After nearly six months of retracing the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, members of a living-history group have returned home for a break.
The re-enactors, called the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, are enjoying things like naps and cold beer at home with their families now that they've paused for the winter. The second leg of their journey commemorating the bicentennial of the expedition took them from Missouri to North Dakota.
A core group of about a dozen re-enactors traveled the bulk of this year's trip, and 200 of the group's 315 members nationwide took turns joining in for part of the travels. The group is based in St. Charles, about 25 miles northwest of St. Louis.
The expedition's 39-year-old captain, Scott Mandrell of Alton, Ill., said he had returned home for one day during the trip to take his daughter to begin kindergarten before coming home on Sunday.
"I slept," he said Tuesday. "I had a frosty, cold Budweiser. I haven't unpacked yet or anything."
Two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark and their crew explored the Louisiana Territory and sought a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. The explorers logged about 8,000 miles; they navigated the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached the Pacific before returning with knowledge of the land and its native people.
The re-enactors had some modern conveniences — engines on their wooden boats and cell phones — and maintained a tight schedule, timed for dozens of educational appearances while they traveled 1,370 miles.
Voyage continues next April
The new expedition traced the eastern part of Lewis and Clark's route last year and traveled from Missouri to North Dakota over the past six months. They'll resume their voyage next April, returning to North Dakota to continue to the Pacific. In 2006, they'll go to Oregon to trace a path back to St. Louis by September.
Larry McClain, the expedition's executive director, said the re-enactors were met in communities with pancake breakfasts, barbecues — even offers of help with laundry. He recalled gassing up the replica boats only to find a farmer in overalls already had picked up their fuel tab.
"It never ceases to amaze me, the kindness and generosity of the American people," he said.
But the re-enactors also met some opposition during their travels.
A South Dakota-based group called "Stop Lewis and Clark" asked the re-enactors to turn back, and plans to continue peaceful protest next year asking the group to give up its planned route.
One of the organizers — Vic Camp, a Lakota Indian who lives on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota — said he believes the true history of American Indians still remains unknown to many.
"To me, it was the beginning of the end for our way of life," he said of the original expedition. "It represented the dawn of genocide for our people."
The re-enactors said they'd talked to many American Indians throughout their planning and hoped the attention on their travels would provide a platform for diverse voices, including American Indians, to be heard.