Tag Archives: Corps of Discovery

Many Rivers to Cross

30 Nov

Last week, my friends and I drove to Missouri for a football game. To get there, we had to drive through Kentucky; across southern Illinois; into St. Louis; and over to the middle of the state. It is a route that I have driven many times to begin a road trip into the West, but this was the first time that I noticed the rivers. We crossed a bunch of them.

Oh yeah, the title of this post is also the title of a great song by Jimmy Cliff.Cliff

I have always been fascinated by rivers. Their power. Their constant movement. It is interesting to watch a loaded barge being pushed along the way. However, I am mostly fascinated by their history. The rivers of North America have shaped the lives of everyone who have encountered them.

That is what interesting about the drive to Columbia, Missouri. It was like we were driving through a nautical version of American history. We crossed rivers that are not just any rivers. We crossed rivers that have had a huge impact on my state and our nation.

Cumberland River

Tennessee River

Ohio River

Mississippi River

Missouri River

The Cumberland River has had a huge impact on Tennessee. The first settlers made their way to its banks when they came to Middle Tennessee. Nashville, the state’s capital, was the result of their journey. It is the same river that flooded downtown Nashville a few years ago.

At one time, the Tennessee River was a wide and uncontrollable waterway. Then, the Tennessee Valley Authority, known better as the TVA, dammed the river. This made it more navigable and provided electricity for people throughout Tennessee and Alabama.

The Ohio River was the original way into the West. I am not writing about the Trans-Mississippi West. I am writing about the original West, which is now known as the Midwest. It also served as the western extension of the Mason Dixon Line. Yes, it was the border between slavery and freedom.

The Mississippi River is one of the longest rivers in the world, and it has a history that is just as long. At one time, it was the nation’s western boundary. It has been a vital target in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. It has inspired literature and music. In other words, I cannot write enough about it.

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America, and I have been lucky enough to see different parts of it. As we crossed the bridge in Missouri, I thought Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery. In 1804, they started their journey somewhere near our crossing, and they had little idea of where they were going. Two years later, they returned with tales of the West and started our nation on a history of expansion.

Each day, thousands of people take the route that we drove. I wonder if they realize the stories of the rivers that they cross. Without those rivers, history would have turned out quite differently.

 

I Want My Tay Made With Really Old Water

9 Aug

We left the wheat fields and returned to Lewistown to get our tire fixed. In my town, it takes forever to get that done, but in Lewistown the job went lickity split. My nephews wanted to cross the street to check out a cool-looking store. Alas, it was closed, but there were some interesting objects outside.

Nice guy. He’s just a little stiff.

We followed Highway 87 westward through towns such as Moccasin and Geyser before reaching Great Falls. I’m not sure what we thought we would find in Great Falls, but it is a thriving city with all of the franchised amenities of other cities. We all assumed that this was because it serves as home to Mainstrom Air Force Base.

We checked into the biggest hotel room I have ever stayed in; my youngest nephew swam; then, we went out for dinner. This brought us to a problem that faced the expedition several times. No one cared where we ate. You must understand that this is coming from a group of individuals who like for things to go their way. Yet, we rode around while the SUV filled with indecisions.

Finally, we decided to try Jaker’s, a restaurant chain in that part of the country. My dad and oldest nephew had been to one before, so we figured it would be good. We got seated next to the slot machine room (most Montana establishments have slot machines), and the waitress came by to take our drink orders.

Brother: I would like iced tea, and my dad would like iced tea, as well.

Me: I would like tea.

Waitress: (confused look) What?

Me: I would like tea.

Waitress: I don’t understand. You want tay?

Me: (getting frustrated) I WOULD LIKE ICED TEA!

My brother said something to ease the tension, but she walked off. I understand that I have a southern accent, but I also know that my brother has the same one. She understood him just fine. On top of that, there are probably some southern people serving at the base. Anyway, I was tired and wanted food and drink. I probably overreacted because she never came back. Some other waitress worked with us after that. Oh yeah, the food and tay sucked.

We went back to the hotel, and I made the same mistake that my youngest nephew made earlier in the day. I used a toilet that didn’t work and ended up going to the front desk to get a plunger.

The next morning was spent visiting the tourist sites of Great Falls. First, we went to the Lewis and Clark National Trail Interpretive Center.

For some reason, I like to take pictures of signs.

The center was pretty cool, with a couple of good films and a decent museum. Most of it focused on the Corps of Discovery making its way over the waterfalls of the Missouri River, from which Great Falls gets its name. The group had to tote their boats around the falls, and they covered many miles.

Fake people taking a fake boat over fake land and around a fake waterfall.

Honestly, I had more fun looking over the real Missouri River behind the center.

Lewis and Clark passed by here. Of course, they passed by a lot of places.

