by Ken Page
A spoof on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Lewis and Clark, A Little-Known History of the Corps of Discovery
-Ken Page and the Drive-By Historians
With the Louisiana purchase in 1803, the territory of the United States doubled overnight. Months before the $15 million deal was finalized, though, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from Congress to send a team of intrepid explorers to find a passable water route west to the Pacific Ocean.
Jefferson tapped his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead the "Corps of Discovery". Secretly Lewis was shocked and appalled at the idea. He was a secretary, his life was indoors, his taste was refined, he had no experience as an explorer or even a camper. What was this lunatic thinking?
Lewis said to Jefferson,
"Sir, I'm very honored but I am not qualified and I have important work to do here."
"Nonsense my boy I must have someone I trust in charge, someone who can type."
"Can what sir?"
"...can write, someone who can schedule appointments with whomever you may encounter, someone who can remind, a-uh, himself to keep appointments, someone who will dress impeccably, someone who won't steal the expedition office supplies, and someone with no power or independent thought, a sycophant, a lap dog, a coward, more afraid of saying no to me than of the certain death this journey entails. And especially someone who will do it for free," said Jefferson.
"But sir, what about my work here?"
"I'll find someone easy. Anyone could do this job, any half-wit, a moron, a monkey, a well-trained dexterous cockroach."
Once Lewis grasped the inevitability, the full scope and challenge of the expedition, he called on the only friend he had with experience in the army and the outdoors, fellow Virginian, William Clark, and asked him to join him in command. Lewis approached Clark and said,
"Believe me old friend there is no man on earth with whom I should feel more secure as with yourself. William, I need you, oh, well, for everything. I've had a roof over my head all my days, a nice fire, a warm bed. There are rivers, mountains, forests out there, things I've only read about or seen in movies. I've never been out of the city, when I go to the privy I have one of Thomas's slaves follow me with an umbrella to keep me dry if it's raining and a torch to keep me warm. I got lost in Thomas' estate garden once, as a boy I thought a nature walk was a punishment, I don't think I've ever walked on bare ground. My very name is 'Merry Weather'! Thomas isn't in his right mind. Help me, William! Please! My good friend, you can be completely in charge. "
"I don't know who you are or how you think you know me. I don't know what asylum you came from or how on earth you came to know Thomas Jefferson. But you are right, I was in the army and I am right accustomed to exploring, and if you'll not touch anything, do exactly as you are told, and stay at least 20 feet from me at all times, I'll take the job."
"Anything William, anything at all!"
"Merry weather, is that one word or two? Anyway, get a hold of yourself!"
LEWIS AND CLARK'S JOURNEY BEGINS
May 14, 1804
The Corps of Discovery embarks from Camp Ewell Aldye outside of St. Louis, Missouri, in a 55-foot keelboat to begin the westward journey up the Missouri River. There were 41 men total consisting of volunteers, soldiers, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a retired cop from the Bronx, a former Miss Virginia disguised as a teenage boy, a computer consultant, and a welder from Pennsylvania. Lewis stayed in a specially built luxurious shelter installed at the rear of the boat, a kind of gilded cage, packed with comforts available at that time. (Jefferson was likely unaware he was paying for this. The shelter had two small windows, one facing forward, the other on the right wall and opened over the river. This limited view was by design. Lewis did not want to see the dangerous wilderness all around him. He would spend much of his time pretending he was still safe at home in Washington and writing in his journal.
"Have departed camp Aldye this day. I am told we journey up the Missouri River which I have only partially glimpsed but am assured is not a major deep wide waterway but a pleasant placid little stream that William hopes we'll be able to squeeze through....William has been of great comfort to me already. He reports that he has been able to chart a course that will require no encounters with savages, wide rivers, formidable mountain ranges, forests, endless open plains, gorges, unpleasant deserts or wildlife of any kind."
August 20, 1804
Though predictions had been dire, the only death of the entire expedition occurs when the welder Charles Floyd dies of natural causes suddenly while in conversation with Clark.
"So, you were hired by Mr. Jefferson?" asked Clark.
"That be so, sir."
"And what is it exactly that a welder does?"
"A welder, I'm told, welds sir", answered Floyd.
"You are told? Aren't you a welder?", asked a puzzled Clark.
"Yes sir, but this is my first job, I haven't actually welded anything yet."
"Ok, but you must have had training, you must have welded or seen welding or read about welding."
"No sir, couldn't attend training as I am afflicted with a heart condition. They thought training too dangerous for me, so they skipped that part, just made me a welder".
"Why I never heard of such a thing. That is absurd. That is,...................Mr. Floyd, why are you clutching your chest. Are you alright? You don't look well sir-...Mr. Floyd!"
A TENSE ENCOUNTER WITH THE TETON SIOUX
September 25, 1804
Despite Clark's assurance to Lewis, there were indeed, wide rivers, formidable mountains, endless plains, wildlife, and Indians. Of all Lewis and Clark's encounters with Native American tribes, the meeting with the Teton Sioux (Lakota) near modern-day Pierre, South Dakota, is among the tensest. The Sioux demanded a toll for safe passage. Clark asked,
"What sort of toll would be required"
The young chief he was talking to paused, looking over Clark's crew, save Lewis, who'd yet to leave his shelter on the boat.
"I think that woman pretending to be a boy will do"
Clark and the crew were dumbfounded.
"My apologies, but what woman pretending to be a man?"
The chief had the full attention of the crew now.
"That one with the short hair, mustache, smoking a pipe with huge full breasts, shapely figure and beautiful plump behind."
Clark and crew stood mesmerized, in shock, and strangely aroused. The former Miss Virginia who had claimed his name was Max Hontis lowered her head.
"Mr. Hontis, now that it's been pointed out, why do you have full breasts, a shapely figure and beautiful plump behind?" inquired Clark.
Knowing the game was up, Mr., ah Miss Hontis removed the long coat and the cap she was wearing revealing a full-length sequined nightgown and a lusciously styled mound of red hair. She then ripped off the mustache.
"Tryin to get to Vegas, commander. My name is Maxine. It's always been my dream to be a showgirl, sir!"
Eventually, Clark spoke with the chief.
"It is not among our customs to trade women as property, except when they marry, they then belong to the man. Are you proposing marriage to Mr., ah, Miss Hontis?"
Miss Hontis did remain with the Indians, thus disappointing the crew greatly. And Miss Hontis did indeed make it to Vegas some two years later and became a stripper, "Poke-a-my-hontis" (untamed by the savages).
The rest of the corps moved on upriver. From his shelter, Lewis shouted a question to Clark who was at the front of the boat.
"Mr. Clark, what was that all about?"
"Ahhh, just some nuns asking directions Lewis."
"By the way, you need to know, we had a woman disguised as a man in our ranks, kind of like you."
"Really" said Lewis's without expression.
"Most assuredly so. You need to know because it was Mr. Hontis, your personal valet."
"Oh, how disappointing, he, I mean she, was so efficient," lamented lewis.
"Yes well, I did notice that she, ah, Mr. Hontis was quite good at being there promptly to take your bedpan and dump it in the river for you."
"Assuredly, yes indeed, yes indeed."
"By the way, do you think that since your shelter is built right at the edge of the boat, you might just dump it yourself? You'd need only extend your arm." asked Clark.
"Right interesting idea, had not occurred to me. Thank you William."
November 11, 1804
With winter fast approaching, the corps constructs Fort Fugidscolt in North Dakota among the hospitable Gladuahea and the Plezadongo Indians.
Three days into construction a crew member approached Clark and asked,
"How should we accommodate Mr. Lewis, sir?"
"Why, Mr. Lewis, what accommodations do we built for him in the fort?"
"Oh him! Yes a, by the way, have you seen him recently?"
The foreman thought.
"Well, no sir"
Clark thought for a minute.
"The boat!" he suddenly blurted.
