The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific


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“Catch the Spirit” with a Lewis and Clark adventure!

Photo by Michael Carrick. At his right hip Lewis carries his shot pouch and powder horn. Around his neck is slung the knife he probably called a dirk, which was not only a practical tool but also a defensive weapon. As with all the rest of the Corps since leaving Fort Mandan , he is clad in buckskin. Historical research since the onset of the bicentennial observance has shown that the tricorn hat he wears here was officially replaced with new styles of headgear before the expedition began. W hen Lewis and Clark crossed the Mississippi in , they were acting out the manifest destiny of a "westering people.


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Several of these anxious moments were associated with an implement which Lewis referred to in his journal as an "espontoon," i. Suffice to say that the city authorities of Baltimore regard their version of the espontoon just as Meriwether Lewis regarded the infantry version—as an essential piece of equipment on the officer's "beat," carried to protect and save life.

On Lewis's "beat" to the Pacific and back, the espontoon may have been as omnipresent as the night stick is today with the Baltimore police. It seems to have served Lewis as a comforting "rod and staff" while he walked along some of the darker pathways of his journey.


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So much so that the espontoon may be considered his "trademark" or symbol, just as the surveyor's transit is a trademark for Clark, the mapmaker. This identification has been "monumentalized" in Bob Scriver's heroic-size statue, unveiled July 4, , at Great Falls, Montana. Lewis is presented there as the party leader, grasping his espontoon, looking out across the Missouri above the Falls where his espontoon had served him so well on June 14, In Scriver's setting, the implement may come as a surprise to the modern-day viewer who may not be familiar with the lore of the Expedition.

Is this really the progressive-minded American officer of the early nineteenth century, the Infantry captain so intent on providing himself and his party with the best field equipment of the time, standing there, seemingly dependent upon a primitive weapon of another age?

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Why indeed did Lewis take the espontoon on his journey? A partial answer is that he was probably conditioned to rely on it during his first tour of duty as a young ensign. Wayne was a strict disciplinarian who required intensive training of his junior officers; he was also a champion of the espontoon. One of the most vivid images of him in the Revolution is at the capture of Stoney Point, July 15, He is reported to have charged "with espontoon in hand up the rocky slopes of the Point.

But the espontoon had a much wider use than as a mere signaling device; it was both an offensive and defensive weapon. General Wayne took care to requisition enough of these weapons for each of his junior officers prior to starting his offensive. A spectacular use of the weapon in attack occurred at the Battle of Cowpens January 17, Colonel Howard, commanding part of Daniel Morgan's main line against the British, observed an enemy artillery battery a short distance in front.

He ordered one of his officers, a Captain Ewing, to take it. Howard then relates that another nearby officer, Captain Anderson:. Wayne's insistence on the weapon was shared by the Commander-in-Chief. Washington mentioned it in his General Orders, which roll across Wayne's ranks and throughout the Continental Armies. They provide a bill of particulars about the weapon which helps us understand why Lewis carried one westward a generation later:.

Valley Forge, December 22, : As the proper arming of the officers would add considerable strength to the army and the officers themselves derive great confidence from being armed in time of action, the General orders every one of them to provide himself with a half-pike or spear, as soon as possible; firearms when made use of with drawing their attention too much from the men; and to be without either, has a very aukward and unofficerlike appearance.

That these half-pikes may be of one length and uniformly made, the Brigadiers are to meet at General Maxwell's quarters to morrow at 10 o'clock in the forenoon and direct their size and form. Varnum's Quarters to. The General desires that they will. That the Quarter Master General be directed to cause Espontoons or Pikes made for the Officers, the Staff six feet and one half in length, and one inch and a quarter in diameter in the largest part and that the iron part be one foot long.

The Commander in Chief accepts and approves the above Report and orders it to take place in every respect. Moore's house, October 12, : Such officers of the line whose duty it is to act on foot in time of an engagement and who are not already provided with Espontoons are to use their utmost exertions to get them, and it is expected from commanding officers of Corps that they will use every means in their power to complete them with bayonets; In a word, they will take care that their corps are in the most perfect order for actual service.

Morristown, April 4, : ALL Battalion officers, to captains inclusively are, without loss of time, to provide themselves with Espontoons, they are to apply in the first instance to the Quarter Master General for such as may be in his possession, and if not furnished there, to the Field Commissary of Military Stores. Those who have been already supplied by the public, and are now destitute, are to provide themselves.


