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Archive for the ‘Meriwether Lewis’ Category

The Lewis & Clark journals provide a fascinating snapshot of the U.S. frontier on the cusp of the 19th century, when the explorers were navigating through a roiling melting pot of attitudes, cultures and nationalities.  This rapidly changing world is perfectly illustrated in Lewis’s journal entry of November 23, 1803. The Corps of Discovery was still en route from Louisville to St. Louis. Clark was under the weather with stomach problems, and Lewis took a break from navigating the difficult and rapid currents of the Mississippi River to pay a visit to a settlement he called “Cape Jeradeau” (more commonly known today as Cape Girardeau, Missouri).

There Lewis encountered the commandant, a striking figure named Louis Lorimier. Born near Montreal in 1748, Lorimier and his father had established an Indian trading post known as “Laramie’s Station” on a branch of the Great Miami River in Ohio. Lorimier was loyal to the British during the Revolution, and even led raiding parties of Indians into Kentucky. Awkwardly, William Clark’s brother George Rogers Clark had burned Laramie’s Station to the ground in 1782, ruining his business and destroying $20,000 worth of goods.

War Council at Lorimier's Store, by Hal Sherman

War Council at Lorimier’s Store, by Hal Sherman

So it was perhaps just as well that Lewis went alone to visit Louis Lorimier. A few years after George Rogers Clark burned him out, Lorimier had moved to Spanish Louisiana in the 1780’s and obtained a large land grant from the Spanish to establish a settlement for Indians, partly as a defensive buffer against possible American invasion. Lorimier’s district was huge, extending, in Lewis’s words, ” the distance of sixty miles W. from the river as far as the river St. Francis.” Under the Spanish crown, Lorimier was authorized to administer land grants, hold court, take the census, and maintain the militia for Cape Girardeau. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, in spite of being no great friend to the United States, Lorimier continued in much the same role and served as U.S. Indian agent.

Having entirely recovered his losses from the George Rogers Clark incident, Lorimier was now “a man of very considerable property.” Lewis witnessed this firsthand in a wild scene that was going on just as he arrived. He found Commandant Lorimier in the middle of a horse race, in which the prizes were the horses themselves. Lorimier lost four horses valued at $200 but “seemed to bear his loss with much cheerfulness.” But not everyone followed his example.

The Comdt. was busied for some time in settling the disputes which had arrisen in consequence of odds being given among the by betters; this seane reminded me very much of their small raises in Kentucky among the uncivilized backwoodsmen, nor did the subsequent disorder which took place in consequence of the descision of the judges of the rase at all lessen the resembleance; one fellow contrary to the descision of the judges swore he had won & was carrying off not only his own horse but that also of his competitor; but the other being the stoutest of the two dismounted him and took both horses in turn; it is not extrawdinary that these people should be disorderly    they are almost entirely emegrant from the fronteers of Kentuckey & Tennessee, and are the most dessolute and abandoned even among these people; they are men of desperate fortunes, but little to loose either character or property—

The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur, 1867

The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur, 1867

Once all disputes were settled, Lewis was able to present his credentials and found himself warmly received by Lorimier. He describe the commandant in vivid terms:

he is a man about 5 F 8 I high, dark skin hair and [e]yes; he is remarkable for having once had a remarkable suit of hair; he was very cheerfull & I took occasion to mention this to him    he informed me that it was on[c]e so long that it touched the grond when he stood errect—nor was it much less remarkable for it’s thickness; this I could readily believe from it’s present appearance, he is about 60 years of age, and yet scarcely a grey hair in his head; which reaches now when cewed (the manner in which he dresses it) nearly as low as his knees, and it is proportionally thick; he appears yet quite active—    this uncommon cue falls dow his back to which it is kept close by means of a leather gerdle confined around his waist—

Like many Canadian traders, Lorimier had taken metis wife, a French-Shawnee woman named Charlotte Bougainville. Lewis was invited home to meet Charlotte and the rest of Lorimier’s family. He found them to be remarkably “decent,” using the adjective three times in the course of one journal entry. “She is a very desent woman and if we may judge from her present appearance has been very handsome when young,” Lewis wrote of Lorimier’s wife. “She dresses after the Shawnee manner with a stroud leggings and mockinsons, differing however from them in her linin which seemed to be drawn beneath her girdle of her stroud, as also a short Jacket with long sleeves over her linin with long sleeves more in the stile of the French Canadian women.”

Lewis meets Lorimier - Mississippi River mural, Cape Girardeau

Lewis meets Lorimier – Mississippi River mural, Cape Girardeau

Lorimier and his wife had seven children. His eldest daughter caught Lewis’s eye: “The daughter is remarkably handsome & dresses in a plain yet fashionable stile or such as is now Common in the Atlantic States among the respectable people of the middle class.    she is an agreeable affible girl, & much the most descent looking feemale I hae seen since I left the settlement in Kentuckey a little below Louisville.”

Invited to stay for supper, Lewis wrote with approval, “The lady of the family presided, and with much circumspection performed the honours of the table: supper being over which was really a comfortable and desent onen I bid the family an afectionate adieu.”   It may have been the last decent meal the Captain would have for a while, at least until he reached St. Louis.

Plaque at Lorimier Cemetery, Cape Girardeau

Plaque at Lorimier Cemetery, Cape Girardeau

In 1806, Lorimier laid out the lots and streets for Cape Girardeau along the wide, flat riverfront. In 1808, the settlement was incorporated as the town of Cape Girardeau. Louis Lorimier, the Father of Cape Girardeau, died in 1812 and is buried in Lorimier Cemetery, on land that he donated to the community he founded. His wife preceded him in death in 1808 and is buried by his side.

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Three Forks area, Montana

Three Forks area, Montana

It was August 11, 1805, and Meriwether Lewis was getting desperate. Since leaving Fort Mandan in April 1805, the Corps of Discovery had navigated the twists and turns of the Upper Missouri, run their canoes through the Missouri Breaks, and portaged their boats and equipment on a grueling 18-mile land route around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. As July wore on into August, the Corps pressed on into what is now western Montana, searching for the Shoshone Indians. The Shoshone’s formidable horse herds were critical to the success of Lewis and Clark’s plan for reaching the Pacific Ocean. If they could only barter for horses, they believed they could swap their increasingly grueling river travel for an easy horseback ride across the Continental Divide.

