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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: an educational and fun family field trip

Fort Clatsop NHP sign. Beautiful.
This weekend, as our Christmas gift to each other and our family, we made a trip over to the coast and explored the northern coast region of Oregon. Partly as a result of the fee free dates at National Parks - this one in honor of MLK, Jr. day/weekend - we found ourselves at Lewis and Clark National Park's Fort Clatsop. We had also heard that this weekend was the largest live reenactment of the year, timed to coincide with the winter the expedition spent at the Fort in 1805-1806. What we didn't know, in advance, was that - similar to the time period - they were prepared to trade. Unbeknownst to them, however, we had dried apricots in the car...and Finn drives a hard bargain. And dried fruit was in high demand amongst the inhabitants of the fort (she knew this from our reading the signs in the interpretive center).

A living history "explorer" from the Lewis and Clark expedition
Before we went and retrieved the dried fruit, Toussaint Charbonneau - husband of Sacagawea - wanted to know what manner of thing was her umbrella? She said it kept the rain off and was called an umbrella. And he said, "Oh! Like a little roof!" She then offered it to him and he inquired what she might want in exchange for it. She declared - in a very matter of fact way - that she wanted his musket rifle. To which he thanked her and said that his musket was one of his most prized possessions and worth many beaver pelts so no thank you. Later, after we retrieved the dried fruit for trade, he offered her one white trade bead for an apricot for his wife. To which Finn replied, "I already have white beads at home". So he said, in his broken French-English "You are right, white trade beads aren't very special and worth very much. How about the white bead along with a special 'verde' green bead...but for TWO apricots?" She agreed and they signed to each other that it was a good trade (the sign is a fist over your heart and the other arm folded cross-wise across the other arm and over the chest, with moving one arm away from you in a flat plane and opening the fist as you do).

Captain William Clark didn't find it necessary to trade anything. Said the other members of his party should have first selection of the apricots. From another French boatman (whose name I have forgotten), she offered her apricots. He pulled out some beads to which she interrupted, "I have lots of beads and that last man traded me some, too. Do you have anything else?" He dug around for a bit and found his last military uniform button to which she beamed and accepted for one apricot. From another gentleman we encountered outside of the fort (he was out on a hunt with the hunting party), she got several small, blue trade beads and one small red bead for one apricot. He loved it so much he wanted another. So she traded him another apricot "but not for any more beads", she said. She had been watching him measure out beads for her in a small, tin thimble. He saw her eying it and, with raised eyebrow, surmised that she might want it (and asked her the like). She was beaming again, almost as if her smile went ear to ear and all she could do was nod vigorously in affirmation. The trade was made but she was too embarrassed to sign good trade (we talked about it later) but was beside herself proud of trading with them (as were both Cat and I)!

I think the experience made a distinct impression on her. And Cat and I had so much fun watching her. We also loved listening - via story - to the hardships they experienced. In time, I think Finn will love hearing the stories, too. But it was a wonderful experience, made all the more acute by the bone-chilling torrential rains and pounding wind we traipsed around in for a couple of hours while at the Fort. What a great time...