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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Washington in Franklin County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
 

The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri

 
 
The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., January 14, 2012
1. The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker
Inscription.

"Set out early...passed wood river [today's Dubois Creek near Washington, Missouri] on the Lbd [larboard or south] Side... Camped at the mouth of a Creek called River a Chauritte [La Charrette] above a Small french village of 7 houses and as many families..."
William Clark, May 25, 1804

On May 24 and 25, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was in the vicinity of present-day Washington. At South Point (the southernmost point on the Missouri River), three miles east of Washington, one of the most harrowing incidents in the early phase of the journey occurred. Here, on May 24, they had a frightening brush with disaster, and in the process learned the limitations of the large keelboat that was the main vessel of the expedition flotilla. William Clark described South Point as a "Verry bad part of the river." The expedition experienced why the Missouri was the most dreaded of all great western rivers for navigators.

To avoid a narrow channel with collapsing banks on the south side of the river, the flotilla attempted to go around the north side of an island. Here, they found that the water was swift, shallow and full of shifting sandbars. The crew tried to tow the boat through this stretch with a cordelling rope, but the keelboat soon ran aground on a shifting sandbar. The powerful current pressed against
Painting on The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
By Gary R. Lucy, undated
2. Painting on The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker
[Caption reads] "Lewis and Clark: The Departure from the Wood River Encampment, May 14, 1804." This painting by Washington, Mo. artist, Gary R. Lucy, depicts the flotilla of the Lewis and Clark Expedition - the keelboat and red and white pirogues. The large keelboat would prove especially difficult to move up the Missouri River.
Courtesty of Gary R. Lucy Gallery, Washington, Mo.
the now helpless boat, and the tow rope snapped, causing the boat to turn broadside to the current and list to one side. The crew members jumped into the river and managed to hold the boat upright until the moving sands washed out from under it. This drama was repeated twice more, as the boat again grounded and wheeled. Finally, a line was fixed to its stern and the boat was worked into safer waters.

A shaken Clark wrote in his journal that evening that "nothing saved her [the keelboat] but..." He left the sentence unfinished. Clark characterized this stretch, which he called "Retrograde Bend," as the "worst I ever saw." This "worst I ever saw" list would be revised several times in the coming weeks.

After returning to the south side of the river and working the boat through the narrow chute they had avoided in the first attempt, the exhausted crew camped at an "old house" a few miles below present-day Washington, Mo.

Retrograde Bend
The difficulty Lewis and Clark encountered at Retrograde Bend would be repeated numerous times as the expedition made its way up river. This was largely due to the size and design of the keelboat (no one had previously attempted to take such a large boat up the Missouri). The 20-oared boat was 55 feet long and 8 feet 4 inches wide at the beam.

The boat's 3 to 4 foot draft made it susceptible to grounding
The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
By National Park Service, undated
3. The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker
You are here
in the shallow waters of the river the crew of the boat frequently had to navigate through. Once grounded on the dreaded shifting sandbars, the rounded bottom of the boat caused it to roll on its side when struck by the swift currents of the river. On these occasions, the boat was repeatedly saved by the exertions of the crew.
 
Erected by National Park Service, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and Missouri Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Lewis & Clark Expedition marker series.
 
Location. 38° 33.659′ N, 91° 0.612′ W. Marker is in Washington, Missouri, in Franklin County. Touch for map. Marker is in James W. Rennick Riverfront Park, about 250 feet northeast of the intersection of Front and Lafayette Streets. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1 Elbert Street, Washington MO 63090, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Robert Frazer (a few steps from this marker); Washington (within shouting distance of this marker); Wir Sind Freunde - We Are Friends (within shouting distance of this marker); Waterworks Building (within shouting
Map on The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
By James D. Harlan, undated
4. Map on The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker
"Retrograde Bend" May 24, 1804
Historic River and Lewis and Clark course, distance and campsites created by James D. Harlan, Lewis and Clark Historic Landscape Project
distance of this marker); Daniel and Rebecca Bryan Boone (approx. 4.4 miles away); La Charrette (approx. 5.2 miles away); La Charrette Marthasville (approx. 5.3 miles away); a different marker also named The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri (approx. 5.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Washington.
 
Also see . . .
1. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. (Submitted on December 7, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedtion. (Submitted on December 7, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. (Submitted on December 7, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
4. Lewis and Clark Across Missouri. (Submitted on December 7, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
 
Categories. ExplorationPatriots & PatriotismWaterways & Vessels
 
The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., January 14, 2012
5. The Lewis and Clark Expedition Across Missouri Marker
Looking northwest along the Missouri
Lewis and Clark and Robert Frazer Markers image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr.
6. Lewis and Clark and Robert Frazer Markers
Missouri River in background
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on December 5, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 490 times since then and 32 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on December 7, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.   6. submitted on December 5, 2012, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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