Lewis was still on the boat, in the shelter, nearly frozen.
Clark makes a hasty scribble in his journal about the arrival of "two squaws, purchased from the Indians by...a Frenchmen." One of those squaws is the famous Sackagweeda. Many of the crew applied literal meaning to Indian names and so were thrilled when she arrived.
"Hehehe, sack a weeda," said one. "Dude, a sack a weeda for meeda", said another.
After a short time, a couple of them approached Clark.
"Pardon commander, but we were wondering about that squaw Sackagaweeda".
"Well, sir, we were just wondering whether, that is whether we mean of course after the commander has had his fill, if we will be permitted to partake of her gifts, ah, in her sack, you know, pass it around."
Clark, remembering that Sackagweeda was very beautiful, was outraged.
"Of course not, this is a disgusting, indecent proposal. I'm shocked that my crew would ask such a thing. You can save your filth for the filthy dark allies from which you came. We do not pass around women, even Indian women, to be debauched and defiled for your selfish hedonistic lustful pleasure."
"Sir, no sir, we didn't mean..."
Sackagaweeda soon proves to be an invaluable member of the expedition.
Sackagaweeda helped Lewis and Clark in a number of ways, both in letting native tribes know that they came in peace, as well as helping the men stay in good spirits. Though Clark didn't know, it turned out, her name actually did have a literal meaning. And she shared generously from her sack, though she made them roll their own.
Unrelatedly, while at the fort that winter, the computer consultant approached Clark and said,
"Excuse me commander do you have a moment."
"Certainly young man."
Clark paused and thought a second.
"Wait, hey, you weren't in on that sinful Sacagaweeda plot were you?"
"Oh, no sir!"
"Good, glad to hear that. What can I assist you with?"
"Well sir, it's me, that is, my being here. I mean to say, I'm confused as to why I am here."
"Why, you are here to guide us, navigate, pilot us. Isn't that what you've been doing?"
"Actually, no sir, I haven't been doing anything, I'm a computer consultant."
Clark said, "Exactly, you plot our path by making computations on the stars, they are beacons for you. They tell you where we are, where we've been, where we are going. Why haven't you been doing your job lad?"
"No sir, I'm not a navigator. I'm a computer consultant."
"Yes boy, you consult the stars then compute where we are." agreed Clark.
"No, I help companies and organizations choose the best computer systems for their particular needs," replied the consultant.
"Well, I would not encroach on that. You can decide which system is the best, I wouldn't know. That's your business. I'm still waiting to hear why you haven't done your job."
"Sir, but you don't even have one computer."
"Yes, I do, its right in front of me."
The consultant turned and looked all behind him and said,
"I don't see one sir."
"Now, now, lad. I'm sure that's just modesty. You'll gain your confidence back, once you start doing your job."
"A computer sir, a machine"
Oh, no-no, not to worry, it is not a fast-paced job. You don't have to be a machine. take your time with it, my boy."
The computer consultant gave up apologized and excused himself.
"Hey, just one moment. You say you haven't been doing your job. Then how is it we got this far?" asked Clark before the consultant could leave.
"By just going upstream sir, you check which way the river is flowing and go the opposite way."
"Do tell, very clever!"
Then Clark added, "And you doubted your abilities my boy."
The winter was spent constructing canoes for the next leg of the journey.
June 2, 1805
As the corps of discovery proceeds, Clark is fully unprepared for a major fork in the Missouri River in north-central Montana. The computer programmer had stayed behind to help the Gladuahea with their new public works system, so Clark had assumed navigation duties. The Gladuahea and Placadongo had told him that only one fork was the true Missouri and that he would know it by a series of great falling waters upstream.
In his mind, Clark was certain that left was the correct choice.
But there was disagreement. So Clark called for a vote. Thirty-one people vote for the right fork and only Clark and Lewis vote for the left.
