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James Holmberg

Filson Club’s Holmberg
cites significance of Lewis-Clark event

Filson Club official speaks
to Oldham Co. Historical Society

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(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.

James Holmberg

James Holmberg

“An American epic” is how he described the 1803-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Holmberg’s speech pointed out Kentucky’s important role in this exploration, which began at the Falls of the Ohio and progressed westward to the Missouri River and back again to the Falls.
On July 28-31, 2002 The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation will hold its annual meeting July 28-31 at Louisville’s 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, Clark’s 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.

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