Re-enactor takes the helm as Capt. Lewis

Wednesday, June 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The modern-day Capt. Meriwether Lewis lives in Alton, Ill., works as a teacher in St. Louis and is a staff sergeant in the Montana Army National Guard.

Scott Mandrell won the role as Meriwether Lewis in 1996 because of his background in the Army, history and drama, said Larry McClain, executive director of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles.

“He is Lewis,” McClain said. “He’s got Lewis down to his teeth. There’s no one better than Scott. He knows the story forwards and backwards.”

Mandrell’s role involves more than acting. He holds many of the same responsibilities as Lewis and is among the main decision makers in the expedition and parallel education project.

“Scott is one of the main members of the planning committee,” McClain said. “He is also a leadership cadre and in the core group of leaders on the boats.”

Mandrell got interested in the expedition in 1996, while he was still a managing editor for the Illinois division of the Suburban Journals. As his involvement grew, he decided to take a teaching position in St. Louis so he could have the summers off.

“It’s been a slow evolution,” Mandrell said.

He sailed from St. Charles on May 14 and will spend almost six months on board the group’s keelboat until the expedition reaches Fort Mandan, N.D., on Nov. 4, where the original expedition of Lewis and Clark had its first winter camp. Next year, he will start from where he left off.

Unlike Lewis, who was single, Mandrell is married and has two children. He said that his family is supportive of his work and will meet him several times along the river.

“If I was out on a lark, I would imagine there would be cause for objection, but this is a pretty serious thing,” he said. “This is something that our nation needs.”

Mandrell re-enacts Lewis in the smallest of details. In 2003, he went on a 250-mile horse ride from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., just as Lewis did in preparation for his trip in search of a Northwest Passage.

“Everything that Lewis did, I did,” Mandrell said.

He also travels with a re-enactor of Lewis’ dog. Mandrell’s companion is named Seaman, a 19-month-old black Newfoundland who will soon reach 170 pounds and copies the original dog in name and breed. The modern Seaman joined the modern Lewis in Pennsylvania where Lewis got his dog in 1804, Mandrell said.

The mission of the St. Charles expedition includes exploring and documenting the communities and species along the Missouri River. The towns, flora and fauna they see will all be included in the expedition journal, which Mandrell keeps daily.

“My great dream is to find something that Lewis overlooked,” he said.

The St. Charles expedition has members from 32 states, who are between 17 and 70 years of age and come from a variety of backgrounds. The same diversity was found in the original crew and that, for Mandrell, is its biggest asset.

“We really did shine on this expedition (1804-06) as a nation,” Mandrell said. “The core of discovery was made of people from all sorts of backgrounds. And everybody pulling together made the trip a success. That’s the great story. That’s the model for America today.”

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