The Captain's Dog is a classic canine adventure by veteran dog writer Robert Scott McKinnon. As a student at the University of Montana on a swim scholarship, McKinnon borrowed a raft from the Alameda Sheriff's Posse and rafted from North Fork, Idaho, to Jack London Square in Oakland, via the Salmon, Snake, Columbia, Willamette, and Sacramento rivers, some 1100 river miles, the summer of 1958. The following summer McKinnon boated from Great Falls to Savannah, Georgia, via the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, TVA, and Savannah rivers, some 3200 river miles, with two coon hounds, Lead and Loud. The third summer Johnson Motors, Alcoa Aluminum, and Crestliner Boats made a movie, The River Busters. McKinnon was the first to go up the Salmon River, the "River of No Return," in a small power boat. McKinnon (and his dogs) know what it's like down in a windblown, cold, wet river trench where even with maps you don't know one creek from the other, and you have no idea where you are ... until you get there. Here is the entire Lewis and Clark journey, from Washington and President Jefferson, to the Pacific and back, a unique perspective of how it might actually have been, the laughs, the cries, the love of a dog for his Captain, and the love of the expedition for the dog. Part 2 shoves off at St. Charles and up the Missouri eventually to Lolo Pass, now the border of Montana and Idaho, and in the wilderness, Seaman finds himself alone, at the top of the world, everywhere and nowhere, all at once, befriended by a family of wolves. "Our dog, Captain. Our dog."
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The fact I was an ex-River Rat, and I taught English, specializing in science fiction and satire, additionally, I was a sucker for dogs, big dogs, little dogs, young dogs, old dogs, it should not be surprising that I finally fell into the Lewis and Clark Expedition abyss with curiosity. These guys went coast to coast in logs? Where's the dog in all this?
One summer years ago my dad Gus borrowed a rubber life raft from the Alameda Sheriff's Department and mailed it to me. Don Calfee and I, two University of Montana students, spent the summer rafting from North Fork, Idaho, to Jack London Square in Oakland, California, via the Salmon, Snake, Columbia, Willamette and (portage) Sacramento rivers, some 1100 river miles.
The next summer I, with Bob Gornick and two coon hounds, Lead and Loud, voyaged in a small boat from Fort Benton, Montana, to Savannah, Georgia, via the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and (portage) Savannah rivers, some 3200 river miles.
And the third summer, I attacked the Salmon River, "the River of No Return," in a small outboard, sponsored by Johnson Motors, Alcoa Aluminum, and Crestliner Boats. My partners in this expedition, the first ever to go up the Salmon River, were Hans Gudegast (now Hollywood's Eric Braedon), and a bloodhound X black and tan, Gabe. A movie, "The River Busters," recorded the event.
I never paid much attention to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As a California transplant in Montana, I, along with the general public, became aware of this famous trek because of the publicity of numerous new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Centers across the country to honor the 200 year anniversary: 2004, including a magnificent structure overlooking the Missouri in Great Falls.
My story, The Captain's Dog, a dog's view of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is a dog story, published in three parts.
I have no doubts the big guy, the Newfoundland OF THAT TYPE, completed the entire journey.
Or, to put it another way, if anybody did, he did.
I know folks who have taken a few days to float the Missouri, in canoes or rubber rafts (downstream). Every once in a while you pick up the paper and somebody is canoeing coast to coast, with a portage over the Divide.
I have never heard of anybody, outside of our guys in the Expedition, who has navigated the Missouri River in a cottonwood log, up or down. When I ran across that one, with paintings of our guys in bright clothes standing in these logs ... was there more?
Consider, if you will, on a soggy, near-freezing morning on the banks of the Missouri, somewhere near what is now Mandan, here we find ourselves in a cottonwood log, and cottonwood by the way is known to absorb water, so that log that weighed "a bunch" when pushed into the river now weighs "a bunch times two," not to worry, we shall sail except the wind is probably going the wrong way, or we shall pull the boats along the banks with ropes, even though there is no shoreline here and there, trees, cliffs, boulders, deadfall, etc., not to worry, and in that nobody knows how to swim, best not to step in a hole, which brings us to row row row your log, a possibility if somebody knew how to make an oarlock attached somehow to the cottonwood, some sort of rope harness perhaps, with some sort of clamp, in which case if you really put your back into it, you'd probably have a goodly chunk of the boat ripped off, attached to your oar, as cottonwood is not the toughest of woods.
