Yalobusha Historical Society Minutes – Aug 20, 2009

Capt. Merriwether Lewis as portrayed by Dr. Bryant Boswell of Jackson. – Photo by Sarah Williams

The Yalobusha Historical Society held its regular monthly meeting August 20 in its headquarters, the Presbyterian Church, in Coffeeville. There were 49 members and guests present, representing eight counties.

  Chaplain John Moorman spoke the opening prayer. President Mike Worsham welcomed everyone, especially the speaker and visitors. Mike spoke of the recent visit of some members of the New Albany, IN, Historical Society. They are researching the background of a black girl, Lucy Higgs, who lived in Coffeeville when she was eight years old. They plan to place a historical marker in IN, recognizing her for her role in the Civil War. She moved from the Coffeeville area to Bolivar, TN and traveled to IN via the underground railroad. She stayed in IN, and served as a nurse in an IN Civil War unit. Mike was given pictures of her in a huge group at a reunion of IN Civil War veterans in IN. She served long enough to qualify for a pension, just like the men. Incidentally, her land was sold to the Preston Person family.(James Person is a member of the YHS) The Lucy Higgs story will be printed in a future issue of THE PIONEER.

  Mike then turned the mike over to Joan Bailey, a Coffeeville native, now of Vicksburg. She introduced the day’s speaker, Capt. Merriwether Lewis, aka  Dr. Bryant Boswell, who was dressed in a snappy uniform, a replica of the one worn by the real Capt. Lewis. Dr. Boswell, a Jackson dentist,  is a great-nephew of Harmon H. Boswell, a Coffeeville attorney who died in the mid-1830s. His widow, Flora, lived for many years, and served as music director at the Methodist Church, and also ran an insurance agency in Coffeeville.   Dr. Boswell grew up in Jackson. He and his wife, Sarah, have two sons and a daughter.  One of his sons is in dental practice with him, allowing him to leave the office behind and travel all over the United States in his role as Merriwether Lewis.He attended Miss. State, Millsaps and the School of Dentistry at Baylor University in Dallas. He did a stint in the Army, then returned to Jackson and opened his dental practice.

   Dr. Boswell’s  subject was “The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) and The St. Charles Discovery Expedition.” (2004-2006)  (The latter was a reenactment of the first expedition) Dr. Boswell is a member of the huge Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation, a group dedicated to keeping the L & C history alive.  Most of the members are from the L & C corridor – the states through which the explorers traveled –  and Dr. Boswell is the only one from MS. (and one is from TN)  He is one of the reenactors, and portrays Capt. Lewis. He said that his group was camped on the Ohio River in 2001 when they were contacted by the Bush Administration, asking them to do a reenactment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,  following the route taken by the original explorers. This event was done to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, an endeavor authorized  by Thomas Jefferson, our third President. Jefferson had a vision of ‘one nation, from sea to shining sea.’ There was something called ‘The Discovery Doctrine” by which a country could claim all the land drained by a river, if it could obtain the land where the mouth of the river was. Jefferson wanted to claim the land far off in the Pacific Northwest, and the goal of an exploratory trip was to locate the mouth of the Columbia River, follow it to its head waters, on the western side of the Continental Divide,  and claim the land which drained into it. The second reason was to see if there was a water route to the Pacific Northwest. Of course, there wasn’t, as the explorers learned when they reached the Rocky Mountains. Two centuries later,  President George W. Bush realized that the L & C story was not done justice in the history books, and he felt that it was imperative for all Americans, school children, especially,  to know the importance of this chapter of the country’s early history, and that a reenactment of the trip would be the best way to educate all Americans about  this remarkable achievement,  and to learn about the brave and dedicated men involved in it.                                                                 

Dr. Boswell portrayed another crew member, a Sergeant Robert Frazier, for two years, but when the man portraying Capt. Lewis resigned, he was asked to take his place. He quickly agreed, and said that he is indeed honored to play the part of this explorer/hero. His co-captain, William Clark, remarkably, was portrayed by Peyton Clark, g-g-g-grandson of William Clark. There were several other direct descendants of the original crew in the group. Dr. Bryant said that their number one priority was, and continues to be, education, and that they very well received everywhere they went. (as they still are)  

  President Jefferson chose  29-year old Merriwether Lewis, his personal secretary, as the leader of the real Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Lewis gladly accepted this assignment, but felt that he needed another strong man to accompany him, and chose  an old war buddy, William Clark, age 33. Although their personalities were as different as day and night, Dr. Boswell said, they proved to be the perfect pair for this mission.  Neither of their journals indicate any clashes during the long and tiring trip.                                                                          

There was a lot of preparation to be done  before the trip began, since they didn’t have any idea how long it would take. When they put the keel boat in the Missouri River in the Spring of 1804, little did they realize that it would be two and a half years before they returned to their starting point.  Jefferson requested that they keep journals, documenting the flora and fauna as they went. This was done very efficiently, and included sketches and descriptions of all the new plant and animal life they encountered on this 4,300-mile trip.  

