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November 8, 2005

SIUC & Cairo remember the past:
Lewis & Clark sculpture dedication set for Nov.

By TOM WOOLF

Lewis & Clark sculpture at Fort DefianceCARBONDALE, IL -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale officials and Cairo-area citizens will gather at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers next week to celebrate discoveries old and new.

Dedication ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, for the Lewis & Clark Memorial Sculpture, installed in August at the confluence of the two mighty rivers in Fort Defiance State Park. A reception will immediately follow the dedication at approximately 10:45 a.m. at the Cairo Custom House Museum, site of a Lewis & Clark exhibit. The public is welcome at both events.

Speakers at the confluence will include SIUC Chancellor Walter, V. Wendler, Cairo Mayor Paul Farris, Alexander County Commissioner Angela Greenwell and SIUC professor Robert H. Swenson.

Speakers at the Custom House will include David V. Koch, associate dean emeritus from SIUC's Morris Library, Bill Harrell president of the Cairo public library board, Louise Ogg, coordinator of Lewis & Clark activities for Alexander County Tourism, SIUC graduate student Carla Smith, and Wendler.

"The grant that funds this project was made possible largely because of the efforts of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin," Wendler said. "SIU President James E. Walker has also recognized the historic importance of this project and has been very supportive of our efforts here since the project's inception. SIUC and the people of Cairo have a long history of working together and we are very pleased to be involved in this study that will bring more people to Southern Illinois and Cairo to learn about Lewis & Clark."

The sculpture and Custom House exhibit – along with an exhibit at the Cairo (Safford Memorial) Public Library and a traveling exhibit – are among the results of a "Lewis & Clark at the Confluence" research project funded with a Library of Congress grant. Project leaders Swenson, an associate professor of architecture at SIUC, and Koch, now emeritus director of Morris Library's Special Collections Research Center, realized their common interests in the Lewis & Clark adventure during the 2003 bicentennial of the explorers' Voyage of Discovery.

Swenson and Koch noted that relatively little research existed on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's days on the Ohio River in Illinois. Many of the men who enlisted in the journey were from Illinois, and the group spent five days in mid-November 1803 at the confluence, gathering data and beginning the process of mapping the river route to the Pacific Ocean.

At that time, the confluence was the furthest location in the west that had been accurately mapped and for which longitude and latitude were known.

"Because the geographic location near present-day Cairo was such an important landmark, and because Lewis and Clark had just joined together several weeks earlier, the confluence became the place where they trained each other in their respective skills – Lewis with celestial navigation and Clark with land surveying," Swenson said.

In addition, international politics at the beginning of the 19th century centered on the area, as the new states, England, France and Spain competed for land, resources, trade and military advantage.

Key goals of the project included: Finding as much original material as possible to document the activities of Lewis and Clark and their group around the confluence of the rivers; determine the exact location of the confluence in 1803 and mark it; and document and preserve materials so other researchers and travelers to the area could learn more about the Voyage of Discovery.

The confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers today is actually about two miles south of its 1803 location. Project leaders agreed that placing the sculpture at the current confluence is most appropriate as it matches the scene described in William Clark's first map of the entire expedition.

Evertt A. Beidler, a graduate student in SIUC's School of Art and Design, created and fabricated the sculpture.

One of the most exciting discoveries of the project was the location of Cantonment Wilkinson-Ville, the largest military post in the new U.S. The camp housed nearly half of the U.S. Army during 1801-1802. A Pulaski County resident allowed a portion of his land, which overlooks the Ohio River, to remain unplanted so staff archaeologist Mark J. Wagner and other staff members from SIUC's Center for Archaeological Investigations, could examine the site during 2003 and 2004.

Wagner concluded that this is a major, historically significant site that reveals much about the U.S. military at the beginning of the 19th century. In addition, at least nine soldiers stationed at the base became members of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

In the abstract of his report on the project, Wagner wrote: "The cantonment, which contained over 1,300 soldiers at its peak, represented a staging ground for an invasion of the lower Mississippi River in the event of war with France and Spain. The war never occurred, with the cantonment being abandoned by the Army by late 1802."

The archaeological team found remains of the camp, as well as uniform parts, military items, glass and ceramic kitchen items.

"The cantonment was only occupied for 18 months, so it gives us a real tight look at what the U.S. Army was using in 1801-02 and a good idea about what Lewis and Clark were using," Wagner said.

Swenson also noted that the project brought many people from the University and the region together.

"A continuing partnership between faculty, staff and students at SIUC with individuals and groups in southernmost Illinois can result in change that is meaningful to the region, builds personal relationships between members of the University and the communities, and benefits the research and education community as well," he said.

Shaping cooperative ventures is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the long-range plan the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

© 2005 The Cairo Gate