"The count is 31 for right, 2 for left. And one write-in vote for Ross Perot. Mr. Lewis's vote is nullified. He only voted yes because he is terrified of disagreement with me. Just pure sycophancy, he has no spine, he is not a man."
The crew stirred excitedly for a moment.
"No, no, not like that!
A muffled whimpering voice from Lewis's shelter added,
"But in a different sense, the commander is quite right, I am not a man."
Lewis's shelter had been ripped from the keelboat and awkwardly attached to a canoe.
"Exactly, and he knows I will dump his ass out here in the middle of nowhere if he makes one wrong move."
"Yes, I do, indeed, I do know that," confirmed the whimpered.
"Anyway, so the true count is 31 to 1 that we should go right"
However, in the end, Clark overrode the vote and decided they'd go left. Now Clark understood the concept of left from right in his head, but he was directionally dyslexic when applying it to visual physical features. So, once underway, he actually took the right fork rather than left. The men, believing the right was the correct choice all along, said nothing.
June 13, 1805
Truly within a day, they find the great falls mentioned by the Indians.
Clark not so humbly addressed his men,
"Men, now you can see that I am to be trusted. Let us not again be delayed by a questioning of my judgment."
Again, the men did not contradict Clark. Though some did permit themselves a little eye-rolling and mild resentment.
But the great falls were going to be a difficult obstacle. How this was overcome, neither Clark nor Lewis recorded. But two stories have come down to us, though one is not very believable. One states that the men fashion crude wagons from felled trees and drug the canoes and equipment across miles of unforgiving, cactus-strewn terrain. We know, highly unlikely. More likely is the second story, that Clark correctly answered the questions posed by the Great Falls Troll. The troll then stopped the water flow, providing a strenuous but much easier portage over the rocks to the top.
THE EXPEDITION FINDS THE SHOESHINIE
August 8, 1805
Before she was kidnapped by the Ivannasquawrto at age 12, Sackagaweeda had lived among the Shoeshinie people along the border of modern-day Montana and Idaho. By August 1805, Clark believes the fate of the expedition hangs on finding the Shoehinie and buying horses from them. It's the only way the corps can hope to cross the Rocky Mountains before winter, and do it with shiny footwear to boot.
While Sacagaweeda doesn't "guide" the expedition, her childhood memories provide valuable clues that they are on the right path. On August 8, Clark writes in his journal,
"The Indian woman recognized the point of a high plain to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains... this hill she says, her nation calls the Pecker Head which she swears refers to its perceived resemblance to a woodpecker.... she assures us that we shall either find her people on this river immediately west of its source.... as it is now all important with us to meet with those people as soon as possible, as our boots are getting dull and unsightly."
Also, during this leg of the trip, some of their food began to go missing. So one evening Clark recruited the retired Bronx cop for assistance. The crew was lined up as the grizzled cop, Lance Boyle paced in front of them.
"Alright youz bunch-a lowlives, we have a situation wheres cewtain..."
Boyle abruptly stopped and seemingly involuntarily blurted,
"I'm wowkin heah, I'm wowkin heah!" and pounded his hand on a camp table next to him.
The crew looked at one another with shocked confusion.
Then boyle picked up where he had left off without missing a beat,
"...wheres cewtain food items have gone missing."
Boyle then approached one of the crewmen and stood staring at him inches from his face.
"What is it you do?"
"You know that I'm the cook."
"Ah haa! So that means you would be very familiar with food."
"Yes of course."
"Yous say, of course, like this is obvious, so are yous telling me that all cooks are familiar..."
Again, suddenly Boyle jerked and violently spat out,
"So do ya feel lucky punk, well do ya?"
The crew again was startled and looked at one another.
But Boyle just completed his original sentence,
"...all cooks is familiar with food?"
"Well yes, yes I would think so. And, ah, no I feel neither lucky or unlucky", replied the cook.
"Exactly what I thwought you'd say. Yowa dismissed, yous may now retuyn to yowa so called, 'doctoring' duties."
"I'm the cook!"
Boyle again seemed to have a sudden mild spasm.
