Reliving Lewis and Clark: Surviving Winter Camp

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Although there were small settlements nearby, much of the surrounding land was still wilderness. The men hunted for most of their food. Men were assigned to hunt nearly every day, even in bad weather. During much of January the weather was bad, with temperatures sometimes dropping below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17 degrees Celsius).

Once in a while somebody would get lost in the woods and have to spend the night outdoors. They were backwoodsmen, however, so they knew how to do that without freezing to death or even coming to harm. Clark fell through the surface of a small pond one day and got his feet wet. On his way back to camp he noticed that his shoes had frozen to his feet.

Men did get sick under these circumstances. Clark was sick several times that winter, possibly with malaria, a disease which, once you get it, you never quite get rid of it. They had no doctors and medical science was in its infancy in any case, so they had no way of diagnosing their illness. The usual treatment was laxatives—either the famous Rush's pills, a mixture of calomel and jalap, a Mexican root; or Lewis's favorite, walnut bark. Lewis' mother was an herbal healer and knew what roots and plants helped in different cases, and Lewis used what he had learned from her on the expedition.

A considerable number of Indians lived in the area and they sometimes came by the camp to sell food, usually deer they had killed, or to ask for food. The Kickapoo had decided to cross the Mississippi in March and attack the Osage, and one thing Lewis and Clark did that winter was to try—successfully—to keep that from happening.

But in general the two captains spent the winter preparing for the trip to come that would start in the spring.

Scott Mandrell is doing the same. He spends about the same amount of time at the new Camp Dubois that Lewis spent at the old. His aim, he says, is "to walk the walk that Meriwether Lewis walked as faithfully as possible over the next couple of years."

The Corps of Discovery left Camp Dubois on May 14, 1804, and so will the reenactors. It should be fun to follow their progress.

Editor's note: Anthony Brandt will be sending us regular articles that follow the progress of the Corps of Discovery reenactors. You can follow their progress—and read Brandt's lively accounts of what the real Corps of Discovery did and encountered 200 years ago—right here on National Geographic News.

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