This page contains a collection of news stories, usually by me, and other material referred to in posts throughout this blog. Each item has at the top the blog post that referred to it and a link to the post.
(Referred to in Sept. 15, 2010, post “A river of memories“)
A real-life Mr. Chips
By james r. peipert
Source: THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Credit: Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sunday,January 30, 2005
Edition: FINAL, Section: Opinion;Weekly Review, Page 1E
SUBHEAD: Winning was important to a revered coach. But his real legacy lies in the multitude of students who heeded his example and went on to lead decent, productive lives.
PULLOUT QUOTE: “Where had they all gone to, he often pondered; those threads he had once held together, how far had they scattered, some to break, others to weave into unknown patterns?”
— from Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Amid the depressing news of misbehavior by professional athletes — boorish on-field antics, use of performance-enhancing drugs and brawls between players and fans — we offer a good-news story from the sporting world.
It’s the tale of one upright man whose principles were honed by the Marines and the Jesuits. During a half-century as a high school football coach, he in turn helped mold the characters of generations of young people and capped his career with a state championship — his seventh — at age 76.
I’m proud to say that — long ago — I was one of his players.
Those of us who went out for football in the late 1950s at Marquette High School in Alton, Ill., had no idea that Ron Holtman, our boyish-looking, low-key coach, would become a legend.
He was in his late 20s when he came to Marquette in 1955 — not much older than the students and athletes he mentored. But we saw in him a father figure and an adult worthy of respect and admiration. And the Marquette girls, including my two younger sisters, thought he was “real cute.”
Marquette, the Roman Catholic high school in a blue-collar Mississippi River town a few miles upstream from St. Louis, was the first high school coaching job for Holtman.
A St. Louis boy, he had joined the Marine Corps out of high school and went to the Jesuit-run St. Louis University to study history on the GI Bill.
At Marquette, Holtman had big shoes to fill. He succeeded Joe Stephan, who had coached Marquette Explorer teams since 1934 — except for 1940 — and compiled a record of 116-47-8.
Holtman’s Explorer teams of my vintage were spirited but small and undertalented, and we didn’t give him much to work with. In 1959, we lost the Catholic League championship by one point, losing to Bellville Cathedral 7-6, and winding up with a 6-3 record.
Our other losses were trouncings by our cross-town rival, Alton High, 38-6, and St. Louis University High School, 25-0.
In 1966, after 11 years at Marquette, Holtman crossed the river to Missouri and found greener playing fields (and probably better players) at St. Louis Country Day School. The school later merged with Mary Institute to become St. Louis MICDS.
There, Holtman followed another venerable coach, Robert “Pop” Hughes. But he soon moved out of Hughes’ broad shadow.
During the next 39 years, Holtman coached his football teams to seven Missouri Class 3 championships, another three appearances in the state semifinals and a total of 16 appearances in the Missouri playoffs. As the golf coach, he had three state championship teams, including one last spring.
Holtman’s final game as a football coach — on Nov. 27 at the Edward Jones Dome, where the professional St. Louis Rams play — was a double-overtime thriller and a fitting way to cap a stellar career.
His MICDS Rams went into the title game with a 13-0 record. They overcame a 25-point, second-quarter deficit against the defending Missouri state champion, Harrisonville, to win 45-42.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it “the most popular and improbable victory in Missouri championship history.”
The newspaper named Holtman Missouri coach of the year for 2004, and the St. Louis Rams named him high school coach of the year.
Holtman has been in the Missouri Football Coaches Hall of Fame since 1992. The MICDS athletic field complex was named for him in 2001, and with an overall record of 382-101-8 during 50 years of coaching, he ranks second among the all-time winningest coaches in Missouri high school history.
“It was just time,” Holtman said of his decision to retire, speaking in a phone conversation that spanned decades of memories. “And what a lucky time to pick — to end with a Cinderella season.”
He wanted to go out at the top of his game, he said, and feel good about it.
One thing that made Holtman feel good was that his last game was attended by legions of former students who had played on his teams or sat in his world history classes during the past half-century. He had kept in touch with many of them over the years, attending, for example, the 40th reunion of the Marquette Class of 1960 in 2000 in Alton.
Despite his advantage in years, Holtman looked much younger than many of the aging Marquette graduates who attended the reunion.
“It must be the clean living,” he joked in our phone talk, “… and the Dewar’s Scotch and some of the Anheuser-Busch products that keep me going.”
Holtman said he had told top school administrators before the football season that he planned to retire, but he kept it to himself until Nov. 29, fearing that his impending departure would be a distraction for his players.
One of Holtman’s mottoes — “It’s always the team” — is engraved along with his image on a bronze plaque at the MICDS athletic complex named for him.
The news of the end of an era circulated quickly among MICDS and Marquette alumni and former players. I received a copy of the Christmas Day Post-Dispatch story recapping Holtman’s career from Roger Horrell, a Marquette classmate and manager of the 1959 Explorers, now a retired airline captain living in Denton.
The Christmas/New Year break afforded time for Holtman to go through a pile of e-mails, letters and cards offering congratulations and best wishes — trying to put faces to the names of students and players whom he hasn’t seen in many years.
“My memories have been relived and renewed,” Holtman told the Citizen Journal, a newspaper that serves the western suburbs of St. Louis. “It’s been fun reading these things.”
Like a real-life Mr. Chips, Holtman touched the lives of several generations, in some cases coaching the sons of earlier players.
Arthur Chipping, the title figure in James Hilton’s 1934 story Goodbye, Mr. Chips, would sometimes recite by rote the names on the rolls of previous classes. “Where had they all gone to, he often pondered; those threads he had once held together, how far had they scattered, some to break, others to weave into unknown patterns?”
Holtman’s former charges also are scattered far and wide. But they’re tied together by memories of an influential adult in their formative years.
A 62-year-old former right guard/left tackle of the 1959 Marquette Explorers can muster as much affection and respect for Holtman as the latest batch of raw-boned youths who won his seventh Missouri state championship only a few weeks ago.
Winning, of course, was important to Holtman, but not paramount. His real legacy is a multitude of once-impressionable teens who heeded his example in the classroom and on the playing field and went on to lead decent, productive lives.
To us, he’ll always be “Coach.”
James R. Peipert, a member of the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, was co-captain of the 1959 Marquette High School Explorers football team and a member of the Class of 1960. (817) 390-7753 email@example.com
1. Photo: ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/CHRIS LEE Quarterback Andrew Grumney embraces Coach Ron Holtman after winning Missouri’s Class 3 state high school football title.
2. Photo: ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/CHRIS LEE Ron Holtman leaves the field for the last time as a high school football coach after winning the state championship Nov. 27. He was named Missouri coach of the year by the St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
3. Photo: PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM PEIPERT A young Ron Holtman works with 1957 co-captain Jim Fallon.
(Referred to in July 12 post, “When in doubt … think of Bob” )
Three wheels, two hands and grit You don’t have to be a Lance Armstrong to become a hero to cyclists. With guts and good cheer, Bob Klawitter, above, rides the Colorado Rockies despite his disability.
By james r. peipert
Source: THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Credit: Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sunday,August 5, 2001
Edition: FINAL, Section: WEEKLY REVIEW, Page 5
He’s not featured in full-page congratulatory ads in The New York Times, he has no lucrative endorsement contracts, and his average cycling speed is perhaps a third of Lance Armstrong’s. But Bob Klawitter of Norfolk, Neb., is as much a hero to some bicyclists as the three-time winner of the Tour de France.
Last month, while the Austin cyclist was bolting up the Alps and the Pyrenees to clinch his third straight Tour championship, Klawitter was in Colorado, pushing his body to the max on a 475-mile loop through the Rockies. Like Armstrong, who achieved cycling greatness after being laid low with testicular cancer in 1996, Klawitter has his own remarkable comeback story.
Klawitter is a paraplegic.
His legs are dead weight, and he’ll never walk again. But his grit, determination and good humor on the weeklong Bicycle Tour of Colorado of July 22-28 made him a role model for the more than 1,300 cyclists from all over the nation who took part in the grueling loop through the Rockies, twice across the Continental Divide.
Talk to cyclists on the tour about Klawitter, and you’d elicit remarks of admiration and respect. “He’s my idol,” said one.
“How’s Bob? How’d his ride go?” asked another.
“God bless him,” said a third.
Applause and cheers would greet Klawitter at the end of each day as he rolled onto the grounds of local high schools, where riders stayed each night of the tour.
Klawitter, 46, rides a three-wheeled, 27-pound, 27-speed “hand cycle” made by Invacare Corp. of Elyria, Ohio. With his legs strapped into metal and web brackets on either side of the front wheel, Klawitter sits in a seat akin to a small camp chair mounted just in front of the two rear wheels and propels the device with a hand crank at chest level. Behind his seatback was a homemade reflector sign with a picture of a tortoise and the words: “Slow but sure.”
