The Tower That Became My Pillar

A Remarkable Rock

As a student of American History (literally, that was my major), I enjoy many specific periods and events that pique my interest: the transcontinental railroad (see Ponies and Locomotives from January 2021), the creation of the National Park System (see Hidden Beauty from March 2012), and World War II (see Segue from February 2019).  My far-and-away favorite, though, is the Corps of Discovery from the time the first boat entered the water in 1803 until the death of Meriwether Lewis in 1809.  I’ve visited locations from Harper’s Ferry where the Corps requisitioned their first supplies, to Fort Clatsop on the Oregon coast, and practically everywhere along their journey, making some stops for a few minutes and others for months.

Much like my favorite topics of history, a myriad of features along the modern Lewis and Clark Trail might earn my recommendation for future exploration for those planning to journey forth, but the single most perfect spot, the one that stands out beyond all others, is, as William Clark described it, “…a remarkable rock… This rock which I shall Call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance…”  William Clark ascended the tower from its northeast and beheld the spectacular view along the Yellowstone River, and took time to carve his name and the date in the rock face.  To this day, anyone can stop forty-five minutes east of Billings, Montana and see Clark’s own inscription preserved for more than two hundred years against the elements, vandals, and history itself.  It’s the highlight of the trail, in my opinion.

My Travel Buddy

Fast forward more than two hundred years and the tower now appears on maps as Pompey’s Pillar, so named by the first publisher of the journals, Nicholas Biddle.  I get weepy every time I visit the site, knowing that one of my most favorite Americans stood in the same spot as me and recognized the carvings of the natives on the structure indicating this feature stands out as remarkable among the other clumps of tinged sandstone along the shoreline. The pillar, named for Sakagawea’s son (see Sakakawea – Sacajawea – Sacagawea from February 2021), indicates what a significant impact this toddler imprinted on the life of the Corps’ captain.  He specifically dedicated this location to the memory of a boy, not even two and a half years old, who accompanied Clark and the rest of the men (and woman) of the Expedition into the great unknown edges of the Louisiana Territory.

While twice the age of her namesake when he traveled the American West, my Pompey and I meet, and she earns her name because she, too, accompanies me as I explore the corners of the American scenery.  We camp on the shores of the Minnesota boundary waters, we hike the Appalachian Trail, we drive over the Rocky Mountains, and we cross the Missouri River dozens of times over the course of years, much like that young boy and his mother.  My best travel buddy, the name ‘Pompey’ suits her and she serves as my pillar when we camp alone, when we hunker in our tent during thunderstorms, and when we drive on mile after mile, proceeding onward.  I expect William Clark would like her, too.

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