Lewis & Clark revisited

March 31, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Bushy, docile and 147 pounds, Rowdy the Newfoundland played a small part in Saturday's bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Rowdy and a half-dozen other Newfoundlands strolled through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as invited "ambassadors," said Rowdy's owner, Catherine Dodds of Leesburg, Va.

That's because a Newfie named Seaman accompanied Meriwether Lewis on his expedition across America with William Clark and their crew.

Seaman was more than a companion. He is said to have scared away bears. He also caught squirrels and brought them back to the explorers, Dodds said.


Before venturing forth, Lewis picked up rifles, tomahawks, knives, powder horns and other supplies at the U.S. Armory and Arsenal in Harpers Ferry. That tie is the foundation for the bicentennial exhibit and celebration that started Friday and runs through today.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore the country from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, then come back.

"It was here in Harpers Ferry that crucial supplies were secured," Gov. Bob Wise said shortly before cutting a ribbon to open the exhibit.

Lewis arrived on March 16, 1803, stayed for about a month and came back July 7 for the last of his supplies.

"Although there would only be one skirmish in which weapons were used against Indians, the arms procured at Harpers Ferry kept Lewis and his men fed for 28 months, and several of the tomahawks served well as 'Indian Presents,' " a National Park Service Web site devoted to the exhibit says.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas McSwain of Shepherdstown, a great-great-great-great nephew of Lewis, shared the dais with Wise.

Later, McSwain greeted visitors inside a room explaining the expedition. Asked if his family's place in history is a source of pride, he said, "Sure, but quiet."

He said it's tough to put himself in Lewis's place 200 years ago because of "the things we know today and the technology."

At the time, a collapsible metal boat that Lewis designed was high-tech.

As the exhibit explains: "Lewis spent much of his time at Harpers Ferry working on a boat design which he believed to be quite clever. It was light enough to transport and could be easily carried by his crew when assembled. He was sure it could carry almost 8,000 pounds."

But in 1805, with the expedition across the continent, there was no tar to seal the boat covering. It didn't work.

"It was too late to introduce a remedy," Lewis wrote in a journal, "and I bid adieu to my boat and her expected services."

Asked if he ever imagined Lewis' mental state at the time he came to Harpers Ferry, McSwain said he hadn't, but added, "There's always the fear of the unknown."

Historians learned a lot about the explorers and their trip through journals.

National journal expert Gary Moulton of the University of Nebraska narrated a slide show about the crew's journals. Moulton took 20 years to compile and edit a 13-volume set of journals.

The only known journal written by a private ends in November 1805, before the expedition was through.

"Maybe he just gave up," Moulton said. He got tired of writing, 'It rained. It rained again. It rained some more.' "

One sergeant was a faithful journal keeper, writing entries for each of the 863 days the trip lasted.

If any new notes or writings ever surface, "Well, I'll let the next generation take care of that," Moulton said.

Daniel Slosberg of Los Angeles re-created music from the expedition with the help of a "ratty old fiddle" that a music shop gave him. Slosberg portrays Pierre Cruzatte, a fiddler who accompanied Lewis and Clark at least part of the way.

The instruments most likely used during the expedition were a fiddle, a tambourine, bones, spoons, a "sounding horn" for music and to call others and a jaw harp, which is a small metal instrument played in the mouth.

There is no mention of Cruzatte after a certain point in the expedition.

"We probably would have heard a lot more about Capt. Cruzatte if he hadn't accidentally shot Capt. Lewis," Slosberg said.

One tent sold Lewis & Clark items ranging from maps and books to mouse pads.

A stuffed Seaman was priced at $17.95 - $2.05 less than Lewis paid for the real thing.

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