'America's First Road Trip' exhibit closing in on Cape

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Jeff Olson discussed the Corps of Discovery II exhibit, which highlights the Lewis and Clark expedition, on Tuesday in Paducah, Ky.

PADUCAH, Ky. -- Since January, a tractor-trailer painted with images of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea, a larger-than-life model of a keelboat, and a barge filled with Lewis and Clark exhibits have been retracing a journey National Park Service rangers have dubbed "America's First Road Trip."

The Corps of Discovery expedition 200 years ago opened the American West. The mobile exhibit "Corps of Discovery II: 200 Years into the Future" following the same route has now been seen by more than 125,000 people.

The exhibit began a six-day stay in Paducah on Tuesday. Corps of Discovery II travels to Cairo, Ill., next, stopping from Nov. 20 to Nov. 24. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, the exhibition will be in the back parking lot at Westfield Shoppingtown West Park in Cape Girardeau. Admission is free.

Tuesday in Paducah, hundreds of schoolchildren and adults walked through the welcome tent to take either a 38-minute audio or scripted tour. Maps and images of locales visited by the Corps of Discovery are silk-screened on the inside of the tent. On the exterior are silk-screened pictures representing some of the different Indian tribes the explorers encountered.

Steve Young Eagle, a Chippewa Indian, performed a ceremonial dance inside the Tent of Many Voices, a part of the mobile exhibit in Paducah, Ky., on Tuesday.

Hoping to avoid the negative Native American reaction that accompanied the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Association sought to involve Indian tribes in the bicentennial from the start, says Jeff Olson, public information officer for the mobile exhibit. Many tribes initially refused to participate, he said. More have joined in, and he hopes even more do so before the bicentennial is complete in 2006.

"This is their time to tell their side of the Lewis and Clark story," Olson said.

In the Tent of Many Voices, Clinton Brown, a member of the Gros Ventre tribe from Montana, demonstrated the "sneak up dance." Steve Young Eagle, a Chippewa from Montana, answered any question about Indians the schoolchildren wanted to ask. Both were dressed in full regalia.

One of their intentions is to clear up misconceptions children and adults might have about Indians, they said, particularly the belief that the Corps encountered hostile savages.

"They didn't pose a threat to any of us," Brown said. "If they did, they wouldn't have made it through."

Stories about the expedition have been passed down from generation to generation among the Gros Ventres, Brown said. "There were stories of the noisy white people who went upriver. Indians couldn't believe these crazy white people were going in a canoe upriver."

Admission to the exhibitions is free.

The bicentennial has special interest in Paducah because William Clark founded the town years after his return from the expedition. He inherited the 17,000 acres from his brother, George Rogers Clark.

"We've never had anything like this in Paducah," said Gail Clifton, a homemaker and caterer from Paducah who had toured the exhibits. She was impressed with the presentations by Brown and Young Eagle.

Tre Dillard, a second-grader at Clark Elementary School in Paducah, had never seen an Indian in person before.

"His feathers were real," the boy said.

A group of Corps of Discovery re-enactors from St. Charles, Mo., was encamped in four tents on the Ohio River a few hundred yards from the exhibition. Dressed in period costumes and uniforms, they are traveling on a replica keelboat and pirogue and are keeping to the schedule followed by the explorers in their journals.

Part of their number was at nearby Fort Massac State Park at Metropolis, Ill., for a ceremony Tuesday. Others cooked venison and rabbit over an open fire. Ron Louderback, a retired biology teacher from Ohio, showed schoolchildren how a toothache might have been remedied on the expedition.

Portraying a private named Peter Weiser, he demonstrated how a metal tool called a tooth key would be slipped under the root of a tooth to yank it out. He pointed out that the Corps had no Novocain, so members of the expedition had to hold down the patient's arms and legs while the tooth was extracted.

"We always hope to get the right one the first time," he quipped.

Also in Paducah is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers barge filled with Lewis and Clark exhibits ranging from examples of the bear grease they used to fend off insects to a replica of the iron frame for a boat. The expedition carted the frame to the falls of the Missouri only see the boat sink because there were no trees to get pine tar from to make a sealant.

The Corps of Engineers is presenting exhibits because the Corps of Discovery was an Army expedition.

The St. Charles Lewis and Clark re-enactors will arrive to set up camp in Cape Girardeau Nov. 21. The arrival of Lewis and Clark at Cape Girardeau founder Don Louis Lorimier's Red House trading post will be re-enacted Nov. 23, exactly 200 years after it occurred.

The rangers are presenting a dozen different programs during the Corps of Discovery II stay, from medicine to firearms. Olson says the Corps of Discovery II offers a chance of "learning a more complete story about the expedition and learning more about ourselves as a nation.

"... We invite the country and the world to talk about who we want to be," he said.


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