  There were 45 men in the “Corps of Discovery,” as the expedition was known. Only one man died, Sgt. Charles Floyd, who died of appendicitis. (He is buried in Iowa, near the point on the Missouri where he died, and there is a monument, park and visitor center there)

    Then, there was Sacagawea, (pronounced sock-a-ja-wee-ah) the 15-year old Indian woman who joined the crew in the Fall of 2004, when they stopped for he winter, before crossing the mountains in the Spring. Sacagawea was married to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian  fur trapper who was  hired by  the Captains as interpreter for their dealings with the Shoshone Indians. Sacagawea, a Shoshone herself, had been kidnapped five years earlier, and taken away from her home territory. As they began their trek in the Spring of 1805, she began to recognize landmarks, and was invaluable in helping them navigate through the mountains, and in dealing with the Shoshone Indians, who were her people. One day, as she was negotiating with a Chief for the purchase of horses, she and the Chief recognized one another – he was her BROTHER! Of course, from then on, the whole crew was treated very well, and obtained plenty of horses! Her baby boy, Jean Baptiste Charbonau, was born when she first joined the group, and William Clark became very fond of him. Years later, when the boy became an adult, Clark paid for his college education.

  Dr. Boswell’s program covered the original expedition, and the one he participated in, 200 years later.  Their time table was the very same as the first expedition. They set out in May of 2004, stopped at the same places, spent the first winter in the same place, arrived at the Pacific Ocean on the same date, spent the second winter there, and. They started home in early Spring, and arrived at their starting point in St. Charles, MO, in the fall of 2006, on the same day as their counter-parts had done, two centuries earlier.                                                                              

Dr. Boswell said one of the reasons his group was chosen over others was because it had more direct descendants of the original crew, and had the keelboat, as well as the pirogues, all of which they had built themselves. This huge undertaking was backed by the Dept. of the Interior, and one of the reasons they wanted to have this reenactment was for the L & C men to interact  with the many Indian tribes across the region, many of them descendants of the tribes L & C encountered 200 years ago. This was to give the Native Americans a platform from which to speak. Dr. Boswell, Capt. Lewis, if you will, and his fellow crew members stopped all along the route, giving presentations,  and always included the Indians in their programs. He said they were received very well, and established good rapport with them. The men of the second journey suffered some of the same hardships the first group did, but  it was much easier to document the adventure – video cameras recorded every mile of the way, and Dr. Boswell showed slides of the beautiful scenery, and referred often to  a huge map of the L & C trail, making it even more interesting. There were also slides of the programs they presented along the way. As stated previously, the focus of the group is on education, and these pictures are a wonderful teaching tool. The narration makes it even more interesting, making history come alive for all who view the pictures.  

  Dr. Boswell also spoke of the upcoming gathering, Oct. 3 – 7, of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Merriwether Lewis, on the Natchez Trace, at Grinder’s Stand, where he was staying overnight.  He was made Governor of The Louisiana Territory and was on his way to Washington to meet with President Jefferson. He had come through Memphis, then down into MS, and planned to travel on the Trace as far as he could. His death remains a mystery. He allegedly took his own life, but no one knows for sure. The group will be in Olive Branch, where they will have lectures and demonstrations.  They will follow in Lewis’ footsteps on the Trace, stopping in Tupelo to place a bust of Lewis in the visitor center there. They then go to the burial site near Hohenwald, TN, where there will be a memorial service, attended by hundreds of the Foundation members and the public.  

   There have been many books written about the L & C Expedition, most of which Dr. Boswell had on display at the meeting, along with many artifacts, clothing, hats, tools and ceremonial attire worn by the Indians. He went to a lot of trouble, bringing all his ‘gear,’ not to mention his travel time. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Boswell for bringing this fascinating program, and we hope he can come back and do another one in the future.

  The Sept. 17 program will be done by “Red” Riddick, who will finish the story of his WW2 combat experience that he shared with us in March. This will be another outstanding program, and we invite everyone to come and hear it.

  The YHS Board of Directors met briefly prior to the Aug. 20 meeting and voted to open our library and sanctuary all day Oct. 3, the day of Coffeeville’s 175th birthday celebration. Members will be on hand all day to show off our beautiful sanctuary and library. Light refreshments will be served in the fellowship hall, and everyone is invited to drop by any time during the day. We are indeed proud to be a part of Coffeeville’s history, and are honored that one of its landmarks, the historic Presbyterian Church, has been deeded to the Society. It is our responsibility to preserve it to the best of our ability, so that it will continue to be  an asset to the town and county. Congratulations, Coffeeville – 175 years and counting!!    

ATTENDING: Mike Worsham, Dr. Boswell, Jean Bailey Kirk, Joan Bailey, Joy Herron, Betty Miller, Opal Wright, Jimmie and Francine Pinnix, Janie H. Womble, Tom and Alma Moorman, Martha Short, Bill Adams, David and Lois Bishop, Herb Hayward, B. B. Billingsley, Rosemary Sinquefield, Joe Moorman, John Moorman, Frances Stewart, Dessie Caulfield, David Dunn, Margaret J. Ross, Julia Fernandez, Betty B. Pechak, Darlene Eckolson, Herschel and Sarah Saucier, Sarah Williams, Raymond Bruner, Eddie Nelson, Ray Cox, Hugh Bill McGuire, Dave Hovey, Charles Stribling, Debby Hughes, Verna Starnes, Bobbie Williams, Joy Tippitt,  Dot Criss, Kay McCulley, Sue Fly, James and Margaret Hill, William Upchurch, Alice G. Landreth and James Person.

Betty R. Miller – 226-6975

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