On this Independence Day weekend, I will pass along a passage from Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West”. (As I did a few years back…)
In this excellent telling of the exploration by Lewis and Clark, Ambrose gives the following description of July 4, 1804:
On July 4, the men ushered in the day with a firing of the cannon.
At noon, the party pulled ashore at the mouth of a creek of some fifteen yards wide, “coming out of an extensive Prarie” on the left (west) side. As they ate, the captains questioned the voyagers. No, they knew no name for the creek.
The captains thereupon named it, their second experience in bestowing a name. They called it Independence Creek.
The expedition pulled over for the night at the site of an old Kansas Indian town. “We Camped in the plain,” Clark wrote, “one of the most butifull Plains I ever Saw, open & butifully diversified with hills & wallies all presenting themselves to the river covered with grass and a few scattering trees, a handsom Creek meandering thro.”
The captains ordered an extra gill distributed.
As they sipped their portions, they took in their surroundings and were quite overwhelmed. The country was covered with a sweet and nourishing grass, interspersed with copses of trees “Spreding ther lofty branchs over Pools Springs or Brooks of fine water. Groops of Shrubs covered with the most delicious froot is to be seen in every direction, and nature appears to have exerted herself to butify the Senery by the variety of flours Delicately and highly flavered raised above the Grass, which Strikes and profumes the Sensation, and amuses the mind.”
At sunset, the men again fired the cannon.
It was the first-ever Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi River.
As you fire up the grill, watch the parades go by and kick back with your favorite beverage while watching the rockets’ red glare, remember Lewis and Clark and their crew.
Out on the midwest plains they too fired their cannons, had an extra gill of whiskey, and admired the beauty of the land.
Perfect way to celebrate America.