Thursday, July 27, 2017

Off the Trail: Jesse James and the Pony Express


Platte City is beginning to feel like the west to us. We are seeing road signs like Snake Hill and Rattlesnake Cutoff. Names like Kit Carson and Jesse James are showing up on Historic Markers and many of the roads we are driving are part of the Sante Fe Trail. Fred turned to me while we were driving the other day and said “It feels like Sunday night when I was a kid watching Bonanza and Gunsmoke was coming on next.”

Johnny Fry and his horse Sylph.
Yesterday we drove into St. Joseph Missouri to tour the Pony Express National Museum.
The Pony Express was headquartered in St. Joseph at the Patee House, just a few blocks away from the stables. The service was started in an effort to make communication with the west coast of the United States quicker. California had become a state, gold had been discovered at Pikes Peak and political tensions were rising between free states and slave states. Timely correspondence had become a necessity.
The Pony Express Museum is built on the site of the old Pikes Peak Stables which was once used to house horses used by the Pony Express riders. There are a few stalls on display showcasing the equipment needed to keep the horses ready to ride. Blacksmithing tools and implements used in leather work can be seen, as well as examples of the specially made mochilla saddles used by the riders to carry the mail.

The trail of the Pony Express rider.
Large murals show the routes and the stations that riders stopped at to change horses. Relay stations for changing horses were spaced 10-15 miles apart. Home stations for changing riders were spaced 90-120 miles apart. The entire route covered 2000 miles between St. Joseph Missouri and Sacramento, California.

The first run began on April 3 1860 when Johnny Fry and his horse Sylph left the stables in St. Joseph. In Sacramento Harry Roff took off heading east. On April 14 the mail reached its destination.

My favorite portion of the museum was the room dedicated to the stories of individual riders who ranged in age from 11 to 40 something. Not all riders have been identified as there are no existing employment or payroll records. The museum invites anyone whose family history includes legends of the Pony Express to share that history with them.

Archaeological dig at the Pony Express Stable.
I was surprised to learn that the Pony Express only ran for 19 months. The completion of the transcontinental telegraph made them obsolete.
The legends are so big. Intrepid riders and their stories of success despite horrible weather, road hazards, raging rivers and indian hostilities are a treasured part of our history and of our identity as Americans.

St. Joseph is also where Jesse James was living when he was killed. The house is a small 20x30 ft structure in St. Josephs historic district. It is preserved on the grounds of Patee house and is said to look as it did in the 1880’s when James lived there with his wife and children. It even has a bullet hole in the wall from the day he was killed.
Stories of the James gang  are told all around this part of Missouri. The nearby town of Liberty has a Jesse James Bank Museum in the old Clay County Savings Association.
The bank was the site of the first successful daylight peacetime bank robbery attributed to the James gang. It has been preserved in its 1866 state and provides a history of the robberies committed by Jesse James and his family.

We were lucky enough to meet Mark, a Missouri native and his wife Karen while we were staying in Platte City.  Mark saw our names on Jim and Diana Belisle’s blog exploRVistas. Knowing that we were following the Lewis and Clark trail Mark and Karen invited us to contact them when we got to the Kansas City area. We had a great dinner meet-up talking about local history and their plans to become fulltime RVers. Mark filled us in on some of the local lore surrounding the James gang. They even took us to see Jesse James grave which had been moved to a local cemetery to try and discourage vandalism.

Meeting new people on the road is one of our favorite parts of the RVing lifestyle. We are happy to have spent time with Mark and Karen and hope to see them on the road very soon.

Pony Express National Museum
914 Penn St
St Joseph, Missouri

Jesse James Bank Museum
103 N Water St
Liberty, Missouri

Jesse James Home at the Patee House Museum
1202 Penn St
St Joseph, Missouri

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Platte City, Missouri


We have driven west across Missouri and are settled in Platte City, named after the river that flows into the Missouri at this point.

