Lewis and Clark Heritage Days

Where Lewis and Clark Started From

St. Charles, MO

May 18th, 2003

As we made our way across central US, dodging one of the worst tornado seasons America has seen in the last two decades, we found ourselves on the banks of the Missouri River, in Saint Charles, the original Capital of the state of Missouri. Although the weather was wet with intermittent rain, we found the old town section charming. It was filled with the quaint shops and brick laid Main Street that gave it an old time feeling. Frontier Park runs along the west bank of the river, and is the main attraction for much of the activities that occur here annually. The centerpiece for the park is a bigger than life statue of the two men responsible for the biggest historic event that has ever come to the banks of the park. This is the starting point of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1804, their 55-foot keelboat along with support vessels passed through St. Lewis and stopped in the small French village of Saint Charles, pop. around 450. After minor repairs and some re-outfitting, the famous expedition departed upstream in search of a water route to the Pacific Ocean. This particular weekend was a celebration of that event. Known as the Lewis and Clark Heritage days, the two-day event was one of the largest of these types that we had attended. There were literally hundreds of the old style white four corner Army tents that housed all kinds of interesting things that might have been going on in 1804. A model of the old Keelboat, now outfitted with a strong diesel engine, plied the waters just off shore while France Grenadiers and Commoners loaded and fired muskets and cannons, taking time to describe each step in some detail. As we entered the park we found ourselves in the midst of a Morgan Horse demonstration. There were about half a dozen of these magnificent animals. Large and powerful, they were a favorite of the frontiersmen, and were used for all three of the basics, packing, pulling or riding. There were plenty of examples of these along with wonderfully costumed riders. Laura walked up to one grizzly old timer who rested quietly off by himself. As we began to work our way down the first line of Army tents, our attention was drawn to the sounds of the fife and drum, French style. Marching down the sidewalk, coming right at us, was a medium size, quick stepping band. All were dressed to perfection in the French uniforms of the early 1800s. I was not that familiar with the uniforms of another country so all the different styles made for an interesting passing. All too soon they played on by and disappeared in the closing crowd behind them. Now it was time to investigate the many different crafts that were being demonstrated in the tent that stretched along the river path for nearly half a mile. The first tent I checked out was that of a basket weaver. Now I would never take anything away from the art of weaving a basket, but as an old carver of walking sticks, I was most fascinated at how this craftsman acquired his material. Working with full size trees, and an ax this craftsman splits and splits again until he has a piece of wood no more the a quarter of an inch thick. This is shaved even further until the proper thickness is acquired. More work goes into creating the wood strips than in actually weaving the baskets. We continued down the rows of craftspeople who were for the most part doing the things we had seen many times at other similar type gatherings. We were looking for the different or unusual and with so many booths to check out we were sure to find something. Our first find was something I had never seen before. A craftsman was making book covers. Now this might not seem like much but remember that this was a big deal a couple of centuries ago. Most of us have seen the old covers but don't necessarily associate it with the process that created it. I watched in fascination as this guy took a paintbrush, dipped in a solution of ground rock and a fluid giving it a particular color. He would tap the brush over a finger of his other hand causing the fluid to splatter down into a pan containing two solutions which remained separated. The top layer was super thin and the colored rock solution spread out in an irregular pattern on the surface. After several colors had been added, he took a short board with nails in it, forming a large spaced comb like device. He placed the board so the nails penetrated the surface of the solution in the pan and slowly turned it this way and that, until the colors suspended on the surface formed a flowing pattern. He then very carefully placed a piece of book cover paper, which was stiff but pliable, flat on top of the solution in the pan. The color pattern stuck to the cardboard and when he picked it up the swirling pattern had been transferred to the cardboard. It went to a drying rack and was done. I hung out at this booth watching him as he produced covers with varying designs. He was so good that he could actually draw flowers into the swirling colors with special nail boards. The craft takes some training and is only practiced by a few showmen such as the one we met, so It was good to record it as it happened. Further down the line we found another almost extinct craft, really an art form. Wheat weaving is practiced rarely these days but once it formed many a decoration in the central western homestead. Designs were passed on from family to family, and cold winter nights gave time for the tedious splitting of the wheat stem and the careful weaving and tying of the frail wheat stem. Watching her created a fascinating picture into what was once the American Plains. There were many more things of interest. I stopped by an Indian bow maker. As a kid, like many others, I worked diligently at forging a bow and arrow out of wood I found. Without concern to shape or type, my fashioned masterpiece flung its slightly bowed arrow a few feet before the bow snapped at the handle. Before I gave up the hobby, I had actually created a moderately worthy 31 pound bow which stayed the course. It was with this memory I sat for a while while he shaped a bow in the old traditional ways of the Plains Indians. A quiver of arrows lay stretched out next to him. Each was guided by a bird feather, carefully but tightly tied to the straight shaft. A small but quite sharp piece of flint was attached at the other end. There was so much more, such as chopping out a tree trunk to make a canoe or working a blacksmith furnace with a hand made blower.  I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day, right down to the home made root beer out of an old time bottle with a spring sealed cap.

*** THE END ***