Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 26-27 Pierre, South Dakota
June 28 Fort Lincoln, Mandan, North Dakota,
Fort Mandan: The Expedition's first winter
June 29 Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D.

The photo of Lewis & Clark is at Fort Mandan,N.D., a reproduction because the original no longer exists. The Fort was built a few miles from Mandan and Hidatsa villages who were friendly and provided corn in exchange for axes that were made in the Fort by the blacksmith. Because of extensive Indian trading, one of those axes arrived in the Columbia River Gorge area before Lewis & Clark got there the following spring! There is a great interpretive center near Washburn, N.D. where I tried on a buffalo skin 'coat'. It was so heavy it was difficult to walk around in it. Also there was a cradle board with a doll baby that I tried to lift but it was very heavy. This would have been how Sacajawea carried Pomp (Jean Baptist Charbonneau) around on her back; she had to be a strong woman.

The photo of the keel boat is a reproduction of the main vessel that carried the Expedition's tons of goods upriver to Fort Mandan and then returned downstream in 1805 to carry the nature specimens and journals and notes up to that time to President Jefferson. This reproduction is on the waterfront in Bismarck, N.D.

Just the work of traveling even with all the improved technology that I have 200 years later, takes a toll. I find that everything must have a place and be returned to that place and be clean and in repair. Much of the Expedition's time must have been spent on this. Also, the journaling which was to take place every evening, was another job on the Trail. I find that sitting down and getting settled to write seems practically impossible with every day changing, sometimes arriving late at a camp site thinking more of food & sleep.

The past two nights I've spent in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The area is beautiful and environmenally pristine. The Park takes pride in it's thriving eco systems and clean air and clear skies. It is a little like Eden staying here. Driving along, buffalo come walking down the road toward me--and take little interest. Buffalo can run 35 mph and turn faster than a horse, so we tourists are cautioned to take it easy around the bison.

Pres. T. Roosevelt came out here as a Harvard graduate, city-bred, asthmatic, skinny and weak. He took to cowboy life, and became a changed man in about 3 years. He claimed that the Dakota Badlands brought him vitality & health. He was an avid reader and writer; always had a book with him. He was great conservationist; he is credited with saving 5 National Parks and many National Forests.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

South Dakota family ties

My mother was born in Sioux Falls and I decided to do a little poking around in the family tree while in South Dakota. The highways are laid out like a checkerboard here mostly heading north & south, or east & west. I drove straight north past miles of flooded fields dotted with occasional farmhouses to Aberdeen in NE South Dakota.

Mother has memories of Grandpa John Thomas Bell living here as a successful businessman. His daughter, Cora Bell, 6 months, is listed in the US census of 1880. She was married to Robert Bigford Gage, b. 1879 for only a year, and then Mr. Gage 'disappears' from our story. Their son, Kenneth Homer Gage, b. 17 July 1899, my grandfather, was raised by his grandfather. Kenneth went to work one summer around 1919 in Mr. Bell's dry cleaning(?) business in Sioux Falls where one day he saw young Nellie Langstraat, my grandmother and married her. They might have stayed in Sioux Falls except that Kenneth learned about opportunities in California. The Anza desert was being homesteaded. He moved his wife and baby (mother) in the early 1920s to the west, and Cora came out to live in Anza on a homestead complete with windmill & well. I remember my great grandma Cora as we visited her there when I was small in the 1950s.

I imagine if our family story had gone differently, I might be a citizen of South Dakota instead of California. I've been impressed with the people and the wide open spaces here. The kids are polite and the people hospitable. There are plenty of computers in the library, but the rule is still 'quiet', a good thing as I compose this chapter.

Our traveling group has been in Pierre, the capital, for a few days; the local paper did an article on us! This is where Lewis & Clark had a showdown with the Sioux. The chiefs didn't like the gifts they were offered, and wanted guns instead; they were the most antagonistic of all the tribes encountered. It turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Sioux culture which withered in the next 75 years.

I am looking forward to the next leg of the journey, Bismarck, North Dakota, and the Mandan village where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1804-1805. Adieu for now!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 18 arrive in Yankton
June 19 borrow kayak for river trip
June 20 drive to Valentine, SD to meet group
June 21 sixteen of us on the Niobrara Scenic River

In just a few days I have made a number of new friends in the RV group, WIN, who are traveling the Lewis & Clark Trail. Many RVers started in St. Louis and will continue to Astoria, WA.

