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Online Extra
April 2002

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Lost Missouri

By Cathy Riggs Salter
Jim Harlan wanted to make it perfectly clear: He didn't set out to start a border dispute. "All I wanted to do was create historically accurate maps of Lewis and Clark's outward and return trips across Missouri," Harlan told me, the exasperation apparent in his voice, as we stood on a high bluff near Rocheport, Missouri, looking out over a broad valley of the lower Missouri River. "And that's what I've done." But Harlan's maps contain some surprises—including a visual demonstration that America's seminal voyage of exploration departed not from a site presently in Illinois, as some had thought, but from one now in Missouri.
"The expedition began from Camp Dubois, the 1803-1804 winter camp on the east side of the Mississippi near the mouth of the Wood River," Harlan said. "Back then it was in territory that became Illinois, but the Mississippi has shifted at least a mile east since that time." That means the site of Camp Dubois is now in Missouri, not Illinois. "Numerous researchers before me reached the same conclusion," Harlan said. "I just put the spot on a map."
Understandably, folks in Illinois aren't thrilled, but Richard Taylor, a historian with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is philosophical. "We know they started on this side of the river," he said. "The important thing is to tell the Illinois part of the story."
When I asked Harlan what else about his maps has stirred people up, he barked, "Everyone wants to know where the explorers slept." In Glasgow, Missouri (population 1,263), for example, the citizenry has long believed the explorers spent the night on the southwest side of town, where in 1971 the state designated a Lewis and Clark historic campsite at Stump Island Park. A marker placed there in 1966 reads, "So named by Lewis and Clark on their expedition in 1804, noted in a diary as an island covered with stumps and later connected to the mainland as it now exists." Clark's journal referred to an island in the vicinity as Sheeco Island (chicot is French for "stump").
With the bicentennial commemoration of the 1804-06 expedition approaching, Glasgow had planned a $300,000 riverside trail to celebrate its special connection to the explorers. The mayor, Earl Stockhorst, also had his heart set on a big celebration for the town. Then Harlan's map of the outward journey appeared, showing that the actual island described by the explorers is about five miles west of present-day Glasgow.
On learning this unwelcome news, Earl Stockhorst initially rejected the map. He has since made peace with Harlan and, having resigned himself to geographic reality, is focusing Glasgow's bicentennial plans more on a new Lewis and Clark exhibit. "Stump Island is only one part of the story," Stockhorst said. "Harlan's map will help Glasgow tell of all the explorers who passed along our stretch of the Missouri."
The idea for the new maps originated with Kenneth Winn, the Missouri state archivist. In spring 2000 he asked Harlan, a geographer, if he could re-create the historical river as Lewis and Clark saw it, using their journals and the field notes of surveyors who crisscrossed Missouri Territory beginning in 1815. Winn envisioned a set of maps showing the routes west and back, details of some campsites, and physical features such as vegetation. They would be aids to the imagination in understanding the explorers' trip. "The purpose was to commemorate the journey," Winn said, "not to create problems." The main route maps, completed last summer, will be displayed at Lewis and Clark bicentennial sites across Missouri and will be available to teachers statewide.
In addition to pinpointing where the explorers camped, the maps could shed light on Native American sacred sites documented by the explorers. In his journal Clark used the word "deavel" (devil) to describe pictographs at Big Manitou Bluffs—human-like figures with antler-like protuberances on their heads. Far from being devils, these figures represented spirits, or manitous. Long off the beaten path, such figures are now more accessible as sites of pilgrimage for Lewis and Clark enthusiasts.
Harlan believes it does a disservice to history to leave such sites in obscurity. "Finding Indian sites is not the point," he snapped. What's important, he says, is filling in the blanks of history. Unless the ancient people who invested places along the explorers' route with sacred meaning are fully represented, the story of Lewis and Clark isn't complete.
Jim Harlan's impatience with reactions he thinks are off the point belies his enthusiasm for the story itself. As a boy he spent hours scouting the countryside of central Missouri, where he developed a fascination with local history and the landscapes Lewis and Clark encountered. He recalls that when he was a college student an excerpt from Clark's journal led him to a bluff where the explorers had found a Den of rattle Snakes, Killed 3 proceeded on. Harlan also found snakes there. "Lewis and Clark stumbled across those rattlers in June, when the critters were warm and ornery," he said. "I went there in the spring because I knew they wouldn't be moving much." Harlan later joined the Army and served in Panama and the gulf war. These field experiences contributed to his decision, as a civilian again, to pursue a master's degree in geography at the University of Missouri, because, he said, "you can't get into history without getting into maps."
