A man on a mission
Former Eudoran sets sail for history
Cupping a pewter mug with his right hand, Steve Everley walks to the front of the room and greets an audience of Eudora Area Historical Society members, saying, "What funny-looking people we have here."
Perhaps that's an odd comment coming from a man wearing a feather and fur hat, tapered white pants and a decorous old-style military coat.
Everley, who attended elementary school in Eudora, now of Leawood, isn't an eccentric or someone judgmental of contemporary clothing styles. For tonight and at many other times he's Sgt. Charles Floyd, a member of Merriwether Lewis and William Clark's 19th century expedition in search of the Northwest Passage.
Everley and other re-enactment buffs, mostly from the Missouri area, belong to the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles (Mo.), a group that recreates parts of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Everley and others will undertake their biggest project yet beginning Aug. 25, 2003, in Elizabeth, Penn. Members will take turns over three years retracing the explorers' steps, using the expedition's time frame. The goal is to recreate the trip with as much authenticity as possible.
The project began more than 20 years ago when a St. Charles man built a replica Lewis and Clark boat from scratch, and the project progressed from there.
The group's upcoming trip will deviate somewhat from the original because Everley's persona will not die of appendicitis in Sioux City, Iowa. Floyd was the only member of the crew to die during the expedition. Only medical advances could have prevented his death, Everley said.
"I could have died in Boston with 10 doctors there," he said.
Floyd's ill health, Everley pointed out, shouldn't come as too much of a surprise because the men on the expedition ate between five and nine pounds of elk, deer, bear or other meat per day. Although food preparation on the trip will be as close to authentic as possible, hunting and gathering will take on a whole new meaning.
"We're going to send our hunters to Safeway and Aldi," Everley said.
Everley's involvement with the project means researching facets of Floyd's life, including submitting handwriting samples,photocopied from Floyd's journal, to handwriting analysts.
"I didn't have to choose Charles Floyd," Everley said. "He was just one of the characters I thought was an interesting person."
Although the journals will allow the expedition group to know where the crew was on which particular day, not everything about the trip is certain, like the clothing style, for instance.
"We're not 100 percent sure if this is what they wore," Everley said. "Unfortunately they wrote down everything they saw but themselves."
Everley and the others will get a little help from technology in the form of 55 horsepower motors on the boats. Changes in the rivers' landscapes mean the new explorers will have to fight a swifter current than did the original crew.
"Even if we got the Rams and the Chiefs to push it, they wouldn't last a week," Everley said.
As he spoke about the trip, he walked back and forth in front of a display of items, including pelts, tools and authentic-looking eating utensils.
"We can't walk around with a styrofoam cup in our hands," he said. "It doesn't fit."
Part of the crew's meals will come from hospitable people in the towns where the expedition will stop to tell the original explorers' stories.
"Most of us are comfortable in crowds," Everley said. "If not, we will be."
By July 4, 2004, the crew will make its way to Atchison, along the Missouri River. It's difficult to tell how far into the Kansas River the original crew explored.
"I would love to say we camped out here in Eudora, but we're not sure," Everley said.
Because Floyd couldn't complete the trip, Everley said taking part in the rest of the journey alternating time on the trip with time at home was a way to pay tribute to the sergeant.
"Since he couldn't make the trip, someone is making it for him," he said. "It's more than just a re-enactment."