significance of Lewis-Clark event
Club official speaks
to Oldham Co. Historical Society
Helen E. McKinney
(July 2002) LA GRANGE, Ky. The Falls of the Ohio
played a pivotal role in the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803-1806,
and historians in the Louisville area will mark the occasion Oct. 24-26,
2003, with the Lewis and Clark River Festival in Clarksville, Ind.
The event is expected to have national significance, James J. Holmberg,
curator of special collections at the Filson Club Historical Society
in Louisville, told a group of Oldham County Historical Society members
June 21 at their quarterly dinner meeting.
An American epic is how he described the 1803-1806
Lewis and Clark Expedition. Holmbergs speech pointed out Kentuckys
important role in this exploration, which began at the Falls of the
Ohio and progressed westward to the Missouri River and back again to
On July 28-31, 2002 The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation will
hold its annual meeting July 28-31 at Louisvilles Galt House by
host, the Filson Club. For three and a half days, lectures, field trips
and numerous events will take place. Holmberg said 450 to 500 people
across the country are expected to attend.
The National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial has designated
the Falls of the Ohio as the site of the 2003 festival. An annual festival
began there last year. A Falls of the Ohio Committee has adopted a six-year
plan of celebration that will end in 2006. Scheduled activities include
a symposium, exhibit, extended educational activities, a replica keelboat
and pirogues, recognition of expedition descendants, tours of Shawnee
Country and a new heroic-sized sculpture of expedition member, York,
who was Capt. Merriweather Lewis slave.
When the expedition was organized, Lewis seemed a logical choice for
the job. He had at one point been a private secretary to Thomas Jefferson,
and he possessed knowledge of the political situation in the West.
Lewis felt one man was equal to accompany him, and he invited William
Clark to join him. Lewis required one stipulation from Clark to make
the expedition a success: recruit good woodsmen.
Young men where needed that could withstand hardships and were not tied
down by family. Clark assembled what has become known as the Corps
of Discovery, which included York.
Clark and York traveled extensively, said Holmberg. Although in outward
appearances a body servant, York was more than that. As a veteran traveler,
he could provide more than simple company. He could hunt, cook, scout
and do anything required of him.
The group of approximately 31 men left the Falls of the Ohio on Oct.
26, 1803, and faced an uncertain future that would turn them into heroes.
Lewis and Clark thought they would only be gone for two years on this
expedition, said Holmberg. The men had to scavenge, trade with the Indians
and face the unknown each day. In a sense they were on an exploring
high, said Holmberg.
This was one of the most famous partnerships in the history of
the United States, commented Holmberg. But, it had a sad personal
ending for many people involved.
After becoming stars in history, many who comprised the
Corps of Discovery faded into oblivion. Many died young
or returned to the mountains and died by the hands of Indians.
York was freed and went into the freight-hauling business. He eventually
lost this business and died of cholera in Tennessee.
Lewis had problems with creditors hounding him. It is thought he was
manic-depressive. It is assumed Lewis slit his own throat with a knife
because the weight of his mind overcame him, said Holmberg.
Having been employed by the Filson Club for 20 years, Holmberg has studied
Lewis and Clark extensively. Twelve years ago, Clarks letters
were discovered in an attic in a home where a descendant of Williams
eldest brother, Jonathan, had lived.
For more information on the Lewis and Clark
celebration, visit the website: www.lewisandclark200.org.
Back to July 2002 Articles.