Archive for the ‘Meriwether Lewis’ Category

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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Meriwether Lewis by John Lanzalotti (2000). This bust was placed in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond in 2008.

You might think that after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned from the West to great acclaim as national heroes, that every city and town associated with the Expedition would have wanted to erect a monument to their achievement. But in fact, outdoor public sculpture was unheard of in the United States until about the 1830s, many years after the Corps of Discovery had faded from memory. The real golden age of public monuments began in America after the Civil War, when almost every community wished to build a memorial to the dead.

The pace of building monuments reached its zenith around the turn of the 20th century. Since then, a number of very interesting Lewis & Clark monuments have been erected all along the trail, with a fresh wave coming recently for the Bicentennial commemoration.

In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the Lewis & Clark sculptures. Today I’ll begin with several monuments in the “Eastern Legacy” states where Captain Lewis prepared for the Expedition and William Clark recruited early members of the Corps, as  well as the way the Expedition is remembered along the first segment of the Lewis & Clark Trail in Missouri.

As many historians like to say, the Lewis & Clark Expedition actually began in the mind of Thomas Jefferson, so what better place to begin our sculptural journey than Charlottesville, Virginia, the home town of Jefferson and of Lewis himself.

Statue in Charlottesville, Virginia of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea (kneeling), by Charles Keck (1919)

The Charlottesville monument seems to have been the first permanent memorial to Lewis & Clark in the United States. Here, Charles Keck captured the manly beauty and virility of Lewis and Clark in this statue that shows them very much as frontier soldiers, perhaps not so different from the American doughboys who had recently returned from World War I. From the awkward pose, it is difficult not to think that Sacagawea was a last-minute addition to Keck’s commission, and indeed her posture has been interpreted as subservient or cowering, drawing student protests in recent years. In 2009, a plaque was added to the statue recognizing Sacagawea’s contribution to the Expedition’s success.

"When They Shook Hands," by Carol Grende (2003). Statue located at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana.

This bronze was commissioned by the Southern Indiana Visitors’ Bureau and several local boosters to commemorate Clarksville’s role as the home of William Clark in 1803 and the place where the two captains met that fall and began the planning of the Expedition and recruitment of members of the Corps of Discovery. Interestingly enough, sculptor Carol Grende of Montana accepted the commission in spite of an extremely tight seven-month deadline to complete the project before the bicentennial event in Clarksville, and the statue arrived in town just 30 hours before the ceremony began.

"Captain's Return," by Harry Weber (2006). This St. Louis statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their dog Seaman stands in the waters of the Mississippi near the Gateway Arch.

This bronze by St. Louis sculptor Harry Weber was commissioned for the final “signature event” of the Bicentennial, which commemorated the September day in 1806 when the Corps of Discovery returned, about a year later than expected and after most people had given them up for dead. It has become iconic as a gauge of how high the river’s waters flow every spring and summer in flood stage:

The Lewis & Clark statue on the St. Louis riverfront in flood stage. I have seen photos in which only Clark's hat is still visible.

Lewis and Clark monument on the waterfront in St. Charles, Missouri, by Pat Kennedy (2003)

Lewis, Clark, and Seaman were a common trio in Bicentennial commemorations. It is interesting to compare how bulked-up Lewis and Clark are here compared with their 1919 portrayal in the Charlottesville statue.

This grouping on the grounds of the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City includes York, Lewis, Seaman, Clark, and George Drouillard. Bronze by Sabra Tull Meyer, 2008.

A day in the life early in the Lewis & Clark Expedition is depicted in this grouping. The artist who made this arrangement, Sabra Tull Meyer, has a fascinating website that tells the story of the monument’s creation along with great photographs of how the statues were created. Check out The Making of a Monument.

The Corps of Discovery by Eugene Daub (2000). This statue stands in Case Park on the Kansas City waterfront, and depicts Lewis, Clark, York, and Sacagawea with her baby Jean-Baptiste on her back.

The Kansas City monument was the centerpiece of the renovation of Case Park, a showpiece of urban renewal in downtown Kansas City. The monument is 18 feet high and is believed to be the largest Lewis & Clark memorial in existence.

