A few years ago, I was directed by Col. Bill Hart, the Garrison Commander, to either develop a Lewis and Clark bicentennial event or find someone who was already planning it.
While I am a pretty good idea guy, I am quite aware that I am not that good at following through with plans, so I was really thrilled to learn about the Lewis and Clark Foundation and that they had a person already planning the bicentennial.
So, the colonel and I traveled to Missoula to attend a meeting of the foundation where I was immediately elected as the secretary to the committee which then became the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council. So began a thrilling part of my Fort Leavenworth career.
One benefit was that I learned about a lot of aspects of the expedition, including, for example, that Capt. Lewis collected the last plant of the expedition – and likely of his life – somewhere in this vicinity on the return trip to St. Louis. Lewis knew that Jefferson had an interest in wine making and that takes grapes. So, Lewis collected plant specimens and the last one was a raccoon grape from along the edge of the Missouri near the present city.
That very specimen still exists in the collection in Philadelphia. I made a few phone calls about the sample and received a photo copy of it from which I also made a paper cast. I also contacted a sculptor in Kansas City who was interested and who agreed to sculpt a life-sized statue of Lewis collecting his last plant. Who knew that it would be a story with controversy in the Kansas City Star because the regional Newfoundland Dog club would complain that the dog in the sculpture was not large enough.
Lewis claimed that the dog was really large, but anyone else seems to think that a several hundred-pound dog could not have made it to the West Coast and back and that Newfies never were that big anyway. Personally, I think that Lewis exaggerated a few times in his journals.
Most interesting to me, though, was that my wife took a call from the president's wife's staff asking about the sculpture. Mrs. Clinton had learned of my queries through her contacts in Philadelphia and was curious about the statue and whether we would be willing to donate a maquette to the White House. Kwan Wu, the sculptor, was quite glad to have his piece selected to be in the White House, so we decided to make the trip to Washington once the maquette was delivered for the annual Christmas display of American art. It is about 20 inches tall.
Being politically correct at times, I did invite the Leavenworth mayor, Ken Bower, and his wife to accompany us to the White House and they accepted. Kwan made another of the maquettes and I presently have it on loan in the High Noon Saloon. I figured that the popular eatery is a good place to display it as we don't have many guests come to our house.
Page 2 of 2 - The downside to all of this is that the full-sized statue never got beyond the clay stage. I saw it many times at Kwan's studio, but I was never successful in raising the funds for the bronze. You may still find the drinking glasses that we tried to use as fundraisers in the Santa Fe Trails Bicycle and Coffee Shop and at the Youth Activity Center. It's probably a good thing that we did not finalize the statue as it would have had to have been moved for at least a couple of big floods along the river, but I still thought that Leavenworth should capitalize on this part of our military history by having the statue.
I could write a short book about my Lewis and Clark experiences, but I may have to wait until a few people disappear before I tell it all.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.