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Back to the 1800s

Re-enactors get into spirit of the river
Sunday, May 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:50 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

When a wooden keelboat with 11 men pulled in near Bonnots Mill on Friday afternoon, locals who witnessed the arrival were a bit confused. The expedition wasn’t scheduled to stop there, but had to make the unplanned landing because of debris in the Missouri River.

The crowd at River Ratz Beer and Burgers on the Osage River became impromptu overnight hosts to half of the Lewis and Clark expedition — or at least their 21st-century equivalent.

“The river doesn’t know that this is a re-enactment. So, when we come out here, every day is completely real,” said Scott Mandrell, the re-enactor portraying Meriwether Lewis.

The Discovery Expedition of St. Charles is crossing Boone County this week as it travels the Missouri River.

The eclectic group of about 40 volunteers tells the history of the Lewis and Clark exploration by living it. Mid-Missourians who want to hear their stories can visit one of the numerous events along the river Monday through June 11, join the hundreds of school children who participate in weekly satellite conferences or visit the expedition’s Web site at www.lewisandclark.net.

Mandrell said changes in the size and power of the river have forced the re-enactors to trade oars for motors.

“It’s a very different river,” he said . “You couldn’t possibly run a 9-ton boat up this river today without the benefit of an engine.”

The expedition consists of a 9-ton keelboat and two pirogues, one white and one red, all of them replicas of the original boats. A Missouri Water Patrol boat and one from the Missouri Department of Conservation will accompany the expedition until it reaches the Kansas border.

Expedition members start their days early with the camp cook’s breakfast: bacon and eggs or oatmeal. The rest of the day they work around the boat, clean their weapons, write in their journals and prepare to meet with the public. All this happens in strict discipline.

The 21st century pioneers also travel with life jackets, engines, cell phones and laptops. Still, they dress, talk and live by the rules of 1804. After a day on the river, they come ashore, set up tents, and start an open fire with flint and steel.

The 1804 “permanent party,” as Lewis and Clark called the Pacific Ocean-bound group, consisted of around 40 people, with the number varying along the way. The 2004 permanent party has the same number of crew members, but most volunteers participate in only parts of the trip. The total number of participants will be more than 200. Members of the expedition are teachers, lawyers, carpenters, factory workers and retirees. They come from 32 states and are between 17 and 70 years of age.

The crew consists entirely of men. Only one woman will join later and play the role of Native-American Sacagawea.

“We’re all very liberal-minded, open-minded, equal-opportunity-type fellows, but this is not that story,” Mandrell says, while discussing the lack of women on board. “This is a story about a group of men for the most part.”

[photo]

Dave Hommes, as Capt. George Clark, stands aboard a keel boat.

Every participant is assigned a specific character from the original Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis is presented by Mandrell, a teacher in arts enrichment at Clayton School District in St. Louis, who will stick to his role for the whole trip. He follows his character as fully as he can. Unlike Lewis, however, Mandrell is married and has two children.

For the past few days, George Clark has been re-enacted by David Hommes of Washington, who works in a paperboard factory.

“The things that I’ve always liked about the Lewis and Clark expedition is that they had a mission,” Hommes says. “Instead of being just a bunch of guys going out and looking for beaver or furs, Lewis and Clark had a mission. They had something definite. They had a place they were headed to explore and results that they needed to find out the answers to.”

On Saturday the role of Clark was taken over by one of his descendents — great-great-great-grandson Peyton Clark of Dearborn, Mich. Two other descendents of the captain are also on board, great-great-great-great-grandson Churchill Clark and great-great-great-grandson Charles Clark.

George Shannon, Clark’s personal secretary and the youngest member of the original expedition, is portrayed by the youngest member of the current crew, 17-year-old Josh Loftis of Belleville, Ill. Loftis is also a descendent of Shannon. He is participating in the expedition with his grandfather Bob Anderson of Maryville, Ohio. When Loftis was 12, he saw the re-enactors for the first time and then all his grandfather’s tales about the adventures suddenly made sense.

“Visual effects are so much better than just reading it and imagining,” says Loftis about the benefits of re-enactment.

Talking to the public is an integral part of the trip, Mandrell says. Crew members pass along the history of Lewis and Clark through tales and demonstrations. Visitors soon learn how to start an open fire without matches, clean their weapon and fix a tent. They also learn about the uniforms of the soldiers, construction and history of the boats, 1804 cartography, medicine, flora and fauna.

The modern challenges to such an expedition are no smaller than those Lewis and Clark met in 1804, Mandrell says. This journey started with the accidental injury and eventual death of an ox. Lightning hit one of the boats while they were in Hermann. Violent storms, severe rain and high river levels have added to the trials. The biggest test, however, is to match the rhythm of the river with the schedules of the visitors ashore.

“Lewis and Clark had no time frame. We have deadlines and obligations along the way,” Mandrell says, while explaining how they fit the original trip plan into the bicentennial commemoration’s schedule of events.


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