There was only one problem. The Shoshone were nowhere to be found. In many places along the Upper Missouri, Lewis and Clark saw signs of Indian camps, hunting expeditions, cook fires, and smoke signals. But they did not encounter any people. In any case, they could not be sure whether these deserted camps belonged to the Shoshone, or indicated the unwelcome presence of hostile Assiniboine or Blackfeet.

By late July the party had reached the Three Forks, and Sacagawea began to recognize landmarks from the area in which she lived prior to being kidnapped as a child. While Lewis wrangled the boats up the river, Clark led a party by land, suffering blistered feet and prickly pear punctures. But they still saw no Indians. The explorers simply did not realize that the Shoshone were still hunting and fishing west of the Divide and typically did not cross the mountains until early fall.

Beaverhead Rock

Beaverhead Rock (courtesy NPS)

By the first week of August, Lewis and Clark’s party was exhausted, demoralized, and hungry. The river was barely navigable, Clark was sick and his feet painful and infected. If they could not find horses, the expedition would have to attempt the Rocky Mountains on foot, carrying only a fraction of their supplies and relying on finding scarce game in the mountains in winter. It was a bleak prospect indeed. Then, a ray of hope: Sacagawea recognized Beaverhead Rock. She was certain that her people would be camped along the river nearby.

Clark still being too ill to lead a scouting party, Lewis set out with George Drouillard, John Shields, and Hugh McNeal. On the morning of August 11, he finally found the man he was looking for:

after having marched in this order for about five miles I discovered an Indian on horse back about two miles distance coming down the plain toward us.    with my glass I discovered from his dress that he was of a different nation from any that we had yet seen, and was satisfyed of his being a Sosone; his arms were a bow and quiver of arrows, and was mounted on an eligant horse without a saddle, and a small string which was attatched to the underjaw of the horse which answered as a bridle. I was overjoyed at the sight of this stranger and had no doubt of obtaining a friendly introduction to his nation provided I could get near enough to him to convince him of our being whitemen. I therefore proceeded towards him at my usual pace.    when I had arrived within about a mile he mad a halt which I did also and unloosing my blanket from my pack, I mad him the signal of friendship known to the Indians of the Rocky mountains and those of the Missouri, which is by holding the mantle or robe in your hands at two corners and then throwing up in the air higher than the head bringing it to the earth as if in the act of spreading it, thus repeating three times.    this signal of the robe has arrisen from a custom among all those nations of spreading a robe or skin for ther gests to set on when they are visited.    this signal had not the desired effect, he still kept his position and seemed to view Drewyer an Shields who were now comiming in sight on either hand with an air of suspicions, I wold willingly have made them halt but they were too far distant to hear me and I feared to make any signal to them least it should increase the suspicion in the mind of the Indian of our having some unfriendly design upon him. I therefore haistened to take out of my sack some b[e]ads a looking glas and a few trinketes which I had brought with me for this purpose and leaving my gun and pouch with McNeal advanced unarmed towards him.    he remained in the same stedfast poisture untill I arrived in about 200 paces of him when he turn his hose about and began to move off slowly from me; I now called to him in as loud a voice as I could command repeating the word tab-ba-bone, which in their language signifyes white man.

Shoshone on horseback

Shoshone on horseback

Lewis advanced slowly, repeatedly shouting the word “tab-ba-bone,” a word which he had undoubtedly gotten from Sacagawea as the best way to describe white men to her people. Seeing the Indian glancing nervously over his shoulder, Lewis frantically motioned for Drouillard and Shields to halt their advance so as not to spook the man, but Shields failed to see the signal and continued forward. Lewis continued in his journal: “whe I arrived within about 150 paces I again repepeated the word tab-ba-bone and held up the trinkits in my hands and striped up my shirt sleve to give him an opportunity of seeing the colour of my skin and advanced leasure towards him but he did not remain untill I got nearer than about 100 paces when he suddonly turned his hose about, gave him the whip leaped the creek and disapeared in the willow brush in an instant and with him vanished all my hopes of obtaining horses for the present.”

Lewis was mortified, disappointed, and furious at Shields and the other men. He confessed that he “could not forbare abraiding them a little for their want of attention and imprudence on this occasion.” In other words, Shields got a good old-fashioned army ass-chewing.

Still hoping to make contact, Lewis and his men tracked the Shoshone for two more days. On the morning of August 13, Lewis again had a close encounter:

we had proceeded about four miles through a wavy plain parallel to the valley or river bottom when at the distance of about a mile we saw two women, a man and some dogs on an eminence immediately before us.    they appeared to vew us with attention and two of them after a few minutes set down as if to wait our arrival we continued our usual pace towards them.    when we had arrived within half a mile of them I directed the party to halt and leaving my pack and rifle I took the flag which I unfurled and avanced singly towards them the women soon disappeared behind the hill, the man continued untill I arrived within a hundred yards of him and then likewise absconded.    tho’ I frequently repeated the word tab-ba-bone sufficiently loud for him to have heard it. I now haistened to the top of the hill where they had stood but could see nothing of them.

Shoshone women and children

Shoshone women and children

A short time later, however, Lewis finally hit paydirt:

we had not continued our rout more than a mile when we were so fortunate as to meet with three female savages.    the short and steep ravines which we passed concealed us from each other untill we arrived within 30 paces.    a young woman immediately took to flight, an Elderly woman and a girl of about 12 years old remained. I instantly laid by my gun and advanced towards them.    they appeared much allarmed but saw that we were to near for them to escape by flight they therefore seated themselves on the ground, holding down their heads as if reconciled to die which the expected no doubt would be their fate; I took the elderly woman by the hand and raised her up repeated the word tab-ba-bone and strip up my shirt sleve to sew her my skin; to prove to her the truth of the ascertion that I was a white man for my face and hads which have been constantly exposed to the sun were quite as dark as their own. they appeared instantly reconciled, and the men coming up I gave these women some beads a few mockerson awls some pewter looking-glasses and a little paint.

After calling back the young woman who had run away, Lewis “painted their tawny cheeks with some vermilion” as a sign of friendship and bestowed trinkets on the women to convince them of his good intentions. The women agreed to lead him to their camp. Lewis recorded in  his journal that after walking with the women another two miles, “we met a party of about 60 warriors mounted on excellent horses who came in nearly full speed,  when they arrived I advanced towards them with the flag leaving my gun with the party about 50 paces behid me.    the chief and two others who were a little in advance of the main body spoke to the women, and they informed them who we were and exultingly shewed the presents which had been given them    these men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way which is by puting their left arm over you wright sholder clasping your back, while they apply their left cheek to yours and frequently vociforate the word âh-hi’-e, âh-hi’-e  that is, I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced.    bothe parties now advanced and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.”

