Inside tiny Fort Clatsop, they were together again. The Lewises were there. So were the Clarks, the Floyds, and the Charbonneaus, the Gass family, the Whiteheads and more.
Or at least their DNA was, some diluted across generations, some of it rock-solid.
Descendants of the members of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery gathered over the weekend on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the western terminus of the voyage where the party of 33 spent the miserable winter of 1805-1806.
The reunion coincided with the three-year-long bicentennial celebration of the journey. Participants came from as near as nearby small towns and from as far as China and Nigeria.
Genealogist Sandi Hargrove was in charge of tracking all the relations down. “They’d say something like ’We’ve always been told we were related to so-and-so but they never told us how,”’ he said.
Of the 740 people at the weekend reunion, 167 were descendants of Sgt. Patrick Gass, or of his close relatives.
“He lived to be 99, and I would have loved to have met him,” said Sandra Shakel, a great-great granddaughter who lives in Placitas, N.M.
The nation is celebrating the bicentennial of the expedition’s departure from the St. Louis region, when the explorers and a roughly 40-member crew set off to explore the Louisiana Territory and seek a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.
The explorers logged about 8,000 miles (13,300 kilometers) as they navigated the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains, reached the Pacific and returned with knowledge of the land and its natives.
Expedition members were mostly young, footloose enlisted men, and many simply evaporated into history, becoming as anonymous after the 28-month voyage as they were before it started.
Hargrove, who was president of two genealogical societies and taught the subject at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, said she was approached by groups preparing for the celebration of the voyage’s 200th anniversary.
Her five-year search included attempts to find relatives of the Indian translator Sacajawea and her infant son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, whose father was Toussaint Charbonneau, hired halfway through the voyage west as an interpreter.
Whether she has descendants is not clear. Jean-Baptiste died in 1866, and Sacajawea herself had at least one daughter. When and where Sacajawea died, and whether there were other children, is not clear.
In all, the project was able to document 1,669 relatives, using birth, death and marriage certificates, wills and other resources.
Meriwether Lewis, who died in 1809, had no known direct descendants, but 40 descendants of his close relatives were there. There were a few descendants of William Clark.
Larry Whitehouse, of Fort Worth, Texas, a direct descendant of Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse, stuck his head into the cramped rooms of the fort replica rebuilt 50 years ago from drawings and descriptions in Lewis and Clark’s journals.
“It’s really neat to imagine 200 years later, here we are,” he said. “Can you imagine they were here doing this?”