A place in history

March 28, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

The Lewis and Clark expedition is not the story of two men.

"It's the tapestry of many stories and many people," says Todd Bolton, branch chief of Visitor Services at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Bolton is coordinating a three-day Lewis and Clark bicentennial commemoration, which begins Friday, March 28, at the park.

The event also is a tapestry, a weaving together of music, drama, living history and presentations by Lewis and Clark scholars and historians.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., wasn't part of the vast unexplored wilderness that lay between the coasts of the continent. But it was the place where the group of explorers was outfitted for its historic trek.

Reliving the past

The weekend will include dramatic presentations, music and programs by authors and scholars, including Gary Moulton, editor of the 13-volume "Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition," a journey of 20 years for him.

The exhibit "Corps of Discovery II: 200 Years to the Future" will open at 2 p.m. Friday, March 28, and will remain at the park through Friday, April 16. A joint project of federal and state agencies, private and nonprofit organizations and American Indian tribes, the exhibit will visit communities in the 19 states traveled by the historic Corps of Discovery from 1803 to 1806.

"Corps of Discovery II" debuted Jan. 18 at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home. That day marked the 200th anniversary of the day President Jefferson submitted a confidential message to Congress requesting authorization for a government exploration to the Pacific Ocean, the beginning of the three-year journey of Lewis and Clark.

"Corps of Discovery II" comes equipped with the "Tent of Many Voices," a venue for performance, folklore, living history - many parts of the fabric of the journey and its legacy. Turtle Island Band, presenting Native American music, will be among the performers.

Loaded for the unknown

Meriwether Lewis came to Harpers Ferry on March 16, 1803, for the guns and hardware he needed for the journey to the Pacific no American had ever attempted.

The park's permanent exhibit "Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry" also will open Friday. It shows how the expedition was supplied for success.

The U.S. Armory and Arsenal were at Harpers Ferry, and it was there that Lewis procured 15 rifles, 15 powder horns, 30 bullet molds, 30 ball screws, extra rifle and musket locks, several dozen tomahawks and 24 large knives.

William Clark joined the expedition on Oct. 15, 1803, at Clarksville in the Indiana Territory, says Park Ranger David Fox.

The construction of a collapsible boat frame designed by Lewis also took place at Harpers Ferry, and because armory mechanics had difficulty assembling the iron frame, Lewis was forced to extend his stay to a month instead of the week he had planned.

Diversity key to Pacific

Native Americans represent a vital part of the expedition. Lewis and Clark gained an understanding of America's native people. All but a couple of encounters with them were peaceful, Bolton says.

"They could not have survived without the American Indians," he adds. In later years, America didn't remember that lesson, and a lot of Native Americans still look at the expedition as the beginning of the end.

Hasan Davis will present a thread of a different color in this 200-year-old chapter of American history, at 7 p.m. Friday, March 28. "The Journey of York" tells the story of York, the slave of William Clark and the first African-American to cross what would become the continental United States.

During the expedition, York became a member of the corps, even having a fair vote in the business of the camp, Davis says.

"He proved himself capable, if not more," Davis says.

York was called "Gift from God" by many of the Indian nations, yet, at best, he gets only a brief mention in history texts, says Davis, whose interest in York grew from personal frustration. The only time Davis saw himself in history books was in the single chapter on slavery - a black man with a yoke around his neck.

"His name needs to be known. We need to know that as a nation at every pivotal point in our history, there were people who looked like all of us. There was always that diversity," Davis says.

Although he played an important role, York returned to his status as a slave when the journey ended.

Friday, March 28

2 p.m. - Opening of "Corps of Discovery II"

5:45 p.m. - Opening reception and welcome

6:30 p.m. - Turtle Island Band

7 p.m. - "Pierre Cruzatte: A Musical Journey Along the Lewis & Clark Trail," featuring Daniel Slosberg

8 p.m. - "The Journey of York," featuring Hasan Davis as York, William Clark's slave, the first African-American to cross the American continent.

Saturday, March 29

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. - "Corps of Discovery II"

10 a.m. - U.S. Postal Service Meriwether Lewis Postal Cancellation Station

10 a.m. - Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry, a ranger-led program

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. - Living history displays and demonstrations

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