Tri-Cities celebrates the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition beginning on October 14, 2005.

  • By Elizabeth Gibson
  • Posted 1/16/2006
  • Essay 7605
From October 14 through 17, 2005, the Tri-Cities celebrates the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had explored the area 200 years before, in 1805. People from across the Columbia Basin celebrate the anniversary of that historic event at Sacajawea State Park, located in Pasco at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers, and at Columbia Park in Kennewick. Descendants of the tribal peoples who greeted Lewis and Clark's Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery join in and share their perspective.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson hired Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the northwestern part of the continent, to map terrain, and to identify indigenous peoples, plants, and animals.  Lewis and Clark and their party, collectively known as the Corps of Discovery, left Missouri in 1804.

The expedition followed the Missouri River in a northwesterly direction.  In 1804 it wintered in North Dakota with the Mandan Indians.  Here Lewis and Clark met French trader Touissant Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea (sometimes spelled Sacajawea).  Charbonneau’s assistance would be needed as an interpreter.  But it was Sacagawea who became very important in the journey.  First, a female presence in the expedition told Indian tribes that the party was not looking for war.  Second, when the expedition reached the Rocky Mountains in the summer of 1805, it was Sacagawea who bartered for horses with her own people.

The Corps of Discovery, now a "Permanent Party" of 33, journeyed along what is now known as Highway 12 through the Idaho panhandle.  They followed the Snake River and arrived at its mouth at the Columbia River near the site of modern-day Pasco on October 16, 1805.  Some 200 Wanapum Indians greeted the party.  The corps spent two days trading with the Indians and studying their language.  They repaired equipment and explored the Columbia a short way up river to the mouth of the Yakima River.  They also drew maps of the land and the river.  For the first time, the explorers knew exactly where they were: They knew the great Columbia River emptied into the Pacific Ocean.  The expedition left the site of the future town of Pasco on October 18, 1805, and reached the Pacific Ocean on November 17, 1805.

The Bicentennial Celebration

Cities and towns all along the route celebrated the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, which began in 2003 and will continue through 2006.  Historical re-enactors traced as much of the original route as possible.  In October 2005, it was the Tri-Cities’ turn to celebrate the historic event.  Organizers planned events to take place throughout the weekend at both Sacajawea State Park in Pasco and Columbia Park in Kennewick.

On the morning of October 14, 2005, re-enactors arrived in dugout canoes they had carved themselves at Sacajawea State Park.  The local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 85 escorted the re-enactors down the Snake River to Sacajawea Park.  Actors portrayed Lewis and Clark, Sgt. Patrick Gass, Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor, Clark’s black slave, York, and others. Bicen, a Newfoundland dog, represented Seaman, Captain Lewis’s dog that accompanied the original Corps of Discovery. 

Glen Allison, a Pasco High School teacher, portrayed Captain Lewis.  He had studied Lewis’s biography to best know how Lewis might act in different situations.  He felt Lewis was a good leader, but not a good people person.  Fortunately, Clark had those skills, which were needed to deal with the soldiers, explorers, traders, and Indians. 

Gary Lentz portrayed Sergeant Patrick Gass.  Lentz, a ranger at the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park near Dayton, felt a special kinship toward Gass.  It turns out that Lentz’s grandfather was born and lived just a few miles from Gass.  Lentz enjoyed the stay at the Tri-Cities and other desert areas.  Since he portrayed a carpenter, whenever the expedition camps in the woods, he cuts firewood and fashions wooden tools, much harder work than tending the fires in the desert camps.

Hundreds of schoolchildren greeted the re-enactors when they came ashore. Several boy scout troops attended the event.  The re-enactors were dressed in uniforms and other regalia similar to that of the corps members.  The re-enactors established the “Lewis & Clark Encampment” similar to what the original camp may have looked like. 

Tents represented sleeping quarters, trading posts, and meeting areas.  Camps sold actual “trade goods” to interested visitors.  Other re-enactors dressed as local Indian tribes, traders, and mountain men.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contributed a display of period tools, furs, military items, and maps.

Descendants of the indigenous people that lived in the area at the time of the Corps of Discovery returned for the bicentennial celebration.  Wanapum people erected a life-size tule village, built and arranged the way people would have lived in 1805.  The Wanapum Native American Discovery Unit, a mobile museum, displayed exhibits depicting the old way of life of the Wanapum people.  Members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation from the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon, brought a cultural artifact display.  The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation displayed a traveling exhibit from the Yakama Museum in Toppenish.

In addition, volunteers from the McNary Wildlife Refuge led visitors in a discovery walk through the park, pointing out the natural and man-made history of the area.  Columbia River Journeys provided shuttle boat rides between the two parks.  Fiddlers, dancers, and speakers entertained the crowd. Local vendors sold food, including Indian fry bread, and souvenirs. 

Columbia Park Events

Meanwhile, a few miles upstream at Columbia Park, other activities commemorated the arrival of Lewis and Clark.  Visitors enjoyed the “Corps of Discovery II:  200 Years to the Future,” a traveling exhibit presented by the National Park Service.  This exhibit featured an exhibit tent, a keelboat replica, a tepee, and the Tent of Many Voices. 

The Tent of Many Voices provided a 200-seat auditorium where presentations were given throughout the weekend.  Many interesting people spoke at the auditorium, including local historians Darby Stapp, Michele Gerber, and Barb Kubik, and anthropologist Jim Chatters.  Various members of the Indian tribes gave demonstrations and presented native folklore and music.

Other exhibits at Columbia Park included displays by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington State Army National Guard, Washington State Parks, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.  Each organization gave a unique perspective on the expedition itself and on its historic impact.  Each demonstrated techniques that were in practice at the time Lewis and Clark journeyed to the ocean.

Another group in canoes and kayaks rowed from Columbia Point Marina in Richland to Sacajawea State Park.  They marked five public access sites along the Northwest Discovery Water Trail, the route of Lewis and Clark, which stretches from Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho to Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.  A dedication ceremony for the Trail was held at the east end of Columbia Park on Saturday, October 15.

Columbia Park also hosted food and commercial vendors selling Lewis-and-Clark-related memorabilia.

A Year of Commemoration

These events were the culmination of many other events that took place in the Tri-Cities throughout 2005.  A new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Overlook was dedicated on April 9, on the south bank of the Columbia River near Bateman Island, the point thought to be the farthest north that Lewis and Clark explored.  Sacajawea State Park sponsored several living history presentations throughout the summer.  The Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science, and Technology (CREHST) Museum in Richland presented special exhibits related to the expedition.

On Wednesday morning, October 19, the re-enactors left Sacajawea State Park to continue downstream.  Members of the Wanapum tribe held a ceremony for their departure.  The next stop was Port Kelley, just south of the Wallula Junction, near the mouth of the Walla Walla River.  The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary escorted the canoes as far as Dallesport, Washington.

Sources: Nathan Isaacs, “Meeting at the Columbia,” Tri-City Herald, October 15, 2005, p. 1; Stacey Palevsky, "Historical Access," Ibid., October 16, 2005, p. 1; Eric Degerman, “Descendant of Capt. Clark Continues Journey,” Ibid., October 19, 2005; p. 1; "Down the Great Columbia -- Schedule," and "Down the Great Columbia -- Calendar," Down the Great Columbia website accessed November 25, 2005 (; Vickie S. Higgins, “Celebrate Heritage Days in Tri-Cities,” Northwest Travel Magazine (Florence, OR), September/October 2005, p. 16-19.

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