Lewis and Clark pirogue makes triumphant return to Vermillion area

Lewis and Clark pirogue makes triumphant return to Vermillion area Alicia Colbertson, Burbank, and re-enactor Dale Clark discuss the adventures of Lewis and Clark. by David Lias Dale Clark, director of education at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, NE, was a man in two worlds last Wednesday, Oct. 3.

His attire, from his boots, and trousers to his jacket and hat, was an exact replica of the clothing worn by members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery that explored the region nearly 200 years ago.

The only thing out of place was the cell phone clipped to his belt � a sign that some bits of modern technology can't be left behind in today's world.

Near the bank of the river, at Clay County Lakeside Use Area, he portrayed Sergeant Patrick Gass of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.

Secured to the river dock at the park was a white pirogue � the type of boat that Lewis and Clark's men used to travel on the Missouri River.

The boat's arrival here last Wednesday was a stop on a tour titled "The Triumphant Return of the White Pirogue."

The authentic reproduction of the Lewis and Clark flat-bottom boat and its crew of 12, half of them Lewis and Clark re-enactors, was on its maiden voyage last week, educating school children and the public about the expedition in a journey that began Sept. 30 at Fort Randall Dam.

The crew put in at Pickstown Monday morning and made its first stop at Lynch, NE, where the re-enactors put on a program for school classes. They did it again that evening at Niobrara, NE, and again Tuesday at Springfield and Yankton.

On Wednesday, the boat traveled from Yankton to Vermillion.

Approximately 100 Clay County residents visited the lakeside use area Wednesday evening. They toured the boat, inspected the authentic costumes, and learned more about the equipment and other sundries � from a tin horn that was blown when the boats entered fog, to the laxatives given as a cure-all when men fell ill.

Elaine Pritchard, Onawa, IA, was one of the 12 people floating downstream on the Missouri in the keelboat.

Wednesday evening, she successfully battled a chill in the air by sipping on a cup of hot coffee.

"When you're on the boat, you just see everything," she said, warming her hands with her coffee cup. "We've seen deer and bald eagles, and we've gotten stuck on sand bars. When that happens, you break out the oars."

The fog was so thick one morning that the pilot of the boat became disoriented, and started to steer in circles. Fortunately, communications were established with another boat that helped guide the pirogue in the right direction.

Pritchard slept in comfort last Tuesday night beneath the deck of the boat, curled in a sleeping bag.

"It was just beautiful, under a full moon," she said. "I'm not very big, so I didn't have any trouble fitting under the deck."

Clark, in his role as Sgt. Gass, talks as if he made the original journey himself.

No question was left unanswered � he talked about the men's gear, about their relationships with Native Americans, about their hopes and discoveries, and their times of disappointment.

The men did not find the volcanos or living dinosaurs they anticipated, he said. They did find 825,000 square miles that later became all or part of 15 states, all at a price of just over 3 cents per acre, plus interest.

A man's shout interrupted his presentation � "Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!," cried Larry McElroy as he lit the fuse of a cannon that had been moved from the boat to a bank near the river.

The warning was welcomed. People had time to cover their ears before the cannon fired a deafening salvo.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition left the original white pirogue at Great Falls, MT on its way west in 1803, then recovered it on its return to St. Louis in 1806. The other pirogue, a red one, was in too poor condition to bring back.

The new boat was built by Butch Bouvier of L & C Reproductions, well known for his reproduction keelboats at Lewis and Clark State Park at Onawa, IA.

The re-enactors' mission on the Missouri River in early October was two-fold, Bouvier said: to educate people and raise funds for the Lewis and Clark visitor center planned for Onawa by the Friends of Discovery, a re-enactment group of which he and many supporters of this tour are members.

They have raised $500,000, and are looking for a way to spark interest and raise the addition $2.5 million needed.

"We came up with the crazy idea for the journey, then built the boat to do it," said Mike Butler, whom Bouvier appointed captain for the trip after he helped construct the craft.

The boat is 42 feet long, weighs 3.75 tons, and is made of treated oak and other woods. It draws just 11 inches when fully loaded with fourth-graders; 9 inches when unoccupied. It took four months to build. And, after Oct. 5, "It is absolutely for sale: $30,000," Bouvier said.

Clark also designed a five-station curriculum for students. He teaches the big-picture: Why Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and what they found.

"Buffalo Bill" Sanders, president of the Friends of Discovery, adds to the big picture with a discussion of the route and the Indians who helped or hindered the expedition.

Dr. Rodney Whitaker Jr., a dentist from Frankfurt, KY, played to role of the physician, explaining blood-letting and other treatments of 200 years ago. McElroy, who enjoys weapons in addition to cannons, teaches about the various firearms used by the expedition.

Gary Hemphil of Onawa talked to students at the stops of the pirogue's journey about measuring distance by time and the sun using a sextant and a timepiece � and lots of basic math.

Visitors to the Clay County Lakeside Use Area near the river were welcome to board the pirogue.

"This craft was not designed by computers," Bouvier told them. "It was designed by some old boat makers 200 years ago. They knew what they were doing."

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