Drumming to the past

Drum and fife corps sets the mood at Lewis and Clark bicentennial
Sunday, May 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:04 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

A light morning rain did not dampen the spirits of festivalgoers Saturday at the Hartsburg Lewis and Clark Festival.

“Nothing stops us Hartsburgers,” said resident Cheryl Miller.

Dug-out canoe demonstrations, bow making, tomahawk throwing and period clothing, medicine, food and music were just part of the activities nearly 2,000 people saw at the festival, which will continue at 9 a.m. today and conclude at 5 p.m.

As part of the musical re-enactment of the period, John Paul Ellis, 15, transported attendees to the 19th century with every tap of his drum.

“I am a big music person, and music is a big part of our history,” John Paul said.

John Paul, who attends Pattonville High School in northwest St. Louis County, is part of the St. Charles Fife and Drum Corps, founded in 1992 and made up of about 20 volunteers ranging from age 10 to 18. The group travels internationally, performing at period festivals as far away as Ludwigsburg, Germany. They performed 62 times last year, and the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition is keeping them busy this year.

The corps’ purpose is to provide history education by portraying the fife and drum corps that once marched with the American soldier infantry units.

John Paul, who joined the corps this year, was one of nine members participating in mid-Missouri’s first Lewis and Clark bicentennial event at Hartsburg this weekend. This was his 10th show.

With each performance, his comfort level has grown, he said.

“I was really nervous,” he said of his first show. “I never performed in front of people before.”

John Paul said he draws satisfaction from the crowd’s reaction to the rhythmic sound of the wood fife and the wood and cowhide drums.

Dana Ellis, John Paul’s father, said the corps is more than just an opportunity for the children to perform. It is also a way for John Paul to spend time with like-minded children who are serious about period music.

“It gives them exposure to different regions and an environment where they normally wouldn’t travel as young people,” Ellis said.

No matter where they go, the group is always well received, he said.

Hartsburg resident and festivalgoer Rose Walker said she just happened to walk by when she heard the sound of flutes and drums constructing a unique harmony.

“It was great, really interesting,” Walker said. “It is wonderful for young people to be involved in history.”

Ellis said the group observes history’s traditions with more than their uniforms. Their music, style and commands are also historically correct and help the audience visualize the music, which comes from the period between 1804 and 1810.

Ellis and other parents dressed in period clothing Saturday as “camp followers.”

In the days of Lewis and Clark, girlfriends and family would often travel with members of the military as “camp followers” in order to be with their loved ones. Ellis said girls often got into fife marching in order to be with the soldiers they loved.

Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant said the rain caused a few problems for the festival, but nothing too extreme. The American Indian historians were only able to bring one teepee instead of three, and the muddy conditions prevented riverside excursions to see the massive rock recorded in the crew’s journals, now known as “Bull Rock.” Instead, festivalgoers were bused to the local boat access point to learn about farming done by the early settlers who came shortly after Lewis and Clark and period plants and animals.

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