"That's just fine, go ahead, be the doctor! But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that, doctor."
The cook's jaw dropped, his brow crinkled as he stared speechless at Boyle. The other crew members looked at one another begging explanation, and Clark tried to figure out who the "three little people" were.
"And yous, what do yous do?" Boyle had moved to another crewman.
"I'm expedition security."
"Oh, yes, security, well, well, well. So does this security have to do wit yous...," Boyle paused, affected a slight grin of self-pride, and glanced at the rest of the crew,
"...having plenty of food!?"
But Boyle had already jerked sideways to face yet another crewman.
"And you, you can't handle the truth!"
"What?", said the crewman.
"What?" said Boyle
"You said I couldn't handle the truth."
"I most soytanly did not! Do yous heah tings? Do yous heah voices maybes? Dease voices telling yous to ... steal food!"
Clark finally convinced of his mistake, abruptly put an end to Mr. Boyle's "interrogation".
Boyle said, "Fine". Then looked at the crew as he turned to leave, pointed two fingers at his own eyes, and barked,
"But I got dease eyes on youts!"
August 17, 1805
Closing in on the Pacific, Lewis and Clark finally make contact with the Shoeshinie, Sackagaweeda is joyfully reunited with her brother Sackashitta, who is now the Shoeshinie chief.
THE NEST PERCH
September 11, 1805
The crew proceeds to get lost in the snow, nearly starving to death.
Lewis's shelter is now being dragged by a horse after it failed to stay balanced upright strapped to a horse's back. Even with horses and a Shoeshinie guide named old Sackacompasses, the crossing of the Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho proves to be the most grueling and life-threatening section of the entire journey.
Eleven days later, they manage to stumble out of the forest snow-blind and weak with hunger, and are mercifully taken in by a mountaintop village of Nest Perch Indians, and befriend them. The Nest Perch provide care, food, shelter, steroids and a great view to assist their recovery.
After paddling dugout canoes down the treacherous Columbia, the expedition finally reaches the Pacific coast. It's time to hunker down in winter quarters. Clark, feeling elated, put the decision to a vote as to where to build a Fort, their winter home for the next five months. A tally of the votes is recorded in Clark's journal, "3 for 'That bluff back yonder', 4 for 'this bluff right here', 2 for 'Let's just stay in the canoes', 18 for 'The nice condos on the bluff them Indians told us about', 2 for 'Any bluff in St. Louis' and 1 for 'some bluff in Ross Perot's hometown'. After finding out the condos were not a hotel, and besides were all occupied, they returned to where they'd started. Fort Slapidtagetha was built right there. And that's where they lived till winter's end.
So, Lewis and Clark had reached the Pacific. Eventually, all gathered together on a beach, they celebrated, and with relief, toasted their great success, as the Pacific breakers rolled ashore. Clark spoke,
"We have done the impossible, we have fulfilled our duty to the president and to the nation. I am proud of most all of you."
Clark said the last part with a glance toward Lewis still in his box.
"You have my utmost gratitude and I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my days. I wish you all a happy reunion with your families, farewell!"
Toasts continued. Lewis, pale and thin but in good spirits finally emerged from his shelter, he ambled slowly to the edge of the surf dipped his toe in the ocean, then bolted back to his cage. They observed a moment of silence for the welder. The celebration roared until Waldo Flower, the quietest, most introspective, broody, and shortest member of the crew tapped Clark on the shoulder and softly said,
"It's only halfway Sir."
Clark's elated mood began to deflate. He turned and looked down at the man.
"What? what do you mean?" He said, annoyed.
"Its only half way sir. We're only half done. We haven't really fulfilled our duty yet. We still have to return."
Clark now fully deflated stood with a blank expression.
The only curse word the crew had ever heard him speak.
A unanimous vote was taken. Clark and the crew bid farewell to the Pacific. They watched it fade into the distance, as the Greyhound bus roared eastward, taking them back to St. Louis.
-Ken Page and the Drive-By Historians