Monday, October 13, 2014

Second Rendezvous with Sacagawea

It’s always great to be in Kansas City and revisit the master touches of its beautiful old buildings, fountains and shaded boulevards.

It’s a little bit like Europe touching down on the prairies and going head to head with the raw and muscular personification of the pioneer West.

The area was gateway to the western trails long before the vision of urban beauty of a century ago came to pass. Vital, vigorous, sleek and sophisticated, Kansas City today shows its many sides letting us take our pick.

Charleston, Savannah, New York City and a handful of other locales come to mind as getaways for the romantically inclined. After this most recent trip we’re in favor of adding Kansas City to those at the top of the list.

Romance came to us not in the Plaza district (it’s there and we’ll be back for it) but elsewhere in town. The romance we found we sought out in the form of a bronze monument set high on a bluff.

Looking online for Kansas City attractions we saw Ermine Case Jr. Park. We noticed it because a statue of Lewis and Clark is mentioned in conjunction with it.

My interest in the Lewis and Clark Expedition goes back a long way. 

Nor was this the first statue connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition to pique our interest (see “Gathering of Greatness,” a 2006 post, included in online book Years of Grace, Days of Understanding @

Al went along with my desire to find the statue (both times). Therein, for me, lies the crux of romance.

Romance isn’t just fine words and fluttering hearts. It’s seeing what’s innermost in a loved one’s heart and rising to meet it in an act of generosity that becomes a gift mutually shared.

Getting to Case Park tested us. We weren’t far from it as we proceeded with GPS directions from our current stop. Directions got muddled along the way.

It was the reality of road construction or road closures or something. We were momentarily distracted and for a short time totally confused.

Driving directions as simple or difficult are often determined by the direction from which you come. Some routes don’t lend easily to straightforward directions and this is what happened to us.

Questioning the park’s whereabouts, as we fell to doing en route, gave us to feel as if the Corps of Discovery statue was hidden off in some remote area. Looking for it, it didn’t strike us as a park out in the open. This can keep some folks away.

One’s tendency is to visit something if it’s a piece of cake to find. It really helped that the stop was so worthwhile when we did arrive at the park. We’d come close to giving up.

Case Park (as the name is often shortened to) and the Lewis and Clark monument are  at 8th and Jefferson streets on Quality Hill.

Once a neighborhood of fine homes between Wyandotte Street and the west bluffs, and then gone shabby over time, Quality Hill (like many grand neighborhoods of the past) is currently being rehabbed. It’s being reestablished  as a district with a hip address.

The park is atop a 2000 ft bluff overlooking the confluence of the Kansas River with the Missouri River. It hangs above the rail yards that fill the river bottoms. It affords sweeping views. It gives the sense of the West opening up right before you. 

The commemorative piece, the work of sculptor Eugene Daub, was done in 2000 and heroic in size, measuring 21 feet across and 18 feet high.

Meriweather Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea, Shoshone guide and translator, who stands with them in bronze posterity, are depicted as key figures of the 1804-1806 exploratory voyage undertaken, under the aegis of the US government, to the Pacific Ocean and back.

The three are portrayed visually by the characteristics which were their personal contributions to the physically demanding endeavor.

Clark, his leadership skills evident in his commanding frame, holds a telescope (or some instrument) in his hands, peering westward.

Lewis, his quiet mien and keen scientist mind the perfect balance to Clark 's decisive manner, rests his journal on his knees as though in the very act of entering that day’s account.

His taut lean shape gives the impression that observation and recording are inherent gifts for which the expedition was a destined match. 

You can believe the journal on his knees came into the world with him, part of his birthright, as it lies comfortably spread out before him where he is about to write into it.

Sacagawea has a far-seeing expression and rapt gaze. Like the two men she looks to the West. Her gaze might be interpreted differently, however. What she sees isn’t the unknown. It’s home.

She is born of the Plains and Western high country. She uses this familiarity of place and native knowledge of the natural world to help inform the expedition in their route through the Rocky Mountains.

She’s the miracle worker for the Corps in so many ways that, as I think about it, it makes me want to read the journals all over again.

Missed on our visit are the three other figures which complete the sculpture. We’re not sure how they were an oversight but can guess.

Afternoon sun, full on Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea, may have been strong enough to shade the other figures positioned on the other side of the sculpture.

We were caught up in the expressions and stances of Clark, Sacagawea and Lewis. 

