1260 Miles One Way

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Here's an old trip that was made in 1989. It was a while ago but if you have the time its one that you should keep in mind.

This was an adventure that not many can say they traveled this distance one way, unsupported living as our forefathers had done. This one trip will always be remembered by each of the five members as long as they live.
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Our goal is to follow in the footsteps of our forefathers, the ones that explored this land, we live on today. To research the history of the land we will be traveling or passing by in experiencing what it would have been like, to have lived then wearing the clothes, handling the weapons, eating the food and caring for the equipage used, the events of the day and who was there.

Gets quite involved and many, many hours invested, as you know this can be a full time job, to do it correctly.

Our game plan is to travel from the plains of Fort Morgan , CO to Fort de Chartre, IL (a mid 1700's military strong hold), this will take 27-30 days and covering approx. 1300 river miles. The trip will be made without any type of a support team, the members feeling they can handle any problem that arises, as would have our forefathers.

The cargo will be 19 beaver plews, trapped the winter before in the Stoney Mountains (Rocky), the time period will be 1796-1800. All items will be correct for this time period, this will include clothing, food, camp wares and any other equipage taken, canoes will have the correct appearance for the time frame.

Looking at our calendar, we can match 1989 to 1797. Wait till you tell your spouse, your boss and everyone your leaving for 30 plus days, call when you get a chance. Boy, are you in trouble with the whole group, even people you don't even know, think your crazy.

After many phone calls to historical groups, fish and game departments, US Coast Guard and the Governor's Office we start to see information and forms coming in. Clearance for making the trip on any major rivers has to be OK'd by the US Coast Guard, same for the movement of the beaver and what states they will be passing through. The historical societies get involved, and inform us this will be the first trip made in over 175 years, traveling this route and bringing beaver plews for trade, (distance was a given, according to them).

Many fellow canoers are interested, but most can not get this amount of time off from family or work, many can handle half the trip and plans are made for them to meet us at the 1/2 way point through the voyage. This would make an easy way for us to restock with food, and clothing changes being in a warmer area and warmer weather changes for this time of the year. Fort Osage on the Missouri is suggested as a half way point, a phone call to the Fort Superindent with our plans and the meeting place is set, they will be having an encampment that weekend and will be happy to met with ones traveling so far to come to their Fort and possible trade of mountain plews.

Our plans are coming together better than we had anticipated, we go over our list of provisions, and equipage needed for such an adventure, we are in pretty good shape for equipage, need to order a couple more 5 gallon water kegs, everything else looks good . We must go over this list a hundred more times or paper and in our minds, looking for a possible problem with any item, we know that upon leaving we will be stuck with those mistakes for a month.

The continued work never stopped, the only changes were the numbers going from a firm twenty to a final six, within 2 months of leaving. As Jed Smith put it, "that's six for sure, unless somebody’s wife screws something up", not sure who's wife he was talking about! We are so involved with this "dream" as some have called it, we talk to each other daily on what was done or completed the night before, the project has been on going for 14 months before we pack and fill the vehicles.

Finally

Wed. May 3, 1989

One of the "elite six" (as we are being called by ones that can not make the trip), Dennis Cox, he has been informed that all vacations have been canceled for at least 2 months do to demands of the business, he's sick. Jed calls, he's pi....., then the rest start calling and needless to say, everyone is upset.

After an hour of long distance calls, it is agreed that a meeting is needed now, we all agree to met at a point half the distance from our homes, a hole in the wall diner, at 8:30 pm .

Our meeting has taken us down one man, one canoe and less food and equipment, we will use my 20 foot and Jed's 17 foot canoes, leaving the other 17 footer at home, we leave the meeting and head for our homes to make the needed changes in the amount of items needed.

Sat. May 6, 1797 or is it 1989? (early morn.)

We load and are ready for our early departure from Fort Morgan , a couple hours away no problem - right, WRONG. Our source of what the water debt was on Wed. was day dreaming, we get there and not enough to float the loaded canoes alone, without our body weight in them. We take one vehicle and drive down to the river at different points for several miles, talk to a farmer in a field near the river, we're told its no better further east either.

After a short pow wow its is decided we are going, if we have to walk, we'll never get this much time off again to make another trip, and another problem would screw up a later trip anyhow.