Charlie Russell's Captain Lewis Meeting the Shoshones

“Captain Lewis Meeting the Shoshones” by Charles Russell

Lewis might not have been a “huggy” person, but he was a most fortunate one. Having never encountered white people before, the Shoshone were friendly and eager to embrace their new “tab-ba-bone” friend. According to the notes in Moulton’s Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, sources disagree on the translation of this word. Some say it meant “alien” or “stranger,” which would not have reassured the Shoshone upon repeated shoutings. Some say that Lewis meant to say Ti-yo bo-nin, meaning “I’m a white man! See!” deriving from Ti-you, meaning “one originating from the sun” (i.e., the east). Having no experience with whites, it is quite possible that tab-ba-bone meant nothing to the Shoshone at all.  Perhaps they just saw Lewis as a tired and desperate human being, and took him in.

Lewis met the principal chief, Cameahwait, who regretfully told Lewis the Shoshone had nothing to eat but berries. Lewis accepted them gratefully, and he and his famished men “made a hearty meal.” Lewis wrote that later, “an indian called me in to his bower and gave me a small morsel of the flesh of an antelope boiled, and a peice of a fresh salmon roasted; both which I eat with a very good relish.”He added with evident satisfaction: “This was the first salmon I had seen and perfectly convinced me that we were on the waters of the Pacific Ocean.”

More interesting reading: Lewis and Clark Among the Shoshones

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Early American Boat Builder

Early American Boat Builder

Anyone who’s ever worked with a building contractor knows that projects don’t always go smoothly. Meriwether Lewis found that out the hard way in the spring and summer of 1803, when he was making preparations to embark down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to join up with Clark. For Lewis’s primary means of transportation, the U.S. government had contracted with a boat-builder to build a large keelboat, capable of carrying the 30 tons of supplies and equipment the Corps of Discovery would need for their cross-continental journey. There was only one problem. The contractor wouldn’t finish the job.

Lewis arrived in Pittsburgh in mid-July 1803, having spent months training in scientific methods, procuring arms and equipment, and boning up on everything known about western geography and native peoples. He wrote to Jefferson immediately to let him know he would soon be making final preparations to embark down the Ohio River. On Lewis’s mind was the water level in the Ohio, which was unusually low due to lack of spring rains. “I have not yet seen Lieut. Hook nor made the enquiry relative to my boat, on the state of which, the time of my departure from hence must materially depend,” he wrote to Jefferson on July 15th. “The Ohio is quite low, but not so much so as to obstruct my passage altogether.”

As it turned out, the water level was the least of Lewis’s problems. He had expected the boat to be ready to load within a week, but it was far from finished.  On July 22, Lewis wrote to Jefferson again:

The person who contracted to build my boat engaged to have it in readiness by the 20th inst. [July 20th]; in this however he has failed; he pleads his having been disappointed in procuring timber, but says he has now supplyed himself with the necessary materials, and that she shall be completed by the last of this month, however in this I am by no means sanguine, nor do I believe from the progress he makes that she will be ready before the 5th of August; I visit him every day, and endeavor by every means in my power to hasten the completion of the work; I have prevailed on him to engage more hands, and he tells me that two others will join him in the morning, if so, he may probably finish the boat by the time he mentioned: I shall embark immediately the boat is in readiness, there being no other consideration at the moment which detains me.

He added hopefully: “The current of the Ohio is extreemely low and continues to decline, this may impede my progress but shall not prevent me from proceeding.”

Clark's drawing of the keelboat

Clark's drawing of the keelboat

The identity of this recalcitrant boat builder has, unfortunately, been lost to history. According to the Discovering Lewis and Clark website, historians of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania insist that Lewis’s boat was built there at the boatyard of Captain John Walker, but stronger evidence suggests that it was built at William Greenough’s boatyard in Pittsburgh. It is not known how much the U.S. government paid for the keelboat, though an early estimate of Lewis’s expenses – that optimistically pegged the estimated cost of outfitting the expedition at a mere $2500 – lists “Means of Transportation” at $430. It is possible that this sum could have represented the cost of the keelboat.

Regardless of who the boat builder was and how much he was paid, he was in no hurry to finish the work. On August 3rd, Lewis wrote to Clark to give him an update on when he would arrive in Louisville. “The articles of every discription forming my outfit for this expedition have arrived in good order; my boat only detains me, she is not yet compleated tho’ the work-man who contracted to build her promises that she shall be in readiness by the last of the next week,” Lewis wrote.  He expressed concern about the low water but concluded optimistically, “I have been detained much longer than I expected but shall be with you by the last of this month.”

Unfortunately, Lewis’s worst ordeal with the contractor was yet to come, and instead of reaching Clark on August 31st, he was just leaving Pittsburgh. In a letter to Jefferson from Wheeling, dated September 8th, Lewis describes what happened. His anger, frustration, and stress are palpable.

“It was not until 7 O’Clock on the morning of the 31stUltmo. that my boat was completed,” Lewis wrote. “She was instantly loaded, and at 10 A.M. on the same day I left Pittsburgh, where I had been moste shamefully detained by the unpardonable negligence of my boat-builder.” Lewis told Jefferson that when he realized that the boat was not going to be done by the first week of August, he considered abandoning it and buying several large pirogues to get his supplies downriver, taking the chance that he would be able procure a larger and more suitable vessel somewhere along the route.

But the difficulty of finding a suitable boat discouraged Lewis, and the boat builder promised Lewis he would mend his ways and finish the keelboat by August 13th . “However a few days after, according to his usual custom he got drunk, quarrelled with his workmen, and several of them left him, nor could they be prevailed upon to return,” Lewis wrote. Furious, Lewis threatened the boat builder with a breach of contract charge, which “exacted a promise of greater sobriety in future which, he took care to perform with as little good faith, as he had his previous promises.”  Lewis spent most of August with the workmen, “alternately persuading and threatening,” but it did little good. Lewis explained to Jefferson that”neither threats, persuasion or any other means which I could devise were sufficient to procure the completion of the work sooner than the31st of August.”

