Quest for the West

The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Quest for the West

Five students are packing for an overnight canoe trip down the Delaware River. Their history teacher is trying to show them how much fun learning history can be by having them simulate Lewis and Clark’s Journey of Discovery in 1804. Charlie wants to bring his Gameboy to alleviate the boredom, but the teacher says they can bring only the kinds of supplies that Lewis and Clark might have carried. The Kids vent their frustration by chanting “I hate history!” Suddenly they are whirled about the stage. When things calm down, they see Mr. History and his magical History Trunk in their midst. In the song, “MAKE HISTORY,” Mr. History convinces the Kids to time-travel with him back to the days of Lewis and Clark, experience their Journey of Discovery first-hand and feel what it’s like to make history. To do so, each kid dons part of the dress of a real historical character and, through the magic of their imagination, becomes that person in the past.

Captain Meriwether Lewis checks supplies as several members of the Corps of Discovery load up the keelboat on the Missouri River. May 21, 1804. Private Drouillard speaks of the concerns of some of the men that Captain Clark is bringing his slave, York, on the journey. Lewis explains that they are a team, including York. Then men shove off, reprising “MAKE HISTORY.” As Sergeant Ordway barks out the rhythm, the men row the boat up the Missouri, encountering many adventures as narrated by Lewis from his journal. They finally meet chief Black Buffalo of the Teton Sioux.

When Black Buffalo and another warrior attempt to steal their boat, Lewis prepares his men for battle, even though they are seriously out-numbered. Disaster is averted by the unexpected arrival of York, bringing news of a grizzly Captain Clark has killed while out hunting. As Black Buffalo slowly inspects York, and then pays him homage, the men realize that the Sioux have never seen a black man before and think he is some kind of great spirit. York is invited into camp, and the men discover that it’s a good thing a slave is with them after all.

At their winter quarters in the Mandan village, Lewis is approached by a trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, who tries to talk Lewis into hiring him and his wife, Sacagawea, as scouts. Lewis has no intention of bringing a woman on this arduous journey, but changes his mind when he learns that Sacagawea is Shoshone: he will need her to help him trade for Shoshone horses to cross the Rocky Mountains. Lewis is further distressed to learn the Sacagawea is pregnant. He has grave doubts whether a mother and child can cross the mountains. Sacagawea, however, thrilled to finally be returning to the home she has not seen in five years, sings of her love for her land in the beautiful ballad “The Colors of My Little World.”

Resuming their adventures, Sacagawea proves her worth by saving the journals from destruction in the river, digging up roots to improve the men’s diet, and leading Lewis and Clark to the Shoshone camp. There, she is overwhelmed to discover that the Shoshone chief is none other than her long-lost brother, Cameahwaite. They joyfully reprise “Colors,” and when it is time to depart, Lewis is upset to learn that Sacagawea wishes to remain behind with her family. Since neither speaks the other’s language, they use the audience as a go-between as Lewis finally convinces Sacagawea that this is her chance to make history, too.

The fateful climbing of the Bitteroot Mountains is dramatized in song and movement, as the Corps of Discovery endures snowstorms, injury, and near-starvation on its trek to the Pacific. Incredibly, no one dies, and on November 6, 1805, they spy the ocean. A final reprise of “MAKE HISTORY” summarizes their joyous belief that anything is possible if you follow your dreams.

And, back in the present, the Kids tell a delighted Mr. History that “history is fun!”