Lewis & Clark + Cahokia Mounds

2/24/2019 IL.

Camp Dubois, ILL & C 5

Yesterday afternoon, after trying to solve the no-water-problem, we made the necessary calls, stowed the power cord and drove a short distance down the road in East St. Louis to the Casino Queen RV Park. 

Interestingly, we learned about this option from the bartender, post-Arch, at Morgan Street Brewery while sampling a brew. Well, not sampling, not technically.

This park is not our favorite type (densely packed, mostly asphalt and white rocks with small trees interspersed between slots for RVs), but it’s dry and not contaminated. And it’s just a short hop over the Eads Bridge into St. Louis.

It was a lazy morning, walking Rudy and Dash (brush, brush, brush) and doing some work on the RV. Barb got the box out for Adventure Caravans Catalogs to go on the front of the rig and I wrote and planned the coming days. 

Our explorations today are in Illinois. We’re off to visit Camp Dubois – the launching point for Lewis and Clark’s expedition.

Camp Dubois Interpretive Center is pretty unassuming from the parking lot. Later the  realization dawns that acres and acres of trees were cut down to build the Fort, smoke meat and build the flatboat. The portion of the site that we see now is minuscule compared to the camp at the time. Their website shows and tells much:


This site is enough of a destination we recommend building a trip around it and other Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley. Make this a major stop because the museum is terrific! Craftsmen built the fullsizeoutput_1303flatboat cutaway while builders put up the museum around and over it – in fact, over the full mast and sail of the flatboatL & C 2


One of the reasons Pres. Jefferson ordered The Corps of Discovery to make the expedition.

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 Captain Lewis had to learn apothecary and doctoring, surveying and map making, flora and fauna and celestial navigation. He and Captain Clark had to carefully choose the men to accompany them for the skills they brought.

One of the men who worked as hard and was as respected as any other was York, Clark’s slave. After their return York asked for his freedom and Clark said no. It was another ten years before York was granted freedom and could return to his wife and children.

They built a fort replica in around 2007.


The falling down Fort Dubois Replica

Our guide said the builders forgot to strip the bark off the logs, the bark guided water and bugs into the wood and today the fort is a wreck of its former self. There is a good replica of a settler’s cabin, though. L & C 6

The family who would have lived there were said to have had 11 children (you know how fullsizeoutput_1306historians like to put stories to replicas).



With that number of bodies I bet they never needed blankets in the loft.



No surprise here…

For most of the expedition game and fish were plentiful but while at the Mandan Village, Fort Mandan, when wintering over food sources got thin for the explorers. Their climb through the Sierra’s also presented them with terrible hardship and they were reduced to eating their horses and trading for dogs to eat. The one food source that sustained them and kept food interesting through the whole journey was a version of today’s MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) or hiker foods. Portable Soup

There were several recipes for this gloop. Sailors and explorers had been using the stuff for a century or so. Lewis purchased 193 pounds from a Philadelphia cook named François Baillet. Check out this National Geographic Article about the history of Portable Soup, amazingly it has a mention of The Great Dismal Swamp, one of our previous destinations:


From Camp Dubois we journeyed a few miles to go back in time. Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site took us to AD 700 through AD 1200.

We thought Poverty Point UNESCO site was impressive in it’s size and generations of builders who kept the vision of the final creation alive…  Holy catz! Cahokia Mounds State Park (etc.) is mind-boggling!Cahhokia 6

The site was once so vast everywhere the eye passed there were houses and as many as 20,000 people! The height of the tallest mound (156 steps – we counted) is flat on top. The view would have allowed the Sun God or Chief to see anything coming for miles.


Please, watch the movie and check out the picture gallery, click “Like” anywhere you can, if you do. It helps other people find this site.

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Bronze bas relief entry doors.

Late Woodland Indians formed the first settlements at Cahokia around 700 AD. From 1000 AD forward the Mississippian culture began. These folks farmed and lived in permanent houses. Because they farmed villages were able to support more people and the communities began growing. After 1050 AD, Cahokia had become a huge regional center. The site’s growth peaked from AD 1050 to 1200. The population by that time was 20,000 people and the site sprawled over 6 square miles – the largest community north of Mexico.L & C 3

Cahokia mound model 5:24:19

The complex was sorted around Monks Mound, the “largest pre-historic earthen construction in the Americas, containing an estimated 22 million cubic feet of earth. The base covers more than 14 acres, and it rises a total height of 100 feet.” Monks mound was named after Trappist monks who appropriated a nearby mound for their home from 1809 – 1813 (Lewis & Clark’s expedition launched in 1804).Baskets of dirt Cahokia 5:24:19


The Interpretive Center is one of the most comprehensive, well laid out, did I say comprehensive? It seems much larger than it is (and it is big!) through the use of displays that hide others, paths that lead to dioramas, tri-cornered displays and a small village encased in glass through which you can walk. We both felt it was one of the best we’d ever encountered, right up there with the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, AZ and it’s cousin in Brussels.Cahokia 4cahokia-2.jpg

After spending a couple of hours in the Center, we walked paths and took the (156, I’m sure I mentioned this before) stairs to the top of Monks Mound. Breezy, warm day with light and shadow cast by the mounds and by the poles in Woodhenge and the Stockade (examples).

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Ancient Canoe.

Again, I felt infused with calm and this time, with hope. Hope that we in the US will come together in community, just as did the folk at Monumental Mounds Poverty Point State Park (UNESCO-WHC) and those at Cahokia Mounds SP (UNESCO-WHC) who united over the years to live in peace and build greatness.

By the by… Our family and friends contribute immensely to this blog. You all provide perspective and support. Thank you, Thayer for your Ruby Slippers texts during the Tornado Warning experience, we’ll use that! Susan sent us to her elementary school, on the way to Grant’s Farm and we got to look at the area where she lived for her first 11 years. Her brother still lives in STL and Susan told us about the area around Tower Grove Park, how it declined and is still being gentrified. It’s important to acknowledge our fellow travelers. We’ll share our visits and some remarkable things you all lead us to as we go along.