Sunday, May 16, 2010

Camp Dubois, A Closer Look

Once we get out of school, and no longer take History classes, how much time do we spend thinking about the history all around us? I can only speak for myself, but until I got into reenacting, my way of thinking of the history of a place was to look at the Walgreens at Big Bend and Clayton, and remember that the Parkmoore was there. If you went to Lindbergh, you probably ate there as well.

And yet, that is just a blip on the timeline. We tend to think in terms of our own lives, even when we are surrounded by evidence that life went on long before we got here. I have a tree right down the street that is every bit of two hundred years old. We drive past rock faces all along the highways and there, a mute reminder that this land was once not land at all. Go back far enough, and Missouri sat right in the middle of an enormous sea. We are a blip on the timeline, ourselves.

If you read my "Confessions of a Camp Dog," you got a look at rendezvous life, but not the history behind it. Here, for your pleasure, is a look at the real Camp DuBois.
A replica of the fort at Camp DuBois. Four block houses for the enlisted men are at the corners. In the center of the fort is a long house for officers. The whole thing is enclosed by a stockade. The entrance is behind the flagpole.

A look at the officer's longhouse inside the fort. Notice the stockade in the background is taller than the men.

One of the enlisted men's quarters. They are standing in the "living room," where there is a long table, and a fireplace for cooking and heating the building. Behind them is the bunk room through the door. There are four bunks on each side, two up and two down, with a short ladder in the middle to allow access to the top bunks. I slept in that lower bunk you see.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up camp here in December, 1803. The Spanish Governor of St. Louis, (yes, Spanish), would not let them stay in the St. Louis area, so the men backtracked to Wood River, (what DuBois translates to), and camped there, across from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery would spend nearly a year and a half here, more time at this one site than any other. Camp DuBois was where the recruits learned to work together as a military unit. Here, also, they got information from trappers who had already been west.

Meriwether Lewis went on ahead to St. Charles, and on May 14, 1804, William Clark and about 40 other men took three boats and sailed away from the camp to join Lewis. The Corps of Discovery left St. Charles on May 21, 1804, and began an adventure that would last 28 months and take the crew roughly 8,000 miles.

Flash forward two hundred years: We have a new fort, near where the old one was built, and looking like theirs did. Lewis and Clark's papers had drawings that were used to recreate the fort. Every May, reenactors from all over the area gather to portray the people then, and demonstrate everyday life for those who come to see.