United States was embroiled in the War of 1812. Though the Corps of Discovery brought back maps of previously uncharted territory, data about the animals and Indians they encountered wouldn't see print for another century, prompting Henry Adams to ridicule the expedition soon after its conclusion as having "added little to the stock of science and wealth."
Nonetheless, Lewis & Clark were treated as national heroes as they continued their journey east to report to President Jefferson. Clark was appointed Indian agent for the West and brigadier general of the territory's militia. He soon adjusted to a less strenuous life, married and produced several descendants. Jefferson gave his brooding former secretary Lewis the post of governor of the Louisiana Territory. Despite the prestigious title, Lewis never seemed to adjust to life back in civilization. Though he courted several women, none consented to marry him.
Jefferson expected a full written report from Lewis. But Lewis never started a draft. In 1809, at an inn south of Nashville, he took his own life.
The evening before he shot himself, once in the heart and once in the head, Lewis is said to have asked the innkeeper to lay down a buffalo rug. He said that his friend Clark would soon be coming to join him.
Two hundred years later, he has yet to arrive.
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