CLARKSVILLE, IN (WAVE) – Our country’s greatest explorers started their journey from Clarksville, Indiana, and an act awaiting presidential approval would recognize this local connection.
Many of the permanent members of the Lewis and Clark expedition team came from Kentucky. When the Natural Resources Management Act is signed by President Trump in the next few days, it will extend the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail to include Louisville and Clarksville.
That feat is one many in the community have wanted and worked toward for years.
“It was a very, very treacherous journey, it was a very long journey,” said Penny Peavler, President of the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville.
Inside Frazier History Museum, thousands of people come each year to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. The starting point for that journey is St. Louis on some maps. But here, the experts know different.
"People think the expedition started in St. Louis,” Peavler said. “But really, they started in Pennsylvania with their boat having been built there, sailed down and then their first stop, here in Kentucky.”
Nine men from Kentucky and Clark’s enslaved African York joined the journey from here in 1803, she said, making up the team of 33 and one dog that would explore the west. Any Lewis and Clark historian will tell you riverfront at the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville, Indiana was important to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Maps and trails haven’t always reflected that but that’s soon expected to change.
"This is where Lewis and Clark met to shake hands to begin the journey together to the West," said Phyllis Yeager, Lewis and Clark expedition expert.
Yeager stood in front of the statue of Lewis and Clark shaking hands that’s placed in front of the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center in Clarksville. The statue would not stand her without her. She’s been instrumental over the years in ensuring these explorers are remembered around southern Indiana, even pushing for the naming of the new east end bridge as the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
Ever since she and her husband moved to the area decades ago, Yeager has been educating people here about the area’s role in the expedition. She was frustrated to find most people here had no idea of the history.
"Well, I was not just surprised,” Yeager said. “I was shocked and it made me mad.”
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail currently extends from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. In a few days, President Trump is expected to sign a bill that will extend the trail 1,200 miles, all the way up to Pittsburgh and include Louisville and southern Indiana. Indiana Senator Todd Young said this designation is well-deserved and a long time coming.
“And so we’ve gotten that stretch of real estate along southern Indiana just north of Kentucky designated as part of the historic trail,” Young said. “We think it will boost tourism, this will help educate our young people about the real history of the Lewis and Clark trail. And the President of the United States I think in coming days will be signing that legislation into law. So I’m real proud that I was able to play a leadership role on that front.”
After years of fighting for this kind of recognition, Yeager said this is a victory.
“I can’t explain it," Yeager said. "I’m almost numb, if you want to know the truth."
Peavler says adding this area to the historic trail will draw more tourists to the area and teach them about the vital role this area played in our country’s biggest exploration,
“There’s so much rich history here around Lewis and Clark that is really authentic to this area," Peavler said. "So it’s really exciting to be able to share that with the exhibiting public. More than 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark’s journey here started with a handshake. Finally, that moment will be recognized on the map.
"This is where it all began,” Yeager said.