Lewis and Clark keelboat

August 31, 1803: The keelboat finally sets sail

By this time, the water level in the Ohio was so low –only six inches deep in places –that Lewis had to buy a pirogue to lighten the keelboat’s load and hire teams of horses and oxen to drag the boat over sandbars as he descended the river.  A worn-out Lewis finally reached Cincinnati on September 28th. “After the most tedious and laborious passage from Pittsburgh I have at length reached this place,” he wrote to Clark, then expressed his relief at having finally left the Pittsburgh boatyard and its “set of incorrigible drunkards” behind.

More interesting reading:

River Travel in Lewis and Clark’s Time

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Mary and Liz in front of the old armory building, which houses the Meriwether Lewis exhibit

There are a few spots on Planet Earth where I have left thinking I had just experienced a superior place. A place that is visually stunning, awe-inspiring, and tranquilizing, yet full of special historical and cultural significance that engages the mind as well as the senses. One such place is Hawaii. Another is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Most people know Harpers Ferry because of John Brown’s notorious raid on the Federal Arsenal in 1859. A self-styled Old Testament prophet and avenger, Brown conceived his daring plan as a way to seize massive quantities of weapons and spark a slave uprising that would end the barbaric institution of slavery forever. I am fascinated by Brown, and you can view an excellent movie and exhibits on John Brown and his raid and visit the old fire engine house (known as John Brown’s Fort) where he held out against the siege of U.S. Army troops after the raid’s failure.

Harpers Ferry got its name from a ferry run by one Robert Harper, who began in the 1760s to serve travelers wanting to cross the Potomac to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers, the spot was a natural for commerce in the age of river travel and for industry in the age of water mills. In 1783, Thomas Jefferson visited the town and climbed to an observation point now known as Jefferson’s Rock. The rave review he gave in his book Notes on the State of Virginia would put Harpers Ferry on the map:

The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. …

But the distant finishing which nature has given the picture is of a very different character. It is a true contrast to the former. It is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.

Talk about a five-star review on Tripadvisor! You reach Jefferson Rock by climbing a steep set of hand-carved stone steps that are themselves a historic landmark dating back to the early 19th century. Along the way, a worthwhile stop is St. Peter’s Catholic Church, constructed in the 1830s.

View from Jefferson Rock

The entire town of Harpers Ferry is carved out of a steep hillside and has winding streets that must give natives the calves and thighs one associates with San Francisco pedestrians. You can find a good exhibit on Meriwether Lewis’s time in the town in the old armory building. George Washington had designated Harpers Ferry as a federal armory in 1794, and mass production of military weapons had begun shortly thereafter. Lewis arrived in March 1803 and began working with superintendent Joseph Perkins on the guns, powder horns, bullet molds, tomahawks, knives, and other weapons the Expedition would need to make it across the continent, as well as his personally designed iron boat, a project he called “my favorite boat.”

Other historic buildings house special exhibits on the Civil War, the role of the rivers in manufacturing, and the fascinating history of Storer College. Founded in 1865 to educate newly freed slaves, Storer operated primarily as a teacher’s college, a vital service that is easy to underappreciate today. Though the education offered at Storer was basic by today’s standards, it was a lifeline for the African-American community of the whole region, who desperately needed teachers to provide children and adults with the basic tools to survive.

I was shocked to learn of the opposition to Storer from the white community in Harpers Ferry. Harassment and vandalism were commonplace. It is difficult to imagine the kind of racism that would compel someone to try to turn young people away from a chance to better themselves. In 1906, Storer hosted an historic conference of the Niagara Movement, a group started by educator W.E.B. Dubois to push for full civil rights for African-Americans. The group met with strong opposition even among some blacks, but eventually helped give rise to the NAACP. Spitefully, the state of West Virginia withdrew all support from Storer after being forced to integrate state colleges in the wake of the landmark Brown decision, and the college closed its doors in 1955.

Harpers Ferry street scene

There isn’t much in the way of dining in Harpers Ferry, but we got a great lunch at the Cannonball Deli. Many of the historic buildings host adorable shops, so the non-history buff in your family will have plenty to see and enjoy while you are trekking up hill and dale taking in all of the wonderful historic character of this beautiful spot.

We wanted to get a little more up-close and personal with the river, so while staying in Harpers Ferry we also went on an amazing raft ride on the Shenandoah River. It was beautiful, and we had the chance to see old ruins of mills that once used the river’s power to ply their trade, as well as ruins of a bridge destroyed by the Confederates. The river was alive with damsel flies (similar to dragonflies) and we spotted lots of herons and Canada geese.

River and Trail Outfitters did a great job, and our guide, a big crazy guy reminiscent of Seth Rogen, couldn’t have been nicer. We even got to swim in the river. I will say that because of water levels the paddling seemed harder and more strenuous than I expected for a  beginner-level ride. Our raft was hung up on rocks several times and I got a little scared in the strong current. Something to keep in mind if you want to go.

On our way out of Harpers Ferry we stopped and toured the small but interesting Civil War site known as Bolivar Heights. This peaceful spot was once the scene of horror and despair for over 12,000 Union troops trapped here by Stonewall Jackson’s forces in 1862. The debacle was compounded by the fact that many of the troops died of disease in Confederate prisons. The loss for the Union was not considered fully avenged until Gettysburg a year later.

I highly recommend Harpers Ferry to the Lewis & Clark buff or anyone who enjoys beauty and history. It is truly one of the most special places I have visited. And one last plug: we adored the Jackson Rose Inn, a beautiful and peaceful bed and breakfast on a quiet street. Stonewall Jackson used this house as his headquarters during the battle and apparently we stayed in his room. I hope he found a little peace here too.

For more reading:

Meriwether Lewis’s Iron Boat
Harpers Ferry Armory and Arsenal (great photos and history)

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By all accounts, Meriwether Lewis was a competent, respected and reliable army officer – otherwise, he would not have been selected as leader of the cross-continental exploring expedition. But when he was just starting out in the army, Lewis did not travel a golden road any more than any young person beginning a new career. In 1795, 21-year-old Ensign Lewis was in trouble so deep he could not have foreseen his later success. He had just joined the Fourth Sublegion of “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s army, and he was facing a potentially disastrous court-martial.