Harlan still travels with the canvas map case that accompanied him when he was a communications chief in Desert Storm, and as we visited Lewis and Clark sites in Missouri, he struck me as equal parts skilled cartographer and field-tested soldier. I would ask a question—for instance, "How do you know exactly where Lewis and Clark began their journey?"—and reaching into the case for his map of the outward journey and a dog-eared copy of the explorers' journals, Harlan would, with military precision, set the record straight.
He jabbed a finger at a red star on the map labeled Camp Dubois and read from Lewis's notes referring to the start of their journey up the Missouri on May 14, 1804: "The mouth of the River Dubois is to be considered as the point of departure.
"This sentence is the key," Harlan said, explaining that because of flooding and the natural wandering of rivers, the mouth of the Dubois, or Wood, River has moved at least a mile east, as has the Mississippi itself. "My research tells me that the geographic point Lewis referred to as the mouth of the River Dubois—the point of departure—is now in St. Charles County in the town of West Alton, Missouri.
"Pick any one of the locations marked and dated on the map as a site where Lewis and Clark stopped on their outward journey," Harlan went on, "then read their journal entries. Together, the two tell you exactly what the explorers did that day, and what they saw along the way from that point to the next."
He turned to Clark's journal entry for May 14. "Set out from Camp River a[t] Dubois at 4 o clock P.M. and proceded up the Missouris under Sail to the first Island in the Missouri and Camped on the upper point opposit a Creek on the South Side below a ledge of limestone rock Called Colewater."
Harlan pointed to a red star marking the spot, then referred back to Clark. ". . . made 4 1/2 miles. . . . Men in high Spirits.
"They're out of that damn winter camp!" he whooped, slapping his knee. "After months of delay, they're on their way!"
As I scrutinized the map with its exquisitely detailed plotting of the river, I understood Harlan's excitement. Combined with the explorers' written records, it brought the story of Lewis and Clark to life. As a former teacher of both geography and history, I wished I'd had Harlan's maps to help illuminate their journey for my students.
When on June 20, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis his final instructions, he charged the leaders of the Corps of Discovery with exploring the uncharted lands up the Missouri River and on west to the Pacific Ocean. A major goal, Jefferson wrote, was to find "the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purpose of commerce." He instructed the expedition to observe "the soil and face of the country"—keeping records and taking river measurements that would lead to the publication of an accurate and detailed map of the continent's interior.
Lewis died in 1809 before publishing a single word of the natural wonders the expedition recorded, and it was not until 1814 that Clark's map and edited journals were finally published. Though not a cartographic work in the modern sense, Clark's map conveyed a wealth of new information and further aroused in the nation a drive westward that would shape its destiny for the entire century.
The soil and face of the country have changed profoundly in two centuries. Clark described a mercurial Missouri with forested banks that heaved into the river and sandbars that shifted before your eyes. Timber cutting in the 19th century to fuel the steamboat era may have helped destabilize the banks, and by the mid-20th century the river had been leveed, straightened, channeled, and deepened.
"The Missouri of the 21st century is not the same river it was even a decade ago," said Harlan. "Disputes like the one in Glasgow ignore the fact that the Missouri, like all rivers, is evolving all the time."
While the new maps have challenged Glasgow's claim on Lewis and Clark, Brunswick, about 25 miles upriver, has reason to celebrate: The maps confirm that Lewis and Clark did camp there.
I drove to Brunswick—the Pecan Capital of Missouri and the state's first officially designated Lewis and Clark campsite—and in the company of Larry Baxley, publisher of the Brunswicker, climbed a grassy hill. Baxley described what Clark noted in his journal on June 13, 1804. "Clark says he and Lewis walked half a mile up from their camp to the top of a hill—this hill. There they looked out over a beautiful prairie where their men later caught a raccoon and brought in a bear and a deer."
Standing in a warm breeze with one foot inadvertently resting on a dried cow pie, I nodded in agreement. It is still a beautiful prospect.
Harlan's maps locate the expedition's campsite of June 13 near the old mouth of the Grand River, where today you see a line of cottonwoods and willows—trees noted by Lewis and Clark—on the west side of Brunswick. Just east of the campsite, the town recently planted a direct descendant of a cottonwood that grew in Mandan, North Dakota, when the expedition wintered there in 1804-05.
Cottonwoods are hardy trees, enduring punishing summers and frigid winters, as the Corps of Discovery did two centuries ago. Brunswick's commemorative sapling stands as a reminder of what the explorers saw here, and Jim Harlan's maps let us see, with new eyes, the unfettered river that bore Lewis and Clark west on a voyage that defined the nation.


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