Friday, July 31, 2009

New WebLog

After doing some traveling along the Lewis and Clark Trail, I decided to try something similar, but much closer to home. I just published the first entry for the new blog, which is called Historical Travel. It wll be pretty similar to what I started to do here, but with a focus on historical sites in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Please stop by and take a look!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fort Union Trading Post

In western North Dakota, right before you cross into Montana, the Yellowstone River joins the Missouri River from the south-west. On the journey westward Lewis and Clark passed the Yellowstone by, following Thomas Jefferson's order to follow the Missouri to its source. On the return journey Clark led a small exploration down the Yellowstone River, and the entire Corps of Discovery reunited at the confluence with the Missouri.

At that location there are actually a few places to drop in and visit.

At the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center there's an overlook where you can see the Yellowstone River come in straight towards you, joining the Missouri River flowing from right to left.

Fort Buford State Historic Site is located only half a mile eastward from that spot. It was a very large army post, established to protect settlers, and became a major supply depot for military field operations. It is perhaps most well known for being the place where Sitting Bull surrendered to the US Army. Managed by the state of North Dakota, the site has not received the attention that Fort Union Trading Post has, and has not been restored to nearly the same extent.

Located another two or three miles eastward, Fort Union Trading Post is a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. The fort was not a military site; it was a privately built and operated center for trading with the indigenous people of the region for furs.

It also was enormous.

Over the front gate.

A window next to the gate was used when the gates were shut.

A fur press was situated right outside of the front gate. Not far below was a dock from which goods were loaded onto boats traveling up and down the Missouri River. The Missouri has shifted away from the fort since that time. Here is a photo taken with my back to the gate, the channel cut by the Missouri is the the black strip that appears from side to side.

Mandan and Hidatsa Earthlodge Villages

In the winter of 1804-1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition stayed in the Mandan Villages, some of which were occupied by members of the Mandan tribe, and a couple by Hidatsas. The Mandan Villages were on the Missouri River, somewhat upstream from today's Washburn, North Dakota. Before the arrival of Euro-American explorers, the Mandans had lived a little farther downstream, in the vicinity of Bismarck, ND, but smallpox epidemics decimated their numbers, and the survivors moved upstream.

In the Bismarck vicinity there are a few archaeological sites where you can see remains of abandoned Mandan Villages; I wrote a little about them in Pre-Columbian Mandan Villages in North Dakota. I stopped by one of those sites today, namely Double Ditch Indian Village . It's really not much to see; what it has to offer is the opportunity to stand there and imagine the presence of a lost civilization.

It's called "Double Ditch" due to the detectable ditches which surrounded the villages. The villages were built like fortresses; the ditches were moats, and along the inner walls vertical wooden posts were placed to form a palisade. The village dwellings were eartlodges, which I will explain more in a bit.

In the center of the village site there are a few mounds called midden by archaeologists, these were village dumps where household refuse was thrown - things like animal bones, broken pottery, and ash from hearths.

Next I drove north to the site of the old Hidatsa villages. This is a much more organized site that's run by the National Park Service, it's called Knife River Indian Villages. They offer a thirteen minute orientation video, exhibits and a replica of a classic Hidatsa earthlodge.

It was at one of those Hidatsa villages that Lewis and Clark hired Toussaint Charbonneau to come along with them, so that his Shoshone wife Sacagawea could act as an interpreter. The Hidatsas would send raiding parties as far west as the Continental Divide, and Sacagawea (along with her sister) had been captured on one such raid. The French-Canadian Charbonneau was living at one of the Hidatsa villages, and won Sacagawea and her sister on a bet.

Vertical wooden poles formed the inner walls. These were covered with branches and twigs, and they were covered with earth.

The elder would sit before a fireplace situated at the center of the lodge.

A bed with what appears to be a bison hide blanket.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

God is Great, Beer is Good, People are Crazy

If you're from North Dakota, then turning on the radio and hearing a song with this title wouldn't surprise you in the least, but for someone from the Northeast it's a bit of an experience.

I started the day in South Sioux City, IA. I wanted to see the Missouri River that Lewis and Clark saw, and was told that starting from Ponca State Park and continuing upstream there's a 59 mile stretch of river that was never channelized. The Missouri River from that point downstream would - I daresay - be completely unrecognizable to anyone who saw it during the frontier era. Its course has been straightened, and the river bottom has been cleared, all to make the river navigable.

That's a the view upstream from Ponca State Park, located on the Nebraska side of that states' border with South Dakota. Notice the meandering path of the river; downstream the character of the Missouri River is much different, due to channelization.

I was told that if I drove ten minutes upstream, I would find a scenic overlook right before the bridge to Vermillion, SD. Here are a couple of photos from that spot, again facing upstream.

This time notice the sandbars. Lewis and Clark had to deal with these obstacles, plus clumps of driftwood, logs racing downstream and sawyers, which were parts of trees (or whole trees) rooted in the river bottom.

Next I would like to see a few sites in the vicinity of Bismarck, ND. The best route took me a bit away from the Missouri, but then again I was driving a car, not paddling a keelboat or pirouge. So I went up I-29, made a left at Fargo, ND onto I-94, and now I'm writing this in Bismarck.

From New York through Ohio the speed limit on interstate highways was 65, in Indiana through Nebraska it was 70. Once you get to South Dakota we bump it up to 75.

