[This is part four in a series of articles documenting my virtual bike ride across America, following the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For previous posts, click here.]
Three weeks after beginning their journey westward, Lewis and Clark reached the site of modern-day Jefferson City. There were no white settlers in this area – just water, trees and rocks. In fact, the Corps of Discovery passed the last European settlement right after shoving off from St. Charles (read the first piece in the series for more).
For the rest of their 3,000-plus mile journey, the explorers were literally in Indian country. The area south of the Missouri River was Osage territory – or “Osarge” as Clark writes in his journals. While they frequently came across Indians along their route, the expedition never did make contact with the Osage.
While Clark typically stayed with the keelboat, Capt. Lewis would often go ashore and explore. It was in the Jefferson City area where they began to find species of plants and animals that were – at the time – completely new to science. For example, in addition to finding “many curious Plants & Srubs [sic],” the corps also caught several large rats in this area that had never before been described, possibly the eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana).
After Lewis and Clark returned from mapping their way to the Pacific, the United States began carving states out of the Louisiana Territory. When Louisiana became the 18th state in 1812, the remaining area purchased from Napoleon became known as the Missouri Territory. Then in 1819 the Territory of Arkansaw (yes, spelled the way it sounds until a few years after its founding) split off.
In this installment, I pedaled my way through the Rhineland, stopping short of Jefferson City. My route took me just north of Hermann, Mo., which is named after the German hero Hermann der Cherusker – or Arminius as he was known to the Romans. In 9 A.D., Hermann commanded the coalition of Germanic tribes that annihilated three Roman legions (killing some 20,000 troops) in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – one of the most decisive victories in military history.
1,828 years later (and a couple decades after Louis and Clark paddled through) the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia found the region similar to the wine country around the Rhine River and established the settlement of Hermann, Missouri. Hence the nickname, the Rhineland.
Private Joseph Whitehouse, recruited by Lewis from Capt. Daniel Bissell’s company of the First Infantry Regiment at Fort Kaskaskia, noted in his journal that the Gasconade River (which enters the Missouri River just west of Hermann) was 104 miles upriver from where the Corps of Discovery began their expedition. Over that distance, the Missouri river drops 115 feet between the Gasconade and the Mississippi Rivers – roughly a foot of drop per mile.
The second leg of my virtual ride across the United States continues along a stretch of Highway 94 known as the Weinstrasse (German for “wine road”). To my left is the Missouri River and the scenery shifts from rolling, scenic hills through Missouri wine country to flat river bottomland. Today, the Charette Creek flows into the Missouri River across from Washington, Mo. – which was named after George Washington, who at the time was seven years into retirement from government service when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area. Back then, a Spanish log fort named San Juan del Misuri (St. John of the Missouri) occupied the site of what would become the settlement of Washington’s Landing when a ferry set up operation in 1814.
In 1804, the Charette Creek emptied into the Missouri some seven miles upstream. When Lewis and Clark set up camp in this area on May 25, 1804, this was the site of a tiny French village named La Charette – the last white settlement the Corps of Discovery would meet on their trip west. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, the weary explorers were overjoyed when they reached La Charette, knowing they were almost to the finish line.
[Note: This is part two of a multi-part series covering my (virtual) bike ride across America, following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For part one, click here.]
Capt. William Clark, along with a crew of about 40 “robust (Young Backwoodsmen of Character) helthy hardy young men” (as Clark writes in his journal), left Camp Dubois on May 14, 1804 and reached St. Charles two days later. The Corps of Discovery spent the next six days in St. Charles while they waited for Capt. Meriwether Lewis to wrap up some last-minute expedition business in St. Louis.
In those days, Clark writes that St. Charles consisted of, “abot 450 Inhabetents principally frinch [French], those people appear pore and extreemly kind.”
Clark clearly had a way with words and his journal contains many occurrences of spelling the same thing multiple ways – sometimes even in the same paragraph. I believe “Sioux” is spelled around 27 different ways in his journal and I also seem to remember reading that Clark found it difficult to respect a man that only knew one way to spell a word.
Despite having only been on the river for two days, the crew had already reached the last town they would see for the next two years. So while they waited for Lewis, the men made the most of themselves by dancing and drinking, and their behavior caught up with them. Clark had to convene a court martial for three soldiers: William Warner, Hugh Hall, and John Collins, who stood accused of being absent without leave. Collins also was accused of disorderly conduct at a ball and then showing disrespect to Capt. Clark. Warner and Hall were both found guilty, but the punishment was dropped for their otherwise good conduct.
Collins wasn’t so lucky.
Clark writes that the “Prisnair [prisoner] is Guilty of all the charges alledged against him it being a breach of the rules & articles of War and do Sentence him to receive fifty lashes on his naked back.”
Fortunately it wasn’t all business for Clark: on the 20th he writes, “Seven Ladies visit me to day.” Well done, sir. But as for me and my virtual ride, there will be no balls, lashes, or visits from ladies. Just a stationary bike and some scenery on the screen.
On the 22nd, Lewis and Clark shoved off from St. Charles to three cheers from the “Inhabetents.” As I leave St. Charles, I have to leave the flat Missouri River Valley behind and make a 400 foot climb up Pitman Hill Road. I don’t know for sure that the road is really a 20-percent grade the whole way up, but Google Earth and my bike seem to think so. And with the settlement’s original name being “The Little Hills” (Les Petites Côtes), the irony was not lost on me.
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson tasked Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their Corps of Discovery to find “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent.” On May 14, 1804, the explorers shoved off for their first leg of what would become one of the greatest stories in American history – a nearly 4,000-mile journey through the immense wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean and back. To learn more about their expedition and our nation’s history, I will be (virtually) following Lewis and Clark’s route – as closely as modern roads allow – on my PRO FORM Le Tour de France stationary bike. As I come across interesting locations and historic events, I will share them here.
My first leg starts out just north of what was (in Lewis and Clark’s day) the unincorporated settlement of St. Louis. At the time, St. Louis was a mere four decades old and also went by the name Pain Court, which was French for “without bread,” as the remote fur trading settlement’s lack of proximity to agriculture meant bread was often scarce. Just a few miles upstream, near modern-day Alton, Ill., the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1803-4 at Camp Dubois, which overlooked the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
The original site of Dubois (then part of Indiana Territory) was lost to the migrating Mississippi riverbed, so I begin my virtual ride in modern-day Wood River, Illinois. On a rainy May 14, 214 years ago, a shot from the keelboat’s “swivel gun” marked the beginning of the journey as Lewis and his men shoved off from the riverbank. In two days they rendezvous with Capt. Lewis at St. Charles, who had been wrapping up last-minute business in St. Louis.