Sat. May 6, 1797 (afternoon)

We made several calls to a number of sporting goods stores along different parts of the South and North Platte river , checking water conditions. After an hour of calling, its found that Scotts Bluff, NE on the North Platte has passable water and we're on the road. Several hours in the now late afternoon we are getting into the water, different location, but still about the same distance of travel on the water, just different names for towns encountered.

As we pull away from the shore our well wishers wave good bye, Cox says good bye, we all feel for him, knowing how had he had worked for 14 months. We have now made a " Hudson 's Bay Start", late in and early out. We travel only 12 to 13 miles and setup camp in the dark, get a quick meal and settle down for an early start. We're finally on our way after all the planning and work our journey is underway, the great River La Platte is our for the taking.

Sun. May 7,1797

At a guess around 2 am we awake to the Northern Lights, what a wonderful site, we have never seen such doings, sleep became hard for the next few hours, what other new things are ahead! We're up before dawn, all are full of excitement and wonderment of whats in store for our first day on the river.

Our food goes down very quickly and our loads are completed in record time, as we shove off we see a long string of bluffs on our right, marked with thousands of holes made by swallows, it seems to run for several miles.

Our first portage is coming up, some kind of a drainage dam, (good topo maps are available for most areas, they are life savers).

Takes us 1 1/2 hours due to the banks, 40 feet high, that we travel up and down many times in moving a thousand pounds of gear and canoes from one side to the other. All this to make a 1/4 mile, modern obstacles will be a problem by what our maps show us, hope we allowed ample time for such things. See many beaver as we move silently through the water with only a paddle splashing once in a while, couldn't get any better than this.

Brother, was that a bad thing to think. After another portage we come out onto a large lake, at the bottom end several lead paddlers notice how level or straight the edge of the water is, as we get closer the sound of falling water, neat - WRONG.

We go to shore and walk several hundred yards to see our straight edge is the edge of a water falls 350-400 feet down into a hydro plant (not shown or our map). An easy 4 miles to portage around, as usual our luck is holding fast, we find several locals (natives) willing to help, but first they feed and resupply our water, then the work starts.

Several hours are lost, which isn't bad, it could have been double that time without the help of friendly natives or one heck of a ride if our sharp-eyed members had not seen the levelness of the water. Something to keep in mind when traveling, look for the unusual in landscape, trails, or in our case the water.

Mon. May 8, 1797

The flow of the water has really slowed, paddling has become quite a chore, had 2 portages today. Its becoming very obvious that we have way to much food, our supplier gave us a bag that is 65-70 lbs of corn flour and corn meal, now named "The Dreaded Food Sack". We will kill Cox when the first chance arises, he was in charge of edibles that he claimed we're lightened with him not going.

Made around 42 miles, this is approx. as there are no mile markers! We need to make as many miles as possible to meet our schedule for Omaha , the 1 1/2 to 2 portages a day are really taking up more time than originally figured.

Tue. May 9, 1797

Cold windy and a light rain greet us while loading, better than snow we laugh, soon we dry out as the morning sun rises. We run into several branches, where the river splits, Father Fahrenthold ( not a real man of the cloth), spits in the water and point to our direction of travel, for some reason it looks good to the rest of the group!

Evening camp, the surrounding are so dry that our fire near the water is 200 yards from the base camp, everything is dry as far as we can see. A real fire danger.

I think a lot about Karen, as the others think of their women too. Jed refuses to wear the yellow apron for the Father, time is in the Father's corner.

Wed. May 10, 1797

Cold and windy, no fire in this dry grass, we eat what we can and load, knowing that its a short distance to our first portage for today, we skip all the ropes and usual care taken. The wind is in our face all day making for some hard work and slow moving again. See lots of game such as deer, rabbits, a variety of birds and a lonely coyote 's cry once in a while. If we near a town we all agree that several should call home and have their wives contact the other women that we are doing fine. Jed and myself draw the lucky straws, this will please Karen and Elayne.

Fri. May 12, 1797

Its been two days since writing in journal, "our journey of portages", water has picked up and we're moving at a faster pace than we have for several days. If we can keep up this pace we can regain some lost mileage and hopefully get close to the original schedule for Omaha .

