For Christmas in 1996, I gave my son the book, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose. He was pleased and surprised, and insisted that I immediately open his gift to me; it was The Journals of Lewis & Clark.
I love my copy of The Journals, and frequently pick it up at random, to read what these men—Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the others—were doing on the same date in 1804, or 1805. I like that sort of thing—you’ve seen my links to Texas Day by Day, and Today in History from the Library of Congress.
On July 4, 1804, the Corps of Discovery were west of the Mississippi River, in what is now Kansas, and camped near present-day Atchison. Except for one man who was bitten by a snake (he lived), it was a good day for the explorers. They fired their small cannon both morning and evening. They took the time to eat some special foods that evening, and drank some whiskey. I’m sure they toasted George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Among other foods, the men ate “buffalo beef” (bison), corn, and beans. In honor of the day, Captains Lewis and Clark named two nearby rivers (or creeks—I guess that depends on personal perspective. It doesn’t take much running water for example, to impress me). They named one “Creek Independence” and the other “4th of July 1804 Creek.”
Today in honor of those courageous and intrepid men, my family and I will eat beans, and roasted meat—cooked on my son’s barbecue grill, a 21st century design of stainless steel, resplendent with dials and meters. It is the very 747 of gas grills—he uses a check-list and does a walk-around. I’m sure the Captains would have liked it very much. I wonder if they carried their live coals in an iron bucket each day or if they started a new fire every evening? I bet they carried some live coals whenever it was possible.
We’ll skip the cannon salute (no point in annoying the HOA) and watch the city fireworks show instead. I might have a wee dram of finely distilled spirits come bedtime, and I’ll toast George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Captains Lewis and Clark, and all the men who made the journey with them. Undaunted courage indeed.