Tag Archives: William Clark

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.

 

Northwest Trek – Lewis, Clark and Kites

19 Aug

After a day of many miles and little sightseeing, we were determined to spend the next day doing the opposite. We wanted to see some stuff and do it in as few miles as possible. That meant hopping over to the Oregon side of the Columbia River and driving to Astoria, the town that served as the base for John Jacob Astor’s fur company.

As a historian of the American West, this is a place that I have talked about in class and a place that I wanted to visit. Astor’s company was the first in the United States to be worth a million dollars and served as the basis for investment in New York City real estate.

The Astoria Column sits on the highest point in the town and was built by the Astor’s to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of their business.DSC00340

My nephews and I climbed the tower and saw stunning vistas.DSC00337

It also gave them the opportunity to make fun of my discomfort with heights.

After the climb, we drove to Fort Clatsop. It is a place that few people know about but that played an important role in one of this country’s pivotal events, the journey of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the men who traveled with them. They built a fort to spend a few months on the coast before making their way back home. There is a reproduction of the fort that provides an idea of what it may have been like in the early years of the 1800s.IMG_2701

As we walked around, I thought about the location. The Louisiana Territory did not reach to the Pacific Ocean. During their time at Fort Clatsop, the expedition was trespassing. Obviously, it had long been the domain of Native Americans, but a couple of European powers claimed it before the United States.

I also realized that, through our travels, we have covered a lot of the trail that Lewis and Clark traveled.

Lewis and Clark went east when they left the fort. We went south toward Seaside, Oregon to a famous formation called Haystack Rock.IMG_2741

It was cool, but there was another place that we needed to visit.

While studying the map, my younger nephew and I saw the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame. He was determined to go, and we were determined to get him there. After crossing the river in Washington, we made our way to Long Beach and a building full of kites. It was corny, but we learned about the important role that kites played in World War II. Also, the first floor had a wall filled with people who had been inducted in the Hall of Fame. I read each one of them. Hey, if you are going to be in a hall of fame, then someone should read your name.

You may have heard of a few of them.

Charlie Brown

Wilber and Orville Wright

Benjamin Franklin

Alexander Graham Bell

It is an impressive list.

We asked the lady at the desk for a food recommendation. She sent us up the road to a seafood place that fried everything. We wanted seafood, but something grilled would have been nice. Honestly, it was not any better than Captain D’s. Its only redeeming quality was the city park across the street. When we walked out, a band was playing a music filled the air. They were called Jawbone Flats, and I would have listened for a while. However, everyone was ready to leave.

Hey, look over there. It is a road that goes to the beach. When I say the road goes to the beach, I really mean that it goes onto the beach. Cars are allowed on Long Beach, the longest beach in the world.DSC00348

Honestly, we all thought that Daytona Beach was the only one that you could drive on.

With daylight burning, there was one more stop to make. An old lighthouse sits on the edge of Cape Disappointment.IMG_2774

My brother and nephews climbed to the top while I talked to the man at the entrance. They learned all about the operation of lighthouses while I learned that men were stationed there during World War II. After all, they never knew when the Japanese my attack the Columbia River.

We returned to the hotel with our mission accomplished. We did not go far and saw a lot of stuff. We old folks went to bed while my nephews went to Shari’s to get more pie.

A National Championship and the Lessons of History

4 Jun

Last week, the Cumberland University baseball team won the NAIA national championship. It is the third time in the past ten years that the baseball program has claimed the top prize. The coach, Woody Hunt, is a legend in these parts and has led the program for three decades.Cumberland Baseball

A couple of days ago, we had a celebration for the team. There was a parade, and hundreds of people showed up at the baseball field to honor the players and the coaches. Several people spoke, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. As Faculty Athletic Representative, I track the academic progress of all student/athletes and make sure that they are on the way to completing their degrees.

A lot of the baseball players have been in my classes and, hopefully, have gotten the point that history is important. We can learn from our past and use that information to move into the future. In fact, a lesson from the past convinced me that they were going to win the NAIA World Series.

The event was held in Lewiston, Idaho, home of Lewis-Clark State College. That is important because their team was in the World Series, as well. In fact, that is who the Cumberland Bulldogs had to beat to win the championship.

Lewis-Clark State College is names after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who Thomas Jefferson chose to lead an expedition into the Louisiana Territory. It is one of the most famous stories in our nation’s history. Lewis and Clark, with the help of Sacagawea, led a band of men through uncharted land to determine exactly what Jefferson had purchased. They returned in a couple of years with fantastic tales of the land and its people.

They were heroes and were treated as such. However, that is not the end of the story. After the journey, Meriwether Lewis faced difficulties in several aspects of his life. Finally, he left his home in New Orleans to travel to Washington, D.C. Lewis want to see Jefferson, his old patron. He traveled the Natchez Trace toward Nashville and was almost to the city when he stopped at a roadside tavern.

Meriwether Lewis never left that tavern. He was fatally shot, and the mystery of who did it continues to this day. The proprietors buried him in the yard, and his grave can be visited. A broken obelisk stands above him.Lewis Grave

So, how did this story convince me that our baseball team would win the national championship? Meriwether Lewis survived great dangers on his journey into the West. However, he could not survive his journey into Tennessee. With that in mind, I saw no way that a school named after him could beat a team from Tennessee.

What Would Meriwether Do?

4 Jun

We all get interesting search terms on the stats page. Some are funny. Some are weird. Some make you wonder what’s going on out there in the world. Recently, I wrote about one where someone was looking for love in the wrong place. A few days ago, I got a search term that piqued my interest because it was a question about two figures in history with seemingly no connection.

Was Meriwether Lewis related to Jesus Christ?

