- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

It's shaping up to be the longest-running re-enactment in American history. Starting Saturday at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate south of Charlottesville., America for the next three years will relive every step of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition, which began in 1804 and stretched from St. Louis to Astoria, Ore., then back again.
Thousands of festivals, re-enactments, museum exhibits and fairs are planned along the 3,000-mile trek, credited with opening America's vast western expanses to inhabitants of a country less than 30 years old.
Celebrating the expedition is expected to be more popular than the events themselves. Back then, most American citizens were less than excited about the discoveries.
"In 1804, there was more wilderness than anyone thought we'd ever use," says Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri Historical Society and chairman of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. "But 86 years later, by 1890, the wilderness was gone. The buffaloes were slaughtered, the grizzly bears were almost gone and the Indians were confined to reservations."
Saturday's event celebrates a Jan. 18, 1803, secret letter from President Jefferson, who was anticipating the Louisiana purchase, that asked Congress to fund an expedition. Opening ceremonies are slated for 10:30 a.m.; more than 4,100 tickets have been given out.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's journey officially started in May 1804, when the intrepid explorers set off from St. Louis in a 55-foot keelboat (a large boat with oars and a sail) up the Missouri River, and ended with a triumphant return to St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806.
The two main characters, Lewis, a personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson, and Clark, a retired Army lieutenant, met with more than 50 Indian tribes en route. Their Shoshone guide, Sacagawea, played a major role in the success of the expedition.
"If America has an epic or odyssey, Lewis and Clark is the only claimant a few dozen people setting out into wilderness for the first time," Mr. Archibald says. "After Bismarck, (N.D.), they were describing land no European American had ever seen before. They were further away than the men on the moon. They had no way to call home."
They are credited with being the first white men to cross North America to the Pacific, encountering tracts of wilderness that to this day are rarely explored. Their mission was to find "the Northwest Passage," an imagined all-water route to the Pacific Ocean.
As soon as Lewis and Clark and their 31 companions reached the headwaters of the Missouri, they realized they were in for a long portage. They didn't encounter water for another 340 miles, where they happened upon the Clearwater River in southern Idaho. They built canoes there and followed the Clearwater to the Columbia River and eventually the Pacific.
On the way, the explorers were charged by Jefferson with mapping the continent's interior and collecting plant, mineral and animal specimens. They ended up recording 178 new plants and 122 animal species and subspecies.
The 200th anniversary has prompted 17 celebrations along the route, beginning with a National Bicentennial Exposition that opens today at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. It will feature hundreds of artifacts and documents that have not been assembled together since the expedition returned to St. Louis in 1806.
One of the items will be a July 4, 1803, letter from Jefferson extending $2,500 credit to Lewis, a stuffed woodpecker from the expedition, and William Clark's handwritten, illustrated elkskin-bound field journal in which he recorded several months worth of field notes.
The Falls of the Ohio celebration this year on Oct. 14 will have re-enactors portraying Lewis' arrival in Louisville, Ky., and his meeting with Clark on Oct. 14, 1803. On Oct. 26, their expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, would leave Louisville for St. Louis. But the expedition could not leave until the following March, when the Louisiana Purchase went into effect.
The commemoration of their journey up the Missouri will be March 12-14, 2004, at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The king of Spain, the president of France, President Bush and governors of all the states created out of the Louisiana Purchase will attend, along with heads of all the American Indian governments whose homelands were affected.
Also in 2004, from May 13 to May16 in Hartford and Wood River, IIl., there will be a commemoration of the expedition's final departure on May 14, 1804 from their winter encampment near this spot on the Missouri River. Then from May 14 to May 23 in St. Charles, Mo., there will be a festival re-enacting the arrival of the explorers in the keelboat. The celebration will include reconstructed buildings from 200 years ago and actors in period dress representing the 450-person village of St. Charles.
After that, celebrations will follow the expedition's route to the Pacific. From July 31 to Aug. 3, 2004, in Fort Calhoun, Neb., there will be a re-enactment of the first meeting between the explorers and the Otoe and Missouria tribes. Another festival is slated Aug. 27-28 in Oacoma, S.D., where Lewis and Clark met the Sioux Indians.
Other festivals are slated in Bismarck, where the expedition spent the winter of 1804-1805; Great Falls, Mont., where several crucial events in the trip occurred, such as the discovery of the great falls of the Missouri in July 1805; and Astoria, Ore., where the explorers first sighted the Pacific on Nov. 7, 1805.
In 2006, festivals are planned along the return route in Lapwai, Idaho; Billings, Mont.; and New Town, N.D., ending with a recreation of their triumphal return in September 1806 to St. Louis.
Thousands of other events will be held over the next three years, thanks to interest generated by a 1997 PBS series on the expedition and "Undaunted Courage," a 1996 book on Lewis and Clark by historian Stephen Ambrose. PBS, Time magazine and other publications have Web sites on the bicentennial, with biographies of the main players, maps of the route and even questions for Seaman, the dog that accompanied Lewis on the expedition.
"Americans have grown nostalgic, wistful and somewhat worried about what's happened to their country during the intervening 200 years," Mr. Archibald said. "They are asking what value wilderness has and what should be their relationship with the land."


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