Officers at a court martial, circa 1835

Officers at a court martial, circa 1835

Courts-martial are as old as armies. To maintain army discipline in the field, the court martial deals with crimes committed by soldiers, especially uniquely military offenses. Then as now, courts-martial are not standing courts, but ad hoc bodies convened each time that charges are referred for trial. A military court may consist of a military judge, the prosecutor and defense counsel, and the members of the court who will decide guilt or innocence and pass sentence on the accused. In Lewis’s case, the outcome of the trial was being followed closely by General Anthony Wayne himself.

"Mad Anthony" Wayne

General "Mad Anthony" Wayne

One of the more comprehensive accounts of Lewis’s court-martial published to date is in Richard Dillon’s Meriwether Lewis: A Biography, originally published in 1965. (We eagerly await new research and a fuller account of the court-martial in Thomas Danisi’s forthcoming book, Uncovering the Truth about Meriwether Lewis, due out this month.)  Here is how Dillon describes the events of November 6, 1795:

Major Joseph Shaylor presided at [Meriwether Lewis's] trial, the first such court-martial held in Wayne’s Legion. Testimony began on the 6th and did not close until the 12th because of an adjournment. The charges were brought against Lewis by a Lieutenant Elliott (perhaps Surgeon John Elliott, a New Yorker [or Lieutenant Joseph Elliott – ed.]). The first was the accusation that Lewis had made a direct, open and contemptuous violation of Articles One and Two of the Seventh Section of the Rules and Articles of War. To wit, that on September 24, 1795, Lewis had engaged in provocative speech and gestured in the Lieutenant’s quarters and had presumed, that same day, to send him a challenge to a duel. Elliott’s second charge was that of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to the accuser, Lewis, drunk, had burst into his room, uninvited and “abruptly and in an ungentlemanly manner.” He had then not only insulted the Lieutenant without provocation and offered to duel to the death with him, but had disturbed the “peace and harmony” of the officers who were Elliott’s guests that day.

It is believed that the conflict that triggered Lewis’s outburst was over politics. Then as now, politics made quick enemies. Lewis was, of course, a Jeffersonian Republican, and Elliott was evidently a Federalist.

See The Politics of Meriwether Lewis

Given the mores among the officers of Wayne’s Legion in the 1790’s, drunkenness and political disagreements were hardly uncommon, so perhaps the most serious of the infractions of which Lewis was accused was dueling. Gentlemen of the time, particularly Southern gentlemen, lived by the code duello, in which insults and other offenses to personal honor could not be tolerated. Such an insult must be quickly redressed – if not verbally, than with pistols at ten paces, in a ritual of carefully choreographed violence.

Dueling in the 18th century

Dueling in the 18th century

According to Alan D. Gaff’s Bayonets in the Wilderness, numerous duels had interrupted the Legion’s training and led to at least six fatalities amongst an already thin officer corps in the preceding years.  Even for Anthony Wayne — who had disagreed with George Washington’s remonstrances against dueling among officers during the Revolution – enough was enough. He was ready to dismiss officers who resorted to dueling when they could not get along. Article 2 of the Seventh Section of the Rules and Articles of War read: “No officer or soldier shall presume to send a challenge to any other officer or soldier, to fight a duel, upon pain, if a commissioned officer, of being cashiered.”

Bayonets in the Wilderness by Alan D. Gaff

Bayonets in the Wilderness by Alan D. Gaff (2008)

The battery of charges was stated to Lewis at the start of his court-martial, and he was asked to plead. According to Dillon, “The reply from the now stone-cold sober Virginian was a resounding ‘Not Guilty.'” The officers of the court called witnesses, studied the evidence, and finally issued their decision six days later. Lewis was indeed found not guilty of the charges against him. The court recommended that he be “acquitted with Honor,” a verdict that was upheld by Anthony Wayne, with the added “fond hope” that “as this is the first, that it also may be the last instance in the Legion of convening a Court for a trial of this nature.”

The fact that Meriwether Lewis was competent and reliable – adjectives that could not be applied to every officer in Wayne’s army – no doubt worked in his favor. As fate would have it, this unpleasant experience led to one of the most fortuitous events in Lewis’s life. To forestall any possible further conflict with Elliott, Lewis received a transfer. He was reassigned to the Chosen Rifle Company, a unit of elite sharpshooters commanded by another young officer, Lieutenant William Clark. The rest, as they say, is history.

More interesting reading from “The Art of Manliness” Blog: An Affair of Honor – The Duel

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Much has been documented about William Clark’s ownership of slaves, including the famous York who accompanied him on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Clark, while generally considered by his white contemporaries to be a kind man, comes off as a harsh master in his own letters when he describes punishing his lazy slaves and “trouncing” York for his discontent after the Expedition’s return. Less has been written about Meriwether Lewis’ attitude toward slavery, but he too was a slave owner.

Overseeing the slaves

Overseeing the slaves

Lewis’s father William died in 1779, leaving his 5 year-old son Meriwether as the primary heir to his estate. This included his plantation at Locust Hill in Albemarle County, Virginia (about 1600 acres) and other property, including 24 slaves. Until Meriwether Lewis reached the age of majority, his guardians and an overseer managed the slaves at Locust Hill.  After the death of his step-father John Marks in 1791, Meriwether ended his schooling, helped his widowed mother move back from Georgia, and somewhat reluctantly took on the job of the day-to-day running of the plantation. He was 18.

By this time, wheat had become the primary agricultural crop at Locust Hill, a crop that was less depleting to the soil than tobacco – but also less profitable. It was also more complicated to grow and harvest than tobacco, and required more training of slave labor. The cultivation of wheat required permanent, plowed fields, including the need to periodically manure the fields and rotate the crops to maintain the fertility of the soil. The use of plows meant that you needed draft animals and slaves trained in their care. The need to transport grain to the mill, and fodder and manure to your farm, meant you had to maintain wagons, horses, and a blacksmith shop. Lewis had a lifetime of agricultural learning ahead of him, as well as getting used to managing the day-to-day task of assigning work and supervising the slaves.

Little is known about Lewis’s feelings about the slaves in his employ. No doubt slaves would have worked in the home at Locust Hill, as well as in the fields, so he would have gotten to know them well. The slaves would have required food, clothing, and medical care. Lewis’s mother Lucy Marks was an extremely capable woman and a skilled herb doctor, and it is known that she treated the Lewis slaves humanely, played the primary role in their supervision, and cared for their medical problems herself. Evidenced by a letter written to Lucy by one of her former slaves, at least some of them had been taught to read and write.