I know about Meriwether Lewis, and I know about Jesus Christ. I don’t know why someone would ask if they were related. Is there some conspiracy theory out there that I had never heard of? Was the journey of Lewis with the Corp of Discovery an attempt to spread the word of his ancestor?

To find out, I put the question in the good old search engine to see what popped up. Lo and behold, at the top of the page sat Surrounded by Imbeciles. Clicking that took me the my very first Listeria post. A few lines down was a study of the genealogy of the Lewis family with no mention of Jesus.

There is nothing out there that suggests a conspiracy about Meriwether’s lineage. So, what would make a person ask that question?

Do Meriwether Lewis and Jesus Christ look alike?

Here’s Meriwether.

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

Here’s Jesus (the European version anyway)

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ

I suppose they kind of have the same nose. Does that family feature continue for 1800 years?

Some more digging was going to be required to look for any similarities between the two.

Meriwether died at the age of 35. Jesus died at the age of 33. That’s pretty close.

They also died violently. Meriwether’s death is an unsolved mystery that took place near Hohenwald, Tennessee. Jesus suffered a public execution at Calvary.

Meriwether was a Freemason. That could be a clue. After all, the Freemasons are descended from the Knights Templar and have continued to protect the lineage of Jesus through the centuries. Perhaps, Meriwether is part of that lineage. Too bad he never got married and had kids. A politician named Jesus Lewis would be hard to beat.

That’s about it. I couldn’t find anything else that would lead someone to ask if Meriwether Lewis was related to Jesus Christ. Now, William Clark related to John the Baptist? That’s another story.

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.

Listeria

11 Jul

I was at the pharmacy buying legal drugs and had to wait the required 20 minutes for them to fill my prescription. There were five druggists and one customer, so I’m not sure why it should take that long. Maybe, they were sampling their merchandise. Anyway, I entertained myself by looking at greeting cards; checking out the new wave of condoms; and, in the end, heading over to the magazine stand. There, in the middle of the too-much-about-celebrities and the too-little-about-sports, I found TIME: The 100 Most Influential People of All Time.

I know what these “list” magazines are. They are a way for magazines to make some extra money and maybe get new subscribers. They are pointless because the lists are totally subjective, and there is no way of knowing how they came up with the names. Besides, what makes 100 so special anyway? It’s just a round number. Despite all of that, I am a sucker for these types of things. I even bought Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and made sure I had all of the songs on my iPod. This, despite the fact that “Like a ROLLING STONE” by Bob Dylan was ranked Numero Uno, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The ROLLING STONES came in second. Talk about subjective lists with self-promotion.

As you can probably imagine, I bought the history list, too. I am a historian who likes lists. What can I say? Now, I’m not going to go through the entire list, but a few things stood put to me.

1. There are a few people on the list who are subject to speculation in their actual existence. There’s Abraham, Jesus Christ, Confucius. Heck, some people even doubt the reality of William Shakespeare. Yet, they are on the list. Let me set this straight. I am not saying that they did not exist. They, or the inspiration for them, probably did. Also, there is no doubt of the impact that they and their followers have had on the world. I only think it is interesting that the list includes people who may not have actually been people.

2. There are four U.S. presidents on the list – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. I have already written about what I think of our presidents, so I won’t go into great detail. However, this brings some thoughts to mind. First, these four did a great job and left an impact on the world. Second, the other forty haven’t done much. I mean, these guys are always called “the leader of the free world” and are said to hold “the most powerful office in the world”. If that’s true, then why are there not more on the list?

I’ll tell you why. None of that is really true. There are a lot of leaders of “the free world”, and the presidency is not even supposed to be “the most powerful office” in the United States. The three branches – executive, legislative and judicial – are equal. It’s a team effort, and the president is supposed to run the day-to-day operations. Obviously, this job description has been skewed through the years by the people in office (definitely by the four on the list), but the fact remains that the presidency is supposed be no more powerful or influential than the other areas of government.

3. One of the presidents, Roosevelt is on the list along with Winston Churchill. Undoubtedly, they made it because of their efforts against Adolph Hitler (who is also on the list) during World War II. In my opinion, all three of those people deserve their listing. I’m sure a lot of people object to Hitler’s presence, but the list is about influence, not humanity. He started a war that shaped the rest of the 20th Century – from technology to the Cold War.

Mentioning the Cold War leads me to the issue with this grouping. Where is Joseph Stalin? He was one of the Big Three who fought against Nazi Germany. In fact his nation was actually invaded by German troops. Want to know an interesting statistic? More Soviet women died in combat than American men. On top of that, his policies shaped the 20th Century as well.

4. I also find it interesting that my area of historical study, the American West, is also included. I just can’t figure out why. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea make the list for their journey through the Louisiana Territory. It’s important for the United States, but I am not sure about its influence on the world. First, someone had already made the trek through Canada. Second, most of their travels went through lands already ventured into by Europeans. Third, Native Americans had been there for a long time.

Speaking – actually, writing – of Native Americans. Sitting Bull is on the list. This is one of my favorite people from history, and I will visit the Battle of Little Big Horn, the site of his greatest victory, in a few weeks. However, I don’t see how the killing of George Custer makes him one of the top 100. Sitting Bull didn’t even lead forces into battle because he was recovering from the Sun Dance. He is tattoo worthy, though.

As written earlier, I will not go through the entire list, but I will mention my favorites from each category.

In “Beacon of Spirits”, I like the inclusion of Socrates and Plato.

“Explorers and Visionaries” has Charles Darwin and Alexander Graham Bell, with whom I share a last name. Unfortunately, we are not related.

Queen Elizabeth I and Simon Bolivar are listed under “Leaders of the People”.

“Architects of Culture” includes Michelangelo and Louis Armstrong.

That’s it. If you were on the committee, then who would you put on the list?