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  4. None are to mount guard or go on detachment without being armed with Espontoons, to which the officers of the day will be particularly attentive; nor after a reasonable time being allowed to procure them, is any officer to appear with his regiment under arms, without an Espontoon, unless he can shew that he has not been able to obtain one. Washington, like Lewis under Wayne, must have had the importance of the espontoon ingrained in him during his earlier years as a younger military officer.

    He was then subject to the orders of King George, and would have been responsible for knowledge of regulations established by His Majesty's "War Office," July 27, These regulations specified requirements "for the colours, clothing, etc. William Clark and Espontoon. Fort Mandan Visitor Center. T he weapon was thus an integral part of a legacy from the British and Colonial Armies of the Revolution, passed on through Wayne and his peers to the Lewis and Clark generation—then regarded throughout the military as the "distinguishing arm of an officer" and a "symbol of authority.

    These were the days of the Expedition when military protocol was prominently featured; records during the period mention parade ceremonies, courts-martial, disciplinary training, drill, etc. Each of the captains carried an espontoon and would have displayed it according to custom whenever the Corps was in formation under arms, as well as in other ways noted later in the journals.

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    Curiously, there is no mention of the espontoon in expedition records until they reach winter quarters at the Mandans in present central North Dakota. There the implement is first noted as a reference in describing the Indian battle axe. On February 5, , Lewis records the dimensions and shape of such an axe and makes a drawing, noting that the blade of the weapon "is somewhat in the form of the blade of an Espontoon.

    A ll later mentions of the espontoon occur in the crucial six-week period from early May to mid-June ; these references with one notable exception are all associated with "beastly" encounters: porcupines, bears, a rattlesnake , wolves, a "tyger cat," buffaloes—a series of potentially fatal incidents, "curious adventures," as Lewis described them.

    That the espontoon figures in each of these "curious adventures" makes it a kind of fateful medicine stick, reminding us of climactic times in Lewis's life. Generally these events occurred when Lewis walked by himself in the wilderness. The espontoon gave him confidence alone in the field heading into the dangers and hazards ahead. He has succeeded. Officials at state and national parks along the route say tourism is up as much as 15 percent over last year, and many visitors cite Ambrose's work. Here he describes his own family's journeys into the past. In the fall of , I read the journals of Lewis and Clark -- and was entranced from the first sentence.

    That Christmas, after dinner, my wife, Moira, and our five children then aged 15 to 6 got to talking about where we wanted to spend our annual camping vacation. We had always had a historical theme; in the early s it was Crazy Horse and Custer. But with the celebration of our country's th birthday, the summer of would be unique, and we wanted to go somewhere special. Moira and the kids loved the idea. We decided to leave from Wood River, Ill.

    Through the late spring we made our way up the Missouri River, staying at Lewis and Clark campsites along the way. We canoed the river at every stop. Each night around the fire, we would read aloud from the journals. Those were magical moments. The captains were gifted writers, with such vivid imagery, anecdotes and drama that their journals are literary treasures. Hearing their description of the country you have just hiked or canoed and sitting where they were as they wrote inspires your effort to walk in their moccasins or canoe in their wake.

    Stephenie, then 16, had a brief conversation with the gas boy at the dock. Later she informed Moira and me -- with deep conviction -- that our grandchildren were going to be born and raised in Montana. It was a glorious night; you felt you could touch the stars. Except for a logging road, the place was unaltered since Lewis's time. Around the fire, we talked about why we loved our country.

    1. Contexts

    We sang patriotic songs -- as the men of the expedition did -- and imagined their optimism for our future. We returned to Montana and the trail the next summer. She persuaded them to hire her to work behind the soda counter at the boat landing and to let her live with them at the Gates.

    The romance blossomed. The next year, John and Steph entered the University of Montana at Missoula, where they eventu- ally earned master's degrees: Steph in history, John in economics. On June 25, , the anniversary of their meeting, they married in two passenger tour boats tied together in the Missouri River at the Gates one the bride's boat, the other the groom's near where Lewis camped in I read aloud Lewis's journal entry for the day, in which he gave the Gates their name.

    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific
    The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific The Lewis & Clark Chronicles; Part 4 - Continental Divide to the Pacific

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