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Lewis and Clark campsite was incorrectly mapped years ago

"We continued our route down the west side of the river about five miles further and encamped on a large creek which falls in the west, as our guide informed me that we should leave the river at this place.

"And the weather appearing settled and fair, I determined to halt the next day to rest our horses and take some celestial observations. We called this creek Travelers' Rest."

- Meriwether Lewis

June 30, 1806

Lewis and Clark actually did sleep on the bunchgrass-and-cottonwood bench south of Lolo now known as Travelers' Rest State Park.

For only the second time, historians, geologists and archaeologists have been able to document the exact location of a campsite used by the famous expedition by finding physical evidence of their stay.

A recently completed report by Missoula archaeologist Dan Hall pinpoints the campsite called Travelers' Rest. Hall will reveal his findings at a news conference on Feb. 5.

With Hall's verification, Travelers' Rest joins Pompey's Pillar near Billings as the only two locations along the 8,000-mile length of the Lewis and Clark Trail where physical evidence of the expedition has been found.

An Indian guide called Toby brought Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the bench above Lolo Creek in September 1805 to prepare for their expedition's crossing of the Bitterroot Mountains.

Indians had used the campsite for thousands of years.

The explorers and their Corps of Discovery spent three days at Travelers' Rest before beginning the near-fatal, 11-day crossing of the Bitterroots.

They returned to the same campsite on June 30 and July 1, 2 and 3, 1806, to rest before heading east - toward home - in two separate parties.

From Travelers' Rest, Lewis headed north to the Marias River, while Clark went south to the Yellowstone. They met again at the mouth of the Little Missouri and traveled together for the rest of their journey.

Hall's report, "Travelers' Rest National Historic Landmark: Validation and Verification of a Lewis and Clark Campsite," completes a project started in 1994 by volunteers from the Travelers' Rest Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

On Sunday, chapter vice president Dale Dufour said the report is significant because it held up under peer review, so it will be useful in gaining National Historic Register designation for Travelers' Rest State Park.

Years ago, the National Park Service incorrectly located the campsite at the confluence of Lolo Creek and the Bitterroot River, not at the bench a mile and a half up Lolo Creek where the explorers actually camped.

So the rivers' confluence, not the actual campsite, is listed on the National Register.

Over the past five years, historians and scientists have used a variety of methods to prove the exact - upstream - location of Travelers' Rest.

Aerial infrared photography showed evidence of tepee rings. Historical research matched coordinates of latitude and longitude recorded by Lewis and Clark to the same Lolo Creek location.

Archaeological digs turned up a latrine, a late-18th century button and lead.

Vapor analysis verified the presence of mercury beneath the old latrine. And mercury verified the site's use by Lewis and Clark.

Whenever they felt ill, soldiers on the 1804-06 expedition took laxatives known as Dr. Rush's Thunder Clappers. The pills were 60 percent mercury, which does not decompose.

It will still take time to relocate the campsite on the National Register, Dufour said, but the location is no longer in doubt.

"This is now accepted as the true campsite," he said.

Hall will discuss his findings and their significance during an afternoon news conference Feb. 5, then will talk that evening at the Travelers' Rest Chapter's monthly meeting.

The evening presentation is open to the public, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Lolo Community Center.

"This is a great day for anyone who cares about history and the journey of the Corps of Discovery," said Mike Wallace, president of the Travelers' Rest Chapter. "So many volunteers have worked so hard to see this become a reality."

Surrounded by a rapidly developing residential area, the campsite was designated one of the nation's most endangered historic places in 1999. That notoriety helped attract a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, allowing purchase of 15 acres believed to be the heart of the campsite.

The property, owned for years by Pat and Ernie Deschamps, was purchased by the Conservation Fund, then immediately donated to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as a state park.

FWP, in turn, entered into an agreement with Travelers' Rest Preservation and Heritage Association, a nonprofit group, to manage the site and acquire additional acreage to buffer the site from development.

Hall's work has been essential, Dufour said. His efforts were sponsored by Missoula County and funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Travelers' Rest Preservation and Heritage Association, the Travelers' Rest Chapter, National Park Service, Montana State Historic Preservation Office, Montana Bicentennial Commission and the late author Stephen Ambrose.

If you're interested

Archaeologist Dan Hall will present the results of his research verifying the location of Travelers' Rest at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5 in the Lolo Community Center. His report will come during the monthly meeting of the Travelers' Rest Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation and is open to the public.

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