- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

NIOBRARA, Neb. — Forget Lewis and Clark. Some towns in northeastern Nebraska are celebrating a lesser-known member of the Corps of Discovery expedition who definitely was the most directionally challenged person in the group.

Pvt. George Shannon almost died of starvation during the expedition when he got lost for 16 days while in present-day northeastern Nebraska just south of the Missouri River.

No one knows for sure the route Shannon walked before being reunited with the explorers on the river, but that hasn’t stopped 15 Nebraska communities in the area from creating and promoting the 240-mile Shannon Trail.

They are trying to draw thousands of Lewis and Clark buffs away from the river as they retrace the expedition on its 200th anniversary.

Laurie Larsen, a Bloomfield woman who leads the Shannon Trail Promoters, was looking for a tourism hook for those cities not on the Missouri River. “I knew that Shannon had gotten lost in this area,” she says. “It just kind of took off from there.”

In the name of poor Shannon, what has evolved is a scavenger hunt of sorts for families looking for a day’s adventure.

Each community along the trail has put up a carved-wood statue of Shannon. Each features the private in a different pose during his lost days, and some are hidden in the communities — some better than others.

The statue locations range from obvious places, as in Hartington, where Shannon is standing in the open with a compass, or in Niobrara, where the statue, along Nebraska Highway 12, is holding an American flag.

In searching for other statues, visitors will find themselves a little off the beaten path — much like the predicament Shannon faced. Miss Larsen says the most difficult statue to find is inside a park in Crofton, Neb.

The most elaborate statue features Shannon and an American Indian just outside Santee, on the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation.

“Shannon is sitting on a stump, and the Indian is standing over him, kind of saying, ‘What the heck are you doing here?’” Miss Larsen says. The other statues are in Bloomfield, Center, Creighton, Lindy, Verdigre, Wausa, Winnetoon and Wynot.

Businesses in each community offer to stamp a passport marking that particular statue. If all 12 statues are marked, the bearer will receive a limited-edition print commemorating the Shannon Trail.

A play about Shannon’s journey through the area, “A Tail of the Trail,” had its initial run in Verdigre and Crofton this summer, and more performances are planned next year.

In the audience for this summer’s run was Shannon’s great-great-nephew, Bob Shannon Anderson of Marysville, Ohio. Mr. Anderson intends to take part in an entire 31/2-year re-enactment of the westward Lewis and Clark expedition, playing the role of Shannon, who was the brother of Mr. Anderson’s great-grandmother.

Mr. Anderson, a widower with five children, plans to wear hand-sewn period Army uniforms throughout the trip, including when he gets lost in northeastern Nebraska for 16 days starting Aug. 26, just as Shannon did 200 years earlier.

“I’m going to leave the same place he did and start walking,” Mr. Anderson says. However, the 62-year-old Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. retiree admits he might walk the bridge across the Missouri River instead of trying to swim.

At age 18, Shannon was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. During his 16 days alone, he survived on wild grapes and one rabbit he killed.

“I might eat a little bit better than he did,” Mr. Anderson says. “I’ve already got a pot belly.”

While he also doesn’t plan to carry a tent or stay in motels, he might cheat by accepting lodging offers at people’s homes.

Mr. Anderson says he is not daunted by such a long re-enactment. Unlike his hapless ancestor, “I know I can come home at any time,” he says.

“He just left and thought it sounded really good to him, probably the same as any other teenager,” Mr. Anderson says. “He thought, ‘What a great adventure.’”

One historian says Shannon has gotten a bad rap, mainly because other corps members also strayed off. They just weren’t gone as long as Shannon.

“He simply misjudged it and thought the party was ahead of him and kept rushing forward,” while the others were behind him the whole time, says Gary Moulton, a history professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Shannon’s troubles didn’t end once he was reunited with the expedition above Pickstown, S.D. He got lost again when the Corps of Discovery was in the Three Forks area of Montana in 1805.

Mr. Moulton also disputes that Shannon got lost a second time, preferring to say he was separated from the group for a few days.

“People make a little much of it,” he says.

Shannon later lost a leg in a battle with the Arikara Indians and became known as Peg Leg Shannon.

His life was not all full of misfortune. He assisted Nicholas Biddle in preparing the first edition of the Lewis and Clark Journals. He also became a lawyer and later a senator from Missouri. He died in a courtroom while sitting as a judge and was buried in Palmyra, Mo.

Even Shannon’s final resting place is lost. The exact location of his grave is not known because a railroad eventually was built through the cemetery.

Mr. Anderson remembers hearing family stories when he was growing up in Ohio that recalled Shannon’s accomplishments but nothing about his getting lost or losing a leg. He doesn’t think the family was trying to cover up anything but that it “was something that wasn’t mentioned.”

On the trail of Pvt. Shannon

The possible route taken by Pvt. George Shannon when he was separated from the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery is a 240-mile trek among 12 communities in northeastern Nebraska. Shannon was lost for 16 days when the expedition was in the same area in 1804. More information is available at www.shannontrail.cjb.net.

GETTING THERE

From Interstate 29 in Sioux City, Iowa, take U.S. Route 20 through South Sioux City, Neb., for four miles. Then take Nebraska Route 12 north 37 miles to Wynot, Neb., to pick up the Shannon Trail. Most other communities along the trail can be reached by traveling west on Nebraska Route 12 from Wynot until Niobrara. From there, travel south on Nebraska Route 14 to Verdigre for another trail community. Other towns on the trail, billed as perfect day trips for families, can be found by meandering off Nebraska Routes 13, 59, 2 and 84 in a two-county area.

LODGING

Trail travelers spending the night at the Argo Hotel — which is actually a bed-and-breakfast — in Crofton, Neb., can request the Lesley Brooks Room, where the 1940s B-movie siren lived for two years when her grandparents owned it.

Other lodgings along the Shannon Trail can be found through the Nebraska Department of Tourism (877/632-7275 or www.visitnebraska.org/myplanner/lodging.asp.

NEARBY ATTRACTIONS

Recreational opportunities are available just north of Crofton at Gavins Point Dam, which is on the border between Nebraska and South Dakota.

Big-city-style museums, shopping and a riverboat casino are available in the Sioux City, Iowa, area.

About 30 miles southeast of the trail is Norfolk, Neb., where travelers can see a 1,100-square-foot exhibit at the Elkhorn Valley Museum dedicated to the town’s most famous native, former “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson.

Thirty miles southwest of the trail in Royal, Neb., is Zoo Nebraska, which features 44 animals such as Japanese macaques, Bengal tigers and chimpanzees.

About 10 miles from Royal is the ongoing excavation of prehistoric animals at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park.

Hundreds of animal skeletons have been found in a volcanic ash bed buried beneath the rolling farmland.

The park is open seasonally, May through mid-October.

TRAVEL TIPS

Late fall or early spring are ideal times to trek the trail because winter weather in northeastern Nebraska can be unpredictable and summers can be unpleasantly hot and humid.

It’s expected that 10 million to 40 million people could be retracing the Lewis and Clark expedition route next year.

If you don’t like crowds, try avoiding northeastern Nebraska next August and September, when the expedition’s bicentennial re-enactment will reach the area.

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