The great adventure: Enterprise students retrace footsteps of Lewis & Clark

Enterprise fifth-graders pull a canoe upstream in Prairie Creek Thursday in a scene from a video documentary the school is making about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Photo by Rick Swart

Two-hundred years ago, 33 rugged individuals departed from St. Louis, Mo., on what would become one of the most famous events in U.S. history.

Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and a corps of 31 others explorers began their historic expedition into the Louisiana Purchase on orders from President Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to prepare for the nation's eventual expansion to the Pacific Northwest.

This epic journey, which chartered an overland course to the Oregon coast, is a classic story that is covered in every U.S. history textbook. The story is taking on new popularity this year as the country celebrates the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.

The story of Lewis and Clark has become very personal for a group of Enterprise students who have been living the story for nearly two months.

Enterprise fifth-graders and the high school video productions class teamed up recently to produce a video documentary starring students cast as members of Lewis and Clark's expedition. The last of 12 scenes was filmed on Wednesday last week, showing a platoon of 9 and 10-year-old explorers sloshing up the Missouri River (Prairie Creek) with canoe and Capt. Clark (Ethan Osterloh) in tow.

"We are at about mile eleven today," barked producer Ron Osterloh, who teaches the video productions class at EHS. Osterloh was driving home the point that the fifth-graders, dressed in buckskins, coon skin caps, and rubber boots, needed to quit giggling and look tired. "You've pulled the boat up river all the way to here ...so you're ready for a break." The demeanor of the young actors quickly turned more serious as in unison they started pulling on the big rope attached to the boat and began to march up the river.

On shore Meriwether Lewis (Tylor Edison) strode with his entourage while jotting down notes in a leather covered notebook.

"Lewis was the scientist and botonist," fifth grade teacher Lorri Fischer explained, "He was always making entries in his his journal."

Each student had a part to play and could articulate their character's role in the expedition.

"I'm Toussaint Charbonneau," said Skyler Willis, who played the French-Canadian fur trader and interpreter who brought along his Shoshoni Indian wife, Sacagawea, and their newborn baby boy, Jean Baptiste. "We got Lewis and Clark over the Rockies and saved the day," the youngster proudly reported.

Some of the costumes and props used in the film were provided by Fort Clatsop, which rented the students a "traveling trunk" full of Lewis and Clark memorabilia. Parents and community members also contributed to the sets, providing elk and beaver skins, rifle holsters, and even a handmade dugout canoe.

The idea for the movie was inspired by a week-long class that Osterloh took at Fort Clatsop and a Department of Education sponsored video conference that Fischer took featuring Lewis and Clark scholars, Native American historians, archaeologists and curriculum specialists.

Later on students were inspired by an IMAX version of the Lewis and Clark expedition, shown on a ultra wide screen.

"I told them we're not going to be dropping million-dollar cameras over cliffs but are going to have to do some technically challenging stuff," Osterloh said, adding, "They really ate that up."

The fifth-graders began their personal journey by writing poems based on calendar photos of Wallowa County, viewing videos about Lewis and Clark and their struggle, and setting up journals representing each of the characters of the expedition, according to Fischer.

"The best way to understand a story is to live it," she said, noting that each student researched their character and that every day they given a new circumstance for their character to react to and write about. "Many students were emotional in their journals - we all felt like we were a part of the expedition."

Osterloh said his class plans to make two videos, each about 15 minutes in length. One will document the expedition itself. The other will be a documentary explaining how the video was made, a sort of "behind the scenes" look. He plans to make videos available to Fort Clatsop and hopes to also sell copies to parents and community members to help raise money for his school program. He noted that the film and video program has been cut out of the school's budget and that his class is down to one computer that is capable of editing video.

"Fort Clatsop is very interested in getting a copy so other schools can get an idea of what they could do with these trunks," Osterloh said, referring to the trunks that the park service is making available to students all over the country.

The students also plan to enter their video in a competition for Northwest schools later this month.

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