Weekly Features

Nifty Tidbits:

Originally printed in the March 31, 2004 edition of the Illinois Valley News

On May 14, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, or Corps of Discovery, left their winter camp and started up the Missouri River. In the next two years there will be many articles and TV shows to commemorate this 200 anniversary. From time to time I will also include a few tidbits that might not show up in the other articles. A recent announcement by the federal government explained that Ft. Clatsop National Memorial, near Astoria, Oregon, would be renamed Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. It would also be expanded from 130 acres to 1,500 acres and would include area on the north side of the Columbia River in Washington.
The Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1803-1804 where the Wood River empties into the Mississippi River. The Wood River Camp is also called Camp Du.Bois because “DuBois” is French for wood. This is on the American side of the Mississippi, because the Spanish officials at St. Louis would not let them camp on the west side. Two events that winter created changes in the political situation of the area. Spain officially transferred the whole Louisiana territory to France. This had been done privately in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, but French officials had not come to St Louis until 1803.
Robert Livingston, USA minister to France and aware of the Treaty of San Ildefonso, had been commissioned to buy the port of New Orleans. Instead Napoleon Bonaparte, needing money and being defeated while trying to expand French control in the Caribbean Sea, wanted to sell the whole territory. Therefore, for $15 million the United States doubled its area and made the Corps of Discovery legal, at least as far as the Rocky Mountains, the boundaries of the Purchase were not very definite. Therefore, the second major event of that winter was the transfer of St. Louis and all of the Louisiana territory to the United States.
While Meriwether Lewis was in St. Louis for this last ceremony, he arranged for specimens that had been collected, to be transferred to President Thomas Jefferson. Two of these items were later discovered to be new to science. They became the first of many new species found by Lewis and Clark. The first is known today as Texas Horned Lizard, which is similar to the Short-Horned Lizard or “horned toad,” which is found in eastern Oregon. This animal will be covered in a later tidbit.
The second specimen was a plant, known today as Osage Orange. Its name is based on the Osage Indian tribe who prized the wood to make bows and had often used the wood in bartering with other tribes on the Great Plains. The “orange” part of the name is because of the large yellow fruit, only found on female trees, and because of the orange aroma found on the fruits. Osage Orange is actually in the Mulberry Family, as are hops used in the brewing industry. The plants were grown for many years as hedges. The thick, interlocking, and spiny branches could be pruned to make a very effective fence. Even after the invention of barbed wire in the 1880s, Osage Orange fence posts were still valuable because of their resistance to rot and termites. The tree is not native to the western states but, according to Dr. Frank Lang in “Nature Notes,” there is at least one growing in Ashland.
The scientific name is Maclura pomifera. William Maclure was an American geologist who published books and maps on the geology of the eastern United States. A pome is a type of fruit where the base or receptacle of a pollinated flower grows around the ovary creating a core, such as in apples. Osage Orange has a large hard fruit which is a composite of many small pomes. Some botanists consider this plant the most significant botanical discovery of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.