Monday, June 27, 2011

Dream Summer: The Gateway

After traveling through miles and miles of farmland in western Kentucky and Southern Illinois, and crossing both the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, we arrived at St. Louis, our first real stop other than just spending the night in a hotel. The gleaming Gateway Arch welcomed us as we drove into the city.

I looked forward to visiting the
Museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the Arch, which features life-sized exhibits of early explorers and pioneers, and various collections related to the early exploration of the west. I’d done a little research on the museum and armed with what I considered to be compelling historical knowledge, I gladly anticipated sharing it with Aaron and Bethany.

But after they ‘d done a little research themselves and discovered a tram would take them to the top of the 630 foot arch, they wanted to go right then.

They always wanted to go.

I, on the other hand, did not. The idea of being in a space no bigger than a closet, called a “capsule,” creeping up the incline to the dizzying arch summit evoked in me both nausea and claustrophobia.

That only left one person to accompany them. “Why don’t you go?” I asked Jerry using my meek voice.

He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t want to go?”

I spoke the truth, as I knew it. “I’ll die if I go.”

He lowered his eyebrows. “I guess that settles it, then.” He looked toward the children. “Come on kids, we’re going to the top.”

The kids bounced “Tigger” style all the way to the ticket counter.

Adoration welled in me for my good sport husband whom I guessed I took advantage of occasionally. On the other hand, if I had to go, I didn’t think my fellow passengers would be too thrilled when my nausea evidenced itself. It really was better this way. As they went off to get in line, I bought postcards in the gift shop, and found a bench outside the museum to sit and wait for my family.

I looked up from some reading and caught the eyes of an elderly man striding toward me. His appearance conveyed country gentlemen--graying hair, mustache, glasses, and clothing from a back issue Orvis catalog. He appeared to be coming for me.

He was.

He eased down in the seat to my right and said, “How are you?”

“I’m fine, just waiting for my family. I’m not much into capsule rides.”

“Me neither,” he said. “Where you headed?”

Man, I wondered as I checked my clothing, what was it about me that spelled tourist? “Montana, but we’re making some detours to cover a Little of the
Lewis and Clark Expedition.”

“Lewis and Clark,” he said looking off into the distance and shaking his head. “Of course,” he pontificated, “Now that was a grand thing.”

I discovered this retired country doctor knew quite a lot about the expedition. We passed the time talking about what I think is the most touching moment accounted for in the whole of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

In November of l804, a man named Toussaint Charbonneau came to the expedition camp at Fort Mandan in what is now North Dakota. Charbonneau, who spoke no English, offered his services. He had two Shoshone wives he thought might be helpful through interpretation to the expedition in future trading. It turned out only one of his wives,
Sacagawea, would travel with them in the spring. Sadly, the Hidatsas had taken her from her tribe in what is now Montana five years before, and Charbonneau had purchased her from them in the early part of l804.

There is some question as to Sacagawea’s role on the expedition. Traditionally it’s been taught she served as guide to the Corp of Discovery, but evidence does not support the idea as much as I’d like. Nevertheless, I still hold to it.

In August of that same year Lewis, who had gone ahead of the rest of the expedition to seek information as to a pass through the Rocky Mountains to the west, brought the Chief of the Shoshones named Cameahwait back to meet Clark. When the first of the Shoshones arrived at the camp, Sacagawea recognized them as her nation and in Lewis’ words “danced for the joyful sight . . .”

But the best was yet to come.

“Did you know,” the doctor said, “Chief Cameahwait was actually the brother of Sacagawea?”

“I know,” I replied. “I read about it this past year. Who could have imagined such a thing?”

His sister, cruelly kidnapped so many years before, reunited with her brother and him the chief of her tribe. Lewis wrote, “...the meeting of those people was really affecting . . .” In that vast country those two people found each other again.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” my companion said.

“I’ll say.” As we talked of a reunion that happened almost 200 years ago, my children and husband were, I later learned, standing at the top of the arch taking in the vistas of twenty first century St. Louis—busy docks along the Mississippi and the sparkling skyline of the city.

When they returned, the doctor and I reluctantly parted, he to his family, and I to mine to make our way through the Westward Expansion Museum. My kids each chose their favorite exhibit with which to have a picture: Aaron posed in front of the St. Louis made Hawken rifle, Bethany grimaced in front of the stuffed muskrat exhibit. Jerry and I chose the very touristy stuffed buffalo. Eager to get a glimpse of a buffalo, this was as good as it got this early in the trip. When we’d finally seen enough, we went outside to stroll along the Mississippi.

On May l4, l804, William Clark and the forty-five man Corp of Discovery set out from Camp Dubois, not too far from where we were standing. In a keelboat and two pirogues they began what is still one of the most daunting adventures ever attempted. Standing by the Mississippi as the last of the sun’s rays fell that evening, I felt something of their excitement, and turned west once more with great anticipation to other rendezvous God might have for us.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:7).

Lewis and Clark for Kids by Janis Herbert and were used as sources in this post.

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