Are there any outdoor sculptures of Lewis and Clark in the eastern states or in Missouri that I have missed? If so, let me know. In the next installment of this series, we’ll trek onward and see how Lewis and Clark are remembered on the Great Plains.

More reading: William Clark’s grave

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Among the things that Meriwether Lewis took west with him on his expedition to the Pacific Ocean was a special cipher designed by President Thomas Jefferson for encoding messages. The cipher consisted of a table of 26 rows and 26 columns of sequentially arranged letters, plus an example keyword (Jefferson actually provided Lewis with two examples, one with the keyword “artichokes” and another with the keyword “antipodes”).  Upon receipt of the coded message, presuming the recipient knew the agreed-upon keyword, he could use the cipher table to decode the message.  In one example, Jefferson showed Lewis how to encode the optimistic message, “I am at the head of the Missouri. All well and the Indians so far friendly.”

Jefferson's Cipher to Lewis (Library of Congress)

Jefferson's Cipher to Lewis (Library of Congress)

Although there is no evidence that Lewis ever used the cipher to code a message to Jefferson, clearly the president was concerned about the possibility of Lewis’s correspondence from the field being intercepted by agents of European powers who opposed American expansion to the West. Simple but ingenious, this cipher was one manifestation of Thomas Jefferson’s interest in cryptography, defined as “the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of adversaries.”  As in so many of his scientific pursuits, the president’s thinking in this area was decades ahead of his time.

Jefferson and Science, by Silvio Bedini

Jefferson and Science, by Silvio Bedini

As Silvio Bedini writes in his fascinating monograph Jefferson and Science, Jefferson first became interested in the security of the government’s official communications while serving as George Washington’s Secretary of State in the early 1790’s. With war threatening between England and France, and delicate negotiations ongoing with Spain over American trade and navigation on the Mississippi River, Jefferson knew that plain text letters to his overseas representatives could easily be intercepted and read by prying eyes, blowing his diplomatic efforts out of the water.  It was at that time that he began experimenting with different ways to put messages into secret code.

Jefferson first devised a system of 26 paper strips, each containing a scrambled version of the alphabet, which he could arrange and rearrange in different ways to form a flexible cipher system. More than one correspondent could use the system, with each person having an individually assigned keyword for coding and decoding messages. However, with 26 moving parts to keep track of, the system proved too cumbersome and impractical for most of his correspondents.

Undaunted, Jefferson came up with the idea of having a wheel-style cipher, that could more easily be used in the field. He took as his inspiration the cipher padlock, typically used to secure diplomatic dispatch boxes. Like our modern combination lock, the cipher lock unlocked when lettered disks were arranged to spell a certain keyword.

Reproduction of Jefferson's wheel cipher (courtesy Monticello)

Reproduction of Jefferson's wheel cipher (courtesy Monticello)

Jefferson took the 26 strips of paper and had the scrambled alphabets punched onto a wooden cylinder, which was then segmented into disks and mounted on a spindle. It is known that Jefferson had two of these devices made while he was Secretary of State. He apparently tested the device with Robert Patterson, a professor of mathematics, chemistry and natural philosophy and a member of the American Philosophical Society. The two exchanged a series of coded messages, but the wheel cipher was never put into diplomatic service. At some point, for some reason, Jefferson set the wheel cipher aside and forgot about it. The two wheel ciphers used by Jefferson and Patterson have been lost, though a detailed description of how to make it was saved among Jefferson’s papers.

It was another hundred years before the science of cryptography caught up with Jefferson’s mind. In 1890, Commandant Etienne Bazeries, chief of the cryptographic bureau of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, invented a “cylindrical cryptograph” that was almost identical to Jefferson’s design. During World War I, a U.S. infantry captain named Parker Hitt refined Bazeries’ design, using a methodology very similar to Jefferson’s.  After extensive testing by Assistant Commandant Joseph Mauborgne of the Army Signal Corps, the device was approved for military use in 1918. It was not until 1922 that the device was actually manufactured for military use, becoming known as “Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army.”

Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army

Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army, partially disassembled

Ironically, that same year, Jefferson’s original description of the device was discovered among his papers in the Library of Congress, astonishing the military community. Army cryptographers were stunned that President Jefferson had already envisioned a device that had taken them 100 years to develop, and that his description had been available to the public all this time.

Jefferson would have been pleased to know that Cipher Device M-94 proved to be a robust security device, especially practical for tactical communications from the field. It saw two decades of military service before finally being phased out during World War II.

More great reading:

Discovering Lewis & Clark: Cryptography

Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s Wheel Cipher

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Location: Montana Highway 200, between Missoula and Rogers Pass

Mary at the Continental Divide

This incredibly scenic and varied route across Montana allows for a leisurely and fascinating day along the trail. This area is called “The Blackfoot Challenge” by the cooperative of local communities that have organized to protect the Blackfoot Valley watershed. The drive parallels the Blackfoot River and cuts through the heart of the territory once ruled by the Blackfoot Indians (who call the river Cokahlah-ishkit). For Lewis and Clark buffs, its significance is that it also parallels Meriwether Lewis’s return journey through Montana in 1806.

On July 3, 1806, while at Travelers’ Rest, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark decided to separate the Corps of Discovery in order to make up for some lost opportunities and get a little more exploration under their belts before heading home. Specifically, Lewis planned to take a party of nine men northeast to search for the source of the Marias River. This side mission was highly dangerous, for it took Lewis’s small party into the territory of the Blackfoot Indians, a tough and uncompromising band that was closely allied with the British. A number of historians have speculated that Lewis was feeling pressured by the Expedition’s “failure” to discover a water route to the Pacific Ocean (none existed). If he could prove the Marias River extended past the 49th Parallel, he could help Thomas Jefferson make a case that the Louisiana Purchase extended well into the boundaries of modern-day Canada. For Lewis, it seemed worth taking a chance, though his journal revealed his anxiety as well:

I took leave of my worthy friend and companion Capt. Clark and the party that accompanyed him. I could not avoid feeling much concern on this occasion although I hoped this seperation was only momentary. – Meriwether Lewis, July 3, 1806

For modern-day travelers, a delightful and leisurely drive in Lewis’s footsteps begins with mountains and pines near Missoula. This is the Montana of “A River Runs Through It.” Lewis and his party followed an old Indian road known to the Blackfoot as “the road to the buffalo.” Eventually, it led to the Great Falls and the yellow, rolling hills where the Indians converged for hunting season. Montana 200 closely follows this old route.

The Prairie of the Knobs. Photo by Bitterroot.

Three days out of Traveler’s Rest, Lewis came upon one of the most interesting landscapes on the entire Lewis & Clark trail, a place he named “the prairie of the knobs.” Here Lewis described a barren landscape studded with lumpy glacial mounds. The surrounding landscape contained a wide variety of birds and many animals, from antelope and deer to “burrowing squirrels” (known to us as Columbian ground squirrels). On our trip, we didn’t see any of those, but at a dusty rest stop, we did see a hobo spider. More to the point, Mary saw it drop on my back from above and make tracks for my neck. She acted quickly to save me from what would have been a scary bite! It made me wonder what instances of extreme screaming Lewis & Clark failed to record in their journals.

A very pleasant stop on “the road to the buffalo” is the small, bustling town of Lincoln. Lincoln had its day in the media spotlight back in 1996, when the pathetic figure of Ted Kaczynski, the murderous “Unabomber,” was hauled out of a cabin where he was living as a hermit. Lincoln has a lot to offer a tourist loafing along Highway 200, including a big souvenir trading post (where Mary found one of her best all-time Lewis & Clark t-shirts) and a lunch spot called Ponde Roses’s where we got great BLTs.

From Lincoln, you head towards the Continental Divide through incredible timbered mountains. We climbed and climbed into the spectacular and beautiful heights with hardly another car or person in sight. It was easy to imagine the Blackfoot still roaming this land and wish that somehow we all could have found a way to live together.

Funny sign near the Continental Divide

On July 7, 1806, Lewis and his party crossed the Continental Divide at a rugged spot now called Lewis & Clark Pass (though Clark never saw it). From the pass, Lewis had a spectacular view all the way to the Great Falls area and the landmark Square Butte. Even today, the faint marks of Indian travois poles can be seen etched in the prairie soil, and back then it must have been a sight to both thrill and slightly terrify the explorers.

