Thursday, October 2, 2003

Museum Center shows Lewis and Clark letters

By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After sitting undiscovered in a box for 118 years, three letters from explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are now on display.

What: Re-enactors commemorating the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's exploration of the West by retracing the journey are in Covington today.

Where: George Rogers Clark Park, riverbank east of Mike Fink restaurant along Riverside Drive.

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. visit with the re-enactors; 9 a.m. educational entertainment including songs, folklore stories and other activities; 1 p.m. the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' barge featuring Lewis and Clark exhibits opens.

The letters, two by Lewis and one by Clark, went unnoticed in the Cincinnati Museum Center's collection until this summer, when a research librarian looking for something else stumbled upon a register notation: letter fragment, Missouri River 1804.

She found the letter and read:

"I now feel myself fairly launched on my voyage of discovery, having ascended this river nearly eleven hundred miles."

Lewis wrote the letter in September 1804, about a year into the great exploration of the west, to his friend James Findley in Cincinnati.

"This is really an exciting and important find. It gives us more pieces of the puzzle," said Jim Holmberg, a Lewis and Clark historian and curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, who authenticated the letters.

The letters were donated to the museum in 1885 by Aaron Torrence, son of an executor of the estate of Findley, a military friend of Lewis and Clark.

They went unnoticed in the museum's collection, said Ruby Rogers, director of the Cincinnati Historical Library and Community History, until research librarian Anne Shepherd went through the Torrence collection looking for early military records.

The first letter, written by Lewis in March 1803, asks Findley to deliver a letter to John Conner, who was going to be an interpreter on the expedition set to begin later that year. Conner chose not to go along.

The September 1804 letter provides detail of the exploration not recorded in Lewis' journals, Holmberg said.

"My object is, if possible, to discover a practicable water communication across the continent of North America to the Pacific Ocean, which I hope to effect by means of this river, and the Columbia or Oregon River, which discharges itself into the Pacific Ocean," Lewis wrote.

In September 1807, nearly a year after his return, Clark went to Big Bone Lick in Northern Kentucky to "collect some particular bone of the mammoth and other animals." Clark apologizes to Findley for not visiting him in Cincinnati while collecting the bones.

All three letters will be displayed at the Museum Center through December. The center's Omnimax Theater will begin showing Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West Saturday.


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