As I studied the story further, and it is a story, it took the Expedition two months (early April to early June) to go some 800 river miles.
Mandan to the mouth of the Marias, that's an average of give or take 12 miles a day. Against a Missouri River spring runoff?
You get the drift, no pun intended, this log thing is a stretcher. And so, as I trenched in with the Expedition, it got worse, lots worse. It's almost like there was a contest going on: "I can screw up the telling of this thing worse than you can."
That's because the scholars of the tale are not ex river rats.
And so our military expedition, with evening upon us, has found a nice sandbar to park our logs, sentries are in place, fires are going, our bellies are growling for whatever was harvested along the way, (deer, buffalo, snake, goose), the tents are up, night is upon us, Lewis reminds Clark and the sergeants, "Don't forget to write in your diaries." Oddly, the first to be published was not Lewis or Clark or the sergeants, it was none other than Private Frazier, an event which rather torqued Lewis who more than likely did not know Frazier was keeping a journal in the first place, a little secret with which I have difficulty.
The best guess as to where these journals came from, is that Clark visited Lewis, some time after the conclusion of the Expedition, when Lewis was Governor of the Louisiana Territory in St. Louis, and the two of them sat down and wrote the journals, from memory, and maybe renditions offered by French fur trappers passing through, headed downstream. "What'd we call that creek?"
Of anybody, Gass had it right, writing that first day when they crossed the Mississippi and headed up the Missouri.
I consider the Gass entry to be an honest entry in an honest diary.
"Nice day. Cloudy."
That's longer than any journals I kept on my three trips. Even in a modern boat with engineered waterproof bags, you and everything else eventually gets wet, I don't care who you are. It's called rain, riffles and ripples, wading, paddle-splash, hail, wind ... and, perish the thought, just plain bury the thing in a wave or over she goes and don't think for a minute logs don't love to just roll over.
My three books on the subject are satire, but satire directed more to the inspirations that have been published over the years, not the expedition itself, although I am skeptical of both: the Expedition was one thing, but the writers who have romanticized it, or plagiarized it, or just plain made stuff up, are quite another.
For example, Lewis was gay because he never married?
Well for goodness sake. I didn't know that.
Consider the portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri, over the years a classic opportunity for scholarly inspiration, not only for historians but for artists. Check out the hill at Belt Creek (Portage Creek), then tell me about that log, upsy-daisy guys. Don't forget to tighten your hernia girdles.
While part of the Lewis contingency, back on the infamous White Bear Island (pick one), and Lewis and the Field brothers, off to make sure the Marias River is not the inland waterway (McKenzie who?), well lookie here, here come those logs again, the same ones our guys buried at Three Forks, Cruising Down the River, on a Lovely Afternoon.
Ever bury a big log?
Whisper: (Don't let the Indians find them and thank heavens they did not, apparently.)
We all know what an Indian would do with a buried log. That's a given.
And the Great Falls of the Missouri just around the corner on the downhill ride!!! Five of them!!!! One hairy ride after another. "Don't get those journals wet!!!"
And then, wouldn't you know it, the red pirogue, upon excavation at the mouth of the Marias ... "does not answer."
But the logs did. The logs answered, by golly. Big time. And so did the white pirogue. On to St. Louis and the Mississippi!
And so, should you be reading along in my dog story, and it is, first and foremost a dog story, and your eyes blink and the eyebrows go up, and you say to yourself, "That's ridiculous!"
Bingo! Give that reader a cigar!
Incidentally, a friend of mine was wondering: what country claims the moon?
The Captain's Dog: a view of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Parts I, II, and III, is an exciting adventure story of an American canine hero, Seaman. Robert Scott McKinnon's version of The Expedition is based in large part on his having traveled the continent by rivers and 31 years as an English teacher, picking the brains of Montana history teachers during prep periods.
The discerning reader will find various forms of satire, such as found in Part II Chapter 28: "The Ass." The expedition finally reaches the area which is now Dillon, Montana; they must travel the Rockies before snow falls; they are not going to survive without horses. The Snake Indians, fortunately, have beautiful horses, but in a surprise move in which Lewis appears to be the last to know, the Snake are leaving in the morning. Seaman finds himself center stage as the men hurriedly scrutinize the horses, at which time they notice mules here and there. But where is the donkey? You can't have a mule if you don't have a donkey.
McKinnon has played professional banjo for fifty years to all kinds of audiences. It follows that Seaman does not share the expedition's enthusiasm for Pierre Cruzatte's fiddle concerts.
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