19th century cartoon, "Little Lewis Sold"

19th century cartoon, "Little Lewis Sold"

What is also clear is that Meriwether Lewis was ill-suited to the role of country planter and slave owner. In 1794, when the Whiskey Rebellion broke out, Lewis left his life and Locust Hill and joined the Virginia militia and then the regular army. He never looked back.

Although army officers were allowed and frequently did take a slave manservant into the field to cook their meals, clean their quarters, brush their uniforms, polish their boots, and groom their horses, Lewis apparently never did. An inveterate loner and rambler, Lewis seemed not to want the baggage and overhead of having to supervise and provide for a slave. He did, however, agree to let Clark take York along on the Expedition in 1803, as long as Clark believed that York could withstand the trip.

York by Charles M. Russell

York by Charles M. Russell

Although Lewis no doubt got an up-close and personal look at the contradictory attitude towards slavery held by his mentor, Thomas Jefferson, he seems to have given the matter no deep thought. “With regards to blacks, he made no distinctions between them, made no study of them, had no thought that they could be of benefit to America in any capacity other than slave labor,” Stephen Ambrose wrote about Lewis in Undaunted Courage. This attitude likely held true for York as well as the other slaves Lewis had dealt with in his life. Clark was in charge of York during the expedition, and aside from assigning work to York like any other enlisted man, Lewis left any supervision or discipline of York to Clark. Nevertheless, York was allowed the special privilege of carrying a gun, and when they reached the Pacific Coast, Lewis did allow York (along with Sacagawea) to vote in the poll of where to make their winter camp. Clearly York had proved himself, and Lewis’s world view could expand enough to concede that even a slave deserved basic rights.

Lewis returned to Locust Hill for a visit after the Expedition, but he had no desire to take up his old role as plantation owner. Upon his arrival in St. Louis as governor of Upper Louisiana in 1808, Lewis once again showed his reluctance to take on the daily supervision of a slave, choosing not to take any of the slaves from Locust Hill with him. Instead he hired a free black man, John Pernia (or Pernier), to be his manservant. Lewis was no doubt aware of Clark’s conflict with York and the thrashing York got at Clark’s hands. It is unknown whether Lewis might have tried to intervene on York’s behalf or moderate Clark’s anger at York … if he did, he did not succeed.

Unfortunately, though their relationship was not one of master and slave, Lewis was destined for conflict with John Pernia. Financial problems led to him getting seriously behind in paying Pernia’s salary. Pernia was with Lewis on the Natchez Trace at the time of Lewis’s death, and some have speculated that Pernia may have played a role in Lewis’s shooting or at least robbed him of the cash he was carrying after his demise. Pernia did travel all the way to Monticello to seek out payment of the $240 in back pay that Lewis owed him, but was rebuffed by Jefferson, as well as Clark, Madison, and Lewis’s family.

In despair, John Pernia later committed suicide. The tradition that prior to his death he was confronted by a Lewis family member in his native New Orleans, supposedly carrying the gold presentation watch given to Lewis by Jefferson, is apocryphal.

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Thanks to our reader John Orthmann, who was kind enough to comment on additional Lewis & Clark sculptures in his neck of the woods, we have more sculptures to add to our blogs about statuary featuring Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the whole Corps of Discovery gang.

First of all, some sad news:

Lewis and Clark monument along Washington Highway 101 near the Oregon state line

This terrific chainsaw statue is no more. Wah. But some great news:

I missed a terrific statue by the great Stanley Wanlass. Located in Long Beach, Washington, this statue commemorates the day when William Clark recorded on a sturdy tree what must have been a deeply satisfying moment: William Clark. Nov. 19, 1805. By land from the U. States.

In our novel, To the Ends of the Earth, we described Clark’s memory of that day:

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and, taking care not to stumble in the darkness, went down to the sand spit and found a place to sit near the water. He looked at the blanket of gray mist covering the river, but he wasn’t really seeing it. In his mind’s eye, he saw instead the fog hovering in the giant, tangled trees along the Columbia River as the Expedition took their canoes through the river channels, coming ever closer to the Pacific Ocean they were so anxious to see. He could almost feel their heavy dugouts quiver in awe of the rough tidewater.

When they’d finally reached the great Pacific, he and Lewis had walked alone a short distance, leaving the men behind to whoop out their pleasure in the achievement. From a towering basalt cliff, they’d stood together in their ragged buckskins, drizzle dripping off their beards, watching enormous waves crash against the rocky shoreline. Clark’s heart was so full he couldn’t even speak. He would never forget the way Lewis faced down the great ocean with a challenging stare, as if to say I made it, you sonofabitch. Then he’d given Clark that defiant, crinkle-eyed smile, and a slow, satisfied nod.

Sacagawea and Jean-Baptist by Alice Cooper (1905)

Sacagawea is said to have been immortalized in statue more than any other American woman. Portland is home to one of the earliest monuments, a tremendous bronze by Alice Cooper. The sculpture was dedicated for the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, a ceremony that was attended by feminist dignitaries including as Susan B. Anthony, and by Eve Emery Dye, feminist and author of The Conquest (1902), the historical novel that gave rise to many of the myths about Sacagawea that are still cherished today.

Sacagawea and Jean-Baptiste, by Glenna Goodacre (2004)

Not content with one statue of Sacagawea and little Pomp, in 2003, Portland added another, this time at Lewis & Clark College. Glenna Goodacre, who also designed the Sacagawea dollar, created the work, which was donated to the school by college trustee Richard Bertea and his wife Hyla.

Bronze artist Heather Heather Söderberg with her Sacagawea (2011)

One of the newest sculptures can be found at the Cascade Locks Visitor Center in Oregon, where a sultry Sacagawea is now on hand with the Expedition’s faithful dog Seaman. Heather Söderberg was commissioned to create the bronzes as a permanent memorial to the struggle faced by the Corps in navigating the rapids and the events of April 13, 1806, when Sacagawea and Seaman accompanied Captain Lewis on a mission to trade deer and elk skins for canoes and dogs (for eating) with the local people.

