Archive for the ‘Iowa’ Category

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 ongoing flooding disaster along the Missouri River in the Great Plains and Midwest is a sobering reminder of man’s tenuous relationship with nature. Despite all our engineering feats and illusion of control, the earth still conjures up torrential rains, ice packs and snowmelts that make our levies and floodgates look pretty puny indeed.

A home is taken by the flood in Minot, North Dakota, June 2011

A home is taken by the flood in Minot, North Dakota, June 2011

The evacuation and inundation of Minot, North Dakota – just the latest community to go under – calls to mind the horrific Missouri River flood of 1993, which destroyed more than ten thousand homes, killed fifty people, inundated millions of acres of farmland, halted river and rail transport, and resulted in billions of dollars in damage. As the flood and its consequences roll downstream, we may be looking at an awful repeat.

For some perspective on the 1993 flood and some background on the more recent state of the Missouri River, I recommend a thoughtful book called Rivers of Change: Trailing the Waterways of Lewis and Clark, by water resources consultant Tom Mullen. (We had the pleasure of meeting Tom on a Lewis and Clark trip along the Columbia and Snake Rivers in 2005, where he was the guest historian.)

Rivers of Change by Tom Mullen, Roundwood Press (2004)

Rivers of Change by Tom Mullen, Roundwood Press (2004)

Around 2002,  Tom returned to the United States after years of helping developing countries set up water systems overseas. As a way of easing his “reentry” into life in the United States, Tom went on a six-month, cross country odyssey – following the rivers that Lewis and Clark traveled, the Missouri and the Columbia.

Along the way, Tom talked to dozens of people who live and work along those rivers: farmers, waitresses, small-town historians, freight boat captains, ecologists, Native Americans, Fish and Wildlife employees, dam operators. As the context for his conversations, Tom asked the people about the floods of 1993 and 1997 that devastated the areas along the Missouri River. He also asked them how the building of dams in the 50’s and 60’s had changed their lives.

The result is a fascinating picture of the effect on lives and ecosystems when man attempts to harness nature. What Tom found out is that we have made terrific strides in using the power of the rivers for energy production, literally making it possible to “make the desert bloom.” On the other hand, dams and levies have tamed wild areas of the river along the Lower Missouri, making river channels deeper and more consistent, the current faster, and commerce more predictable – but also making for fast rising waters in times of flood. Development and dams further up the Missouri have provided power for residents but destroyed unique wildlife habitat along the rivers, with surprising consequences. They have also cut Native American tribes off from an important part of their culture.

There are tradeoffs everywhere, and one of the most refreshing things about this book is that Tom does not attempt to moralize. Reading this book is like taking a rambling road trip with a friend. You might not think of water management as a fascinating topic, but your eyes will be opened by the effect of the great rivers on the communities that live along them. Especially at a time when the devastating power of water and our inability to control it is all too evident.

I-29 in Corning, Missouri, June 2011

I-29 barely above water in Corning, Missouri, June 2011

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The Missouri River flooding in Omaha, Nebraska. That is Interstate 29 underwater. Photo by Larry Geiger.

Though we usually don’t cover current events on this blog, no Lewis & Clark aficionado can ignore the incredible scale of the flooding now taking place on the Missouri River. In the past few weeks, the upper Missouri basin has received nearly a year’s worth of rainfall. In addition, the forecast snow melt runoff is 212 percent of normal across the upper portion of the river system. The result has been massive flooding across Montana, the Dakotas, and now Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. The Gavins Point Dam floodgates near Yankton, South Dakota, are pouring out enough water to cover a football field with 156 of water every one minute.

For more of Larry Geiger’s photos of the incredible flooding, please visit his slideshow page.

The Great Missouri Flood of 2011

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A rose for Sergeant Floyd. At the Sergeant Floyd memorial in Sioux City, Iowa.

A rose for Sergeant Floyd. At the Sergeant Floyd memorial in Sioux City, Iowa.

Charles Floyd was one of the first three men to volunteer in Louisville when William Clark put out the word that he needed some sturdy, steady frontiersmen to embark into the unknown American West. Before the expedition left St. Louis in May 1804, Floyd was elected one of three sergeants. In addition to managing his share of the men, Floyd was made responsible for the officers’ quarters and supplies.  He also kept a daily journal.

On July 31, Floyd wrote in his journal that he had felt “verry sick” but was now on the mend. However, the relief was only temporary. On August 19, when the expedition was camped just south of present-day Sioux City, Floyd became suddenly, violently, alarmingly ill. Unbearable pain racked his belly, and he could keep nothing on his stomach. Lewis & Clark dropped everything, set up a tent, and assigned York to nurse Floyd. Both captains had medical training and turned their full attention to Floyd’s suffering. Everyone must have spent a sleepless night worrying about Charles.

But it was no use. Floyd went down with every hour. The next day, as the Corps was preparing a warm bath for him, he quietly told Captain Clark that he was going away, and asked Clark to write a letter for him saying goodbye to his family. Then he died. Sergeant Floyd was 21 years old.

The Corps chose a beautiful resting place for Floyd on a high bluff overlooking the Missouri River, and buried him with full military honors.  It is near this spot on which stands the Sergeant Floyd gravesite and memorial today.

The Sergeant Floyd monument in Sioux City, Iowa

The Sergeant Floyd monument in Sioux City, Iowa

As we approached the towering obelisk that overlooks the Missouri River and Sioux City, I wondered if this humble young man would be astonished to see how he is remembered today. As it turned out, his bones had something of a time resting in peace. When Lewis and Clark passed this way again on their return journey, they found the grave disturbed by animals and reburied the sergeant. His grave became a river landmark for early travelers, but by the 1850s the bluff had eroded enough so that his bones began to fall into the river.  The citizens of Sioux City retrieved the body and moved it to a new spot about 200 yards further back.

In the 1890s, there was a revival of interest in the Lewis & Clark expedition. The journals, including Sergeant Floyd’s, were published in their entirety for the first time, and the scope of the accomplishments of the Corps of Discovery could now be fully appreciated. Sioux City decided to erect a 100-foot sandstone obelisk as a permanent memorial to the sacrifice and service of Sergeant Floyd and all of the early frontier soldiers and pioneers. The monument was completed in 1901, and in 1960 became the nation’s first designated National Historic Landmark.

Before we came here, I didn’t fully appreciate the shock and horror that must have filled the Corps when Charles died. It must have shaken Lewis, Clark, and the men to their very core to have a young and healthy man like Floyd sicken and die within 24 hours. They had no way of knowing that Floyd died of a ruptured appendix, which would have been untreatable in that era even if Floyd were back in civilization. Nor could they know that, thanks to luck and leadership, Floyd would be their only casualty of the long journey that lay ahead. All they knew was that a good young man was dead. The next day they packed up and got back on the river.

Our hotel tonight was a nice Hampton Inn with good cold air conditioning! Before supper we went over to the nearby Southern Hills Mall, which is home to a 38-panel mural depicting scenes from the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It is always interesting to see how artists depict the expedition, and this case I was struck by the mood of loneliness that pervaded the surprising, impressive paintings. We had a nice dinner at the Outback before turning in for the night, full of unexpected thoughts about mortality and brotherly love.

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Clark, Lewis, and Seaman the dog in front of the Sioux City Interpretive Center (bronze by Pat Kennedy). Those are some big cornfed boys there.

Clark, Lewis, and Seaman the dog in front of the Sioux City Interpretive Center (bronze by Pat Kennedy). Those are some big cornfed boys there.

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.

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