We're near Columbus, NE on the Loop River, our La Platte was being worked on and the water moved into this irrigation canal system, our maps show this is a 125 miles long and drops into the Missouri River. This is about 50-60 yards wide, clean of trash and smooth as glass, a local told us its around 20-25 feet deep, what a pleasure to travel on. Oh, the locals (natives) have been very helpful, friendly and always wanting to help, have gotten a lot of good advice about the rivers and water in this region.

The water as mention is smooth and our canoes travel at ease on this water, plus at this point we're protected with banks on each side and camping areas of plush grass, nice area to return to at a later date. We are very pleased, but not for long, we travel 5-6 miles round a corner and we start seeing shallow water, we get another 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile and we out of the canoes, cordelling. We cordell about another mile and decide to make camp while I get caught up on my journal. Bill Jones starts a fire and has coffee going, while Jed, Ken and the Father Jerry start our meal. We agree to bed down early and hit it early in the morning, Jed and Ken walk down the river for a few miles before dark, looking at our latest problem. When they return we have wild rice, peas, buffalo, corn bread with honey and coffee. In the morning we will cordell until we find water or another channel.

Sat. May 13, 1797

Our found water, that Ken and Jed saw the evening before is now gone, we are told by some locals working in a field that its 40 miles before we will have deep enough water to support the loaded canoes and our body weight.

The good news is they will finish what they are doing this evening and are willing to help move us the 40 miles with their wagon in the morning, Jed Smith and Ken Klabon work out the details on the Grande Portage. Bill Jones, Father Jerry and myself eat and leave Jed and Ken extra food, when they are done with the local natives.

Later in the evening, its dark, we have a small fire when suddenly we are joined by our new friends and a half dozen others wanting to help us, they bring cake, ice cream and coffee, the party last till its past midnight . We have met really fine friends with these people in this area, farmers and very pleasant in manner and ways.

Father Fahrenthold thanks the Lord for our new friends and then places a curse on this part of the river, we all agree. We work on any repairs needed with our gear and ready equipage while Jed and Ken go to help with wagon.

Sun. May 14, 1797

The Father has said his prayers for the La Compagnie and our success with the portage, this will be our 4th Grande Portage, we're within 30 miles of the Missouri River and can't wait to see that water of an old friend.

The portage went like a master's watch, clockwork, the trip was long and ruff with a hard sprung wagon, all equipment made the ordeal in fine shape and all walkers and riders are doing good. We have a nice meal prepared by our friends and we say our good byes, as they need to start back.

We move to the water's edge and setup camp, soon we are so excited about getting to the Missouri that everyone decides to look over our surroundings, we move around the area like the local natives, not a sound can be heard of the five as we look for fresh tracks, any activity of others or just wing down.

Mon. May 15, 1797

The plan for today as we are now back on schedule, we will make our camp about 10 miles from the mouth of the La Platte at Louisville . We will have visitors tonight from a pre-arranged meeting, an old friend with supplies that is our "Cache' left earlier last month. He will bring with him a group of Cub Scouts, they will cook us what they like and in turn we will feed them what we have been eating.

The day goes smoothly, good weather and we make our locations as planned, we go to shore and the Father gets out, then I move forward and climb out and last Jed jumps into the water and disappears, over his head. In all the failing around he looses his original French trade knife. We all wait for him to blow up, but thanks to the Father, he takes it fairly well.

Oh, Bill Jones has been renamed by the Father, he shall be called "El Don Honiz", for his helping the Father in ways that only the two know about! He will be given a fair maiden at Fort de Chartre, this really gets Jones attention.

Wed. May 17, 1797

We see our first "fireflies", the weather has really warmed, sky is clear. You can hear the beaver working along the river banks, can be noisy little guys. We are really beat after a hard days work, all we able to do is crawl to the shore and lay there, someone opens a tin of honey and someone else gives me a piece of bannock, its an effort to lay on the bank and eat. Some how we get a rag tag camp set and don't remember much until morning.

Fri. May 19, 1797

I awake, there are 3 whitetails and 4 turkey milling around our camp, within 25-30 feet from us, I wake Jed and in turn we wake the others, we lay still and watch for 15-20 minutes, before they loose interest in the surroundings and move back into the woods. The whole trip came down to this event, all the work and hardships were worth this few minutes of watching our visitors. This is by far the hardest journey for low water, portages, and problems, what is in store for us now?

