Nov 12, 2013

The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Nebraska

In May 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark departed from
St. Louis on an expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase. Along with them was their trusty black Newfoundland dog, Seaman.  While there is no definitive proof that Seaman survived surely Clark would have mentioned the death of his trusted friend.  After crossing the continent and reaching the Pacific Ocean the expedition returned to St. Louis in September 1806. 

As outlined by President Jefferson one goal of the expedition was to study the area’s plants and animals. Lewis and Clark were able to document over 100 animal species and over 170 plants. On July 18, 1804 the expedition camped on the Missouri River near present day Nebraska City.  I visited the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Train & Visitor Center where they highlight the natural discoveries of expedition.  There is a replica of one of the 25 different boats used by expedition.  They set out on a keelboat that was 55 feet long and a little over 8 feet
wide burdened with supplies.  Our guide, Brian Volkmer, demonstrated how the oarsmen would propel the boat by moving along the boat’s walkway.  It was so difficult that the oarsmen were paid 80 cents a day, more than four times the pay for an army private.  When the rivers became too shallow new means of transport had to be built. Besides the keelboat they made pirogues, dugout canoes, rafts, and even one iron-frame boat, an idea of Lewis which literally never floated. 

The members of the expedition saw many wondrous sights and kept journals of their trip. Clark wrote that he stood on a hill and watched ten thousand buffalos cross the plain.  The Visitor Center has a view of the Missouri River, trails and a Native American Earth Lodge typical of many of the Plains Indians. The Native American men cut, hauled, and set the post while the women were responsible for binding, thatching, sodding the exterior and the care of the interior. 

After Lewis and Clark’s expedition people started moving west and with them soldiers to build and man the forts to protect the settlers. While in Nebraska City I also visited the Freighters Museum that was built 1858 by the government to supply military outposts.  I was familiar with the name of the suppliers who were awarded the government contract: Russell, Majors,

and Waddell.  They were the ones who later started the Pony Express and what they are most remembered for.  As the guide explained, the Pony Express was only in operation for 18 month and a financial failure mainly because of the invention of the telegraph and conditions that tested the limits of 80 young riders who were orphans. A time-worn bible that all the riders were required to carry is on display.  Buffalo Bill Cody was a Pony Express rider and later publicized it in his Wild West Shows as did the popular Dime Novels of the day.  

I was surprised to see displays of white canvas covered wagons with
the body painted bright blue and red wheels making it very patriotic looking. The staff said was quite typical but it was the first time I had heard of it. The staff thought that it possibly came about after the Mexican War.  So much to learn, so much to know.