Friday, April 10, 2009

Meriwether Lewis, heartily tired of the Shoshone hug

When I was stranded in New York for six years, far from all of my songwriting partners, I spent a lot of time crafting songs by combing though guitar tapes that had been mailed to me and matching potential song fragments with texts that I wanted to put to music.

Among many other projects, I started a record of songs that score verbatim quotes from The Journals of Lewis and Clark. (Actually, this continues an effort we started in the mid-'90s with the band Eleanor Roosevelt - our song "Espoontoon," which appeared in the soundtrack of a movie and on a seminal twang compilation, has lyrics by Meriwether Lewis.)

My friend Kevin Belford showed me how to make mp3s from cassettes using Audiograbber, so these song sketches now exist in a form that can be shared. Since it tends to take us years to turn song sketches into full-blooded songs and then actually release them, I'll start throwing these raggedy little sketches up here for fun.

This one scores Meriwether Lewis' description of a highly historic moment - when he stumbles upon some Shoshone, just inside what is now Idaho, near Salmon. Some clumsy nonverbal communication brings them together, and Captain Lewis gets rather more of an affectionate welcome than he bargained for:
these men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way which is by puting their left arm over you wright sholder clasping your back, while they apply their left cheek to yours and frequently vociforate the word âh-hi'-e, âh-hi'-e that is, I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced. bothe parties now advanced and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.
The date was Tuesday, August 13, 1805. The meeting was historic, because the Corps of Discovery was traveling with Sacajewea, and when these friendly Shoshone took Lewis back to their village, it turned out their chief was her brother!

Free mp3

"Heartily tired of the national hug"
(Chris King, Meriwether Lewis, Lij)
Three Fried Men

Please keep in mind this is me playing a guitar (and whistling!) tape roughly recorded by Lij on a jambox, then singing my vocal over his part, and roughly recording the result on a handheld tape recorded. Tape speed issues make me sound about eight years old.

A website for a restaurant in the Bitteroot Valley, near where this meeting occured, offers a good summery of the context surrounding it:

On August 11, 1805, Lewis saw an Indian on horseback but due to lack of communication with his own men the Indian fled in fear. The next day Lewis drank from a spring, which he declared "the most distant fountain" of the Missouri and his men stood with one foot on each side of the "Mighty Missouri". It certainly would have been a "Kodak Moment" had Kodak been born yet! He then predicted that by that evening he would also be able to taste the waters of the Columbia - and he did!

They passed over the continental divide, "which I found much steeper than the opposite side, to a bold running creek of cold clear water. There I first tasted the water of the great Columbia River." We call it the Lemhi River today but it's waters do flow into the Columbia. You can re-experience this same location on Lemhi Pass southeast of Salmon Idaho and drink from the same spots today!

The next day (Aug. 13) Lewis again saw some Indians, this time with some dogs. The Indians were afraid but the dogs were not so much and he almost got close enough to one to tie a handkerchief around it's neck with some beads. He was anxious to let these Indians know he meant them no harm. One problem was that Lewis and his men did not look very "white" having been in the sun all this time!

A mile further Lewis came upon three women- "a young women immediately took to flight, an elderly woman and a girl about 12 years old remained." They were sure they were to die but he took them by the hand and "strip up my shirt sleve to sew her my skin; to prove to her the truth of the ascertion that I was a white man". This all happened just southeast of what is now Salmon Idaho, directly South of us here in the Bitterroot.

These two women took them to their camp where: "bothe parties now advanced and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug". I like that! "tired of the national hug"! It turned out that Ca-me-ah-wait, the chief, was Sahcargarweah's brother! It must have been quite a
Carolyn Gilman has given an expert reading of the dance of nonverbal cues in this exchange.

A page on the website for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in my own town of St. Louis suggests this incident from the journal is included in a photo mural at the site. Guess I should visit and find out.


The doll is of Sacajawea's husband, from a blog devoted to historical dolls.

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