Published On: Thu, Oct 27th, 2011

Speaker: Many adventures happened nearby

HARTINGTON — Music was used to provide a history lesson to the guests from the Hartington and Coleridge communities that gathered at the Hartington Library.
Michael McDonald took the audience over 200 years back in time as he strummed his guitar and sang about Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery journey across the Louisiana Territory.

Most of McDonald’s songs and tidbits of information centered on the challenges and adventures the men faced as they made their way up the Missouri River and passed along present day Nebraska and on up through South Dakota.
McDonald’s family had moved to Yankton when he was a young boy and he was raised on the bluffs of the Missouri River.
“I had six brothers. We grew up fishing, swimming and getting into trouble on the River,” McDonald said. “We heard some of the stories about Lewis and Clark as we were growing up.”
Sgt. Charles Floyd, the only man to die on the journey, is buried near Sioux City, Iowa, according to McDonald.
“He was buried not far from here,” McDonald said. “According to information in the journals they believe he died of appendicitis.
His comrades on the Corps of Discovery trip stopped and buried him on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River
McDonald told Floyd’s story while strumming on his guitar.
“I am a long way from home and I know I am going to die – I left St. Louis to find the far lands of the west. Plant me close to God in this land we chose to roam – I am a long ways from home,” he sang. “Plant me high on a river bluff close to God.”
Another song that was composed by McDonald deals with superstitions concerning a mound less than 50 miles from here.
Historians recognize the mound as one of the few remaining sites where we know with certainty that Lewis and Clark actually stood.
“There are a lot of stories about what happened right here in this area,” McDonald said. “Just think about the work ethic of the guys that pulled that keelboat up the River – that style of work continues on in this area still today. After a long hard day of work they would sit around the camp fire and tell and listen to stories. They heard stories from the Indians about a mound that had little devils.”
Spirit Mound, as it is now known, is one of the most significant Lewis and Clark sites in South Dakota.
The fable included little devils, which were in human form and stood about 18 inches tall, armed with sharp arrows.
The Sioux, Omaha and Otoe Indians would not approach the hill.
Lewis and Clark were determined to see the mound that was so feared by the Indians. They walked the nine miles to Spirit Mound from their camp on the south bank of the Missouri River.
According to the journals the explorers reached the top of Spirit Mound where they “beheld a most beautiful landscape with numerous herds of buffalo feeding in various directions.”
The explorers were eating the best food available during their time in the great northern plains – deer, buffalo, elk, antelope, beaver, bear and fish.
Joe Fields had spotted the first buffalo when the expedition was near the area where Elk Point, South Dakota is now located.
“Can you imagine – the beast probably weighed between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds,” McDonald said. “They shot it with a black powder rifle.  They did not have a telescope lens back then. They had one shot. They did not want to miss or they could be looking at having a 2,000 pound beast come charging toward them. Before another shot could be taken they would have to reload the gun with black powder.”
McDonald has started work on composing a new song to tell the story of Lewis getting shot.
“Captain Lewis was the only man on the trip to get shot. He was accidentally shot in the behind by Pierre Cruzette who was one of his own men,” said McDonald. “At first Lewis believed the Black Feet had followed them and had shot him.”
The ball that went through Lewis was snagged on the fringe of the buckskin he wore. The ball was used as evidence as to who did the shooting according to McDonald.
“Lewis rode face-down in a canoe part of the way back home. They kept Lewis from getting any infection in the wound,” McDonald said. “Captain Lewis had to be one tough old boy.”
The Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened the way for settlement of the western half of our nation, is a momentous event in history.
To find out about the western land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase, in 1903 President Thomas Jefferson selected Captain Meriwether Lewis and his friend Captain William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery expedition up the Missouri River, over the Rocky Mountains and to the Pacific Ocean and back.
They left St. Louis in 1804 and returned in 1806 with detailed maps and journals filled with scrupulous notes on the wildlife and landmarks they had seen.
As Clark and Lewis started their journey they recruited enlisted men from forts along the way, picked up hunters and frontiersmen that were necessary to secure a food source
Members of the Corps of Discovery received a land grant and were paid a salary after the trip was completed. Congress had appropriated $2,500 for the exploration.
The “Corps of Discovery in Song and Story” was sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Nebraska Humanities Council.