Because of his deliberate pace, Klawitter would frequently rise well before first light – sometimes as early as 3 a.m. on days with particularly long routes – to get on the road before many of the able-bodied riders began setting out between 5:30 to 6 a.m. As riders passed him later in the morning, most would offer words of encouragement.
“Way to go, Bob. See you down the road,” a rider might say. Klawitter would always flash a smile and a “Thanks.”
Klawitter is not new to cycling. This was his second Bicycle Tour of Colorado with his hand cycle, and before his accident 11 years ago he used to bicycle to work in Phoenix, where he delivered cabinet materials from a warehouse to shops. But all that changed in 1990.
Fed up with the big-city life, he had returned to Norfolk – the town where Johnny Carson grew up – after working about five years in Phoenix. On June 29, 1990 – “I’ll never forget that day,” Klawitter says – he was helping a “friend of a friend” convert an old barn near the tiny town of Orchard, Neb., into a machine shop.
He was clearing debris from the hayloft when the rotten wooden floor gave way. Klawitter fell 12 feet and landed on cement. His back was broken in two places, his spinal cord bruised.
After surgery to implant an 18-inch Harrington rod to stabilize his spine and 3 1/2 months of rehab in Omaha, 112 miles to the southeast, Klawitter was back home in Norfolk trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He could no longer work, but he decided he wanted to continue cycling in some fashion. So his mother, Vera Klawitter, with whom he still lives, bought him a 46-pound hand cycle for $1,750.
The trike was a heavy beast compared to the sleek machine that Klawitter now uses. But he would ride the roads through the rolling prairies of the Elkhorn River valley, getting in an average of 60 miles a day at an average speed of perhaps 10 mph – except in winter, when northeast Nebraska is frequently under a blanket of snow.
And then came another remarkable twist in Klawitter’s story. On July 22, 1999 – “I’ll never forget that day, either,” Klawitter says – he was tooling down U.S. 81, which slices north-south through the wind-scoured plains and passes through Norfolk. Along came a guy with a high-dollar Performance titanium bicycle atop his car. Bill Cooley, a retired airline captain from Boulder, Colo., was driving from Boulder to Minneapolis with his wife, Mary Jo, to sell his 92-year-old mother’s house and then to take her back to Boulder to live.
Cooley saw Klawitter out in the middle of nowhere, 20 miles south of Norfolk. The retired pilot recognized a kindred spirit and stopped to talk cycling.
Cooley told Klawitter that he had met hand cyclists on a mountain ride he had done, Ride the Rockies, sponsored by The Denver Post. After their roadside chat, the Cooleys continued on to Minneapolis.
A month later, after Cooley had sold his mother’s house, he was driving back to Boulder with his wife and mother when he spotted Klawitter very near to the spot he had seen him the first time.
“Hey, you’ve only covered about two miles since I saw you last,” Cooley told Klawitter.
They chatted again, this time longer, and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. Cooley asked Klawitter what it would take to get him to try a mountain tour. “A new bike,” Klawitter said, half joking.
On Sept. 21, 1999, the day before Klawitter’s 45th birthday, Cooley called from Boulder. He told Klawitter that he and Mary Jo had decided to buy him a new bike. He said the bike shop in Norfolk already had his credit card number and that he should go there and order whatever he needed. Klawitter asked the Cooleys how he could ever repay them.
“We’ll just have fun watching you have fun on a new bike,” Klawitter said Cooley told him.
“What a kind man,” Klawitter said of his benefactor. “You just don’t meet many people like that. What a guy.”
Cooley, who also rode in this year’s Bicycle Tour of Colorado, plays down his generosity. “Needless to say, it’s been a very rewarding experience for us,” he said. “But there’s an element of selfishness in it. We’ve gained a friend, and that far exceeds the cost of the cycle.”
After trying three cycles, Klawitter and Cooley finally got it right with the Invacare 2000 Excelerator XLT.
The first trike he tried, from another manufacturer, was difficult to steer. It pulled to the right and bounced Klawitter into a curb, causing him to break his collar bone. During a ride on yet another model, a bolt connecting the front and rear parts of the cycle worked its way loose. Klawitter was thrown off the machine onto his head. His helmet protected him from serious injury.
But even with the Invacare, Klawitter’s run of bad luck was not over.
