Scenes of Visionary Enchantment: Reflections on Lewis and Clark

By Dayton Duncan | Go to book overview

6
Of Hearths and Home

On June 5, 1999, smoke rose from the chimneys of Fort Mandan for the first time in 195 years—the result of work by the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Foundation to make the reconstruction of the fort a more historically accurate replica of the original. This essay comes from the speech I gave that day at the ceremonies dedicating the new chimneys and fireplaces. It was a beautiful summer afternoon along the Missouri River. While I was speaking, a bald eagle rose over the cottonwoods and circled in the sky above the fort.

We tend to think of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery on the move, under an open sky, following the sun on its daily westward journey, camping under the stars, and then pushing on again at first light; embarked, Lewis eXplained to every Indian tribe he met, on “a long journey to the Great Lake of the West, where the land ends and the sun sets on the face of the great water.”

Over the course of 863 days, as they crossed the West from St. Louis to the Pacific and back, the Corps of Discovery made roughly 620 separate camps— the vast preponderance of them for only one night. They would arrive after a toilsome struggle that had moved them perhaps fourteen miles, set up their tents, cook a meal, fall into a much-needed sleep, and then set off once more in the morning toward the neXt horizon. But for five solid months, one stationary place was each day's starting point and each day's destination:

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