Next Thursday, Oct. 4, there will be an unusual vessel floating down the waters of the Missouri River. That special boat, a 42-foot, historically-accurate replica white pirogue used by Lewis & Clark during their 1804 to 1806 expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back again, will dock at Clay County Park for a special program at 5 p.m.
The program, scheduled to run about one to one-and-a-half hours, will include living history reenacters playing members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and other short presentations on a variety of topics. Included in the program will be: Captain William Clark (played by Randy Rumelhart of the Sioux City Discovery Corps and Honor Guard); master boat-maker Butch Bouvier, who created the replica white pirogue; Gary Hemphill, speaking about the sextant tool and navigation; Corporal Richard Warfington (played by Frank Keoppe); Private George Shannon, the youngest member of the expedition who was lost for 15 days (played by Bill Hayes); Private John Colter (played by Sterling Ficther); Shirley Enos, talking about Native American sign language and interpretation, and others, including features such as a live tomahawk throw, a cannon firing (at arrival and leaving), and other surprises.
It will be an experience not to miss, said Enos, a spokesperson for the group.
“Our boat is an unusual sight and a curiosity for one thing,” she said. “How often do you get to see and sit on an 1804 era type boat? We have a series of six to eight fun and engaging 15 minute programs about various aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Our living history programmers in full dress do add a great deal to peoples’ interest. Our whole package is fun and entertaining and educational.”
The Oct. 4 presentation at Clay County Park is one of nine stops during a six-day journey by the pirogue and its crew down the Missouri River. The crew begins the journey south of Fort Randall Dam on Sunday, Sept. 30, and will conclude the trip Oct. 6 at Ponca State Park.
“Our stops for programs are on the Nebraska and South Dakota sides,” said Enos of the six-day adventure. “We are following a portion of the river that is nearest the way Lewis and Clark would have remembered it. I believe if they were here today, they would still recognize portions of this section of river as the landscape has changed very little in some spots. Our young living history crew members will be camping in the old style near our boat at each stop. We will be joined at each of our stops by the Honor Guard and Discovery Corps of Sioux City, Iowa. … The Missouri National Recreational River organization will be joining us at our stops in celebration of their 40th anniversary. The South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Assn. is assisting in floating sections of the river with us helping to spot sandbars and snags.”
The project to build a replica white pirogue boat and then to float it down an unchanneled portion of the Missouri River was conceived in 2017 by Enos and boat-builder Butch Bouvier.
“We conceived this voyage in September of 2017 while we were both programming at The Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Nebraska City,” said Enos. “Mr. Bouvier is a walking history book on pre-steam river craft. He has done decades of research and has built eight full sized 55-foot keel boats of the Lewis and Clark Expedition type. He has also built 15 pirogues of various lengths. He built many boats for the bicentennial celebrations of 2003 to 2006. He is probably the leading authority on these types of boats in the United States today. He has also built many smaller models of these boats for museums.
“We began collecting our crew immediately, but the crew was not completely finalized until this past month. Some of our crew were involved in the earlier Lewis and Clark living history voyages. … This project may have been conceived by two people but it is happening because of all of the generous help we have had from donors, fans and other educators who see the need for what we do,” he said.
The group of Lewis and Clark enthusiasts is calling this journey the “Triumphant Return of the White Pirogue I.”
“This voyage was made once during the bicentennial, so ours is number two,” said Enos about the journey’s name.
The pirogue was an important boat for Lewis & Clark. During their 1804 expedition, the explorers had two pirogue type of boats, a white and a red one.
“Research shows they were most likely from 38 feet to 42 feet in length and flat-bottomed for navigation in shallow rivers,” Enos said. “In the area of the great falls of the Missouri, these two boats were cached as the river became too shallow for them and they were just too heavy to portage around obstacles. On their return trip to St. Louis the following year, they stopped at the great falls to find the red pirogue beyond repair. They stripped her of all iron work and made repairs to the white pirogue. This white pirogue was the only original boat that left with the expedition in 1804 and returned to St. Louis at the end of the expedition in 1806 with the crew!”
According to Enos, the keel boat Lewis and Clark had weighed between 8 and 10 tons empty. The pirogues were lighter, weighing around two-and-a-half tons each. In staying historically accurate, the re-enactors’ white pirogue replica weighs in at about the same weight, and like the original that Lewis and Clark used, it will displace only 8 inches of water when it is empty. With a load and a crew, it only displaces 12 inches of water.
“It is the perfect vessel for the old Missouri,” said Enos. “This boat is not built for today’s channelized sections of the river, where barges and motor boats make large wakes. This is why we are making our voyage from Fort Randall Dam to Ponca State Park as this is old river, the kind of river these flat-bottomed work boats were built for.”
Enos and her fellow Lewis and Clark enthusiasts hope many come out to the shores of the Missouri River Thursday, Oct. 4, to participate in their program. At that program and others, she hopes kids in particular will be present.
“We want kids to realize the rich history along the Missouri that played a huge roll in the early development of this country,” she said. “We do all of this for free and for fun. We have a sponsor, Mouth of the Platte Chapter of Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, who agreed to be our 501c3. We have had some generous donors who have helped us financially and with materials for our boat build. … We do this because we love early American history and the Lewis and Clark era in particular. We love sharing our fun programs, meeting new people and spending time with our Lewis and Clark family of programmers.”
Locations and times the white pirogue re-enactors will be docking and sharing their program during their six-day journey include: 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30, at Randall Creek Rec. Area; 10:30 a.m. on October 1 at Sunshine Bottom near Lynch, Nebraska; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Verdel Landing, Nebraska; 11 a.m. Oct. 2 at Springfield, SD, marina and 7 p.m. at Crofton, Nebraska, city park; 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Oct. 3 at Yankton’s Riverside Park; 5 p.m. at Clay County Park on Oct. 4; and 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. at Ponca State Park on Oct. 6.