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Interview 2:46 - 23:13 Play 2:46 - More
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Stephen Ambrose  

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Lewis and Clark  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
2001

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  • United States
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Stephen Ambrose Log

0227 AC: Let's go ahead and begin here if! may, one of the goals for the bicentennial council is to highlight the relevance of the Lewis & Clark expedition to life in America today, what would you say that relevance is?

0246 SA: The relevance of the Lewis & Clark expedition is that they did it. They crossed the Mississippi, went up the Missouri river, got over the mountain, got on to the Columbia river, got out to the pacific coast. And we are today a democracy that stretches from sea to shinning sea thanks in great part to the Lewis & Clark expedition. They did all kind of scientific discoveries of plants and animals, they mapped the whole route they established peace with many of the Indians that live there -and that peace was to continue really until after the civil war. Ah, they were the first to see the Great Plains, to see the Rocky Mountains ... Lewis was the first white man to ever see the Rocky Mountains, and they went down the Colombia and that was all brand new territory. So we are who we are today thanks in part to Lewis & Clark.

0351 AC: What kinds of things is the bicentennial council planning to mark the expedition?

0358 SA: There will be events starting at Monticello in January of2003, and then continuing to Washington where on July 4, 2003 Jefferson announce that the Louisiana purchase had been made and Meriwether Lewis started off on his journey. And then at every city along the way starting with Pittsburgh, including Cincinnati, and Louisville and other Ohio river cities, most of all when they got to the mouth of the Ohio and went up the Mississippi, St Louis .. .it's gonna be a big celebration on May 14th of2004 the date that they set off, and then all along the way Kansa City, Omaha ... South Dakota, Bismarck, North Dakota on into Montana and to the great falls of Montana and then up to the ... where they cross the continental divide then through the Bitterroot mountain of the Lolo trail down to Lewiston, Idaho and on to Portland, and finally at Fort Cladson. And there'll be celebrations in all of these places on the 200th anniversary of Lewis & Clark arriving there. The bi-centennial is the coordinator for the all of this and has a memorandum of understanding with the ... services the bureau of land management and the National Park Service and many other federal agencies. It's going to be a very big
event. In fact National Geographic estimates that 25-million Americans will be on some part of the Lewis & Clark trail during the bicentennial years. The National Bicentennial council is also putting together a traveling exhibit that will be quite big in scope, and will be in all o(these cities at the appropriate time. And then during the winter months, when in 1804-05 they were at Fort Mandan near today's Bismarck, and then again in the winter of 05-06 when they were a Fort Cladsip. This exhibit will travel to major cities in the United States so that all of us are gonna get a chance to see and experience at least a part of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

0703 AC: I was interested to see that the council includes representatives from the Native American, ah groups, there's a ...leader Allen Pinkham who's been a member of the board from the beginning?0716 SA: Yes and many others ... Baker and many others are going to be very much involved and one of the aims of the bi-centennial council is to make it clear that this expedition could never have done what it did without the Native Americans and to make it clear that the mission of the expedition was in part to bring peace among these Indians and to establish good relations for the United States, and they did it. 0753 AC: Reading in the journals I I was ah surprised, I was surprised when I first read in the journals that when Lewis & Clark are going over the mountains following along the Lolo trails ah they refer to a road that they were following that's the word they used?

0813 SA: Yes! That was the Nez Perce trail; the Nez Perce used that. They were on the other side of the mountains in today's Idaho for their homeland. They would travel up to the buffalo Plaines on the east side of the continental divide. The buffalo never cross the continental divide. So to get buffalo the Nez Perce's had to get up to the Plaines and they used that route for many hundred of years and its today being mapped by NASA, and I asked the people of NASA how are you going to do that .. I know you can find campfires but how do you know if these were cowboys or if they were Lewis & Clark or if they were Indian campfires and they tell me that the manure will show up on their cameras taken from way up high and that because they use that trail so many hundred of years and in very many places its got room only for one horse at a time and so the manure is there and that's how they are going to locate the exact route of the Nez Perce's trail.

0932 AC: I didn't realize that there was such a trail ah mean they really are following as they as they make this journey, they are following a well established track a place they refer to as a road so?

0947 SA: Well that's right they were on the Nez Perce's trail there were times when they (laugh) were the first to ever be in that part of the world. The Indians had not used trails that could get them through today's Idaho ...river over to the bitter route river for example and they were other sites they were the first.

1015 AC: What kinds of things are you encouraging just everyday people to do to mark the occasion?

1022 SA: Ah to go see and to be as astonished as we all are, at how they did it, and to leave it as it was we want to make certain that these 25-million visitors or whatever the number turns out to be don't damage much less destroy the trail we want it to be as pristine as it was. Now in parts of it is not pristine of course but many parts of it are especially the Missouri river in Montana and the Nez Perces trails and parts of the rivers of the west the Salmon and the snake and the Colombia are as they were and we want to make absolutely certain that our grandchildren and their grandchildren get to see what
Lewis & Clark saw.
Stephen Ambrose Log

1123 AC: In line with that I was surprise to read ah to read about a recent cut ah right along the Lewis & Clark trail ah timber company in Montana, Plum Creak timber company ah clear cut a section of ah forest that the trail runs right through. How did that come about?