On Nov. 12, while he was riding near Norfolk, the driver of a pickup truck tried to avoid a tailgating vehicle and pushed Klawitter against the highway’s guard rail. Klawitter’s cycle was demolished, and he had to undergo another six weeks of physical therapy for a case of whiplash.
The good news was that his insurance company paid off promptly, and he got a new Invacare. The bad news was that he failed to make his target of 10,000 miles for last year; he got in 8,138 miles instead.
But Klawitter appears undaunted by any setbacks and says his life in recent years has brought a series of “gifts of love.” He continued training for this year’s Bicycle Tour of Colorado and showed up in Salida – the start and end point of the loop through the Rockies – in a camper van loaned to him free of charge for two weeks by Jerry’s Trailers & Campers in Norfolk. The van was driven by Kevin Schwatterer, a burly former meat cutter and hometown buddy.
When he wasn’t cranking his hand cycle up the mountains, Klawitter used a wheelchair that was a gift to him from cyclists who rode in the 2000 Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Klawitter so impressed the tour participants last year that they passed a hat at the end of the ride and collected $1,585 to help him buy a new chair.
“Wasn’t that awesome?” he says with amazement.
The chair cost $2,250, but a medical supplies company in Norfolk, a town of more than 23,000, let Klawitter have it for the amount that was collected in Colorado.
Klawitter, a quiet, self-effacing man who frequently wears a plaid shirt in contrast to the gaudy jerseys of fellow cyclists, tends to dismiss his disability and focus instead on the good things that have happened to him in the 11 years since his accident.
“It’s all part of God’s plan,” Klawitter says with a grin.
James R. Peipert, who rode in the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, is a member of the Star-Telegram Editorial Board. (817) 390-7753 l firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO(S): James R. Peipert
Photo Caption: He’s not featured in full-page congratulatory ads in The New York Times, he has no lucrative endorsement contracts, and his average cycling speed is perhaps a third of Lance Armstrong’s. But Bob Klawitter of Norfolk, Neb., is as much a hero to some bicyclists as the three-time winner of the Tour de France.
(Referred to in June 29 post, “‘Poor little Jimmy’ in Chicago, 1968” )
Images of turmoil in Chicago in 1968 unforgettable
By james r. peipert
Source: THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Credit: Star-Telegram Writer
Sunday, August 25, 1996
Edition: FINAL AM, Section: NEWS, Page 21
The memories have receded after 28 years, but a few vivid images linger in my head:
— Poet Allen Ginsberg sitting cross-legged on the grass in Lincoln Park, like a balding, bearded Buddha, chanting “O-o-o-o-o-m-m-m-m-m.”
— The flash of a police revolver fired into the night air about 3 feet away as police and National Guardsmen clashed with demonstrators on Michigan Avenue in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
— The cordon of blue-shirted Chicago police standing shoulder to shoulder across the Michigan Avenue Bridge as a throng of demonstrators, some chanting “Hell no, we won’t go” and “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” surged toward the downtown Loop.
— The bloody melee between police and demonstrators outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel as, several miles away at the International Amphitheatre, Democrats were nominating Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey as their presidential candidate.
It all happened during a tumultuous week in August 1968, the last time the Democratic Party held its national convention in Chicago.
At the time, I was a 25-year-old Associated Press reporter based in New York. I had been sent back to Chicago, where I had worked for AP previously, to help cover the street disturbances expected to accompany the Democrats’ 35th national convention.
At the time, the nation was deeply divided over the Vietnam War, as was the Democratic Party. And the Cold War was at its most frigid.
On Aug. 21, five days before the convention opened on Monday, Aug. 26, the armies of the Soviet Union and four East European allies rolled into Czechoslovakia. The invasion crushed the “Prague spring” policies of Alexander Dubcek, who wanted to give communism a “human face.”
Secretary of State Dean Rusk was informed of the invasion as he was winding up his testimony on the Johnson administration’s Vietnam War policy before the party’s platform committee. With that startling news, the prospect of the committee adopting a “soft” position on the Vietnam War or of the convention nominating the “peace candidate,” Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, shrank to nil.
Angry over continuation of the Indochina war, apprehensive over the draft and sorely disappointed over McCarthy’s diminished chances, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 peace activists gathered in Chicago with the proclaimed intention of disrupting the Democratic convention.
