Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where The Rockies Are Most Dense & Daunting

All of my great-great-great grandparents were born and spent their early years in the glow Americans felt from the incredible feats of the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis, an Irish immigrant and Virginia native William Clark.

It occurred to me this month that I was born and spent my first 18 years along a segment of their route, crisscrossing it often, just as I do these days on annual cross-country trips with my English bulldog, Mugsy.

From 1804-1806, the 33-member Corps (several key members such as Sacagawea aren’t included in that count) was the first to explore up the full length of the Missouri River and then across the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean and back.

The only Corps fatality was Sergeant Charles Floyd, not to be confused with Dr. Charles Floyd, a retired University of Georgia business, real estate and property professor, friend and founder of both Scenic America and Scenic North Carolina who lives not far from Cleveland, North Carolina.

Lewis and Clark held frequent votes along the route to make decisions.  One such vote on November 24, 1805 is marked as the first time in North America that both a woman who was also Native American and an African American, were allowed to vote, albeit both were slaves.

The expedition crossed into what is now Idaho at the Lemhi Pass through the Bitterroot Mountains about 140 miles further up the range of mountains from our ancestral ranch near the Tetons.

This is near where they met up with Shoshone’s led by Sacagawea's brother, a chief who sold them horses.  The expedition then crossed the Rockies where they are the most dense and daunting, across what is now the Idaho panhandle.

They almost perished here travelling west, rescued by Nez Perce, who also guided them through on the return, down what is now U.S. Route 12, a spectacular 174 mile scenic byway.

If you want to see it, better hurry though, for there is talk of clogging this national treasure with shipments from oil sands in Alberta to Billings for refining.

Work began on creating this highway in 1920.  It wasn’t completed until 1962 when I was 14 years old, and it seems a sin to put it at risk.

It is at the eastern end of this route where it drops down to a location in what is Montana known as Traveler’s Rest State Park that Lewis and Clark split the Corps along two routes for the month of July, with Clark’s group trekking along the the opposite side of the mountains separating our ranch from what is now Montana.

By the time the Corps reached what is now Hensler, North Dakota, about forty miles north of Bismarck, they ran into traders and hunters who were already heading up the route they had blazed based on reports the Corps had sent back during their journey west.

One of the earliest to travel the route blazed by the Corps of Discovery was Captain Andrew Henry, who became the first person to cross down into my native nook of Idaho which points into south central Montana and northwestern Wyoming, establishing Fort Henry there in 1810.

Near St. Anthony, Fort Henry was also the first building erected by an American in what is now Idaho.

According to new digital examinations of maps, Dr. James Allen believes Henry was the first both to see the Tetons and to cross over into what is now Jackson Hole.  Imagine just happening onto that spectacular and iconic 40-mile stretch of Rockies.

Within a few decades, all but one of my great-great grandparents and several great (3) grandparents were also headed west in wagon trains to settle along the western shadows of the Rockies.

Mugs and I are preparing for another cross country road trip there this year.  Each one has been via a different route or variations to ones we’ve taken before.

To prepare, we’ve been re-reading Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier by the late Stephen Ambrose and watching the spectacular National Geographic documentary re-enactment of the Corps’ route on Netflix.

As narrated by Jeff Bridges, it was “the equivalent in its day of a journey to the moon.”  For Mugs and I, it will just be retracing my roots.

No comments: