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American Scene: Lewis & Clarkiana Volume 52 Number 6, November/December 1999
by Jim Merritt


(Illustration by Wayne McLoughlin)

Though civilization has swept aside the Edenic vistas of Lewis and Clark, at the annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in Bismarck, North Dakota, the spirit of the explorers lives on, and there are some who pursue their story with a single-mindedness bordering on obsession. In the course of our immersion in all things Lewis and Clark I met people who had managed to make careers of the most eccentric sub-specialities. A food historian researches the nutritional aspects of the journey; an angling couple from Minnesota fish the Missouri and Columbia rivers in the wake of the discoverers; and a former elementary-school administrator from Los Angeles is remaking himself as the expedition's fiddler. Toward that end, he has quit his job, grown a full beard and hair long enough to pull back in a ponytail, and lost 30 pounds so he can dance on his hands like a voyageur. Ken Karsmizki, an archaeologist affiliated with the Museum of the Rockies, in Bozeman, Montana, has spent the last 12 years trying to pin down the physical record of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Excavations at the Lower Portage Camp have turned up a possible tent peg carbon-dated to around 1810, bone fragments with knife marks, several fire pits, and a gunflint that fits neatly into the lock of the model of military rifle carried by the explorers. "Lewis and Clark have been called the writingest explorers who ever lived," Karsmizki said, "but I wish they had been the messiest--it would have made my job a lot easier."

* See also "Searching for Lewis and Clark," January/February 1998.

Freelance writer Jim Merritt lives in Pennington, New Jersey. You can contact the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation via the Internet at The foundation meets next August in Dillon, Montana, near the pass where Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America