Among them were the hippies, the flower children dropouts of the 1960s; the Yippies, members of the Youth International Party, led by Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman; an umbrella organization of peace groups called the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, led by David Dellinger; and an assortment of anarchists, radicals and liberals such as Ginsberg, who held court daily in Lincoln Park, reciting poetry and his meditative mantra, “O-o-o-m-m-m, O-o-o-m-m-m, Om Mani Padme Hum.”
For weeks before the convention, the activists, particularly the Yippies, issued a series of bizarre threats: to bombard the International Amphitheater with mortars; to put LSD into Chicago’s water supply; to paint cars to look like taxi cabs and shanghai delegates to Wisconsin; to organize a battalion of “hyperpotent” hippie males to seduce the wives and daughters of delegates; and to dress Yippies like the Viet Cong to walk around town shaking hands and passing out rice.
“It was a freak show – and it was groovy,” Hoffman was quoted as saying of the pre-convention hype.
But Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and his 12,000-member police force took it all seriously.
Illinois Gov. Samuel Shapiro, at Daley’s request, ordered 5,500 National Guardsmen to Chicago to help the police maintain order during the convention. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered 7,500 federal troops airlifted to Chicago, mostly from Fort Hood, Texas, to stand by in case of trouble.
Carl Sandburg’s “stormy, husky, brawling City of the Big Shoulders” became – using names coined at the time – “Fort Democrat,” or “Stalag Daley.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, precipitating riots in Chicago and other American cities. And Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York, a Democratic presidential aspirant and an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel June 5.
America was in turmoil, and the Chicago police were on edge.
The violence began Sunday night, Aug. 25, in Lincoln Park, along the shore of Lake Michigan about two miles north of downtown.
The park had been used in the days preceding the convention as a festival ground and marshaling point for the anti-war activists and those who sympathized with their cause. In an atmosphere thick with marijuana smoke, the young people listened to political harangues, sang protest songs, made love or just basked in the August sunshine.
The tension between police and protesters began to intensify after sundown on Sunday, the night before the convention began, as a policeman using a bullhorn announced that an 11 p.m. curfew would be enforced and the park would be cleared.
What sparked the violence is subject to debate. But my recollection is that the flash point was a lighted cigarette flicked onto the arm of a policeman. The officer and several of his colleagues were standing with their backs to a small building as demonstrators, angry over the prospect of eviction from the park, milled around and shouted obscenities at the cops.
The police began flailing at the protesters with their nightsticks and chasing them through the park. One lasting memory is that of a protester trying to hide behind a wrist-thick sapling as a phalanx of policemen charged through the dimly lit park, whacking anything that moved.
The fracas spilled into neighboring streets and then onto Michigan Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare leading to downtown. The refugees from Lincoln Park coalesced into a mob intent on reaching the downtown hotels where most of the delegates were staying. But at the downtown end of the bridge, crossing the Chicago River, was a shoulder-to-shoulder cordon of Mayor Daley’s finest.
And that’s when I wound up becoming one of the first news media casualties of what the Walker Commission report on the violence called a “police riot.”
I and several other reporters had tried to stay ahead of the mob as it moved down Michigan Avenue, and we found ourselves on the middle of the bridge with the protesters at one end and the police at the other. One officer broke ranks and thwacked me several times across the shoulders and head with his stick before being restrained by a commander.
I wasn’t badly hurt. But a picture of that encounter appeared in a Chicago newspaper, and I was called to give a deposition to the investigatory panel headed by Daniel Walker, vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. I gave the officer the benefit of the doubt, noting that my press credentials were in my pocket and that he might have mistaken me for a protester.
But the encounter on the bridge was a harbinger of things to come. The fighting between police and protesters continued throughout the convention and culminated Wednesday night, Aug. 28, outside the Conrad Hilton as delegates prepared to nominate Humphrey on the city’s south side.
The TV networks covering the nomination proceedings interrupted the broadcasts from the convention hall with filmed reports from the streets. As some demonstrators chanted, “The whole world is watching,” police indiscriminately clubbed protesters, journalists and hapless bystanders, pushed some through plate-glass windows and generally ran amok.
“Police violence was a fact of convention week,” the Walker Commission concluded in a report issued in November 1968. “That some policemen lost control of themselves under exceedingly provocative circumstances can perhaps be understood; but not condoned.”
The mayor of Chicago is again named Richard Daley, the son of the mayor who presided over convention week 1968. But this week’s Democratic convention in Chicago promises to be a more sedate affair. President Clinton faces no opposition for the nomination, and the quadrennial gathering of the party faithful is more likely to be a four-day campaign ad for Clinton’s first term than the raucous clash of ideologies and lifestyles that the ’68 convention brought us.
