Local Presenter Embarking on Education Expedition
Thompson Falls, Mont. resident Michael Lee knows Lewis and Clark. While attending a surveying class at Renton Washington Tech School, Lee got wind of a competition utilizing the surveying skills from the course. The theme-- Lewis and Clark.
"Myself and three others decided to enter the competition and for the next six months we read (and) studied everything we could find on Lewis and Clark. We thought, ate and slept Lewis and Clark," notes Lee.
The four participants divided responsibilities among themselves. Lee took on the clothing and equipment portion. "I had to go as far as New Zealand to find some of the period equipment and ( all over) to make the uniforms.”
After arduous study Lee concluded that tuxedos would work as a base for the uniforms. "The coats started as old rental stock and came from Arizona. Buttons from Colorado, boots from Texas, hats from Philadelphia, swords
from Seattle, plumes for the hats from Iowa and the trim from a dozen stores in the Seattle area.”
Soliciting help from family, Lee began his journey into recreating the official uniforms of Lewis and Clark. "The alteration and sewing was done by my mother, MaryAnn Lee. I did the gluing of things on the uniforms, but let’s just say I couldn't have done it without her and she wouldn't have known what was right (for the uniforms) without me.”
Lee studied book after book, films and period pictures to get the uniforms
as close to period correct as he could. "Although Lewis and Clark's uniforms
were both Captains’ uniforms, one was Infantry and the other Artillery.” The challenge was finding gold and silver embellishments that were the same, just different colors. An estimate of $1,000 per coat, not including labor, is what Lee has spent.
As the competition drew near Lee was faced with another challenge: an
authentic leather dress for the woman recreating Sacagawea.
At a motorcycle show, Lee met a leather crafter and inquired after a finished dress on display. "My mouth dropped open after she told me $800.”The cost was beyond Lee's budget. The woman asked what he needed the dress for, and showed him some other dresses she had made. Each dress was over the $800 Lee couldn't afford for the competition. He explained, "I had only met this woman five minutes ago and she was loaning me a $1,500 dress.” The dress was used for a couple of months and was even altered by the owner to fit the woman portraying Sacagawea.
Needless to say, the group won the competition. After the long months of
research and competition Lee was asked what he was going to do with the
uniforms. Jokingly he replied, "Have a hell of a Halloween costume.” He used it for a costume contest, which he won.
"I had learned so much about Lewis and Clark’s expedition that I never learned when I was in school, so when I was asked to share this information with a few grade school students I said, “Sure.”
Lee had seen nationally acclaimed humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson do a presentation just prior to the competition for an adult crowd of over 2,000 people. “I stole his idea of doing it from a first person point of view. In one fourth grade classroom I had them convinced I was 229 years old!” Lee had a more difficult time convincing the fifth grade students he was that old. "At this point I was having so much fun that I began offering my (presentation) as a service.
"The presentation I do is simply a first hand account of the epic journey of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. (It) is about an hour long, after which Captain Meriwether Lewis takes some questions and shows equipment that would have been used along the journey. I then take center stage and answer more questions that are directed at me, not the caricature.”
Lee feels his educational presentation gives a broad perspective on the lives of Lewis and Clark. "When I was in grade school I thought Lewis and Clark were just two guys with an Indian woman as a guide, walking around in the woods, probably lost most, if not all of the time. I never knew that it was a military expedition, or that they had a goal or that there were almost four dozen men on the journey.”
The presentation is done free of charge and Lee leaves the students with a copy of "Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West," an Imax presentation produced by National Geographic. "I found it so interesting when I did learn these things, that I wanted to get kids the right story, in a fun way. It seems to have done that.”
Michael Lee (Captain Meriwether Lewis) has piqued the interest of the Thompson Falls Library, the schools in Thompson Falls, and Spring Creek Lodge Academy. Michael Lee can be reached at 206-919-5342 to book a presentation.
Lewis and Clark Uniform Fact: The uniforms Michael Lee recreated have been documented in history as being worn 57 times: 50 Indian meetings, six court martials and one funeral.