In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

on the banks of what became Little Bean Marsh Conservation Area. Today this outstanding marsh is isolated on the floodplain on the east side of the river. A boardwalk leads to the marsh, and a tower provides excellent viewing of abundant wetland wildlife.

The Corps of Discovery greeted the morning of the Fourth of July with a blast from its cannon. Later, the party passed an oxbow lake that Clark described as a mile wide and 7-8 miles long, with brilliantly clear water and numerous young geese. Called "Gosling Lake" by Clark, this was likely the lake at Lewis and Clark State Park.

The Corps members began describing the numerous beaver that would later fuel future fur trading commerce. Lewis' dog, Seaman, was skilled at chasing beavers from their lodges.

Journal entries that day describe extensive and beautiful prairies covering the floodplains and adjacent hills. They named Fourth of July Creek and Independence Creek. The latter still bears that name as it flows into the Missouri, just north of Atchison, Kansas.

The party celebrated Independence Day that evening with another cannon salute and an extra gill of whiskey.

Heat and a treacherous, meandering river slowed travel the next week. The expedition passed St. Michael's Prairie at present day St. Joseph on July 7 and did not reach Big Lake until July 11. Along the way, they frequently reported tremendous numbers of wildlife associated with the abundant wetlands.

Wetlands on this portion of the Missouri River are at Bob Brown, Squaw Creek, Big Lake and Deroin Bend conservation areas. Today, these wetland wildlife areas are being managed to restore the wet prairies, marshes, bottomland forests and ponds indigenous to this region. Their wet soils attract thousands of mallards, bluewinged teal and Canada and snow geese, along with herons, shorebirds and wintering bald eagles.

From Big Lake north, the floodplain and adjacent hills were largely prairie. Clark was impressed by the steep, loess-hill prairies that lined the floodplain. You can still see beautiful loess-hill prairies at Brickyard Hill and Star School conservation areas.

On their last day in Missouri, Lewis rode horseback through the bottoms near the Nishnabotna River. He described it as "one of the most beautiful, level and fertile prairies that I ever beheld."

As it traversed what would become the state of Missouri, The Corps of Discovery traveled 66 days and nearly 600 miles. This part of their journey seasoned the crew and prepared them for the hardships and adventures to come.

The Bicentennial celebration of the Corps of Discovery expedition is a good opportunity to visit some of the landmarks Lewis and Clark passed and described, and to kindle your pioneering spirit.

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