Will the whole world be watching?
PHOTO(S): James R. Peipert and Morton Kondracke, hands raised, who is now a news analyst on the PBS broadcast The McLaughlin Group, got a lesson in media relations from the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Peipert, who is the Star-Telegram’s national/foreign editor, learned the hard way. He was a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press for 16 years before coming to Fort Worth. He was also beaten by the KGB in Moscow. PHOTO(S): The Associated Press
(Referred to in June 24 post “A river dead to navigation” )
West from here
Looming bicentennial of Lewis and Clark trek provokes rush for historical gold
By james r. peipert
Source: THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Credit: Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sunday, November 24, 2002
Edition: FINAL, Section: Opinion;Weekly Review, Page 1
HISTORY: The anniversary of a major U.S. exploratory journey promises to be a mixture of commemoration and commerce.
HARTFORD, Ill.–A trivia question: When did Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery pay its only visit to St. Louis?
Answer: When it returned from the Pacific coast in 1806.
That dart, hurled from the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, is illustrative of the catfight that’s shaping up in the St. Louis area as communities stake claims to sites associated with the 8,000-mile epic journey of westward expansion.
A solid link with Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark or the people who accompanied them can mean millions of tourist dollars as the bicentennial of the start of their American odyssey approaches in May 2004.
Already, up and down the Ohio and Missouri rivers and in the Pacific Northwest, town boosters and local historians are planning re-enactments, parades, archaeological digs, bicycle rides and a host of other events to commemorate the passing of the Corps of Discovery.
Nowhere is the rivalry more intense than in the St. Louis area, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers join at Hartford — a small industrial town surrounded by refineries, oil storage tanks and a power plant.
There’s no dispute that Lewis and Clark began their 28-month journey at the meeting of the great rivers, gateway to the 838,000-square-mile Louisiana Territory, purchased from France for $15 million on April 30, 1803. After all, the expedition’s task (in the words of President Jefferson) was “to explore the Missouri river, & such principal streams of it,” as far as the Pacific Ocean.
But which of the communities in the so-called Confluence area can make the best case as the starting point? Hartford, Wood River and Cahokia in Illinois, and St. Louis and St. Charles in Missouri all can claim key roles.
The aim of the journey, Jefferson said in his letter to Lewis dated June 20, 1803, was to determine what was in this vast territory — woolly mammoths, volcanoes, blue-eyed and Welsh-speaking Indians? — and to find “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.”
And commerce is also a driving force in commemorating the journey 200 years later.
The recently deceased historian Stephen E. Ambrose, who wrote the 1996 book Undaunted Courage about the Lewis and Clark expedition, estimated that more than 20 million tourists and history buffs — some of them re-enactors dubbed “Clarkies” — will visit sites along the trail during the bicentennial years 2003-2006.
So communities all along the route — from Pittsburgh, where the expedition’s 55-foot keelboat was built; down the Ohio River; a portion of the Mississippi between the mouths of the Ohio and Missouri; and as far west as Astoria, Ore., at the mouth of the Columbia River near the 1805-1806 winter camp at Fort Clatsop — are scrambling to grab some of the tourist dollars.
Hartford takes pride in claiming National Trail Site No. 1, a monument on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River directly across from the mouth of the Missouri, as well as the nearby Lewis and Clark State Historic Site Interpretive Center that opened this fall.
“No one disputes that in 1803-1804 the Corps of Discovery was camped on the east bank of the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Wood River,” said Brad Winn, site manager for the museum and center, which will include a replica of the log fort called Camp DuBois, or Camp Wood.
“The Illinois part is the often-left-out part of the trail story,” Winn said.
He noted that the corps, under Clark’s command while Lewis was in St. Louis buying supplies and making final arrangements for the trip, spent five months at Camp DuBois (from mid-December 1803 to mid-May 1804) recruiting, training and, finally, packing the keelboat and two pirogues — long, canoelike boats purchased en route to Camp DuBois.
“I call Clark the ultimate space saver,” Winn said. “He would be the perfect person to pack a suitcase today.”
Stores for the journey — clothing, axes, rifles, gunpowder, flints, lead balls; kettles and foodstuffs such as 150 pounds of a dehydrated concoction called “portable soup,” which by most accounts was a food of last resort; gifts for the Indians such as medals, flags, mirrors, beads, tomahawks and knives; and a medical kit that included 600 mercury-laced purgative pills prepared by Dr. Benjamin Rush that became known as “Rush’s thunderbolts” — were crammed into the three boats.
THE EXACT LOCATION of Camp DuBois is unknown and probably forever will remain so. Over two centuries, the Mississippi and Missouri have changed course many times, particularly at their confluence.
Clark recorded the camp’s coordinates as 38 degrees, 55 minutes, 19.6 seconds north latitude and 89 degrees, 57 minutes, 45 seconds west longitude, which would put it — incorrectly — nearly 10 miles northeast of the present confluence near a lakeside community called Holiday Shores.
But in a time before satellites and global positioning systems, navigators relied on the elevation of the sun to determine latitude and on lunar observations and the newly developed chronometer, which kept the time at the prime meridian in Greenwich, England, to fix longitude.
In a vast ocean or wilderness, plotting a position within a few miles was considered pretty good.
Geographers at the University of Missouri have produced an Internet Web site with maps comparing the present courses of the rivers with those of 200 years ago.
In 1803-1804, the Missouri-Mississippi confluence was believed to be several miles further north, near the present city of Wood River. The site of the expedition’s winter camp, according to the Web site, is now beneath the waters of the Mississippi near the Missouri shore.
If the confluence was indeed further north, then another recreation of Camp DuBois, under construction in Wood River, might actually be closer to the real site than the state-financed monument and museum.
C.J. Lanahan, a 74-year-old retired contractor from Troy, Ill., is building the log fort as a labor of love with the blessing and backing of the local business community and the Wood River Heritage Council.
“People ask me, ‘Is this the actual site?'” said Lanahan, an ex-Marine whose nickname is “Turtle” from his turtle-trapping days. “I say it would be pure accident if it was. I wish they would make an archaeological study around here and settle some of this stuff.”
Standing in the middle of his project, wearing a grimy gimmee cap and a carpenter’s belt adorned with tools, Lanahan pointed toward the old course of the Wood River on the east bank of the Mississippi and reckoned that his Camp DuBois just might be within a quarter-mile of the real site.
Wherever it actually was, Camp DuBois sat on land that was owned by Nicholas Jarrot, a fur trader and land speculator based at Cahokia, across the Mississippi from St. Louis. The French-speaking Jarrot interpreted for Lewis in St. Louis, and he allowed the corps to spend the winter on his property.
Cahokia had been the administrative center for a string of French forts, trading posts and settlements along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. In 1803-1804, it was the seat of government for the western portion of the U.S. Indiana Territory.
The Cahokia Courthouse, where Lewis and Clark would have sent and received mail, and the French-built Church of the Holy Family, where members of the Corps of Discovery would have worshiped, have been restored and can be visited by tourists retracing the steps of the explorers.
As final preparations proceeded, Sgt. John Ordway of New Hampshire wrote to his “honored parents” from Camp DuBois on April 8, 1804, to let them know “where I am and where I am going”:
“I am now on an expedition to the westward, with Capt Lewis and Capt Clark, who are appointed by the President of the United States to go on an Expedition through the interior parts of North America. We are to ascend the Missouri River with a boat as far as it is navigable and then go by land, to the western ocean, if nothing prevents.”
WITH WINTER OVER and the prairie in bloom, the Corps of Discovery, believed to number about 44 at the outset (plus Lewis’ Newfoundland dog, Seaman), departed Camp DuBois, and Illinois, on May 14, 1804.
“I set out at 4 o’Clock P.M. in the presence of many of the neighbouring inhabitents, and proceeded on under a jentle breaze up the Missourie,” Clark, 33, wrote in his journal, which is filled with imaginative spellings.
Two short days of rowing, poling and dodging snags and sandbars brought the Corps to St. Charles, a French-Canadian settlement of about 450 that is now a remarkably preserved suburb of St. Louis. There they were joined by Lewis, who traveled by horseback from St. Louis, and there they recruited as many as nine French-speaking boatmen.
The fact that the Corps of Discovery was now whole, with Lewis and Clark in dual command, and with local men on board is cited by St. Charles boosters to make the case that St. Charles, founded in 1769, is the real starting point for the trip west.
St. Charles, with a population of about 60,000, expects 700,000 to a million visitors for its May 14-23, 2004, “national signature event” commemorating the Corps of Discovery’s 1804 stop in the town.