The day's journey:

According to Google Maps I drove 530 miles today!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Road Trip - Westbound - Fort Atkinson State Historical Park

On August 3, 1804, Lewis and Clark had their first council with native chiefs on a bluff overlooking the western bank of the Missouri River. For that reason the site was called "Council Bluffs". Present-day Council Bluffs uses that name, but it was established on the Iowa side of the river. William Clark later recommended the site as an excellent location for a fort, and when Congress decided to built a series of trading-posts in the Louisiana Territory that site was among the chosen locations. As it turned out, Fort Atkinson was the only one built and put into use.

After a few decades the fort fell into disuse. Fort Atkinson State Historical Park consists of a (huge) replica of the fort, and a visitors center where the staff is happy to answer questions. I watched the twenty-minute orientation video, and thought that it was pretty thorough. I really learned a lot about what motivated Congress to plan development of the fort system, the trials endured while constructing the fort, events that occurred during the years that it was in use, and how the fort later fell into disuse.

The replica is behind the visitors center, you can take a walk or drive down a very short paved path to see the fort.

The approach to the fort from the visitors center.

Along the inner walls are soldier's barracks and other rooms.


Solitary cells

The shared cell.

The hospital. In front are displayed implements used by doctors at the fort, heaven please help us.

The courtyard.

The powder magazine was situated at the center of the courtyard, as far from the walls as possible. This enhanced soldiers ability to defend it from attack, and protected residents of the fort by distancing their quarters from the magazine. It was the only structure with stone walls. This was required so that it would not be flammable, and so that in event of explosion the stone walls would direct the force of the explosion in an upward direction, away from the walls and its inhabitants.

Road Trip - Westbound - Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Visitors Center

Between Kansas City and Sioux City, IA, the course of the Missouri River runs north-south. Following the Missouri any distance by road means taking I-29, which is right next to the eastern bank of that stretch of the river. I've had to cross from one side to the other a few times already, and it has never been a problem; there always seems to be a bridge where you need one.

The Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Visitors Center is located in Nebraska City, NE. If you're coming from the Iowa side of the river it's literally one of the first things that you see once you get off of the bridge. There are a few Lewis and Clark visitors centers along the Lower Missouri River, so each one needs to have something unique to offer. The Missouri River Basin visitors center focuses on how the Expedition related to the flora and fauna of the region.

At the entrance to the building there's a replica of the keelboat that was used from St. Louis to Fort Mandan (in today's North Dakota) - there seem to be a small number of similar replicas.

The sail was used when there was a sufficient wind, otherwise oars (seen on the far side) were used. When river conditions did not allow paddling, soldiers stood on the walkways along the inner side and pushed the boat upriver with poles. As a last resort men would have to get out and walk along the shore, pulling on ropes attached to the side of the boat.

On the first floor a tent is set up in the way Lewis and Clark most likely did so. Inside the tent there is an exhibit on each side. On one side the intricate process of preserving new species of animals is illustrated, and on the other side the process of preserving plant species is demonstrated. These preserves were shipped back to Thomas Jefferson from Fort Mandan. Species discovered after the winter at Fort Mandan returned with the expedition in 1806. The thought of Lewis following these procedures in the most distant wilderness is rather mind-boggling, and maybe even a little inspiring.

On the upper floor there are a few more exhibits. Here's an introduction to outdoors skills required to be part of the Corps of Discovery. You're asked to spot deer tracks, guess whether the deer was walking or running, and find scratches left by the bear on a nearby tree (to mark his territory).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Road Trip - Westbound - Fort Osage National Historic Landmark

I wrote about the history in The Treaty of Fort Clark, so I'll just talk about the visit now.

After visiting the Village of Arrow Rock, I followed the lady's advice (referring to the GPS navigator) and took Route 24 westward to Fort Osage National Historic Landmark. Route 24 goes through a number of towns with populations ranging from 50 to 600, following the path of the Missouri River much more closely than I-70. The sites that I'm visiting are along the Missouri River, so that somewhat slower route turned out to be a more direct one.

The staff there were very knowledgeable and happy to help, and I learned a lot while visiting. For a couple of decades following the return of Lewis and Clark to St. Louis, trade with Indians west of the Mississippi River was managed by the U.S. Government, which established a number of trading posts, built forts to protect them and and manned them with soldiers. Trade with indigenous nations was often subsidized, i.e. it was done at a loss to the Government. This was done in order to bring native tribes into the American sphere of influence, as we were competing with the British and Spanish at the time.

There is a visitors center at the entrance, which offers a brief orientation video, and a few exhibits on regional geology, flora and fauna, tribal history and colonial expansion. After exiting the visitor center there's a brief walk to the replica of Fort Osage.

Here's the eastward view from the fort, i.e. looking at the Missouri River downstream

Today's entrance to the fort. When it was in use, the only entrance was from the river, which is on the opposite side of the fort.

Natives brought pelts to this room, were they where appraised, processed and prepared to be shipped.

Directly across the hallway was this room, where the Indians would trade credits (given in return for the furs) for manufactured goods from the east.

At approximately this spot, across the Missouri River from the fort, Lewis and Clark are believed to have camped.

Soldiers and other residents within were greatly outnumbered by the surrounding native tribes, therefore maintaining discipline was of the utmost importance. In the middle of the courtyard stood this whipping post.