Posted by: Jim E | April 18, 2010

The Corps of Discovery, Cottonwoods and Filling the West…

This post has been brewing since last summer…but today in my mind, I am in Northern Lower Michigan…we are driving somewhere just south of Traverse City on a two lane county road…there…right there near that house…see them???…two giant cottonwood trees…they stand so tall, fill the sky, leaves rustling and sparkling in the wind and sun…

I almost slam on my brakes to get a picture…just too far by already…no matter, my mind is already shifted to the Corps of Discovery…its 1804 somewhere just north of St. Louis, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers…Lewis, Clark and the party numbering 45 begin their journey…not all of them would go further than Mandan country in what is now North Dakota…and then would return to St. Louis…but the rest would go on west and use cottonwood trees as they traveled…firewood, a winter fort, dugout canoes, etc…

I love cottonwoods…lived near them all my life…you find one, you find water…so all along the Missouri River there were cottonwoods…the river was far different then…no dams…it was a wild river…flooding, rapids…all along the river cottonwood trees would bear deep scars…notches cut by slabs of ice…survivors of dramatic spring breakups…the Corps of Discovery spent most of 1804-1806 exploring the Louisiana Purchase for President Thomas Jefferson and on to the Pacific…mapping the area, noting animals, flora and fauna…bringing back specimens for scientific study…

Jefferson’s dream of an “Empire of Liberty” extending from sea to sea hinged on the explorations of Lewis and Clark…when they returned with all the information, Jefferson thought that this continent was going to take 100 generations to fill up but we filled it up in less than five..

This was before the steamboat…”When Lewis and Clark came back, nothing moved any faster than it had when they left. And George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson couldn’t move any place any faster than Napoleon could or Caesar.”…

No telegraph, so you couldn’t move ideas, or mail…no faster than a horse could run…they could only move 17 miles perday up the Missouri…but by 1859 Abe Lincoln stood on one of the bluffs near Council Bluffs, Iowa and predicted that someday not one but many railroads would cross into the west from that place…and by the end of the 1800’s the west was closed…less than 100 years…

From cottonwood trees to Lewis and Clark to the filling of the west…what a great journey…and unless we choose to lose it…Jefferson’s dream of an “Empire of Liberty”, has become a work in progress…let’s try to keep it…



  1. Great post on your blog! I have always loved cottonwoods myself, I think it brings back great memories in my younger life…wonderful times.

    Then there are people that hate them. I think it was recently that somebody in the twin cities did not like all the cottonwood snow getting into his air conditioning unit…I think there was a number of the trees around him. So, he wanted the city to cut them down…even on other peoples property…I suppose they could use eminent domain LOL

    Have fun in Michigan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: