A return to the Corps of Discovery route
RAPID CITY, S.D. -- The first English words heard by many tribes along the
Missouri River told them of a new ownership of their land and a new chief
in the east.
That was the message brought 200 years ago by the Lewis and Clark Corps of
Discovery. The bicentennial era has brought the story of the expedition to
more prominence among Americans and foreigners.
Interest in one of the nation's most ambitious expeditions grows, and many
of the tribes along the Missouri and Columbia rivers are prepared to host
the millions of tourists that will trek along the same route Lewis and
Noted documentary filmmaker Ken Burns recently spoke to a large public
gathering in the Black Hills. Burns' filmography includes "The Civil War,"
"Baseball," "Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery" and 17
Burns and his partner, Dayton Duncan, returned to the Great Plains on a
working visit. They attended a partnership event designed for education
that was originated by their friend, Gerard Baker, superintendent of Mount
Rushmore National Monument.
Currently filming a documentary on the history of the national parks, Burns
and Duncan stopped at Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park.
They agreed to show clips of "Lewis and Clark" to the public while in Rapid
Their encounter with the Great Plains came while filming the documentary to
experience starkness, beauty and extreme cold.
A scene in the film showed the frozen Missouri River as it may have been in
1804 and 1805. In spite of that cold, Duncan and Burns said, "This was one
of the most memorable projects we have done."
While filming north of Bismarck at Fort Mandan, the film crew encountered a
North Dakota winter. Temperatures were in the 40-below-zero range, with a
wind chill of 70 degrees below.
"It was so cold the river had frozen over that night. The radio advised all
North Dakotans to stay indoors, and since we were not from North Dakota we
stood out there, filming," Duncan said.
On the day they filmed at Mount Rushmore, the first fall snow arrived.
Duncan said it was still a wonderful day of filming and that the snow was
All in all, after the winter experience and another beginning of winter,
Burns said it was "great to be here in one of the great capitals of the
He told the group gathering that they made many friends while traveling up
the Missouri River to film, much as the Corps of Discovery did 200 years
before. They became so acquainted with the region, they said, they know
where to find the best pie in Idaho.
The many tribes who lived along the banks of the muddy Missouri River
welcomed the men of the Corps. Only once did Lewis and Clark encounter some
hostility, but it was short-lived.
The Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Yankton Sioux tribes were the most
friendly to Lewis and Clark, giving them buffalo robes for warmth and other
materials to survive a winter on the Plains.
Baker is Mandan/Hidatsa from the Fort Berthold Reservation. Burns and
Duncan met Baker when they filmed the documentary. Baker later became the
director of the Lewis and Clark: Corps of Discovery program events for the
National Park Service.
"You have in the person of Gerard Baker one of those magnificent human
beings that reminds us why it is so important to come together as a people,
no matter our origin, no matter what we believe," Burns said.
"We are still all Americans and the possibilities that arise from that
shared experience; we are happy to play just a few minutes in his role."
The partnership concept was conceived by Baker more than a year ago. The
idea is to bring together organizations such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy
Horse Memorial, the tribes of the Plains region, educators, museums and
other national and state park organizations in a partnership that will
educate the public and alter some misconceptions of the peoples and the
history of this area.
Baker implemented a cross-cultural education program at Mount Rushmore.
American Indians come to the monument to teach their culture; other ethnic
groups are also invited. The program has been well-received by the
approximately 4 million people who come to the site.
The event that featured Burns and Duncan was the first sponsored by the
partnership. The three entities involved were Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount
Rushmore and the Journey Museum of the Black Hills.
"Dayton and I would like to acknowledge all the partners. What a
triangulation that has taken place between Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and
The first time clips from the Lewis and Clark film were shown was at the
White House in 1997, when President Clinton invited the two to a gathering
of world leaders with an interest in the subject.
"In the very room, the very geographical space where, as a young secretary,
Meriwether Lewis slept, where he came back from his journey and spread out
the maps before his mentor on the floor [...] there were magnificent
artifacts from the journey and [...] people from many nations were invited;
and we all came together for a remarkable evening," Burns said.
"Our film tried in many ways to honor the Native Americans without
diminishing the accomplishment of Lewis and Clark. To those of us 200 years
later [we] have to be flabbergasted by what they saw."