Dream dashed in Glasgow, Mo.


History: Residents had planned a big celebration to mark a stop by Lewis and Clark in 1804. But that was before a researcher told them otherwise.

August 11, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

GLASGOW, Mo. - For years, people in this quiet one-motel town on the banks of the Missouri River believed that they had a small claim to a big piece of history - explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had camped here on their quest to the West.

A plaque put up in the 1960s declared it so, and, as former Mayor Earl Stockhorst put it, a "big stack of journals" had confirmed it.

Firm in their conviction, town officials planned a $22,000 celebration to mark the famous three-year expedition's bicentennial from next year to 2006. They hoped to revitalize the downtown and draw tourists, refurbish the dock to make room for 30 boats and even double the number of restaurants - to two.

Then, in one transforming moment laden with shock and dismay, a University of Missouri researcher produced a different version of the history so cherished here: Lewis and Clark had camped across the river from Glasgow in what is now the ghost town of Cambridge.

"I got very angry," says Stockhorst, who didn't believe it at first. "I was disillusioned. ... All of a sudden, it's knocked out from under us."

Glasgow, population 1,263, is one of many places across the country preparing to capitalize on the famous Lewis and Clark journey. They're all counting on three things: location, location, location.

No doubt, Lewis and Clark had other things in mind when they were scouting campsites, giving little thought to the historic implications of those locations. They had set out along the Missouri River on the way to the Pacific, exploring territory acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

President Thomas Jefferson confidentially requested $2,500 from Congress for the expedition 200 years ago, an event that will be commemorated Jan. 18 with the formal bicentennial ceremony at Monticello, Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Va.

An estimated 25 million people, from groups of square dancers to bicyclists, are planning to visit the explorers' path. Ten states along the trail - Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon - all want those tourist dollars.

Glasgow also dreamed of its due.

Little did Glasgow know that James Harlan, a senior research specialist in the University of Missouri-Columbia's geography department, was on a journey of his own - charged with accurately plotting the explorers' path in the state.

Missouri has planned $15 million in projects to prepare for the bicentennial, and as part of that Missouri's secretary of state authorized a two-year $157,000 grant for Harlan's work. He used journals from expedition members, surveyor field notes from the U.S. General Land office, and pre-U.S., French and Spanish surveys to plot the journey.

"I didn't do this to make them mad," Harlan says with the sharp-tongued, matter-of-fact way of a drill sergeant. "I'm certainly not picking towns to try and irritate. ... I didn't do this to mess up their party."

Armed with a global positioning device and the longitude and latitude coordinates, Harlan located each campsite along the river's path, which has vastly changed during 200 years because of sedimentation, floods and hydraulic pressure. He found some of the 85 campsites in the river, mudholes or near grain silos - places that aren't ideal tourist attractions.

"There's a lot of pressure to have campsites in town, where tourists will come," says Harlan, 50. "I'm not moving these campsites around so somebody can have convenient access."

The site where Glasgow residents believed the explorers slept, Stump Island Park, took its name from Clark's journal entry. He wrote that on June 10-11, 1804, they camped at Sheeco Island, likely referring to chicot, the French word for stump.

The townspeople aren't certain how they came to believe the explorers camped there, or why a plaque was put in the park in the 1960s reading, "So named by Lewis and Clark on their expedition in 1804, noted in diary as an island covered with stumps and later connected to mainland as it now exists."

"I think that's the way a lot of things go in little towns," says Diana Clarke, president of Glasgow Community Betterment, which helps preserve the town's history.

Harlan speculates that Glasgow became known as the campsite location because it was the closest town of considerable size - and it can be found on a map.

"Somehow, some way it got moved to Glasgow," Harlan says. "It's like a giant, 200-year game of To Tell the Truth."

When he read in newspapers that Glasgow residents were planning a bicentennial celebration, Harlan was dumbfounded.

"I'm going, `They didn't even camp on that side of the river,'" Harlan says, slapping his head.

Townspeople counted on the Lewis and Clark campsite to bring in grant money for their bicentennial celebration. Along with revitalizing downtown, plans included a trail expansion and a visit from the National Park Service's traveling museum, which offers re-enactments on the explorers' route.

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