Welcome to the new website of author Frances Hunter. We’re really excited about the new web site — take a look around! Plenty more to come as we move over the stuff from the old site!
I’ll be blogging on lots of topics related to our books and interests. Recently we completed an adventure along the Lewis & Clark Trail in Nebraska, Iowa, and the Dakotas. Along with lots of other things, I’ll be blogging here about experiences, thoughts, and photos about Lewis & Clark, the land they encountered, and what we encountered too!
Our first official day on the trail began with a quick breakfast at Mickey D’s. Then we bugged out of Omaha and into the wilds of rural Nebraska! We followed Highway 75, the “Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway,” as the route that most closely follows the river route that they took in 1804-1806. This route is a good road that takes you through rolling hills, picturesque cornfields, and small Nebraska towns in varying degrees of prosperity.
Our first stop was Fort Atkinson State Historic Park (which is actually in the town of Fort Calhoun). This quiet spot on a bluff above the Missouri was once the largest military post in America. Its day in the sun begun in the summer of 1804, when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed this way with the Corps of Discovery. One of their jobs was to meet and treat with the native tribes they met along the way, but so far they hadn’t had much luck. Everywhere they went the Indians seemed to be away hunting buffalo.
At this site, which they named Council Bluff (up the river from today’s Council Bluffs, Iowa), their luck turned around. A small group of Oto and Missouri Indians showed up, and although they weren’t really chiefs, Lewis and Clark essentially decided “what the hell” and held a great ceremony on August 3, 1804. The men marched in full regalia and demonstrated the might of their arms, and Lewis gave a speech telling the Indians about their new “Great Father” (Thomas Jefferson). They promised better trade than the French and Spanish had provided and handed out peace medals and other gifts.
Though it marked the first U.S.-Indian diplomatic encounter west of the Mississippi, the meeting at “Council Bluff” was mostly a non-event. More important to the future history of the area was the notation by William Clark that the spot would make a good place for a fort. He remembered the spot when he became Governor of Missouri years later, and Fort Atkinson was built to protect the burgeoning Missouri River fur trade. From 1820-1827, this huge fort was home to over 1000 soldiers and as many civilians as America’s “extended finger” into the frontier.
The frontier moved further southwest, and the fort was decommissioned and became part of the surrounding farmland. Archeological excavations began in the 1950s and an extremely impressive reconstruction began in the 1980s. Barracks form three sides of a square with the river bluff making up the other side. In the middle is a vast parade ground and a stout powder magazine. We had a great time looking around and learning about this early bastion of frontier defense and westward expansion.
There are a lot of fun places to stop along Nebraska 75. Blair turned out to be a happenin’ town where we were able to bag supplies, including cheap t-shirts, a cooler, ice, and lunch for the road. Even saw and greeted a fellow Longhorn here–a rare sight in Husker country! In Tekamah, we stopped to photograph an amazing and brilliantly executed Lewis & Clark mural on the side of the VFW hall.
And just past Decatur, we visited the overlook for Blackbird Hill, the burial site of Omaha chief Blackbird, who died of smallpox in 1800. Hardly beloved by his people (he was known to poison his enemies with arsenic), his grave was nonetheless a river landmark for decades, and Lewis & Clark stopped here to pay their respects.