The land is rolling hills and well treed. The winding Missouri is our trail and we have crossed its brown water several times. The water runs quickly though we haven’t seen much white water yet. It makes swooping curves where the rushing water pulls large quantities of soil from the banks and later deposits it in sand bars. 

The travelers commented on the muddiness of the river as it made a poor source for drinking water being so full of silt.

“The water we drink or the Comm water of the Missourie at this time, contains a half a Comm Wine Glass of ooze or mud to every pint-” William Clark

Reading this made me very thankful for the emergency water that we carry and the survival straws in our go bag.

Can you imagine drinking the brown mud filled water of the Missouri?
When the river has flooded in the past and changed its course some of the wide curves are cut off from it and become small lakes. Missouri has a lot of crescent shaped lakes called horseshoes.
We passed Glasgow where the Corps spent a night on the river with French fur traders in June of 1804. A hunting party killed a bear for fresh meat. William Clark described the place in his journal.

“A high commanding position more than 70 feet above the high water mark, and overlooking the river, which is here but of little depth.”

He returned here in 1808 in his position as Head of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, to build a fort at the high ground previously identified here. Fort Clark was the first US Outpost on the frontier built within the lands obtained from France through the Louisiana Purchase. It became an important trading post as well as a significant military presence in the region. Fort Clark also called Fort Osage or Fort Sibley is a National Historic Landmark.

Bronze of Lewis and Clark with Sacagawea, York and Seamon.
There is a small park in Kansas City (the Missouri one) that sits on high ground overlooking the river.   Case Park at Clark’s Point has an impressive bronze of the explorers with Sacagawea (their Shoshone guide) and York (William Clark’s slave). This site presents information about the French fur traders that had explored the land before the expedition. Auguste and Pierre Chouteau in particular assisted Lewis and Clark with supplies shelter and information about the lands they would soon travel.

My favorite figures on the statue York and Seamon looking into the distance.
On June 26th 1804 William Clark wrote about this place:

“We set out early the river falling a little...passed the mouth of the Blue water river...passed a bad Sand bar where our tow rope broke twice, & with great exertions we rowed around it and Came to & Camped in the Point above the Kansas River  I observed a great number of Parrot queets”

Indian Mound at Independence Creek
The group stayed 3 nights along the river in what is now Kansas City, charting the area, making repairs, hunting and having to mete out military discipline to two corpsmen who helped themselves to the liquor supply.

Independence Creek
The expedition continued moving up the Missouri stopping overnight in what is now Atchison Kansas. The Atchison area is where they spent July 4th, 1804, celebrating the 28th anniversary of the country’s independence by firing their swivel cannon at dawn and again in the evening. They traveled 10 miles that day and were 6 weeks into the journey.
The group named 2 creeks in Atchison, Independence creek and 4th of July Creek, both of which we located.
4th of July Creek

There are several places within a 50 mile radius of Platte City that have Lewis and Clark exhibits. Our favorite was the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence.

Jim Bridger statue at the National Frontier Trails Museum
It is a city museum that features exhibits about the great trails west and the intrepid pioneers that braved the hardships of travel.
The museum staff were having a difficult day as strong storms had passed through Independence the night before. The building was without power but they were open and invited us in if we didn’t “mind a little heat”   We used our phones as flashlights and had a look.
The museum has an exhibit featuring the trail of Lewis and Clark expedition. What we found more fascinating were the displays featuring the western trails that were to follow. The Sante Fe Trail, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail, and the Mormon Trail.
It is estimated that between 1840 and 1860 nearly 400,000 people headed west with hopes for a better life. 1 in 10 of them would not survive the journey.
There is a wall dedicated to the fate of the Donner party as well as quotes from pioneers that kept diaries. The quotes made the stories real.
These words from Lavinia Honeyman Porter as she said goodbye to her sister said it all.
“But in a few moments I rallied my forces, and waving a last adieu to my beloved sister, turned my dim and tear stained eyes westward and soon overtook the slowly moving oxen who were bearing my husband and child over the green prairie. Climbing into the wagon beside them, with everything we possessed piled high behind us, we turned our faces toward the land of golden promise that lay far beyond the Rocky Mountains. Little idea had I of the hardships, the perils, the deprivation that awaited me”

Tomorrow we turn the wheels toward Nebraska.

