Joliet, Park City middle schoolers attend Lewis and Clark Week

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer

Last Wednesday all Joliet 7th and 8th graders, 13 Park City 7th graders and one Laurel 4th grader braved the snow and cold to attend the 13th annual Lewis and Clark Week at City College in Billings. 

Throughout the week, 700 area middle school students from the region learned about different facets of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey during seven different presentations. Students learned about flora, communication, medical, maps, geography and bison, and sampled food similar to what the party had eaten.

Neal Gunnels, executive director of Friends of Pompeys Pillar talked to the students about the vegetation during the time Clark’s party was on the Yellowstone River, and contrasted it with modern images. The students correctly guessed the changes from sparse to the relatively lush were partly due to erosion and mostly a result of the vast bison herds eating up all the cottonwood shoots along the river. He discussed how travel has changed over the past two centuries then opened up the forum for speculation on future travel. Hoverboards, flying cars and teleportation were suggested by students.

The next station for one group of Joliet students included a flora and fauna presentation where they identified pelts and plant species. Hanna Finch, Out-School Programs Lead at the Montana Audubon Center, said Lewis and Clark identified 178 new plant species and 122 animal species on the expedition. She noted only two species were brought back alive; a magpie and a prairie dog. Pelts on loan from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks included grizzly bear, black bear, fox and coyote. 

At the presentation on mapping and navigation, students learned which tools the expedition used and how they made compass surveys. The middle schoolers learned the only item remaining from the expedition that was not sold was Clark’s pocket compass, which resides at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

One of the most popular stations was the bison discussion. Laurel veterinarian Don “Doc” Woerner, hosted the talk and discussed anatomy using a mounted bison as a prop. The left side of “Ernie” was mounted normally–like a taxidermist would–but the right side was just the skeleton, like a dinosaur in a museum. He showed students how the vertebrae in the neck allow the bison to move its head up and down and left and right and how the bone structure in the hump evolved to better support the massive head. 

Then, the junior high students went outside and met Bert the baby bison. Bert had a broken leg which prompted his rescue from a commercial herd. Although it was cold and snowing Bert seemed content and offered licks to several of the students. 

Before the lunch break, all students gathered in the commons area for Taste of the Trail where they heard about the explorer’s diets and food preparations on the journey. Jackie Rumph, Family and Consumer Science Agent with the Yellowstone County Extension Office discussed how the party used the reduction process to make a “portable soup” and how they would smoke, air dry or salt the meat for preservation. She said the party consumed the equivalent of an entire elk and deer each day. 

Then students sampled hard tack–a long-time staple of sailors–and a modern recipe for pemmican. While the expedition made theirs’ out of wild game and berries; peanut butter, honey, beef jerky and cranberries were ingredients in the modern version. 

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