Of coarse what else, another Grande Portage, as we are short on the needed mileage and not enough time figured in for all the other unknowns. We need to get some miles under our belts as fast as possible, or we won't make our meeting with our main body of canoers at Fort Osage and Grady Manus has planned for us. Jed and Ken cut a deal with a couple of the local natives, getting good at this, we throw in some trade goods and they seem pleased. we make a 100 miles in good time, we are within 30 miles of Fort Osage, Jed double checks the map and the mile markers, all looks good and we once again say our good byes to more new friends.

Sun. May 21, 1797

We arrive at Fort Osage at 10:30 am , with a large crowd from their rendezvous and the group we are meeting have all come down to the river's edge, brother what a racket with all the yelling and cheers. This will be one adventure we will all remember for the rest of our lives and the number of new friends we have made is unbelievable. Not a negative person, all wanting to give of themselves to help strangers in trouble, different than what we read in our newspapers, probably this story wouldn't sell their rag.

Grady Manus and his Lady are great hosts, hot showers, washing our clothing and bedding, then feeding us until we couldn't walk. They even let each of us tie up their phone line, while we called loved ones at home. Can't say enough about how well we were treated, thanks Grady and the Mrs.

Now that we're as good as new once again, its off to our people and the rendezvous, you need to come to Fort Osage , you will like it with out any question.

Our Factor asks if we could partake in an ambush of his guard that patrols the Fort morning and night, its decided to catch them in the morning, as several seem not to be awake when making their rounds. There are 19 of them and only 14 of us, a surprise attach that lasted a but a few minutes, ones that were not shot were tomhawked in true native faction. After the fight one of the Fort members was heard telling how they had won, we all laughed as at least three different people in our party had shot him point blank range.

Our numbers have grown from 2 canoes to 9 now, and with 19 members, still missing a couple that have not shown yet. Grady gets a call and sends word that our missing members will meet us about 200 miles down steam.

Mon. May 22, 1797

We're on the move again, seeing less game as we pass Kansas City, the water is dirty with a lot of trash and oil film, skys are smocked and now its raining lightly. Although this sounds negative it isn't ment to be, we got spoiled after what we have seen and not being around any large cities up until now. After a few short breaks and a long day the party has made a good solid 48 miles and we're at mile marker 292.

The men are tired and proud of what has been done for mileage, plus many have never canoed together before or been in a large group like this. It took a while for the racing to settle down, think a lot of it was do to the 20 footer with three paddlers, this craft is very fast and many tried to pass it but couldn't keep the position for any length of time before the larger canoe would go on by, with its members tipping their hats to the looser. Many tried the 20 footer, but seemed to forget that the paddlers in the larger vessel were in better shape after working out for at least a month longer, than the new kids first day out.

Our camp was on a great sandy beach, with lots of drift wood and natural fire building materials right at hand. Several fires for cooking were going at the different camps, what a sight, canoes on their sides with canvas stretched over them to make lean-too's, paddles used for poles to hold the canvas and all the bedding and misc. equipment stored under them. Even though they are tired, there's still time for the kidding and a tricks played on each other as the sun sets, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

Tue. May 23, 1797

Get up to a foggy morning, can hardly see the river, anything not covered is soaked, had a heavy rain during the night, most slept through it and seemed surprised at what had happened. Must have worked them to hard on Monday. Everyone is loaded and we moving at 8:30 am according to my sundial compass, Jed is chewing on the new members and how we had to drag them the day before, us old salts kept quite.

Most turned in after supper, they had a good workout for the second day, some are giving me a little trouble about being in the 17 footer, Bill was really tired after Monday, so I traded with him to give him a break in the middle of the 20 footer, seems to have helped him.

Wed. May 24, 1797

Good start, the new boys get Jed up, he took a lot of teasing, he needed it. Windy and water is choppy with some pretty good white caps at times. We pick up water at Glasslow, young Hawkins went to relieve himself and forgets his hunting frock, that would be hard to take.