This video shows the casting of Sacagawea’s head:

Meriwether Lewis and Seaman by John Jewell (2005)

Sergeant John Ordway, by John Jewell (2006)

Located near Tacoma, Fort Lewis (now named Joint Base Lewis-McChord due to an operations merger with the adjacent Air Force base), was named after Meriwether Lewis in 1917. Home of the Army I Corps, it is a huge and vital base. In a landmark choice, Major General John Hemphill, who spearheaded the project to bring these oversized bronzes to the base, commissioned a bronze of Sergeant John Ordway along with that of Lewis and his dog. Ordway’s statue is one of the few statues in the United States of a non-commissioned officer and the only one honoring one of the non-coms of the Corps of Discovery.

We wrote more about Ordway and his critical role in leading the Corps in our blog The Four Sergeants of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

Lewis & Clark at Patit Creek, by George Touchette (2005)

Near Dayton, Washington, an impressive collection of more than 80 — count ‘em, 80 — life-sized steel silhouettes give visitors a sweeping impression of the scene at Patit Creek, where the Corps of Discovery camped on May 2, 1806, during the Expedition’s return journey. The full-scale scene was conceptualized and designed by local history buff and funeral director George Touchette, and the town of Dayton obtained a $108,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society to complete the project. The sculptures were cut by Northwest Art Casting in Umapine, Oregon.

Thanks again, John, for all the great additions! Readers, let us know about other Lewis & Clark sculptures in your neck of the woods!

Previous installments:

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 1) - Virginia to Missouri

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 2) – Great Plains

Lewis and Clark in Sculpture (Part 3) - Rocky Mountains to the Sea

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To conclude our tour through the Lewis & Clark Expedition in public art, let’s take a look at the sculptures of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark that adorn the trail from the Rocky Mountains to the sea. As with earlier installments, please let us know if we missed any. This is a part of the trail we have traveled very lightly and I am dying to go back.

Hospitality of the Nez Perce, by Douglas Hyde (1993), is on the campus of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho

This beautiful bronze by Doug Hyde, a Santa Fe-based sculptor of Native American descent, was commissioned for the centennial of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, a pretty town at the confluence of the Snake River and the Clearwater River. It depicts Lewis and Clark meeting with Twisted Hair of the Nez Perce as his young son Lawyer, later to play a major role in the conflict between the Nez Perce and American settlers, plays at their feet.

Hospitality of the Nez Perce by Doug Hyde (2006) on the grounds of the Idaho State Capitol

Look familiar? If not, consult your doctor about short-term memory loss. In 2006, historian Carol MacGregor commissioned a replica of Hyde’s Lewiston statue to be placed on the campus of the Idaho state capitol in Boise.

An Indian guide joins William Clark and York on the bluff at the University of Portland

I have not been able to discover much about this statue and would love to hear any further information about it.

Lewis and Clark monument along Washington Highway 101 near the Oregon state line

Talk about a terrific old statue! This is another one about which I have been able to learn next to nothing. I am not even sure of its exact location, but it appears to be in the Cape Disappointment area, where Meriwether Lewis explored before he and Clark settled the Corps of Discovery at Fort Clatsop near Astoria in the winter of 1805-06. Please post in the comments if you know anything about this gem.

Lewis and Clark monument by Stanley Wanlass (1980). This statue stands inside the Visitors' Center at Fort Clatsop near Astoria, Oregon.

For the most part I have skipped some indoor statuary for this series of blog posts, but Stanley Wanlass’s bronze is the show-stopper at the Fort Clatsop Visitors’ Center. It is indoors due to the extreme rainfall in the area, which is so much a part of the Lewis & Clark story at Fort Clatsop. Clark and Seaman take a look at a fish being offered by a Native American, while Lewis, the gourmet of the group, is busy being visionary.

Clark's Sturgeon, by Jim Demetro (2005) in Long Beach, Washington

What a fun statue. This sculpture by Jim Demetro depicts a real-life incident from the journals in which Clark records finding a 10-foot sturgeon on the beach. The statue adorns the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, which I have not yet gotten to visit. It sounds like an amazing project which features other Lewis & Clark interpretive displays including a whale skeleton and a 19-foot bronze tree by Stanley Wanlass that marks the spot where Clark carved the historic inscription “William Clark. Nov. 19, 1805. By land from the U. States.”

"End of the Trail" by Stanley Wanlass (1990) in Seaside, Oregon

This beautiful bronze by Stanley Wanlass marks the official end of the Lewis & Clark trail, the westernmost point reached by the intrepid pair. For more about Wanlass, check out his very interesting website, which includes photos of his fascinating automotive sculptures.

Again, please leave information in the comments about other Lewis and Clark sculptures or further information about these fascinating memorials to the leaders of the Corps of Discovery.

For more reading:

Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce
Lewis and Clark Among the Clatsops

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Continuing our sculpture tour of the Lewis & Clark trail, let’s take a look at the Lewis & Clark monuments to be found in the Great Plains states.

"First Council" Monument at Fort Atkinson State Park, Nebraska, by Oreland C. Joe (2003)

This interesting monument depicts the first meeting between Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with the Native Americans. The captains, along with their dog Seaman and an interpreter (whose name was recorded by Clark as “Fairfong”), met with Shon-go-ton-go and We-the-e of the Missouria-Oto tribes. The sculptor, Oreland C. Joe, is himself a Native American of Navajo and Ute descent.

"Spirit of Discovery" by Pat Kennedy (2002) stands in front of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City, Iowa

Does this imposing statue look familiar? It should if you read Lewis & Clark in Sculpture, Part 1. It is identical to the statue that stands on the waterfront in St. Charles, Missouri. I read on the Internet (so it must be true) that there were three castings of this sculpture. Where is the other one? Let me know in the comments!

"Pointing the Way" by Tom Palmerton at the entrance of the Missouri River Basin Visitors' Center in Nebraska City.

I can’t seem to discover much about this monument. Anyone who knows more about its story and when it was dedicated is cordially invited to comment!

Mary poses with Tom Neary's "Mandan Winter" (2004) at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn, North Dakota

This is truly one of my favorite Lewis & Clark sculptures. When we first arrived at the Interpretive Center (gateway to Fort Mandan and a huge milestone on our Lewis & Clark travels), it was raining lightly, and the powerful impression of the sculpture of the two captains with Sheheke of the Mandans (Big White), brought to mind some lyrics from a favorite song:

I could almost see them standin’ in the rain
Their brown and blinded faces reflecting all the pain
And all the cars and people, passing by
And all the ringing memories that can make a banjo cry

Also, visit sculptor Neary’s site for some great photos of the fabrication of this statue and a separate one of Seaman that is near the replica fort.

