Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Feb 10, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Lewis and Clark

By R. Lee Hadden

Reenactors are often told they are "Historical Travelers" in the way they walk the paths and try to relive the experiences of people from previous years. But for a real historical travel, perhaps nothing can match the outstanding reenactment event of the year: the Lewis and Clark Expedition on the 200th anniversary of the original trek.

Peter Geery and almost 300 people in all will reenact the voyage by going down the Ohio River, then up the Mississippi, then up the Missouri River, through 2003-2005. In all, they should cover about 1,500 miles of water-road, at about the same speed as the original expedition. Along the river, they will camp at sites near or on the original campsites of the first expedition.

Captain Merriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark began their voyage to see if they could find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean through the new Louisiana Territories. Along the way, they were to meet the Native Americans, collect samples of fauna and flora, and to explore the new lands that had been purchased by the United States from France by President Thomas Jefferson.


Peter Geery, portraying Sergeant John Ordway, will be one of the few people to make the complete voyage. Because of the time it will take to retrace the route of the original explorers, some of the members will come on and off at different points as their personal schedules will demand.

Peter Geery as Sgt. Ordway, US Army Corps of Discovery

While it is always the goal of reenactors to be as authentic as possible, there are always some concessions to modern times. The original riverboats were rowed, sailed and poled up the river against the currents. While there will be substantial rowing and poling of the boats during the tour, the US Coast Guard requires them to have modern navigation lights and inboard engines to avoid collisions with the heavy river traffic of ships and barges going up and down these major river highways. But as much as possible the members of the band will try to adhere to early 19th century technology.

It is often forgotten today that this was a military expedition of exploration, and their small unit was designated the "Corps of Discovery." This was intended as a peaceful incursion into unknown areas for scientific, transportation and commercial possibilities, but it was also a military reconnaissance as well. Except for only a few civilians, the members of the Corps of Discovery were regular US Army soldiers.

Using the organization of the original party, Mr. Geery and the other members of the expedition will follow the original trace as much as possible. Sometimes, this is not possible, as time and human engineering have significantly changed the topology of the land and the waterways. Also, modern regulations regarding water passage and river traffic will force the boats in the little flotilla to take divergent paths and alternate methods to reach their goals.

During their travels, the members of the expedition will write up their experiences in journals, and try to match the observations of the present to the journal entries of the original voyagers.

They will also travel to schools along the river and talk to the students and the public about the Lewis and Clark expedition and their impact on the development of our country. Much of the financing for this expedition is to encourage the educational component of the trip, and the benefits of explaining and teaching this part of American history to the public and to the children through the heart of America.

To help explain the experiences of the travelers, several people who are descendents of the original party will participate, such as Charles Clark and Payton Clark, both descendants of the original William Clark. Other people will take other persona, such as Porter Williams, who will portray York, a black man who completed the expedition as a slave. Miss Amy Mossett, who is a representative of the Mandan-Hidista tribe, will portray the famous translator, Sakakawea (aka Sacajewea).

Upcoming Events in 2004

There are a number of significant events that will be held to celebrate the adventures of these men. This year (2004) there will be six significant events along the path first trod by these soldiers two hundred years ago.

1. In 2004, one of the first will be the "Three Flags Ceremony" in Saint Louis, Missouri, March 12-14, 2004. The National Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Committee will observe the 200th anniversary of the transfer of Louisiana Territory from Spain and France and then to the United States. On sites surrounding the grounds of the Gateway Arch over the Mississippi River, activities on display will feature the cultures of the Louisiana Territory. The French, the Spanish, Anglo-American, and Osage Tribe, through reenactments and interactive displays relating the legacies of the these cultures in America and highlighting the roles of these cultures play in today’s world. Musical performances and, possibly, an Air Force flyover will precede the ceremony. Online:

For a reenactor, one of the interesting aspects of this event is that it is also a reenactment of previous reenactments. Indeed, the Garde Republicaine, the premier French military band will also perform at this event, as they also did in the reenactment performed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. On March 13, 2004, Les Amis, the region’s French colonial heritage preservation group, will present a Creole Ball at which guests will meet costumed actors portraying the original participants in the historic event.

2. "The Expedition Faces West" is the next event from May 14th to 23rd, 2004, in St. Charles, Mo. A replica of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat will arrive in Saint Charles on May 15 from Camp River DuBois, with more than a week of events and fun. The keelboat and pirogues will be on display during the event and crew members will be available to meet and talk with visitors as they prepare for the journey westward. Weekends will include colorful reveille and retreat ceremonies with over 25 fife and drum corps and military units from across the United States. An authentic reenactment of Lewis and Clark’s encampment will be a focal point of the event. Foods from the time period, 19th century crafts, a Native American encampment, and horse and carriage parades will continue through the event. Online:

3. "Heart Of America: A Journey Fourth" will take place next from July 3-4, 2004, at Atchison and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. On July 4, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition observed the 28th birthday of the Declaration of Independence by firing their swivel cannon and issuing an extra ration of whiskey to the troops. Online:

4. "The First Tribal Council" will be next from July 31-Aug. 3, 2004, at Fort Atkinson Historical Park, Fort Calhoun, Neb. This event will include an outdoor dramatic reenactment of the first council between the Corps of Discovery and the Otoe and Missouri tribes, as well as the Nebraska Lewis and Clark Powwow, in Omaha, Nebraska. Every tribe along the Lewis and Clark trail, as well s tribes throughout North America will be invited to participate in the Powwow. Online:

5. "The Oceti Sakowin: Remembering And Education" will take place on August 27-28, 2004, at Chanberlain and Oacoma, S.D. This event will focus on the history and culture of Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires of the Sioux people, before, during and after Lewis and Clark visited. Online:

6. "A Circle Of Cultures: Time Of Renewal And Change" will wrap up the bicentennial ceremonies on Oct. 22-31, 2004, near Bismarck, N.D. This event will showcase the place where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1804-05 and introduce visitors to the thriving, centuries-old trading center of the Northern Plains. Visitors will taste what they tasted, see what they saw, and hear what they heard. See: and online: