LEWISTON – When Nora Engman was a little girl attending Lewis and Clark Grade School in St. Louis, it was just a name.
It wasn’t important to her that the school was named for her great-great-great-great-grandfather, William Clark, and his friend, Meriwether Lewis, leaders of a military expedition that opened the continent to exploration.
“My mom would say I was a descendant and nobody would believe it,” Engman said last week during a brief tour of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. “My closest family members never really talked about this as a kid. I kind of picked up on it through later years.”
She was hooked, Engman said, when she met her cousin, Peyton (Bud) Clark, of Dearborn, Mich., who portrays their illustrious ancestor with the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo.
He also has a knife that belonged to the elder Clark, one of the few known personal items not in a museum.
She began learning all she could about the expedition. What is happening now, she said, “is just a wonderful living history expedition.”
The expedition is now following the trail of the original Corps of Discovery, part of a lengthy commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the exploration that opened the West.
It is expected to begin the trip through Idaho’s Clearwater drainage about the middle of September.
Engman is providing some support services for the re-enactors and will be on the trail with them for several weeks.
But her role is limited because she’s a woman.
“You have different camp facilities for women,” Engman said.
“In the military, they keep very separate.”
Being able to trace her lineage back to Clark and his first wife, Julia Hancock, doesn’t earn her any special treatment with the modern troops, “and I don’t want any.
“I really enjoy doing what I can to help out, and even if I weren’t a Clark, I would feel the same way.”
The re-enactors are sparking an interest in history among youngsters.
She was in her daughter’s class in Liberty, Mo., when two of them came in costume and with flintlock rifle and a replica of the keel boat the expedition used.
The students were excited and asked questions that never would have occurred to them had they been reading about it in a book, she said.
“It’s just an incredible gift these men are giving out to the public. It’s happening all the way.”
Driving over Lolo Pass last week, the dense forest amazed her, as did the thought of the expedition making it through the rough country.
She will follow the trail to Fort Clatsop, then turn back to rejoin the expedition for a few weeks.
In addition to discovering history, Engman has found a family she barely knew she had. And it’s a carefully documented family, she said.
Bud’s brother, John Clark, is the keeper of the family tree, and he’s constantly updating it.
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