Yankton is the former territorial capital of South Dakota. Lewis and Clark held councils and feasted with the Yankton Sioux here August 28, 1804. They slept among shelters "of a Conic form Covered with Buffalow Roabs Painted different Colours" -- teepees. One of my favorite diary entrees of Sgt. John Ordway is, "After dark we Made a large fire for the Indians to have a war dance...the Band began to play on their little Instruments, & the drum beat & they Sang. the young men commenced dancing around the fire. it always began with a houp & hollow & ended with the Same, and in the intervales, one of the warries at a time would rise with his weapen & Speak of what he had done in his day." (sic)

The WIN group meets in the mornings and at 5 pm to celebrate birthdays, share the news of the day and plans for tomorrow. I wanted to go kayaking on the Niobrara National Scenic River with a group of experienced kayakers on a Class 1-2 for about 14 miles so drove west to Fishberry campground near Valentine, SD where the group was boondocking. Diane, a member who had to leave the group for a few days, volunteered to loan me her kayak. Luckily I had ordered crossbars for the Jeep before I left home and now they are coming in handy.
The put-in went smoothly; we had a sunny day on the river flowing abou 4 1/2 mph. We spotted a large spotted turtle and a large eagle in a tree on the bank. When a gust of wind blew off my hat and whenI reached for it, the boat began to fill and I went overboard! It didn't take long with the assistance of 3 nearby kayakers to get me going again. Luckily everything I had stayed dry in plastic bags, and my new nylon pants, $3.50 from Yankton Good Will, dried quickly. Later at our regular 5 pm meeting, I was presented with the 'roving rubber ducky', the prize for the kayaker who 'takes a swim'. It was such a large duck that I had to ask someone with a big rig to keep it for me. My photo was taken receiving this honor with much applause.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 8, 2010
Woke up in the lovely and manicured Deschutes River State Park east of The Dalles. All the campsites are on a huge mowed lawn and I was one of the few people there.
The promise of seeing four mountaintops all at once from the Washington side of the Columbia took me about 7 miles north to Goldendale where I was able to see Mount Adams and Mt. Hood but not Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier. I loved the view in spite of the haze. While in town, I visited the local Historical Society housed in a beautiful old mansion in town that turned out to be one of the best local museums I’ve seen. Lots of cowboy memorabilia and homesteading family things.
I drove east on the two-lane highway on the Washington side of the Columbia up to Pasco, Washington, to see Sacajawea State Park at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. There is a wonderful little museum there telling the high points of the Lewis & Clark adventure with illustrations and stuff to touch, like a flint lock rifle, and examples of beads, thimbles, etc. they took along for gifts for Indians. Lewis had asked Sacajawea to trade her blue bead belt (there was a beautiful one like it on display) for a sea otter skin, and then later gave her a new blue coat in exchange. The museum emphasized Sacajawea’s contribution as translator, peacemaker, natural food advisor, some time guide, meanwhile carrying her infant/toddler son around with her for over 3,000 miles. Lewis & Clark camped at the confluence of the rivers for two days, and I imagined turning the clock back to watch the friendly Indians welcome them with drumming and singing. Maya Lin, the creator of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., is creating a memorial, now in progress, at Sacajawea State Park, that will be done in August.
A little further east I went to the Whitman Mission National Historic site, the place where the massacre of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman too place. I’ve wanted to see this place for a long time and it did not disappoint—beautiful grounds, manicured lawns surrounded by native grasses and streams. The Whitmans intended to prepare the Cayuse Indians to be competitive with the white settlers as farmers and builders, but when the Indians began to die of measles and the whites didn’t, the natives thought Whitman’s medicine was killing them.
Tomorrow I’ll return to the Lewis & Clark story. Adios.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Returned to the Whitman Mission this morning; the peacefulness of the place is ethereal. If you “looked over Jordan” to that place, you would want to go right there. Under the welcome sign to the exhibit was this quote: Cultures are not ‘superior’ or ‘inferior,’ they are for better or worse adapted to a particular set of circumstances.” The Cayuse Indians the Whitmans unsuccessfully tried to teach to be farmers were a nomadic, proud people who hunted and moved with the seasons.
I drove east on two lane back roads towards Lewiston. Waits burg, Washington was a jewel of a town along the way. Ahead, near Dayton, were the Patit Creek Campsite Sculptures-- over 80 life sized steel ‘cut-outs’ representing the Lewis & Clark encampment of May 2, 1806 including 37 human figures and 27 horse figures set among the grain-covered rolling hills. This display gave a sense of the size of the party.
Onward to the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center in Lewiston. On the way, there was an empty state park where I spent two quarters for an excellent hot shower. At the Discovery Center was After leaving the Center, I began to look around for a place to stay overnight and found a small, well-kept place right on the Clearwater River about 10 miles east of Lewiston, which I’ve been watching flow by as I write this. Attempted to send out a photo of my site, but no cell service in these mountains. Oh well, time for some hot chocolate!

Discover Billings
Outside of the city of Billings, Montana is the famous inscription of “Wm. Clark July 25, 1806”, etched on a rock cliff beside the river. This is the one piece of physical evidence that is left from the Lewis & Clark trip after 200 years and the property is a National Historic Site with a classy new interpretive center at “Pompey’s Pillar”, named after Sacajawea’s toddler who was traveling with the party. While we watched the video on a large screen, there were three smaller screens along the side of the room that showed additional detail from the speaker’s narrative.
After this stop I left the Lewis & Clark Trail for awhile; my friend, Judy, who lives in Billings was my sightseeing buddy for the day; she took me to a beautiful park to see native Indian petroglyphs, some dating from 9000 years ago. After seeing the restored and classy historical downtown we dropped by the Moss mansion, built by a local business magnate in 1903. While out and about, Judy’s husband replaced the light over my trailer license plate, a very handy fellow.

Little Big Horn & Devil’s Tower I set out early Wednesday, June 16 for the Custer battlefield, Little Big Horn. There were lots of people there and a large gift shop with lots of books. I remember the place from the movie, The Horse Whisperer; also, while looking for a local radio station in the car, there were preachers on lots of the stations, just like in the film.

Later while driving through the NE corner of Wyoming I revisited Devil’s Tower (remember “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”?) The campgrounds are beautiful here and I impossible to leave. I walked around the Devil’s Tower; a storm was blowing through, and the Ranger said there was a tornado warning. It got very windy but didn’t last long. June is a ‘no climbing’ month so that Native Americans can do religious rituals here. There were a lot of tourists here today and that surprised me. I think the Ken Burns series last winter may have renewed interest in the Parks.J

I stopped at the South Dakota Badlands, then drove south and east for miles & miles on a ribbon of 2 lane highway until reaching the Missouri River. I felt thrilled to finally be at the place where Lewis & Clark made their way up this river. There appeared a vision of a beautiful, well-kept South Dakota state campground which had electricity and showers, and it turned out to be the real thing. I had a peaceful time here before heading into Yankton Friday, June 18.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bannack ghost town; Daly mansion

Big Sky Country

Greetings from Montana!

The book, Undaunted Courage, the story of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis & Clark trek, by Stephen Ambrose made me want to retrace the steps of these explorers. You can read about the Corps of Discovery online and know more about the sights I'll be telling you about. Along the way are other sites of interest that are also great, i.e., yesterday, Sunday, June 13, I visited the Marcus Daly mansion in Hamilton, the Big Hole National Battleground and Bannack, a ghost town and MT state park.

Marcus Daly, a rags to riches story, was the "Copper King", making his fortune in the metal that was increasingly in demand for electricity. He bought thousands of acres in the Bitterroot valley south of Missoula and established the town of Hamilton there. Mrs. Daly loved her mansion outside of Hamilton which sat boarded up for 40 years after her death. A group of citizens stepped in to bring it back to life. The grounds with the grand trees, tennis courts, swimming pool out in the Montana 'wilderness' is amazing. A local docent took a small group of us through the house. I especially loved the wide porch on the front and side and the handpainted wallpapers in the house.

I knew very little about the massacre of the Nez Pearce families at Big Hole National battlefield. The site is surrounded by snow-capped mountains on a high plain. The visitor center overlooks the battlefield where lodgepoles are set up to simulate the community of tipis where the Indians were living when Colonel Gibbons and his brigade attacked. The video explaining the conflict is very well done and leaves the audience feeling heavy-hearted; just read the comments by visitors in the guestbook. The government policies toward Indians 60 years after Lewis & Clark were befriended by them is a sad chapter in our history. There are several National sites about the Nez Pearce that people can visit in and around Montana.

Bannack is a ghost town and also the first capital of territorial Montana. The State is preserving Bannack in a ghostly state. It is eerie to walk through the town with the wind whistling through old buildings and nearby wild trees and brush imagining a busy hotel, saloon and other businesses. It made me wonder if a lively town of 2010 could fade away into oblivion 150 years from now because of economic recession and become a future ghost town visited by tourists.

My campsite last night was 15 feet from a branch of the Bitterroot River flowing outside Bannock. The scenery is spectacular, but by early morning I was pretty chilly. I am enjoying my minimalist lifestyle. Imagine sitting at the table, reaching into the refrigerator, or, without moving, reaching into a cupboard for a book. There are advantages to 'small'. More to come . . .

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Welcome to Patricia's travel blog! Stop by often for regular updates along my journey.