Thursday, August 9, 2012

Missouri River Rumble-Day 1

I was going to do a post on ‘the typical day’, but you’ll see that develop as we go along. I drove up to Alton, IL, taking twelve hours, and arrived at the Super 8 Motel in Alton in the late afternoon. This was one of three motels that the River Rumble staff had blocks of rooms reserved in. The first sign of the coming week to welcome me was a parking lot peppered with vehicles carrying kayaks and canoes. Saturday was going to be a full day with an early start, so no time was wasted after checking in. I went to the Burger King a couple doors down from the motel, grabbed a bite to eat, then took a shower, made a call home, and hit the sack.

The only deadline Saturday required that we be at the Lewis and Clark Visitors’ Center, have our duffels loaded on the truck, and our boats on the trailer in time for a punctual noon departure, or we’d look silly standing in the empty parking lot all alone. There was enough to get done before that noon departure that I was up at six. To make a quick turn-around, I hadn’t taken much in the motel, so with a quick breakfast, I threw my knapsack in the back of the truck, and headed down Rt. 3 for the Lewis and Clark Center about eight miles away.

Recreated Camp River Dubois

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had made their way to the confluence of the Missouri River and Mississippi River for the start of their three-year expedition. They were planning to camp near the confluence on the west side of the Mississippi during the winter of 1803-04 to complete their preparations for a spring start up the Missouri. The Spanish Commandant at St. Louis, however, had not received formal notification from his government of the Louisiana Purchase, and would not permit the expedition to cross the Mississippi. So in mid-December, 1803, Camp River Dubois was established on the east side of the Mississippi near the mouth of the Woods River, north of the Missouri

This was really a military expedition, but the Corps of Discovery of 25 men was comprised of only 14 soldiers. The rest were made up mostly of a hunter-interpreter, Kentucky woodsmen, and a couple French watermen. These were strong individualists that didn’t understand or readily accept discipline, military or otherwise. While Lewis was in St. Louis gathering supplies, supporters, and information from traders and trappers that had been on the river, Clark tried to teach military discipline, marksmanship, and mold all the individuals into a cohesive unit. During the winter, several had to be reprimanded and one court-martialed for refusing to perform sentry duty, disobeying orders from their officers, fighting, and making off for neighboring whiskey shops.

By spring, additional recruits had been added to swell the unit to 45 members. Three boats were readied with provisions, ammunition, and supplied for the trip to the Pacific and back, and on May 14, 1804, the expedition made a late start at four in the afternoon to cross the Mississippi and accomplish a start up the Missouri.

The separate cabin was built outside the stockade for Mrs. Cane, who was hired to do the laundry and sewing for the corps during their winter encampment.

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