n 1994, members of the Travelers’ Rest Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation asked the question, “Where is the Travelers’ Rest?” From that moment on a cause was born. For the next nine years, members of the chapter looked for the proverbial “needle in the haystack.” This haystack was two hundred years old, though, and the needle would prove difficult to find. However, after much research, hard work, and dedication to the cause, the Travelers’ Rest Lewis and Clark campsite were finally discovered.
To begin, the chapter contacted noted Lewis and Clark campsite historian Professor Bob Bergantino of Butte, Montana. Utilizing the maps of Captain Clark, the journals of the expedition, and modern science, Professor Bergantino located an approximate area where the Travelers’ Rest might be located. He was 95% certain of his analysis.
Next, the chapter sponsored archeologist Dan Hall’s “infrared photographic” fly-over of the suspected historical site. The infrared photographs showed a pattern of anomalies starting near the suspected site. As it turns out, the chapter had stumbled onto an ancient Native American area where the anomalies were most likely ancient tipi rings. Unfortunately, this discovery was not on the renowned site.
The chapter then decided to visit Pat and Ernie Deschamp, long-time residents of Lolo, Montana. Shocked when they learned they might be living on the site of the Lewis and Clark Travelers’ Rest site, the Deschamps’ initial reaction quickly turned into curiosity and a desire to help with the project. From that moment on, the Deschamps played an integral role in the scientific and historical research of their property. The Deschamps also graciously became hosts to visitors from around the world as news spread of the possible discovery.
In 1998 Dan Hall began an archeological mitigation survey of the surrounding area. On the first survey day, a 200-year-old pewter military button was located. This discovery brought forward evidence that Lewis and Clark possibly did camp in the observation area. Is the button from the famous explorers’ expedition? We may never know for certain. Subsequent discoveries in the area, however, favorably link the button to the expedition.
To fully understand how the Travelers’ Rest site was discovered and verified, basic knowledge of archeology’s three main areas is needed. First, there must be a “question.” Where is the Travelers’ Rest? Using this question, the archeologist researches to find the most logical area where part two of the project, the excavation, should begin.
In this story, Dan Hall designated Lolo, Montana as the most logical answer to the question, and science and history played key roles during the excavation process. Electromagnetometry was used to see disturbances under the soil. The US Army’s first military manual by Baron Von Steuben was used to locate the Corps of Discovery’s pattern of campsites. Using these facts, the archeological team was able to ascertain where the campfires should have been (and were) located. Also significant was Dr. Benjamin Rush’s documented donation to the expedition. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and America’s foremost doctor in the late 1700s, Dr. Rush sent along 60 dozen mercury-filled capsules affectionately called “Thunderbolts.” Two hundred years ago, “modern medicine” attempted to flush out any illness present in the body. Three methods were usually employed: bleeding, vomiting, and a diuretic given to trigger diarrhea. At the Travelers’ Rest site, Lewis and Clark gave two “ill” men Dr. Rush’s diuretic “thunderbolts.” These men left their mercury-filled deposits in the camp’s latrine, and since mercury does not naturally occur in the Lolo area, the latrine became a major inspection point. After several years of archeology and use of a “mercury vaporizer,” Lewis and Clark’s latrine became the final proving point necessary in identifying where the explorers actually camped.
Once the excavation was complete, the last and most important part of the archeo- logical process began. This step includes a scientific write-up containing the archeologist’s conclusions that are then peer-reviewed to ensure other archeologists and scientists agree with the team’s findings. In the case of Traveler’s Rest, twelve other scientists verified Dan Hall’s conclusions. Dan Hall and the Travelers’ Rest Chapter did find the actual Lewis and Clark campsite.
Travelers’ Rest is now a Montana State Park due to the work and support of the fol- lowing organizations and individuals: Travelers’ Rest Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Dan Hall, Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Travelers’ Rest Preservation and Heritage Association, the National Park Service, the Montana State Historic Preservation Office, the Montana Bicentennial Commission, and the late Stephen Ambrose. The actual site is virtually undisturbed since Lewis and Clark’s epic journey, allowing visitors to view what Lewis and Clark saw two hundred years ago. Travelers’ Rest is a national historic treasure well worth visiting.
Mike Wallace President Travelers’ Rest Chapter Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation