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TRAVELING JACK

Posted 2/14/17 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

My dad’s bird dog waggled through the tall grass as Dad stopped and stared up at a 300-year-old cottonwood.
It was a warm July evening on the Missouri River, walking the knotty bottoms of Smith Grove where a handful of cottonwood trees remain from the time of the Corps of Discovery.
Most of North Dakota’s celebrities are dead people, and Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, America’s most famous explorers, are right up there in state history.
They spent more time in modern North Dakota than any other state, and much of that time was in winter.
Here in North Dakota they met Sacagawea, the Shoshone teenager whose interpretation helped the Corps acquire horses to cross the Bitterroot Mountains.
It was here in North Dakota where they wintered with the friendliest natives they met along their journey.
And it was in present-day McKenzie County where Lewis was shot in the ass.
But that’s another story entirely.
I grew up with tales of the explorers in North Dakota; catching candy in Washburn’s Lewis and Clark Days parade, plying the Missouri River for walleyes in summer, watching Mr. History himself, Steve Stark, draw the Corps’s adventures in charcoal for a Fargodome full of other grade-schoolers.
My dad admires Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland, and how amazing it is the Corps dined on over 200 dogs along their journey but never ate Seaman.
“He must have been pretty nervous,” Dad says.
My mother has played her bagpipes under cottonwoods at reconstructed Fort Mandan. The bagpipes are, after all, an excellent instrument for the outdoors.
I wonder how Mom would fit in with the musical men of the Corps who fiddled and danced on their hands on New Year’s Eve, 1805.
Probably pretty well. Count me in on the mandolin. More whiskey, men!
I digress.
North Dakota’s backroads and river bottoms are a fine place to follow the explorers’ path (what little is left from Garrison Dam).
You haven’t followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark in North Dakota until you’re picking ticks off your tennis shoes in Smith Grove.
While biking along River Road near Sanger, you can appreciate the prairie winds that slowed the Corps to 3 mph rowing upriver, while your bicycle is buffeted to slower than walking pace.
When you’ve lathered on another layer of SPF 50 on a hot afternoon at Painted Woods Lake, you can try to imagine how the land looked when the explorers first met Chief Black Cat and the Mandans.
“A butifull Countrey on both Sides of the river,” Clark wrote at the time.
Indeed, sir.
A number of North Dakota state parks preserve Lewis and Clark’s past along the Missouri River, but  I prefer stumbling around Smith Grove.
Call me a tree hugger, but it’s fun to span your arms across the trunk of a mammoth cottonwood.
In a state where Josh Duhamel is probably our most famous (living) celebrity, give me Lewis and Clark everytime.
I’ll follow them through a river bottom and pick the ticks off later.