“That’s a scary figure for us in a 10-day period,” said Stephen Powell, head of the Greater St. Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The town, with a splendid stretch of period buildings, including Missouri’s first state Capitol, normally entertains about 1 million visitors in a year. With historical re-enactors in period costume, it aspires to be a Midwestern version of the East Coast’s Colonial Williamsburg.
St. Charles is among 14 U.S. communities, including Hartford/Wood River and Astoria in Oregon, selected by the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial as sites for national heritage signature events during the bicentennial commemoration.
The centerpiece of the St. Charles festivities will be a re-enactment of the Corps of Discovery’s arrival on May 16, 1804. The town on the northern bank of the Missouri provided the last taste of urban amenities before the corps set out at 3:30 p.m. May 21 on what then was like a trip to the moon.
“As the keelboat turned her bow into the stream,” Ambrose wrote in Undaunted Courage, “Lewis and his party cut themselves off from civilization. There would be no more incoming letters, no orders, no commissions, no fresh supplies, nothing reaching them, until they returned.”
Much, of course, has changed over 200 years, including the corps’ pathway to the heart of the continent: the Missouri River.
In the time of Lewis and Clark, said Peter Geery, 61, one of a party of St. Charles residents who will re-enact the journey in locally built boats, the Missouri River at St. Charles was about 11/2 miles wide and about 17 inches deep. It had a channel from 3 to 5 feet deep, and the current ran at 2 to 4 mph.
After years of dam and levee construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Missouri at St. Charles now is less than two-tenths of a mile wide, has a channel 9 to 30 feet deep and a current of 7 to 12 mph, said Geery, a transplanted New Jerseyan.
A JOURNEY OF TWO years, four months and 10 days — which for good or ill opened the continent to white settlement and put the United States on a course of Manifest Destiny — brought the Corps of Discovery back to the Missouri’s confluence with the Mississippi and “the heartiest and most hospitable welcome” in St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806.
“It is with pleasure that I announce to you the safe arrival of myself and my party at 12 o’clock today at this place with our papers and baggage,” Lewis wrote to Jefferson from St. Louis, then a fur-trading entrepot of a little more than 1,000 inhabitants.
Today, the Gateway Arch, completed in 1965, soars from the river bank where Lewis and Clark completed their journey and commemorates the city’s role as the portal to the territory that they opened. A huge urban green space, Forest Park, was the site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a world’s fair commemorating the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark’s departure in 1804.
After the corps’ return, Jefferson appointed Clark superintendent of Indian affairs for the Louisiana Territory, with the rank of brigadier general of militia, and, in 1813, governor of the Missouri Territory. Clark lived out his days in the city and died Sept. 1, 1838, at age 68.
He is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery beneath a granite obelisk with this inscription: “Soldier, explorer, statesman and patriot/His life is written in the history of his country.” On the opposite side of the obelisk is a quote from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee. Go up and possess it.”
With the benefit of two centuries of hindsight, many assessments of the Lewis and Clark expedition will be produced during the next few years. Their journey did open the West to one of the biggest and swiftest migrations in human history. But despite the explorers’ efforts to establish peaceful relations with the people who lived there first, the journey spelled their doom.
“In some ways, Lewis and Clark described the world we lost; in some ways, they are a barometer of how we’ve changed, and a map to the future,” said Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri Historical Society and head of the national committee overseeing bicentennial events.
Archibald said the bicentennial provides fodder for reflection on such issues as good stewardship of the land, the balance of present levels of consumption with the needs of future generations, and dealing with peoples whose worldview and thought processes might be alien to our own.
“It’s a wonderful adventure story,” Archibald said of the expedition, “but it does raise issues about how the world has changed and whether all the changes have been good.”
As for where it started? “I can dodge that question,” Archibald said with a grin, “by saying it started in the mind of Jefferson.”
Lewis and Clark expedition online
* The National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial
* Discovering Lewis & Clark
* Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
* PBS Online – Lewis and Clark
* Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
* Missouri Historical Society
* St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission
* Greater Saint Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau
* Greater Alton/Twin Rivers Convention & Visitors Bureau
James R. Peipert, a member of the Star-Telegram’s Editorial Board, grew up in Alton, Ill., on the Mississippi River just upstream from its confluence with the Missouri River. (817) 390-7753 email@example.com
1. Photo: GREATER SAINT CHARLES CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU (2)
Photo Caption: HARTFORD, Ill.–A trivia question: When did Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery pay its only visit to St. Louis?