Thursday, February 2, 2012

Camp Dubois--The Launching Point

I just couldn't let this unusually warm and sunny weather slip by without taking in a field trip so Schnickelfritz and I headed east to Illinois.  Our two destinations were the Great Rivers Museum (in Alton, IL) and the Lewis & Clark Historic Site, Camp Dubois.  Although we saw both in one day, I'm going to divide the trip into two posts because there is so much to share.  Will's grandparents came with us and we all agreed that these two museums held plenty of interest for young and old.

Camp Dubois was established in December of 1803 on the east bank of the Mississippi across from the confluence with the Missouri.  They remained until May of 1804.   The site now boasts a reconstructed fort and a 14,000 visitor's center.  Visitors are greeted by a statue of Lewis, Clark and the dog Seaman.  At their feet is a blue ribbon of carpeting.  Just like Dorothy's yellow brick road, you follow the blue line throughout the three galleries and theater.

The  largest gallery contains a life size replica of the keelboat.  You can't tell from this picture but the best part is the other side.  The keelboat has been cut away so that you can see the living conditions on board and the amazing packing job to hold supplies for the journey.

Here is the one cabin on board.  Of course they went to shore at night so there didn't have to be beds for everyone.  The box to the right holds a display of  the instruments they used--compass and watch, etc.  There's a sextant on the case on the floor and the desk has a chain device that must have been used to measure distance.  You can get some idea of the packing beneath the floor but here's a better photo.

Even some of the barrels and boxes are cut away to reveal their contents.  The colorful bundle by the near barrel contain gifts and trading trinkets for the Indians: beads, cloth, hatchets, etc.  Beyond the canvas are barrels of salt pork.  Beyond them are lead containers with gun powder inside.  Not one to waste space, when they used up the powder, they could melt down the container into bullets.

This is a great hands on museum for kids.  Other than one canoe containing animal fur, I did not see a single "Do Not Touch" sign.  In fact, touching and exploring were encouraged.  Throughout the gallery were bags and barrels and sacks with questions written on the outside.  You had to lift lids and open sacks to find the answer.  On the walls were wooden replicas of letters between Lewis and Clark in the course of their preparation for the expedition.  You had to lift the seal of the letter to reveal the contents of the documents.

This exhibit had to be pulled from the wall.  It explains the process necessary for a conversation between a member of the Corp and a member of the Flathead Indians.  The English had to be interpreted to French, then Hidatsa, the Shoshone, and finally Salish.  Talk about your game of telephone.  I wonder how often the real message got lost in translation.

There was one disappointment in the museum.  Apparently at one point children were give a journal of some sort and when they found hidden objects or completed a task they could add a stamp to their journal.  Unfortunately some children (dare I say, but I bet they weren't homeschoolers) abused the system by stamping on each other and the exhibits and so they had to be removed. 

This wonderful little museum is FREE to visit (there is a donation box in the lobby).  There's also a gift shop with some great books, shirts, old fashioned toys, patches and post cards.  At the same exit is a tower to climb to get an aerial view of the confluence of the rivers ($4).  In the summer I believe there are outdoor activities at the Fort.  So we may be headed back to Camp Dubois as the weather warms again.


Stefanie said...

I want to go there. How awesome!!

Jill said...

Great museum. We used live in Great Falls, MT and would go to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which was along the same lines. This post brought back many happy memories of the kids having fun there.

Mary said...

Awesome! I want to go there- that is so neat!!

Lora @ my blessed life said...

What a fun field trip! I'll have to keep that in mind when we're in that area again.

Jennifer said...

That looks like fun. We enjoyed the Louis and Clark museum in South Dakota last fall.

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