Lewis & Clark Pass is just one pass along the “Great Divide” which separates the waters that drain into the Pacific from those that drain into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It can be reached via a three-mile hike/climb, which we were not equipped to undertake. Highway 200 crosses the Divide at another spectacular spot known as Rogers Pass, chosen as the highway route because it is 800 feet lower than Lewis & Clark Pass. Haze and the smell of woodsmoke from nearby wildfires was obvious here and off and on for the rest of the day.

Rogers Pass made history on January 20, 1954, when its weather station recorded a temperature of -70 degrees — the coldest temperature ever recorded in the continental United States. Rogers Pass is in a wilderness area noted as one of the last strongholds of the grizzly bear.

Here’s a joke is so old Lewis himself probably dreamed it up, but it’s still good:

When you go hiking in an area with grizzly bears, be sure to make noise by attaching tiny bells to your clothing, and watch out for grizzly bear poop.

How do you recognize grizzly bear poop?

It’s full of tiny bells.

More great reading:
Lewis & Clark Among the Blackfeet
Knobby Prairie (from the Discovering Lewis & Clark site)
Hobo Spiders

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The fall of 1807 marked one year since Meriwether Lewis returned from the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Appointed by Jefferson to the post of Governor of Upper Louisiana, Lewis had yet to leave for St. Louis to take up his duties. He lingered in the east, romance among the many things crowding his mind. Although he had been entranced by several “bewitching gypsies” in that city, Lewis had yet to find that special someone.

Portrait of a Young Woman, by Jean-Marc Nattier

Portrait of a Young Woman, by Jean-Marc Nattier

“I am now a perfect widower with rispect to love,” Lewis complained to his friend Mahlon Dickerson of Philadelphia. “I feel all that restlessness, that inquietude, that certain indiscribable something common to old bachelors, which I cannot avoid thinking my dear fellow, proceeds, from that void in our hearts, which might, or ought to be better filled. Whence it comes I know not, but certain it is, that I never felt less like a heroe than at the present moment. What may be my next adventure god knows, but on this I am determined, to get a wife.”

That November, Lewis thought he had found the ideal candidate. While visiting the Fincastle, Virginia home of George Hancock (the father of William Clark’s intended, Julia Hancock), Lewis made the acquaintance of lovely 16 year-old Letitia Breckinridge and her sister, Elizabeth. Letitia and Elizabeth were the daughters of prominent Fincastle lawyer and Revolutionary War veteran James Breckenridge, a member of the Virginia legislature and a future Congressman and brigadier general.

Lewis made no secret of the fact that he was smitten with Letitia. His brother Reuben Lewis wrote home that the “accomplished and beautiful” girl was “one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, both as to form and features … I should like to have her as a sister.”

James Breckinridge

James Breckinridge, Letitia's father

Hoping to win the young lady’s affections, Lewis expressed his intention of making a formal call on Letitia with the object of courting her. Unfortunately for Lewis, the girl reacted negatively. She was not interested and seemed to want to flee from Lewis’s “challenge.” Shortly after her meeting with Lewis, Letitia decamped to Richmond with her father. Reuben wrote glumly, “unfortunately for his Excellency [Lewis], she left the neighborhood 2 days after our arrival so that he was disappointed in his design of addressing her.”

Of all Lewis’s abortive affairs of the heart, this one seems particularly to have stung. It is not known why Letitia fled from Lewis’s affections. Undaunted Courage author Stephen Ambrose suggests that perhaps Lewis simply came on too strong, or maybe Letitia was put off by his heavy drinking – though Lewis would hardly have been unique among Virginia gentry in that respect. It may have been all too obvious that Lewis was still struggling with the problems of re-entry into “normal” life following the high adventure and independent command of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Or perhaps Letitia simply had someone else already in mind.