Late in the day we find a 300 yards long X 100 yards wide sand bar, not a lot of drift wood or anything to burn, when we leave this place is picked clean. we all see lots of game and many eagles flying circles around us as camp is setup, interesting. Another wet camp.

Thur. May 25, 1797

Rained most of the day, most are wet and cold, we stopped by a fishing village, Easly , MO. We find one of the missing members Steve Webster was there having his vehicle repaired, had to work it off $535.00, good reason for missing. While there I call home, Karen out, left message on recorder. We made only 40 miles today at mile marker 165.

I'm back in the 20 footer, Ailer's boy is not doing to good, ate a bunch of junk food at Easly. He is of no help in handling the canoe with his father.

Fri. May 26, 1797

It's decided that we put Ailor's kid in the 20 footer to rest for a day, he's only 14 years old. I'll take his place in the little canoe of his dad's, we are surprised at how well he has done, really did a lot of growing up over the past year.

We pass mile marker 130, at the Osage River , our other two missing are still missing!

Sat. May 27, 1797

Father Jerry and myself go with Jones in the 20 footer, Jed and Ken go ahead with the 17 footer, scouting for the group. After a while we find our selves at the back of the pack, Jones does not work like Jed and it shows, we're bring up the rear for the first time. The Father is starting to talk to himself and now I'm doing it, we get into camp an hour after everyone else, we're all mad.

Jed tells us he left a note for our missing members at mile marker 112.

Sun. May 28, 1797

We arrive at Washington , MO around 12:00 noon , call home talk to the women. A power boat is sent to find Track and Farley, our missing travelers, the rest of the group will rest at Crosby Brown's place, the original 5 wait for our missing.

Never fails, a big storm comes up and hits them a few miles from the landing, some were swamped, everyone is OK, just wet and a frying pan is all that is lost.

The boat shows up, track and Farley are not doing well, in the second stage of hypothermia. we get them inside and start putting hot coffee in them, takes a while and they start coming around. The citizens of Washington are having a church dinner and feed us poor soles in strange clothing, soon we are feeling better and go back to the canoes.

Late that night the whole group is together for the first time in Crosby's barn, he and Karen has dried everyone's clothes and bedding, makes a big stew and all is warm and feed.

Mon. May 29, 1797

We're on the river and stop at " Tavern Cave ", yes thee TAVERN CAVE that's mentioned in the L&C journals, they stayed here, as do we for a period of time reflecting on what has happened to other travelers that have passed this way.

Back on the river we cause a 4 car wreck, looky lou's you know, a lot of bending metal and tires squealing on that metal bridge, we just keep on paddling and no one looks back.

We setup camp about 4-5 miles above St. Charles , MO good camp, lot of wood and fairly flat for sleeping.

Wed. May 31, 1797

After this camp tonight we will be approx. 20 miles above Fort de Chartre, IL, we have a good meal, fellowship and some games to pass the time until dark. Lots of stories being told and some teasing going on, all in fun.

As we start to cross at the "Chain of Rocks" Big Mike and Brass Turtle swamp their canoe in the rough water, Turtle hadn't been feeling to good for several days and this was enough, they hang it up. The "Chain of Rocks" got the Ailor's also, wet but OK. We ended up camped on both sides of the river tonight.

In the morning we all, group up, less Turtle and Mike, this will be our last full day on the river, stop at St. Louis , then on to play with the barge traffic.

Thur. Jun. 1 ,1797

We're up and packed and on the river in good shape. cover the 21 miles in 3 hours. Today we were doing an average of 8 miles an hour, its great when your going some place.

Half the Fort is waiting for us, lots of fun and we stop to give thanks to our maker, for keeping us, caring for us and getting us help when needed. This is one trip to remember.

Jun 1 through Jun 5, 1989

We are telling our stories of our 1300 mile journey and what a time we had, never will forget the people we met and their willingness to help, they gave without receiving. There are good people out there, no matter what the news media says.

The actual mileage was 1260 miles with the Grande Portages taken off, not bad for a bunch of weekend reenacters, set some new historical records, lost 3 sizes on my belt and really feel good about what we did and how well we worked together.

In all the miles covered we have had the best experiences and met the greatest people very little to almost no negative problems from anyone. Funny how it sounds different when your home and turn on the news, everything is negative.
 
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