July 20, 1925: Meriwether

The Upper Missouri Special arrived in East Glacier on July 20, and members of the expedition then returned by auto about 27 miles east to a rail station known as Bombay, but which the Great Northern renamed Meriwether for the occasion. Four miles north of this spot was Camp Disappointment, the northernmost point reached by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, so here, next to the railroad like, the Great Northern erected a tall obelisk commemorating this event.

The Camp Disappointment obelisk with a BNSF train in the background. Flickr photo by Eric Swanger. Click image for a larger view.

Curiously, the inscription at the base of the monument says this was the furthest west that Lewis reached up the Marias River. In fact, he wasn’t attempting to go west; he was looking to see how far the Missouri River tributary reached to the north, which indicated how far north the United States could claim as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. It is possible that the Great Northern focused on the “west” to make it appear that Lewis tried but failed to find Marias Pass, which was only later found by its surveyor, John Stevens. Camp Disappointment got its name not because Lewis was disappointed at not finding a pass over the mountains but because he was disappointed the Marias River did not go further north, allowing the U.S. to claim land as far as the 50th parallel.

Incidentally, the Marias River was named for Lewis’ cousin, Maria Wood. Though Lewis no doubt pronounced it “Maria’s River,” Montanans today pronounce it “mah-rye-us” river.

The inscription at the base of the monument. Flickr photo by tbirdshockeyfan. Click image for a larger view.

The obelisk was designed by New York architect Electus Litchfield, who had also designed the St. Paul Public Library and its neighbor, the James J. Hill Library. As in the case of the Verendrye monument, the railway donated the land on which the monument was located to the state of Montana, and Governor John Erickson was on hand to accept the donation.

Expedition members were given this essay on the Lewis & Clark Expedition by Grace Flandrau. Click image to download a 9.5-MB PDF of this booklet.

The expedition heard a lecture on Lewis & Clark’s journey written by Olin Wheeler, the Montana Historical Society leading expert on Lewis & Clark. Ironically, Wheeler had once worked for the Northern Pacific, where he conceived that railroad’s Wonderland series of booklets. Noting that the NP followed much of Lewis & Clark’s route, Wheeler was the first of many to retrace their journey, taking hundreds of photographs along the way. However, he had never followed Lewis’ side trip up the Marias River and looked forward to the Upper Missouri Expedition as an opportunity to see it. Unfortunately, ill health forced him to stay at home (he died less than two months later), and someone else read his paper for him.

An address was also given by Montana lawyer Sidney M. Logan. Coincidentally, Logan’s father had been killed in one of the battles with the retreating Nez Perce Indians. Having opened the program with “Land of Hope and Glory” (a song they sang at almost every stop), the Great Northern Songsters provided breaks between lectures by singing the Montana state song (“Montana“), “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

After the ceremony, the group returned to Glacier Park, giving expedition members most of the afternoon to spend on their own. That evening, they enjoyed dinner at Two Medicine Chalet, one of the chain of hotels the Great Northern had built in the park.

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