Next door was a place that our wheat-growing friends told us to visit, and it turned out to be very interesting. This thing flows at over 330 million gallons of water per day and forms the Roe River, the shortest river in the world. It has been determined that the water travels for 3,000 years from its source before reaching this point.

This water has been around since they were counting years backwards.

Then, we made our way to the C.M. Russell Museum, which displayed the works of Charlie Russell – cowboy turned artist. It was a huge museum that showed works by many artists and had an excellent exhibit on the story of bison, a symbolic animal of the West. It was also the location of Russell’s home and workshop. My youngest nephew is an aspiring artist, and I took a picture of him in front of the shop.

One day, people will be taking pictures in front of his workshop.

In the next post, we will journey north.

Baseball, Crazy Horse and a Great Big Rock

7 Aug

I have returned from my ventures in Montana and can report that a great time was had by all. The best part was spending time with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We picked on each other, laughed and learned a few things along the way.

The trip began as we landed in Billings and found our way to the hotel. It was immediately apparent that my oldest nephew would be the navigator of the trip as we felt our way through the town. We had planned a journey through history, agriculture and different landscapes, but first we needed to do something for my youngest nephew. That meant going to a baseball game.

Good looking bunch, isn’t it?

We saw a Rookie League game between the Billings Mustangs and the Helena Brewers, and you could tell from the quality of play that this was about as low in professional baseball as someone could get. There were dropped balls, balks and wild pitches. However, the action is not what caught my attention. These guys were living the dream of playing pro ball and trying to move up through the ranks. Then, I realized that the Brewers are part of the same organization as Nashville’s AAA team. Those guys were working hard to get to Tennessee on their way to Milwaukee.

While living their dream, the players were offering entertainment for the community. The stands were filled with people of all ages, from the very old to the very young. The outfield fence was lined with people in lawn chairs. We found ourselves in a real community event, and that is one of the things I like about these kinds of trips. At times, you can avoid the typical tourist destinations and immerse yourself in another lifestyle.

We talked to the people around us and learned about life in and around Billings. We got free t-shirts for being among the first 500 fans. We paid reasonable prices for food and paid a dollar to enter the pitching cage. For one night, we were honorary citizens of Billings.

The next morning, our driving journey began as we headed down Interstate 90 toward the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. This is where George Custer and the 7th Cavalry was defeated by Sioux warriors led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. It is my favorite historic site and an event that I have read many volumes about. We drove to Last Stand Hill, where my nephew wanted to film me giving my lecture on the battle. I talked about the events that led to the fight. I talked about the battle as I looked over the land and pointed out where different stages took place. When I finished, I turned and discovered that about 20 people had gathered around to listen. Then, I spent time answering questions.

As a historian and a teacher, there is nothing better than being able to talk about an event where it took place. I wish I could beam my classes to different places as we cover them.

The site of two big events – Custer’s Last Stand and my lecture.

After a drive through the battlefield, we went across the street to KFC. Yes, the Sioux won the battle but the Colonel won the war. Unfortunately for the Kentuckians, the KFC didn’t open when the sign said it would, so we went to the Custer Battlefield Trading Post instead. I had fry bread stuffed with meat, cheese and beans. After that, I had fry bread covered with honey. It wasn’t as good as the sopapillas of New Mexico, but beggars can’t be choosy.

As we dined, a photograph of an imposing Native American looked down on us.

This is a Native American warrior – not a founder of a chain of strip clubs.

I didn’t pay much attention to the photo because images like this can be found in books and places throughout the West. Then, the owner of the trading post came by the table to see how we were. My brother told him that I was a historian of the West, and the guy asked:

“Do you know who that is?”

“I don’t think I do.”

“That’s Crazy Horse.”

Here’s the thing. Every book I have read and every teacher I have heard tell the same story. Crazy Horse refused to have his picture taken. Now, the owner of a tourist trap is telling me that I am looking at the image of Crazy Horse. After the meal, he took us to another room; pointed out the smaller original; said that the descendants told him privately that it is a photo of the warrior; and, gave me a free copy to put in my classroom. Is it really Crazy Horse? I don’t know, but I hope it is.

We left the trading post and got into the SUV. Unfortunately, our door hit a red truck parked next to us. The woman in the truck jumped on us pretty good, and we got out of there as fast as possible. George Custer could only wish that he had our instincts.

We drive north and hit a back road (interstates suck on these kinds of trips) toward Pompeys Pillar.

Did Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage make a movie about this place?

This rock was seen by William Clark on his return voyage with the Corps of Discovery. As Meriwether Lewis traveled on the Missouri River, Clark went down the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River

Clark climbed the rock; named it Pompeys Tower in honor of Sacagawea’s son; and, carved his name on it. People say that it is the only permanent mark the Corps of Discovery made on the land they explored.

William Clark was here.

I’m not sure about that. They told the Native Americans that the land they lived on was owned by the United States. Over 70 years later and only a few miles away, the Battle of Little Bighorn would be one of the results of that statement.