1145 SA: (Laugh) Well that's long and complex story, but Plum Creek acquired the land from the Burlington Northern railroad which originally acquired it from the U.S government as a gift for building the railroad and Plum Creek has gone in and clear cut a big portions of Lolo trail and they do it without blushing. It has caused a lot of outrage in the west that, 'how on earth can you guys do that?' The answer from the Plum Creek CEO, to me at least, was, 'I've got stockholders; that's our land; that's private property; we can cut down what ever we want to cut down.' My reply was many if not most, if not even all of your stock holders are also Lewis & Clark fans and they no more that I want to see that clear cutting proceed. But Plum Creek has done it and shame on them.

1300 AC: How do you, you of course are the author of Undaunted Courage and ah ...and a scholar who has written about Lewis maintained an interest in them a long long before you began writing about ah ah your book and you've written about and talked about ah the many trips you've made to different parts of the trail particularly the parts in Montana and over the hill in Idaho. How is it for you when you are when you're up there on the trail what sense do you get of the place?

1337 SA: My wife Moya (sp) said it best we were back packing along the Lolo trail in Montana just short of the Idaho border just short of the continental divide and she said it makes my feet tingle. We walked in the footsteps of the Lewis & Clark expedition in many places in Montana in Idaho and some in South and North Dakota you see what they saw. We will bring out the journals and sit around the campfire where they camped and read what they wrote that day and very often you see what exactly what they saw except you don't see the big buffalo herds but the rest of it has been untouched and what we want more than anything else is to make certain that it remains untouched.

1445 AC: Isn't it .... Is it surprising to you at all to go out and find that so much of the trail does remain intact in this country?

1458 SA: (Laugh) Well .., it's pleasing, it's satisfying, it's in fact thrilling that that is the case. The Missouri river especially in the Dakotas and most of all in Montana is as it was. There's some dams there some lakes that have been created but President Clinton recently designate Missouri river ... as a national monument and it was there that Meriwether Lewis climbed the highest ...a forte eking ..... task but he said he felt very well repaid for his labor because there he saw for the first time the rocky mountains. I've been on that spot with my family and to repeat I wanna make sure that my grandchildren can take their grandchildren to that spot and see the rocky mountains as Meriwether Lewis did.

1606 AC: Okay, listen thanks very much for speaking with us. Let me just check with the producer here '" We will ....call attention to Plum Creek and their.?

1626 SA: Let me tell you very quickly Plum Creek was going to do some clear cutting on the west side in Idaho of the Lolo paths many of us expressed our outrage at that and I talked with the CEO and .. you cant do that it's a Lewis & Clark camp site you've got to leave it the way it was then he said to me all right we will if you will come out for a press conference to the site with TV and the rest of it and I said sure I'll come out and I'll praise Plum Creek for its stewardship of these priceless lands. Well they .. I was told that Plum Creek gave that land to Idaho historical society what I found out after I had said on TV that Plum Creek they are doing a great job. I found out that they sold that land to the Idaho historical society. Well, that's Plum Creek. .. and now this is more recent this clear cutting, down Lolo creek, is on the Montana side

1800 AC: I told a friend of mine who had been the recording engineer who went with us on that ride ah first of all when your son told me about when Hugh told me about this I said that's impossible ....

1824 AC: Can I just ask you about that little spring there on the 15th where they stop for 2 hours. It's unclear to me .. a little bit unclear anyway whether this spring is ah lost to history or not that is the the forest service archeologist Jeff Fee (sp) found it and located it ah but I don't know whether it's ... how would a historian look at something like that ... knew where it was, Bud Moore knew where it was forest service services guys who were
there in the in the 30's knew where it was. Maybe they didn't connect it to Lewis & Clark I don't know but ah ...

1914 SA: Well that's right and that's another long and complex story but the forest services did prepare some of .. they did put up signs. Here Lewis & Clark paths or here they camped and so on and put out a little pamphlets on it, and ah when I first began doing this which ... near a quarter of a century ago I followed the forest service. I figure the forest service has to know what they are doing. Well, then I went out with Harland up to 3, 4 times and Harland -who is a good Lewis & Clark scholar -said, 'no, no they've got it wrong ... and he took me to the spot and he is absolutely right. And there will be other kinds of discovery like that. Just to take a second, a Canadian company owns a portion of the Nez Perce trail, and it's in Montana on Alice Creek, and it's the route Lewis used on his return journey. And it's marked by rock cairns that I hadn't realized existed until I went with a local rancher and we hiked the whole thing and my God Almighty there rock cairns that marked ... Now this Canadian corporation -the name I can't remember -they wanna go in and dig out the mountain as they did in Montana, dig it out find a few ounces of gold. And they're going in the process to destroy the Lewis & Clark, destroy Lolo trail, which is more than Lewis & Clark, it goes back to the Indians ...way, way back in history and then was used by sheep herds, as well as Lewis & Clark. And they are going to dig it out is there proposal. I am trying to get ...whatever they are called the national historic trails system, and then do everything I can to mobilize people around the country to say, 'no you are not going to do that, you can't do that, you can't destroy the trail of Meriwether Lewis ... buffalo plains
23:13 END

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