National Frontier Trails Museum
318 W Pacific Ave
Independence, MO

Case Park at Clarks Point
611 W 8th St
Kansas City, MO

Lewis and Clark Historic Park
1 River City Dr
Kansas City, KS

Independence Creek Site
19917 314 Rd
Atchison, KS

4th of July Creek Site
990 Skyway Highway
Atchison, KS

Friday, July 21, 2017

New Franklin and Boonesville, Missouri

The Corps of Discovery made their way up the Missouri traveling on average 15 miles a day. The troops rowed, poled and when all else failed got in the water and pulled the heavy keelboat upstream using ropes. 

The 2 smaller boats called pirogues were lighter and more responsive in the current and often led the way to point out dangerous places ahead.
There were many obstacles to avoid. Tangled driftwood, logs and whole trees floated toward them as they toiled. Sandbars blocked their way as they rounded curves in the river and occasionally part of the river bank collapsed causing further impediment.
While William Clark managed the crew and commanded the keelboat, Meriwether Lewis traveled on shore exploring the landscape, identifying plant and animal species and making note of things like fresh water springs and suitability of the land for a settlement or fort.
Crew members sometimes joined him ashore searching for game as the boats moved slowly up the river.
Both leaders faced dangerous situations early in their travels. Mr. Clark’s keelboat nearly capsized early in the journey when it became hung up on a sandbar and the current pushed it sideways.
Mr Lewis came close to losing his life when he fell and slid down a steep incline. He was fortunate to catch himself by plunging his knife into the ground before tumbling over a cliff.

view of the Missouri River from Harley Park in Booneville.
Our travels were much easier. We drove about 3 ½ hours to reach New Franklin, MO where we are staying for three nights. We are close to Arrowrock and Booneville both of which are points of interest on the Lewis and Clark trail.
Boonville is named after the famous Kentucky frontier woodsman Daniel Boone. He had moved in 1799 to a place on the Missouri river near where we are staying. There are records that the members of the expedition stopped here and interacted with the settlers from Kentucky, trading with them. There is no documentation that Lewis and Clark or any member of the corps actually met Mr. Boone who would have been 70 years old in 1804.
The journals of the explorers mention a large projection of rock with flint that can still be seen near Arrowrock. The local tribes used the flint in arrow and tool making. The highly visible bluff was an important landmark to early explorers.

Salt water springs in Booneslick, Missouri
They also made note of salt water springs near what is now called Booneslick after the sons of Daniel Boone. Nathan and Daniel Morgan worked the salt springs from 1805 to 1833 boiling the salt water to crystalize the salt then packaging it and sending it down the river to St Louis.

The presence of indian mounds in this area was also noted. There are 2 protected mounds in the town of New Franklin.

The small towns of Boonville, New Franklin, and Arrowrock have been fun to explore. Our RV park is located on the Katy trail a 238 mile long rails to trails path that winds through rural Missouri. We limited our bike excursions due to the 100+ degree weather that Missouri has been experiencing.

While exploring New Franklin we learned that the region was also the start of the Sante Fe Trail and that Kit Carson lived here in present day Howard County before heading west.

The journals of Mr. Clark note of this area:
“Found the countrey for one mile back good Land and well watered”
“Well timbered with oake, walnit Hickory ash, &c, the land still further back becomes thin and open, with Black and rasp Berries, and still further back the Plains Commence”

The troops certainly had my sympathy in William Clark’s description of their physical difficulties caused by insects and difficult living conditions.

“The party is much aflicted with Boils and Several have the Dicissentary, which I contribute to the water which is muddy”
Stephen Ambrose in his book Undaunted Courage attributes some of these problems to a diet consisting of only meat and cornmeal.

Leaving Pierre le Fleche (the Rock of Arrows) the team passed La Charette the last white settlement on the Missouri.
We are driving west too. Next stop Kansas City.

