Friday, July 15, 2016

People are great!

A few miles past Ft Union and the confluence  of the Missouri and Yellowstone I look over… and what do I see but?!?!

Holy smokes… Can it be?  Another man out here floating the river in his home made seemingly dog themed sail boat drinking coffee?

In fact that is exactly what it was!

This is John Yunkers.  After we spotted each other, we of course tied our boats together and talked for a while.  A few hours in fact.  

We talked about just about everything under the sun. The river, god, life, women, dogs, dams… and finally Lewis and Clark!

The Lewis and Clark conversation started like this:

John: “So, are you familiar at all with the Lewis and Clark, their journals?

Me: “Fairly familiar… I have read Courage Undaunted, but I have found the journals themselves kind of thick to read.”
John: Ah yes yes… so you are familiar with Fort Mandan?

Me:  “You mean the lost-to-history Corp of Discovery camp of the 1804/1805 winter… searched for and supposedly never to be found, destroyed by the river or flooded by the dam?  That Fort Mandan?

John: “Yes, yes… I found it!”

Now as any Lewis and Clark buff will know, that is a hell of a statement to make.  It is sort of the L&C equivalent of saying to a Greek Archaeology buff… “I found Atlantis!” or to a treasure hunter, “I found El Dorado and it is in my yard!”

Obviously this brought about another few hours of our boats tied together drifting down the river, only being interrupted once by an old train bridge that attempted to dismast “Grace,” (John’s boat.) 

Leading up to the bicentennial of the L&C expedition 2003 - 2006ish there was a lot of effort put into the finding of Fort Mandan.  Even NASA was aiding in the search with some of their remote sensing capabilities.  Still nothing. 

And it was assumed lost forever.  Most likely destroyed by the river.

Then in 2011, the Missouri River flooded big despite the Army Corp of Engineers best efforts for the first time in many years.  Fort Peck dam washed out it’s spillway (which is still under reconstruction), The old Fort Union from my previous post was for the first time next to the water in sixty years, and… John Yunker’s grandfather’s farm which is just downstream of the Garison dam was also flooded!

John has been a L&C buff for many years… and the fact that most academic works put the probable location of the Fort Mandan somewhere on his grandfather’s farm only fed that interest.  As he was looking along the sand bars for some evidence of the destroyed fort… something like a broken pipe or a button or something… he started thinking about a depression that formed shortly after the floor in 2011 receded. 

Already being very familiar with the dimensions and it’s features… he started measuring off this depression.  It fit almost exactly the dimensions of the fort as it is described in the journals!

A hell of a good start for sure!  So, it’s in the right place, has the right dimensions… John decides to check for any additional evidence… He digs a small test hole at the edge of the depression… and immediately hits a charred beam. (The fort was burned down after the expedition left!)

So… right spot, right size and shape down to the foot, and materially exactly what it should be!  A pretty solid argument so far.  

We exchange information with plans to meet together at the now seemingly found Fort Mandan down the river. Hoist sails again and slowly go our separate way… or at least separate speeds.  


It is the 3rd of July… I have heard about a the campground in Tobacco Garden Bay being a good place to stop.

Supposedly they have a restaurant and showers.  I haven’t had a shower (legit with city clean water since Great Falls Montana, though I have jumped in the water a few times.  As far as I can tell I am clean, but the thought of a shower is appealing.  My supplies are getting a little low as well so I decide to push for there.

As I am sailing up the bay toward the campground I feel like I am entering some sort of civil war reenactment!  Rockets, explosions, bangs fires smoke…. The place is absolute madness!  I had mostly forgotten that it was the 4th of July weekend and that all camp grounds are going to be completely unchained! I am looking at the shore at the dogs, kids, fireworks, explosions, wall to wall tents and RV’s… Campers, beer…. WOW

I have basically been by myself for the last week and a half, and for most of that time I couldn’t even see anything man made from horizon to horizon.  This whole scene is a bit overwhelming! My new plans are to go eat, pick up what I can, then continue to a bay down the lake and sleep by myself in the boat as usual… skipping this madness!

I get into the little cove that the camp grounds are built on about nine that night After cleaning up the boat and finding my way around I make it to the restaurant/store about nine thirty.  It is definitely closed… just as I turn around to leave, a woman coming out of the closed building looks at me and says, “Are you a paddler?”

