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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Great Falls in Cascade County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)
 

The Experiment

 
 
The Experiment Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 18, 2019
1. The Experiment Marker
Captions: (upper right) "Inspecting the Iron Frame Boat." illustrations by Keith Rocco.; (lower left) Great Falls Lewis and Clark Honor Guard members re-assemble a replica iron boat. Photograph by USDA, Forest Service.
Inscription.  Designed to be Portable
In 1803, Captain Meriwether Lewis led an expedition to map a water route west to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the Lewis and Clark Expedition uses 26 different boats, but one deserves special mention. Christened "The Experiment," this boat traveled down the Ohio River, up part of the Mississippi River and up most of the Missouri River - in a box! The iron frame before you is a replica of this peculiar boat.
In March of 1803, Lewis came to the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to obtains rifles and supplies. He also carried plans for a portable, sturdy boat to replace heavier boats he planned to leave behind at the great falls. Armory craftsmen produced a canoe-shaped iron frame about 36 feet long, 4 feet 6 inches wide and 26 inched deep. The frame weighed less than 200 pounds, but Lewis estimated it would carry 8,000 pounds of cargo. His plan was to cover the hull with animal skins, then make it watertight by sealing the seams with tar from pine trees.

What Happened to the Iron Boat?
Assuming a pine tree forest at Great Falls was a mistake. Finding only scattered
The Experiment (replica) and Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 18, 2019
2. The Experiment (replica) and Marker
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in the background. A must visit!
cottonwood trees on the riverbanks Lewis still proceeded to assemble the boat with a substitute sealer in mind. The men prepared the skins, assembled the frame and made a sealer of pounded charcoal, buffalo tallow and beeswax. When launched, Lewis described the boat as "a perfect cork on the water." Unfortunately, the substitute sealer did not adhere and the leaks were unstoppable . Lewis wrote, "...this circumstance mortified me not a little; ...the evil was irreparable.(") William Clark noted, "This failure of our favorite boat was a great disappointment to us, we havening more baggage than our Canoes could carry." Lewis abandoned his boat project and the pieces were buried on July 10, 1805. Clark assigned several men to carve additional canoes from nearby trees to replace "the Experiment." Journal records verify the men retrieved the iron frame on their 1806 return trip. No further mention of the boat is recorded, and its whereabouts remain a mystery even today.
 
Location. 47° 31.755′ N, 111° 14.121′ W. Marker is in Great Falls, Montana, in Cascade County. Marker can be reached from Giant Springs Road near River Drive North, on the left when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls MT 59405, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Seaman: Companion to the Corps (within shouting distance of
The Experiment and Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 18, 2019
3. The Experiment and Marker
this marker); A "great" Set of Falls (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Mobile Villages (about 400 feet away); The Army's Navy (about 400 feet away); One of Many Firsts (approx. 0.2 miles away); Of Special Concern (approx. mile away); Giant Fountain (approx. 0.4 miles away); Pure Springs Along the Missouri River (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Great Falls.
 
More about this marker. The Experiment is located in front of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center.
 
Categories. ExplorationWaterways & Vessels
 
The Experiment image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 18, 2019
4. The Experiment
Best Laid Plans... image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, August 18, 2019
5. Best Laid Plans...
Captain Meriwether Lewis planned ahead. In 1803, he designed a portable boat which was fabricated at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and carried unassembled until it was needed at the great falls portage. Near here, at Upper Portage Camp, Captain Lewis oversaw the assembly of his "Experiment."
The skeleton iron frame was to be strengthened with lashed willow, covered with elk hides, and then its seams sealed with pine tar pitch. Unfortunately, Lewis could not have planned for the lack of pine trees along the Great Falls riverbank. As a substitute, he created his own seam sealer from tallow, beeswax and charcoal.
This is just one segment of the 36 fool long iron boat. To view the boat in its entirety, look outdoors.
Why do you think the iron frame is warped?
 

More. Search the internet for The Experiment.
 
Credits. This page was last revised on December 26, 2019. This page originally submitted on December 19, 2019, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 44 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on December 19, 2019, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.   2. submitted on December 26, 2019, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.   3, 4, 5. submitted on December 19, 2019, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.
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