The Fourth of July is a reminder of the birth of our country as well as its expansion across the continent and beyond.
Today we know that much of the land that constitutes the United States of America was obtained by ill-gotten means. Those who preceded us disregarded the native people who were there first. Slight effort has been made by the government at different forms of restitution, but we have a long way to go.
July 4 and Stewardship
Regardless of how we gained the land, we must recognize that we have inherited an ongoing job: To be good and thoughtful stewards of both the land and the people who make up this great country. Our national park system and the American Battlefield Trust are both major forces in safeguarding our land for the future.
In recent years, I traveled to Oregon, learning not about the birth of our country but its expansion. We visited Fort Clatsop, the fort that had to be built in what is now western Oregon so that Lewis and Clark and their men could survive the winter of 1805-06.
Corps of Discovery
Because ships from the East Coast occasionally docked along the coastline to trade with the native people, Lewis and Clark hoped to meet up with one of the ships to replenish their stock. They learned from the native people that the last ship before the onset of winter had departed only days before they arrived. Imagine their disappointment in learning that after eighteen months of travel, they had missed their last opportunity to get some of the supplies they needed.
Winter weather was coming, and they needed to prepare for winter storms. In three weeks some of the men built what they called Fort Clatsop, and others went to the coastline to boil copious amounts of sea water to extract badly needed salt for curing their meat.
Surviving the Winter
While preparing for the winter, they also began planning for their return trip, which would begin as soon as the weather improved. They determined that by splitting the Corps, they could explore more of the West. William Clark was to take the more southern route; Meriwether Lewis would travel along a new northern route. They would meet at the mouth of the Yellowstone River.
This plan would permit them to return with even more knowledge about this formerly unknown territory.
End of the Oregon Trail
Our vacation to Lewis and Clark territory also put us near the end of the Oregon Trail. There we learned the stories of these hardy pioneers who gave up home and family east of the Mississippi to strike out for the unknown. They, too, were instrumental in claiming the West as American territory.
Happy Birthday, America. And Happy Fourth of July to all of you.