They're truly riveting as rendered. Our inspection of the three, each in turn, and marveling at the scope of the statue as it draws you into it, no doubt drew all our attention.

At home, doing online search on this statue that wowed us, a surprise was revealed. 

Clark’s slave York, the Newfoundland dog Seaman (bought by Lewis as he prepared for the expedition) and Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste, all members of the Corps, were inadvertently overlooked by us.

Jean Baptiste was the son of Sacajawea and Touissaint Charbonneau, hired by Lewis and Clark as an interpreter (thereby acquiring Sacagawea’s help for free).  

He was born February 11, 1805 while the Corps were at their first winter camp in present day North Dakota.

The baby boy traveled with the exploring party until their return to the Mandan villages in August 1806 when he was 1½ years old. 

He was carried on Sacagawea’s back and as a passenger in the boats that transported the crew deep into the interior and back east again.

The toddler was called Pomp by William Clark. Clark was fond of him. 

When Charbonneau was paid for his services, and his family ended its time with the Corps, which still had a month of downriver travel ahead of them, Clark offered to take Pomp. 

It was agreed among them that at some later date, if this could work out, it would be done.

The statue places York and Seaman facing east. They cover Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea’s backs literally and figuratively. They’re put this way to make a point I believe.

After giving due prominence to Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea it’s my opinion Daub arranged the others to represent the watchful surveillance of the Corps as they traversed the wilderness across tribal territories.

The statue conveys the constancy of watch practiced by the Corps. They were continually scanning the horizon. They scouted diligently. All eyes were needed to take in and note the important.

By such vigilance, and careful scrutiny of the lands beyond the Mississippi, newly purchased by the young Federal government, the Corps of Discovery were able to accomplish their amazing feat.

They returned without the loss of a single person except the unfortunate Sgt. Charles Floyd. He died of what is presumed was a ruptured appendicitis in the early phase of the expedition and is buried at Sioux City, Iowa.

The secondary figures in the sculpture also suggest to me the richer, fuller story of the Corps of Discovery. The six figures, put together as a whole, are intrinsically linked as I see it. 

They’re above the other relationships that were forged and refined on this journey. They’re set apart and made as one by a certain degree of service, loyalty, respect and friendship.

The point of land with the statue is called Clark’s Point. There’s a sign (as we recall) that quotes from William Clark’s journal for September 15, 1806 in which he notes the strategic value of the bluff for a fort.

The Corps are nearing their return. They’re closing in on St. Louis where their voyage began. Lewis and Clark continue to enter notes in their journals on aspects of the land they pass by on the Missouri River.

In theory they’re in home territory. They could be excused, after two years of meticulous note taking, for laying down their writing instruments and calling it a good trip well done. 

Dutiful to the last they continue with their logs. Their wonder and scientific interest remain intact, and their entries will pass into history as a record of one of our country's most dangerous and ultimately finest adventures. 

Clark’s journal for the day of his climb to present day Clark’s Point mentions several deer swimming the river shortly after they start out in a stiff breeze. 

He notes an afternoon stop “to let the men gather Pappaws or the Custard apple of which this Country abounds, and the men are very fond of.”

In between the deer and "Pappaws" is the climb up the steep bluff, which is come to in late forenoon after passing the entrance of the “Kanzas” (Kansas) River.

Clark notes the river is very low, adding that about a mile below the confluence they make land at the bluff.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark, from the Project Gutenberg collection, is recommended for those who wish to view the entries from beginning to end. 

Clark’s September 15, 1806 entry, which I found at this site, goes in part:

. . . “we landed and Capt Lewis and my Self ascended a hill which appeared to have a Commanding Situation for a fort, the Shore is bold and rocky immediately at the foot of the hill, from the top of the hill you have a perfect Command of the river, this hill fronts the Kanzas and has a view of the Missouri a Short distance above that river.”

There are heroes and there are those who are brave. This sculpture carries forward as a ringing statement the valor of the Corps of Discovery.

Largely a small body of frontiersmen, with the mettle of survivor skills to keep them fit, they entered into the heart of the American continent with no guarantee they would return. In them we have the very best.

Kansas City can be proud of this statue celebrating the passage of the Corps through the area. This beautiful piece represents what we also can do.

It suggests all things are possible when side by side, and allied by friendship, trust and a common goal, and with great willingness to serve from our abilities, we set out with bold hopes.

Stiff breezes can’t defeat our course when preparation is put in place by being versed in - and ready for - what we give ourselves to do.

Ro Giencke – October 13, 2014





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