Arrowrock State Historic Site
39521 Visitor Center Dr
Arrow Rock, Missouri

Boone's Lick State Historic Site
Glasgow, Missouri

Clark's Hill/Norton Site
1700 Osage Hickory St
Osage City, MO

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Off the Trail: Cahokia Mounds

Mound 72 from the Visitor Center

July 12, 2017

There are times when I realize that there are huge gaps in my education about the history of North America.Today is one of those days.We were at an Illinois State Historic Site the other day gathering information about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. One of the volunteers asked “Have you seen the Cahokia Mounds?"

I admitted my ignorance and she went on to explain that there was a prehistoric Indian site only a few miles away that was also preserved as a State Historic Site.
Not just any prehistoric Indian site, Cahokia Mounds is the largest prehistoric Indian site north of Mexico and includes the largest earthen construction in the Americas.
Cahokia Mounds has been designated a US National Historic Landmark (1965) and a World Heritage Site (1982) for its historical significance.
How did I not know that this site exists?
I used to blame educational gaps on the fact that I changed schools so frequently growing up in a military family, but Fred wasn't aware of Cahokia Mounds either.
Teacher friends is this part of today’s curriculum or does American History still begin with European colonization?
There is evidence of ocupation of this land from AD 600. People lived here, not far from the Mississippi River and found the rich fertile land to be proper for planting crops and developing an agriculture based society. They grew seed crops like squash and pumpkins. Most importantly they grew corn, a crop that could be dried and stored to feed them during winter months.
Small groups grew, banded together and formed an organized community with a complex structure that included a ruler, an elite class, tradesmen and workers.  
The residents built large mounds, a grand plaza surrounded by a stockade, and a Henge type structure made of wood that is thought to have been a solar calendar.

Artifact found at Cahokia Mounds
Archeological excavation estimates that the population was between 10,000 to 20,000 at the highest. Sometime around AD 1200 that number began to decline and the community was totally abandoned by the 14th century.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site protects 70 mounds on 2200 acres. There are 10 other mounds outside of the parks land.

Monk's Mound. 154 steps to the top. You can see the second staircase to the right of the first at the top of the picture.

The tallest of the mounds is Monk’s Mound, named after a group of Trappist monks that lived near it 1809-1813, 400 years after the original inhabitants had abandoned it.
The mound is 100 feet tall.
It’s base covers 14 acres of land.
It is estimated to contain 22 million cubic feet of dirt, dug by hand and carried in baskets.
Monks Mound is built in 4 terraced sections. It was built as a platform for buildings. Digs have found evidence at the top of the 4th terrace that a structure measuring 104 feet by 48 feet once stood there.
Monks Mound was built in a rectangular platform style and is thought to have held the homes of the ruler and his family as well as a ceremonial space that served as the seat of government.

Fred standing on the edge at the top of Monk's Mound
There is now a concrete staircase that allows you to climb to the top with 154 steps. It was over 100 degrees that day but we made it to the top.
The other 69 mounds are scattered over the 2200 acres. They do not appear to have any particular order or arrangement. Some are round or conical, some are called ridge top. A few have been identified as burial sites.
Archaeological excavations are ongoing and employ volunteers.
We were given information about the application process and have put Spend some time digging in Illinois dirt on our must do list.

St Louis from the top of Monk's Mound

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
30 Ramey St.
Cahokia, Illinois

Thursday, July 13, 2017

We Have Arrived, St Louis Missouri

“The mouth of the river Dubois is to be considered as the point of departure.”
From the journal of Meriwether Lewis

July 8, 2017

We are here.
Across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The Arch is in sight and it is amazing.
Camped on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River we await our departure on the journey west just as the Corps of Discovery did 213 years ago. We are anxious to follow their trail.