“Ummm… yes… sort of.  I am rowing and sailing but yes.”

It seems people that are floating the entire river have a look about them… I suppose if you have been on the river since the middle of Montana and now find yourself in North Dakota… that might be the case.  Even with all this madness, she looked at me for less than a second and knew what I was up to.

This was Peg! Owner and operator of this campground… and Mother to all journeying the river!  Before I can do or say anything more, she set me down at a picnic table for a moment to attend to some madness rolling by… then re-opens the store to let me in.

Apparently there is sort of a loose organization of people along the river keeping track of all of us fools making this trip.  She had already known there were a few of us leaking onto the beginning of Lake Sakakawae and was even expecting one or some of us to arrive within a day or so.  She gave me the shower code, hooked me up with a beer, and put me in a place right in front of my boat!

Peg has got to be one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever met!  If any other paddlers read this… a stop at Tobacco Garden is worth the trip up the bay!

After breakfast, before the camp Parade got started, I sailed right back out of the bay.  The winds were perfect and I made it all the way to New Town that day. 

Break Break.

I got into New Town and landed at the New Town Marina.  It seemed walking distance from the town itself and I still needed supplies.  Also, I wanted to upload some of my posts so I was looking to find some internet.  When you have a whole wad of posts and pictures to upload it never quite goes as fast as you would hope… so rather than camp my crazy hobo looking self in coffee shop that may or may not exist.  I decided to walk over the bridge and get a room for two nights at the 4Bears Casino.  This will give me all of tomorrow for uploading and other internet work I need to attend to.

Just south of the casino is what appears to be a commons for the three tribes living on the Fort Berthold Reservation.  (The three tribes of Ft Berthold are the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.)   Now being the actual 4th of July, it was even more madness than the previous campground!  Campers, fireworks, explosions, kids, 4-wheelers. WHAAAA!!!!!…  All still overwhelming… Also, being the reservation, people’s personal fireworks were serious serious serious artillery! After walking around under the raining burning confetti for a while I had had enough and went in to look around the casino.  

The next day, I was working my way through my list of stuff to do on the internet.  One of which was find the sat photo of Fort Mandan as John had described. After a few minutes on the phone with John trying to pin point it down… he asked where I was.  After telling him the 4Bears Casino, he quickly hangs up.  A few minutes later I get a call from another local number.  

It is a friend of John’s named Keith Bear.  Mr Bear is a Mandan tribal elder who offers to meet me and show me around the area. (Just for the record, Mr Bear is also part Sioux and Hidatsa.) After a few minute phone conversation, we meet up at the museum… and basically hung out the next two days.

After talking and telling stories through the tribal museum till it closed we went to the earth lodge reconstructions, more stories… As it turned out he had been in the 82nd Airborne.  We talked about Vietnam, Afghanistan, flying helicopters, jumping out of helicopters, Ospreys… as well as the usual, women, the river, music, art, dams, and even got in discussions about fish.

SIDE DISCUSSION 1:  Dams, (so far I haven’t met anyone who likes them yet!) So, the Mandan were traditionally farmers with permanent towns built along the river.  The river bottom land being the best farming areas, they had their towns along the river for hundreds of years… maybe thousands. It is where their houses are, where their family members are buried, the sacred places…  Culturally where everything had happened for centuries. Then they build the dam, and not only are they flooding a third of the reservation by area, but the area that got flooded was exactly the area for farming and where all the towns and culturally significant places.  

To put this in perspective… lets say Germany had won WW2.  They own France… and have for 70 years now.  The French get to live in a big section in the middle on a French reservation.  Luckily for them it includes Paris!  But about seventy years after the the French end up on the reservation at “Fort Paris,” (which is roughly the same timeline as onto the reservation in the late 1800’s to the 1940/50s when the dam was built,)  The Germans decide to build a dam on the Seine… that floods Paris and also all the vineyards in central France.  So to put this in perspective… The Americans building this dam in the 40’s and 50s would be like if Germany had won WW2 and was flooding Paris and all the french vineyards today.  

