“His life is written into the history of this country” reads the epitaph on the St. Louis, Mo., monument at the grave of William Clark, one of two leaders of the Corps of Discovery that 210 years ago helped map the massive swath of land added to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
And on July 2, 3 and 4, 1804, that history landed here, where the party of about 51 ― including Clark and his co-leader, Meriwether Lewis ― celebrated Independence Day on the banks of the Missouri River north of Atchison, Kan.
“That was the 28th anniversary of the American Revolution,” said local historian Richard Wright, who spoke at a commemoration Wednesday of the Corps of Discovery's landing in Leavenworth.
The corps didn't likely barbecue any hot dogs, but the celebration that year did include firing the canon on the bow of the keelboat for the party and an extra ration of whiskey for its members. They also named two bodies of water in honor of the occasion ― Fourth of July Creek and Independence Creek, both in or near Atchison County.
Wright is an Army doctrine writer who has also written numerous accounts of the Corps of Discovery. Dressed in the formal uniform similar to that the members of the corps might have worn for special occasions, Wright told the story of the famous pair's journey up the Missouri River from St. Charles, Mo., including their stop to a Kansa Native American tribe village and the remains of French Fort De Cavignial north of Fort Leavenworth, which had been abandoned decades earlier.
“That was 23 years before Henry Leavenworth came up the Missouri River and established Cantonment Leavenworth and 50 years before the city of Leavenworth was founded,” Wright said.
Along the way, the expedition surveyed the land, took note of important features and took samples of local flora and fauna, including a wild grape leaf from the Leavenworth stop that was said to be the last specimen sent from the expedition in 1806.
Wednesday's event, hosted by the city of Leavenworth and stemming from an idea by Commissioner Davis Moulden, was a recognition of the corps' landing here. The event culminated in a 21-gun salute form members of the Leavenworth Police Department.
The Rev. Gary Sanford, pastor of the Rock of Ages Church in Leavenworth, said the expedition's importance is not hard to measure, even more than two centuries later.
“It wasn't that long ago there wasn't any state of Kansas, there wasn't any Fort Leavenworth, there wasn't any Leavenworth or Lansing,” said the Rev. Gary “Sam” Sanford, pastor of the Rock of Ages Church. “Here we are today, because of these great Americans.”
Page 2 of 2 - Leavenworth Mayor Laura Janas Gasbarre said honoring the spirit of Lewis and Clark seemed appropriate given the occasion.
“It is time to remember the sacrifices made by these individuals, but also, the sacrifices made by all of our men and women in uniform this week, as we celebrate our nation's 237th year of freedom,” she said.