When Josh Loftis went to a Lewis and Clark re-enactment with his grandfather, all the family legends suddenly came to life.
“They didn’t really make sense until I was 12 and went out and I saw the boats and I saw everything that was happening,” Loftis said.
His grandfather, Bob Anderson, used to tell stories about George Shannon, William Clark’s personal secretary. Shannon was an ancestor to Anderson, and the tales about his adventures have been retold in the family for generations.
“All my life I’ve heard stories about Shannon from my grandparents,” Anderson said. “I can still remember the pictures I had in my head as a child of the expedition.”
Loftis, 17, portrays Shannon on the expedition. Besides being his great-great-great-great-great nephew, he is also the same age Shannon was when the Corps of Discovery set sail in 1804. And, just like Shannon, Loftis is the youngest crew member on board.
Shannon is best known for the time he got lost from the expedition for 16 days and almost starved to death, eating nothing for 12 days except grapes and one rabbit. Now, whenever Loftis goes anywhere, someone from the crew always reminds him not to get lost.
Although Loftis wanted to get on the boats when he was 12, he wasn’t allowed until he turned 15. Still, the opportunity inspired him to graduate a year earlier from high school and join the expedition.
“It’s a good trade-off — three years of high school and three years of getting to be on the boat,” he said.
Loftis mowed yards and handed out fliers for four months to save the $1,000 he needed to buy his own period rifle at age 14. “I was a very determined young man,” he said.
Since he already has finished school, Loftis plans to stay on the river until September 2006, when the expedition will return to St. Charles.
“He’s enjoying life. He’s learning,” Anderson said.
After he returns home, Loftis plans to write a book about the original Lewis and Clark expedition. Although he knows that many such books already have been published, he said his will be different.
“They haven’t done, or ever will do, what I’m about to do or have done so far,” he said. “I think I’ll definitely have an edge on them.”
His plans for the future also include going to college and studying marine biology. He wants to work with dolphins and killer whales and has dreamed of being a marine biologist since he was 8.
Another dream he shared was to have a wife and kids and tell them his adventures along the river.
“I’m one of those people that believes if you have a dream and you follow it until you can do no more, you get what you want,” he said.