Lewis and Clark re-enactors add Boonville to tour

A mayor’s petition brought the historical exhibit, which runs today through Sunday.
Friday, June 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:08 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Corps of Discovery II wasn’t originally scheduled to stop in Boonville until Mayor Danielle Blanck got involved.

Blanck petitioned the National Park Service, which is sponsoring the traveling exhibit about the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, and persuaded neighboring towns to join the cause.

The Corps of Discovery II: Tent of Many Voices opens at 8:30 a.m. today at the Laura Speed Elliott Middle School in Boonville and will be there through the weekend.

The mobile exhibit is designed to educate the public about Lewis and Clark’s journey up the Missouri River in 1804. The exhibit features two main attractions: A covered stage for performances with seating for 150 people and another tent that is a walk-through of the explorers’ history.

Some of the characters are played by some of the 15 staff members traveling with the exhibit during its three-year tour of about 100 cities in 18 states, but many of the parts are performed by local actors.

Performances will include music, theater, presentations, lectures and storytelling. The character York, Lewis and Clark’s slave, will be portrayed on Saturday even though he wasn’t represented in the crew of re-enactors that passed through Boone County earlier this week.

Bobby Norfolk of St. Louis will portray York from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

During the Lewis and Clark expedition, York’s basic responsibility was to keep the members alive.

When the expedition encountered Indians, they were fascinated by York’s skin color and size. Standing about 6-foot-5, they called him, “Big Medicine.”

“York’s contribution to the expedition was immense,” Norfolk said, “because the Indians thought that York had super natural powers.”

Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the Corps of Discovery II, said York was a hunter and laborer. “In addition to taking care of the captain, he was a regular soldier,” Olson said.

“According to the journals of the captain, he knew his value to the Indians.”

Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the Corps of Discovery II, said the presence of York transcends history by allowing people “to talk about difficult things within ourselves and our country.”

If no one is available to play the part, Olson said, York’s story is told in other ways, such as a movie or someone portraying his mother.

The Corps of Discovery II is federally funded. “It takes a million dollars a year to keep Corps II on the road,” Olson said.

Cities holding the exhibit provide volunteers to help set up the tents and provide security and other amenities.

Warren Kasper of the National Park Service has traveled with the exhibit since it began its tour in January 2003. He expects up to 500 people a day to visit in Boonville.

“It gives us the opportunity to see how America has changed over the last 200 years for good and bad,” Kasper said.

At the closing ceremony at 7 p.m. Sunday, people will congregate on the Boonslick Bridge over the Missouri River and form a human chain called “Hands Across the River: Linking the Past to the Present.”

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