Philadelphia Chapter Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

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Thanks to Chapter member Lorna Hainesworth for sharing some of her impressions of the National Exhibition.

Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition
Missouri History Museum
May 10, 2004

In the Orientation Gallery, I saw a film called “Lewis and Clark: Beginning Your Journey” plus a Circle of Tribal Advisors exhibit titled “Many Nations, Many Voices.” Also on display were a buffalo, a bighorn sheep, a prairie dog and a prairie grouse. I purchased an 11:00AM ticket for the “Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition” and spent the next three hours touring the exhibit. More than six hundred artifacts have been assembled for this production. Among them are Lewis’ branding iron from the Oregon Historical Society and the original journals from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. I was not allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit so I made a number of voice recordings to help me remember what I had seen. I noticed considerable emphasis had been placed on the role of the native peoples’ contributions to making the expedition a success. During past celebrations, such as the Lewis and Clark Centennial and Sesquicentennial, the importance of the Indians which Lewis and Clark encountered along the way was barely mentioned. The Bicentennial celebration is making a great effort to right that wrong.

I would classify the “Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition” as a fairly intellectual. The explorations of Captain James Cook and Alexander Mackenzie were presented along with examples of the various maps available to Lewis and Clark. Most of these maps showed the western United States as “terra incognito” or unknown lands. Where the Rocky Mountains were shown, these were made to look like a single chain as was believed to be the case when the expedition set out. Motivation to explore the West stemmed from a host of commercial, scientific, anthropological, natural resource and expansionist reasons. Finding the fabled Northwest Passage was woven into all of these. Political strategies on the part of Jefferson were thoroughly presented along with explanations of the diplomatic posturing used by Lewis and Clark and by the Indians. The composition of the Corps of Discovery’s crew, military discipline and the devastating effects of White Man’s diseases such as smallpox on the native people are presented in detail. Belief in the existence of volcanoes along the Missouri and prehistoric animals in the western lands was described as well.

Lewis’ attitude toward various Indian groups such as the Chinook was discussed. The Chinook were not that much different from Whites in that they were capitalists and had their own system of wealth. Perhaps this struck a little close to home for Lewis to be comfortable. Clark, on the other hand, seemed to get along with everyone. The one exception is that he had a master’s attitude toward slavery. After the expedition, he expressed frustration to his brother Jonathan about York’s refusal to perform his duty. York had experienced freedom for twenty-eight months, but was now expected to resume his role as a servant. This exhibition was so well done that I will no doubt try to see it again in Philadelphia during November 6, 2004 to March 20, 2005 to at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

by Lorna Hainesworth


Updated January 6, 2005