Explorers at the Marias, by Bob Scriver (1976). This statue stands along the Missouri River in Fort Benton, Montana.

The sculpture at left by Bob Scriver depicts Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea at “Decision Point,” as they make the critical decision at a huge fork in the river as to which branch is the true Missouri and will lead them further to the west. There is some interesting history behind this monument. The site was selected as Montana’s official state memorial to the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1925. However, no money was ever appropriated to proceed. In 1972, the community of Fort Benton began a fundraising project that resulted in $400,000 and a commission to Bob Scriver, a sculptor mostly known for his western bronzes. The research for the Fort Benton work led Scriver to a life-long obsession with Lewis & Clark.

York, Seaman, Lewis & Clark gaze westward in Bob Scriver's "Explorers at the Portage" (1989) in Great Falls

Scriver’s prominence only grew with the passing years, and in 1989 he created this bronze for the city of Great Falls in honor of the centennial of Montana statehood.

If anyone has any additional details about these statues, or I have missed any in the Great Plains states (South Dakota, where are you?), please let me know. I’d also welcome any comments on how the summer floods affected these sites. In the final installment of this series, we will visit the statues from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.

For more reading:

Lewis & Clark road trip: The Nebraska Trail
Lewis & Clark road trip:  The Sioux City Interpretive Center
Lewis & Clark road trip: Fort Mandan
Lewis & Clark road trip: Fort Benton, Montana

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The Lewis and Clark expedition is somewhat underrepresented in U.S. philately. The expedition has been the subject of U.S. stamps twice.

1954 Lewis and Clark Commemorative Stamp

1954 Lewis and Clark Commemorative Stamp

In February 1954, the sesquicentennial year of the expedition’s departure, Congressman Charles Hoeven of Iowa introduced a bill authorizing a Lewis and Clark commemorative stamp. Although the bill never got out of committee, it did vault Lewis & Clark to the top of the list of subjects under consideration. In June 1954, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield announced that a Lewis and Clark stamp would be issued on July 28 at Sioux City, Iowa, which happened to be in Hoeven’s district. When other cities along the trail protested the choice of location, the postmaster justified his choice by stating, “Sergeant Charles Floyd, a member of the Expedition, died and was buried” at Sioux City. However, Floyd is not believed to be pictured on the stamp, which includes Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and three unidentified members of the Corps of Discovery.

Charles R. Chickering

Charles R. Chickering, the “dean of American stamp designers”

The image on the 3-cent stamp was designed by Charles R. Chickering, a book and magazine illustrator who worked as a designer at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving from 1947 to 1962. Known as the “dean of American stamp designers,” Chickering is credited with the sole design of 66 U.S. stamps and joint credit for the design of 11 others during his 15-year career at the BPD. Bernard DeVoto, famed historian of the American West and an expert on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was a consultant in the design.

Meriwether Lewis stamp by Michael Deas, 2004

Meriwether Lewis stamp by Michael Deas, 2004

Fast-forward fifty years to the next Lewis and Clark stamp issue. To commemorate the bicentennial of the official launch of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the postal service issued a set of three 37-cent stamps on May 14, 2004. Perhaps to make up for the Floyd imbroglio, the stamps were released simultaneously in the following cities: Astoria, Oregon; Atchison, Kansas; Great Falls, Montana; Hartford, Illinois; Ilwaco, Washington; Orofino, Idaho; Omaha, Nebraska; Pierre, South Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; St. Charles, Missouri; and Washburn, North Dakota.

William Clark stamp by Michael Deas, 2004

William Clark stamp by Michael Deas, 2004

The stamp set featured individual portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, painted by Michael J. Deas in a style reminiscent of the Peale portraits, with a dash of smoldering romance-novel cover art thrown in. Deas is an experienced stamp designer whose other subjects include movie stars, politicians, and literary figures. In addition to the portrait stamps, Deas also designed a commemorative stamp of Lewis and Clark standing on a promontory surveying the countryside. The stamps were also issued in a 32-page prestige booklet that included text and illustrations, and the commemorative was also produced for sale in panes of 20.

Lewis and Clark commemorative stamp, 2004

Lewis and Clark commemorative stamp by Michael Deas, 2004

Sacagawea "Legends of the West" stamp, 1994

Sacagawea “Legends of the West” stamp, 1994

Although Sacagawea was not included on the 2004 stamp, she was pictured as the sole subject on a stamp of her own in 1994 in the “Legends of the West” series. Unfortunately, this series proved to have one of the most infamous and embarrassing mistakes in U.S. postal history. The original Legends of the West pane of twenty 29-cent stamps featured a stamp of African-American rodeo performer Bill Pickett. However, after over five million panes had been printed, it was discovered that the stamp depicting Pickett actually pictured his younger brother Ben.

When the error was confirmed, the USPS decided to destroy all the Legend panes and to print a new set with an authentic portrait of Bill Pickett. However, almost 200 of the panes had already been distributed and sold. A modern philatelic rarity, the error panes quickly shot up in value, and one of them reached a price of $4,620 in a public auction. Stamp collectors clamored for the rest of the error panes to be released for sale, but the postal service had promised the Pickett family that they would be destroyed – at considerable cost. Finally, the Postal Service compromised by selling 150,000 original panes for collectors, containing the erroneous portrait of Bill Pickett. All of the remaining original panes were destroyed, and the series was reissued in a new pane featuring the right Bill Pickett.

The "Wrong" Bill Pickett Stamp

The “Wrong” Bill Pickett Stamp

The "Right" Bill Pickett Stamp

The “Right” Bill Pickett Stamp

Recently, a 12-year-old boy named Jackson Davis V has been running a well-publicized campaign to put the face of York, William Clark’s slave who accompanied him on the expedition, on a postage stamp. The great-grandson of a DC postal worker, Jackson wrote a letter and sent an essay to USPS Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee asking that they consider honoring York with a Black Heritage Stamp. The USPS responded saying that his proposal is “under consideration.” This is a fantastic effort and long overdue. Fingers crossed that Jackson’s tireless efforts will make his dream come true!

More great resources:

Arago: People, Postage, and the Post

Jackson Davis’ Vote 4 York Black Heritage Stamp 2013 (Facebook)

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