Stephen H. Long Trail 1819 — 1820

Map of Stephen H. Long Trail Map of Stephen H. Long Trail
Map of Stephen H. Long Trail

In 2008 I follow the trail of Stephen H. Long, who was sent by secretary of war John C. Calhoun to explore first the Missouri with his main branches and then the Red River, Arkansas and Mississippi above the mouth of the Missouri. Due to the missing knowledge about the vast area, the expedition was sentenced to fail. In the following year, it was changed to explore the Eastern Rockies — with again non–realistic aims.

May 3rd, 1819, the expedition set off with 24 men in Pittsburgh. Long was allowed to realize his own ideas of a boat for traveling up the Missouri to an area, where no other boat has been before. He designed the first sternwheeler, the Western Engineer. They traveled along the Ohio through well known territory. For the first time, there were botanists and educated illustrators in a expedition. Dr. William Baldwin was the botanist at the beginning of the journey, but he died a couple of weeks after the expedition set off. Edwin James replaced him in 1820. Thomas Say was the zoologist, the illustrator was Samuel Saymour. Graham and Swift have been responsible for drawing maps of the region.

On the way along the Ohio, there were already the first problems. Sometimes there was trouble with the engine, sometimes the boat sprung leak by snags. On Juny 9th, 1819, they arrived with a big delay in St. Louis, Juny 22nd the expedition left St. Louis and started their journey along the Missouri. 5 military vessels joined them, who should establish a fort at the mouth of Yellowstone River. But these vessels have been less suitable for the Missouri than the Western Engineer. The first two had to give up at the beginning of the journey, the third one at the mouth of the Kansas River. September 20th, the Western Engineer reached their winter quarter at Council Bluffs. Long returned by country back to Washington.

Due to lack of time, I decide to start my trail at Council Bluffs, close to Omaha, Nebraska, as I have been traveling this leg already a couple of times on my other trails.

Juny 7th, 1820, the expedition set off with the new order to explore the Eastern Rockies. They followed on horse approximately the course of Platte and South Platte River up to the Rockies. They arrived on July 6th. Along the mountain range, they traveled south. July 13th they arrived at the foot of Pikes Peak. Pike was not able to climb the mountain, but Edwin James was the first white men to be known at the summit. If you drive up to the summit by car today and you fight the high altitude of more than 14000ft, it is nearly unbelievable how the small group made it to the top — with bad clothing and barely something to eat and drink!

They went on south to the Arkansas River. They followed the river from the east into the Royal Gorge until the canyon was so narrow, they were not able to proceed. Then they followed the Arkansas back to the area of Rocky Ford. The group split on July 24th there. Long went together with 9 men to the south to find Red River. The rest should follow the Arkansas down to Ft. Smith and await the others. Long reached the Canadian River beginning of August, which he mistook as the Red River. A short distance before he reached the Arkansas River again, he discovered his mistake. But it was too late. They had nearly reached Ft. Smith. On Septemeber 13th, 1820, the expedition was reunited again and at the end of their journey.

A lot of people thought, that this expedition was a fail. But from the view of a botanist, zoologist and map drawer it was a big success. The main problem have been the unrealistic aims set by congress due to lack of knowledge of the vast country.

I also finish my trail at Ft. Smith and take the opportunity to visit a concert of my friends Christine Albert & Chris Gage at The Crossroads Coffee House in Winsboro, Texas. Then I drive on Interstates back to Pittsburgh, circling around the area with no gas due to hurricanes.

The daily trails are in preparations