Camp Dubois
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set their Winter camp just north of here where the River Dubois empties into the Mississippi. It was called Camp Dubois (also known as Camp Wood.)
The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford Illinois has created a replica of the original encampment using the descriptive journal entries of Lewis, Clark and others in their party. There is no sign of the original Camp Dubois. The topography of the land has changed through decades of floodwaters, the force of the river and a massive earthquake in 2011. Archaeologists have proposed theories that the original camp is where the Mississippi River now flows, but no artifacts have ever been found.

Keelboat and supplies replica
We considered it close enough. The historic site has a small museum that houses a cutaway replica of the Corps keelboat that allowed us to imagine the difficulties of their travel. Talk about traveling light! What would you pack for a journey into unknown territory?
Meriwether Lewis spent that Winter securing supplies for the expedition while William Clark drilled the members of the Corps until they became a cohesive unit.
The east side of the Mississippi River in 1803 was the west coast of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson had purchased the Louisiana territory from Napoleon Bonaparte but power had not been officially transferred. Until it was and the flags in St Louis were changed to the stars and stripes the mission could not proceed.

Acquiring the Louisiana Territory doubled the size of the country

That transfer was completed March 10th 1804.
May 14, 1804 William Clark and his troops left Camp Dubois and traveled up the Missouri River in a 55 foot keelboat and 2 smaller boats. They stopped in St. Charles where Meriwether Lewis met them.

Statue of Lewis, Clark and Clark's dog Seamon in St. Charles Missouri
Their mission: to find a water passage to the Pacific if it existed, to identify and describe species of plants and animals that have not been previously documented, and to approach the native peoples they met along the route, learning about them and representing the American Government.

July 9, 2017

The Gateway Arch marks the path to the west.
That structure that looks so graceful and delicate from the Illinois side of the river is huge when you stand right next to it.

The Arch at 630 feet tall towers over the buildings surrounding it. 52 years after its completion it remains the tallest arch in the world.
The Visitor Center shows a film about the building of the Gateway Arch. It is terrifying to watch film of the steel workers walking around on the high platforms with a cigarette in one hand and a hammer in the other and no safety harnesses in sight.
There were no lives lost in the building of the Arch, although a Park Ranger told us a few harrowing stories of near misses.
One story stuck in my mind.
There were 2 young high steel workers that wanted to fall into the safety net that stretched between the towers as the Arch neared completion. On the final day (because they knew they would be fired) they decided to take the plunge. One of the men dropped his tool belt first. They watched in amazement as the tool belt was driven by the breeze past the net and into the Mississippi River. They were never really protected at all.
We took the tram to the top of the Arch. What and experience! Fred loved it. I knew that I would be nervous because of the height and was prepared for that. I did not know that the “tram” was made up of small cars each meant to seat 5 people. They are rounded at the top so that an adult can’t sit up straight. Did I mention that I hate closed in spaces?
The experience was worth 7 minutes of terror. The views from the top are spectacular and you can stay as long as you like. The tiny windows made me feel secure. Rangers told us that on a clear day you can see for 30 miles in either direction. We were lucky to have a clear day.

Inside the Old Courthouse
We are disappointed to learn that the National Park’s renovation has closed the Museum of National Expansion but glad that the funding for the work was appropriated. Some of the museums Lewis and Clark exhibits can be currently found in the Old Courthouse which is part of the National Park.  

July 15th 2017

Confluence Tower in Hartford Illinois is a 180 foot structure with great river views.

180 ft tall Confluence Tower, Hartford Illinois
From the observation deck of the upper level you can see across the levee and the wide Mississippi River to the place where the Missouri River pours in. That place where the waters flow together marks our path.
Tomorrow we drive west.

Top of the Confluence Tower. The Missouri enters the Mississippi at Fred's left shoulder

Gateway Arch and Museum of National Expansion
11 North 4th St
St Louis, MO

Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd
St Louis, MO

Lewis and Clark Center and Boathouse
1050 S Riverside Dr
St Charles, MO

Lewis and Clark State Historic Site
3500 New Poag Rd
Hartford, IL

Lewis and Clark Statue
810 South Main St
St Charles, MO
on the Katy trail

William Clark's Grave Bellefontaine Cemetery St Louis, MO