By this time it was well into the lunch hour, so we pressed on to Sioux City, where we found the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center nestled in a pleasant riverfront park with picnic tables and a playground. Enjoyed a nice if windy lunch along the beautiful Missouri River before hitting the L&C Center.
We’ve been to several of the other Lewis & Clark Interpretive Centers, and this one is really fun, with an emphasis on the life of the enlisted men on the expedition. You get a little “journal” that you can stamp at the various stations along your route through the exhibits. Simple displays with large, attractive murals take you through Lewis & Clark’s time here. Some of the most memorable exhibits included a section on medical treatments of the day — a giant clyster syringe in the display case drew gasps from everyone. There were animatronic figures of Lewis, Clark (complete with Foghorn Leghorn Kentucky accent), and Seaman the dog, and a special exhibit of beautiful if overly-interpreted Native American art.
By the time the Expedition reached this area, they had been on the river for almost three months. The exhibits did a good job of giving some of the flavor of the excitement and camaraderie of the early days, as the men bonded from a group of disparate soldiers and civilian rivermen from all kinds of backgrounds, into a proud, tough, and disciplined unit.
But as you can learn here, they weren’t there yet. There had been a few breaches of military discipline on the trail, including talking back, breaking into the liquor stores, and falling asleep on guard duty. Lewis & Clark dealt with these offenses swiftly but fairly. But on August 4, 1804, came the worst crisis the expedition had yet faced. A private named Moses Reed asked the captains for permission to return to the camp at “Council Bluff” (Fort Atkinson) to look for a lost knife. Two days later, he had not returned. Lewis and Clark realized that Reed had deserted, along with a French boatman known only La Liberty. They authorized a search party of some of their most trusted men — with instructions to bring Reed back “dead or alive.” (La Liberty was a civilian contractor, so was not subject to military discipline. Essentially, he quit.)
It was almost two weeks before the search party returned with Reed in tow (true to his name, La Liberty got away never to be heard from again). At his courtmartial, Reed confessed to desertion as well as stealing a rifle and ammunition. For such a serious breach of discipline, he could have been sentenced to death. Instead the captains allowed Reed’s fellow soldiers to administer his punishment, which consisted of running the gauntlet four times, being hit and struck by the other men as he ran defenseless through their ranks. Perhaps toughest on Reed, he was then expelled from the permanent party, but required to continue to travel along with the Expedition until the point at which he could be safely sent home — which would be a good six months away.
Sioux City would prove a luckless place for the men of the Expedition. Just three days and a few miles up the river from the place of Reed’s punishment, they faced the shocking sudden death of one of their own. I will write more about the death of Sergeant Charles Floyd in my next post.
For now, suffice to say that Sergeant Floyd is well-remembered here in Sioux City. Adjacent to the Lewis and Clark Center, you can visit the Sergeant Floyd, a decommissioned riverboat of the Army Corps of Engineers, which now houses a very worthwhile little museum with good exhibits and dioramas about the Expedition; the dangerous, romantic era of steamboat transportation on the Missouri; and how the river affected the growth and history of Sioux City. They also have a striking reconstruction done by a forensic artist from the skull of Sergeant Floyd, showing what the 21-year-old Kentuckian may have looked like.