Anyways, back to the story!  So, of course we eventually end up talking about Lewis and Clark.  So L&C coming through was certainly a noted even for the Mandan, and it was kind of mind blowing to hear it from his perspective.  The families that were here when they came through are still the families that are still here now.  As in, just down the street are the great great… grand kids of the guy who had Sakakawea and married her off to Charbonneau. Families still have the Pease Medals that L&C passed out have been passed down through the families… Sort of you might have a pocket watch from your great great grandfather who worked on trains in the 1800s or a linen handkerchief that was brought from Ireland when your family immigrated and has been passed down.  

SIDE DISCUSSION 2: Sakakawea VS Sacagawea.  Living in the world outside of North Dakota, I had always heard the name of the woman who traveled with L&C as “Sacagawea.” Pronounced like ‘sack-a-ja-wee-a.’  In North Dakota, her name is spelled Sakakawea. Pronounced, ‘Sa-kak-a-wA-a.’  Not really being a man of spelling, I didn’t think all that much about it except that those are two obviously differently pronounced words.  (unlike Two, too, to or I’ll even give you here, ear, and year… as pretty much the same sounding words.) But a K and a “J” sound are not even in the same boat.  Well, after talking to some speakers of Hidatsa, I am now solidly with North Dakota on the spelling and pronunciation.  Here is the discussion as presented by the actual speakers. “Sakakawea means Bird Woman in Hidatsa. (Her known name with the Hidatsa.) Sacagawea… this is baby talk or something.  It isn’t words, it makes no sense.”  So.  Sakakawea it is.  Tell your friends.

This has already become a long post, but let me end with another fish story. So, one of the stories Mr Bear tells me was about some divers that went down under the 4 Bears casino.  He told me that the first set of divers came up after working some intake down there... and they refused to go back saying, "There are things down there... no one would swim here ever if they saw what we saw!"  So, they got another bunch to go work.  After one day, they came up and refused to go down again... saying the same thing.  They got a third set of divers who finished the work... but one of them talked about being bumped in the back by what he though was a submerged log, but when he turned around to push it away the log had an eye the size of a hub cap and was looking at him.

Well, lets keep this in perspective.  I am talking to literally a professional story teller, and he is literally telling me a fish story!  So... I say, "Dude!!!! No way!  There is no way there are fish in this lake that are so huge that they have eyes the size of hubcaps!"

His only response was, "yep... white men never believe our stories until they do..." This was all a good natured exchange, but come on... eyes the size of hubcaps? :-/

So... the second day out of New Town.  I sailed into a little cove to spend the night. I dropped anchor about ten feet from shore, and the anchor went down at least 40 feet before it hit bottom. Well, with that deep of water, I only had about ten feel of slack, and that isn't enough slack to hold me so I pulled up the anchor, ran the bow onto the beach and set up for the night. (Read that as... it was at least 40 feet deep only ten feet from shore!)  I sat there writing this... and as usual in the evening, fish started jumping.  If you have ever sat out in the wild completely still and quite for a few hours, it is like the animals and plants forget you are there and just start doing their thing. There was a beaver swimming around behind the boat.  I could hear the coyote talking to each other just a few feet away on the bank... and I looked up at a little fish jumping.  Then just after a little sploosh of a little fish jumping... SOMETHING surfaced.  I only saw the top of it's head and then the arch of it's back.  It's body just kept arching.  It had to be about a foot in diameter at least and it was like it's body never ended.  Now, I don't think it had an eye the size of a hubcap, but it was some giant predator fish of some sort!  Involuntarily out of my mouth came the words, "OH MY GOD!"  I didn't mean to say it... it was like my body just said it on it's own.  

And, now... I will never swim in Sakakawea.  


amateur.sophist said...

I like his twin hull approach. Surely less fabrication involved, but probably a lot harder to move over land.

Notorious said...

I like it too for a lot or reasons as well... though I will say I think he is finding no easy way to move it when the wind doesn't blow the right direction. Doesn't paddle well nor row well.

As far as room onboard, draft under sail, carrying capacity and comfort the two hull design is much better. Over all, his might have been the way to go...

Much easier to build than the contraption I have made for sure!

Anonymous said...

Nick ...Scott from Lakeside Fun rentals ... if your still in Yankton Sd call my shop ...I have an Idea