Visiting an American Pioneer

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Across America, protestors are tearing down statues dedicated to former slave owners, Confederate leaders, and other icons of oppression. That makes it a little uncomfortable to write this blog about a recent visit to a statue of two members of the party that accompanied American pioneers Lewis and Clark on their trek through Oregon, neither of whom had much say in the matter and both of whom made a big impact on the trip.

Sacagawea and Seaman (Cascade Locks, OR)

A beautiful bronze statue at the Cascade Locks on the shores of the Columbia River honors Sacagawea and Seaman, a Newfoundland dog. Many people are familiar with the story of Sacagawea, both her real life saga and the white-washed version in American culture, where she has been portrayed in a number of films and television shows, including a turn by Donna Reed(yes, really).

Fewer people are familiar with the canine companion of the party, Seaman. Bought for twenty dollars (about four hundred in today’s dollars) by Meriwether Lewis in 1803, the black Newfoundland pup accompanied the expedition from Pennsylvania to the Pacific, serving as hunter, guard dog, and even ambassador of sorts to many of the native tribes who had never seen such a dog. Seaman had quite the journey, enduring surgery after being bitten by a beaver and even being stolen by a band of native Americans. He also escaped the cook’s pot as the Corps of Discovery has been documented as eating more than two-hundred dogs on their cross country venture. The dog is mentioned several times in diaries and even had a tributary of the Blackfoot River named after him, but following the end of the trip fades out of public view. Many people believe he lived out his days with Lewis when they returned to Missouri. However his story ended, it was obvious that Seaman was a beloved dog. A collar donated to an Alexandria, Virginia museum bears the following inscription:

Bacchus and Seaman

The greatest traveller of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacific ocean through the interior of the continent of North America.” 

Seaman may also be one of the most honored dogs in American history, with monuments dedicated to him in Illinois, multiple locations in Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and three in Oregon, including the one Bacchus and I visited at the Cascade Locks. He also became the official mascot of Lewis and Clark College Pioneers in 2008, and is, of course, the subject of numerous books and stories.

For more on Seaman, check out these links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seaman_(dog)

https://www.nps.gov/jeff/learn/historyculture/seaman.htm

https://www.lewis-clark.org/article/2295

The visit was part of a weekend trip to the Pacific Coast Trail. It is a beautiful area if you ever get the chance to visit. Our early morning hike was cool and almost devoid of other people, so it was a great choice during this COVID summer. 

Until next time, wear your mask, wash your hands, and get out there and do something with your dog.

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