Following his attendance at his co-captain William Clark’s wedding in January 1808, Lewis left for St. Louis to take up his governor’s post. That summer, he heard from another friend, William Preston, that Letitia had married a rich young fellow named Robert Gamble of Richmond. “So be it,” Lewis replied, resigned. “May God be with her and her’s, and the favored angels of heaven guard her bliss both here and hereafter, is the sincere prayer of her very sincere friend, to whom she has left the noble concentration of scratching his head and biting his nails, with ample leasure to reuminate on the chapter of accidents in matters of love and the folly of castle-building.”

Lewis tried to be generous to the winning suitor, Robert Gamble. “Gamble is a good tempered, easy honest fellow,” Lewis conceded wistfully. “I have known him from a boy; both his means and his disposition well fit him for sluming away life with his fair one in the fassionable rounds of a large City. Such is the life she has celected and in it’s pursuit I wish she may meet all the pleasures of which it is susceptable.”

There is no further real mention of romance or courting in Lewis’s letters and papers. The press of business and increasing financial woes may have made courting impractical. Or maybe Lewis simply never found the right person. He was destined to die in 1809, aged 35, a “musty, fusty, rusty old bachelor” to the end.

As for Letitia, her marriage to Robert Gamble appears to have been a successful one. She bore Gamble nine children. Eventually they moved to Tallahassee, Florida. During the Civil War, several of Letitia and Robert Gamble’s sons served as officers in the Confederate Army. Letitia survived the war, dying in Tallahassee in March 1866, aged 75.

John C. Breckinridge in Confederate uniform

John C. Breckinridge in Confederate uniform

If Letitia’s maiden name, Breckinridge, rings a bell, it should. Letitia’s uncle, John Breckinridge, was the progenitor of the famous Breckinridge dynasty of Kentucky, which produced generations of illustrious politicians, military officers, social activists, and diplomats. The most famous member of the Breckinridge clan was John C. Breckinridge, who served as Vice President under James Buchanan and ran unsuccessfully for President in 1860, coming in third to Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Although Kentucky decided to remain with the Union upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Breckinridge broke ranks with his state and sided with the Confederacy, serving as a general in many of the major battles in both the western and the eastern theater.

Named Confederate Secretary of War in early 1865, Breckinridge did his best to broker an honorable peace for the Confederacy. Historians owe him a debt, as he was instrumental in saving the Confederate government archives from destruction during the fall of Richmond in April 1865. Fearing he would be put on trial, Breckinridge fled the country after the Confederate surrender, but was granted amnesty and returned to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1869. He died there of cirrhosis in 1875.

John "Bunny" Breckinridge in Plan 9 from Outer Space

John "Bunny" Breckinridge in Plan 9 from Outer Space

If John C. Breckinridge was the most famous member of the Breckinridge clan, the  most infamous member was his great grandson, John Cabell “Bunny” Breckinridge, who appeared as the alien leader  in Ed Wood’s notorious cult film Plan 9 from Outer Space. A flamboyant homosexual and sometime drag queen, Bunny Breckinridge worked as a burlesque performer and actor in Europe before settling in San Francisco in the 1920’s. Openly gay in an era when it was unheard of, Breckinridge later attracted the attention of pulp movie director Ed Wood, who cast him in Plan 9, which would affectionately come to be called “the worst movie ever made.”

Although Breckinridge was convicted of “sex perversion” and briefly committed to a criminal hospital following the release of the movie in 1959, he continued to live his life openly and unrepentantly, becoming a favorite of other celebrities and young hippies for his unique lifestyle and flamboyant ways. He lived long enough to see Plan 9 become a cult favorite and to see himself portrayed in Tim Burton’s 1994 movie, Ed Wood.  When he passed away in 1996 at age 93, the following quote in his obituary summed up his life: “I was a little bit wild when I was young, darling, but I lived my life grandly.”

More great reading: The Two Wives of William Clark

Postscript: My frequent commenter Shannon Kelly found this portrait of Letitia Breckinridge Gamble in the inventory files of the Smithsonian. It was painted by Cephas Thompson (1775-1856).  Excellent sleuthing, Shannon! Thanks!

Portrait of Letitia Breckinridge Gamble, by Cephas Thompson

Portrait of Letitia Breckinridge Gamble, by Cephas Thompson

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