Lewis and Clark were everywhere out west, and now they're here too

Jeff Bobo • Aug 3, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Having lived in Kingsport or Hawkins County for the past 21 years, I never heard a thing about a Lewis and Clark connection to his area.

I’m sure if anyone was aware of this connection, it would be well recorded somewhere with historical markers and such.

That leads me to believe that William Clark’s visit to Rogersville and Kingsport in November 1809 was forgotten and lost to history, only to be discovered 208 years later in a Missouri Historical Society museum.

Lewis and Clark are everywhere 

What’s weird is that this information would surface now, right after I returned from a trip out west to Montana, where traces of Lewis and Clark are everywhere. 

Completely by accident and with no forethought or planning this past June, Lynn and I traced much of the route that Lewis and Clark followed from 1804-05 en route to discovering the Southwest Passage.

The first traces of Lewis and Clark (L&C) appeared when we arrived in Louisville, which is actually a stop on the National Park System’s Lewis and Clark Trail, not only as part of the actual route itself, but also as William Clark’s hometown. We didn’t stop, but we noticed the signs.

About 2,000 miles later, we visited a place on the Missouri River called Gates of the Mountains near Helena, Montana, which the expedition discovered on July 19, 1805.

Gates of the Mountains was ‘awesome’

“In many places the rocks seem ready to tumble on us,” Meriwether Lewis wrote in his diary. “I shall call this place ‘Gates of the Mountains.’ ”

The L&C Expedition passed through the Missouri River Canyon, remarking on how the towering 1,200-foot high cliffs seemed to close upon them like gates.

Expedition member Joseph Whitehouse later wrote, “In the afternoon we passed a very high part of the mountain, and steep up from the river on each side about 600 feet from the surface of the water, which we named the Gates of the Rocky Mountains.”

Taking a tourist boat ride, Lynn, my parents, and I floated down the river on that same route 214 years later, almost to the day. Although the river is about 20 feet higher now owing to a nearby dam, it was still pretty awesome to see those “gates” open and close.

You can see it for yourself on a video my mom took, which is posted in the online version of this column at www.timesnews.net.

The big Sacagawea statue

There are countless L&C historical markers, parks, museums and exhibits along the route we took between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Helena.

One that we actually visited was a place called the Big Hole, which is a huge valley in southwest Montana that William Clark passed through on the way back from the Pacific after he and Lewis split their party.

Another place we stopped was the big Sacagawea statue at the Lewis And Clark Interpretive and Keelboat Center off I-90 in southeast South Dakota right next to the Missouri River. And we saw an interesting L&C exhibit at the Montana Historical Society museum in Helena.

More Lewis and Clark

So, after two weeks on vacation, we arrived home on June 30, having accidentally discovered a ton of L&C history, even though we weren’t looking for it and hadn’t given L&C a thought prior to our departure.

And what do I find out when I get home? More Lewis and Clark.

Two years ago, a fellow by the name of Jim Mallory, who is vice chairman of the Lewis and Clark Trust based in Lexington, Ky., was researching some of the other paths that Lewis and/or Clark took during their exploration era. While at the Missouri Historical Society in Columbia, he came across a William Clark expense journal from 1809.

It was a report of Clark’s trip from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.

From Middlesboro to Abingdon

What that journal revealed was that on this trip William Clark, along with his wife, baby son and two slaves, stopped in Middlesboro, Ky.; traveled through the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee; stopped in Tazewell and Bean Station; and spent the night in Rogersville at the Rogers Tavern. Clark then went on to spend the night in “Kings Landing” at the future location of the Netherland Inn in Kingsport.

From there he continued north to Abingdon, Va., and then on to D.C.

He was on his way to the capital to settle some contested federal expenses, and Meriwether Lewis was making the same trip at the same time for the same reason, except Lewis decided to take the Mississippi River down to New Orleans, and then take a ship to D.C.

Lewis’ trip was rerouted due to tensions with the British which led to the War of 1812, and he died under mysterious circumstances on Oct. 11, 1809, in Hohenwald, Tenn., in Lewis County, which was named for him.

Mallory told me he believes Clark was informed of Lewis’ death during the week he spent in Tennessee a month later.

The two journal pages related to Clark’s time in Tennessee during that trip are attached in this column’s online photo gallery.

Clark chronicles his time in Tennessee

Nov. 6: Set out early. Cold and heavy frost. Breakfast with Mr. Herndon at Big Stink. Good house. Stayed all night at Mr. White’s (present day Middlesboro). Crossed Cumberland (Gap).

Nov. 7: Breakfast at Mr. White’s. Stayed all night at Tazewell courthouse. Passed Cumberland Mountains, 20 miles.

Nov. 8: Breakfast with Mr. Evans on the Clinch (River). Stayed all night Bean Station with Mr. James Canada. 16 miles.

Nov. 9: Thursday. Set out after breakfast. Stayed all night at Col. Rogers, at Rogersville. Road fine. Made 23 miles.

Nov. 10: Friday. Set out early. Breakfast at Mr. Armstrong’s. Crossed the North Fork of the Holston and stayed all night at Mr. Snider’s at Kings Landing on Holston. A good fair (food and lodgings). Made 26 miles.

Nov. 11: Breakfast at Mr. Earbis place, stayed all night at Capt. Goodman’s. Good fair. 28 miles.

Nov. 12: Breakfast at Col. John Preston’s (two unintelligible words) Abingdon, and stayed all night at the Bush House. Good Fair. Met Mr. Minor and his wife, and Mr. Barber. 21 miles.

And so on. His next stop was Wytheville, but you get the idea. I’ll include a link to this journal in the online version.

I have to say, I’m a little disappointed that Rogers Tavern didn’t get a “good fair” rating from Clark like Kingsport and some of his other nearby stops. At least he said the road in Hawkins County was “fine” and he made good time, crossing the full length of the county, right at 50 miles, in two days.

What does this all mean?

My friends at the Rogersville Heritage Association, who own the Rogers Tavern, are hoping this William Clark connection increases their odds of receiving grant funding to restore the 1790s Rogers Tavern to its original appearance. According to Mallory, whose research has been pretty solid so far, Rogers Tavern is only one of about a half-dozen existing structures where Lewis and/or Clark stayed during their expedition era of 1804-09.

Mallory wants the National Park Service to extend the L&C National Trail to include Clark’s 1809 route, especially from Louisville down to Cumberland Gap, and then back up through Tennessee and Virginia to Washington, D.C.

I just want to see the Rogers Tavern improve its reputation for “fair.” If and when they do restore the old tavern, a bad review from a celebrity like William Clark can destroy their rating on Yelp, Zagat, or Trip Advisor. 

Jeff Bobo covers Hawkins County for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]


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