Oregon Chapter LCTHF

  Oregon Chapter of the  
  Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation  

  Minutes of Winter Council Meeting  
  January 23, 1999 in Salem, OR  

Winter Council Meeting, Salem, OR -
The Oregon Chapter's Winter Council Meeting kicked off in an upstairs meeting room of the Stuart Anderson / Ramada Inn complex in downtown Salem, OR at 11:00 a.m. with the opening of registration and a social hour. The crowd swelled to over 100 participants. At noon, the buffet-style lunch was announced and the participants helped themselves to the selection of foods. At 12:30 p.m., while many were still eating, Chapter President Keith Hay stood and opened the business portion of the meeting. He began by welcoming all to our Winter Council Meeting and then introduced the Officers, Board Members and Program Director. The first item on the agenda was a proposal to change the language in two sections of the Chapter Bylaws. These changes had been submitted in the previous Chapter Newsletter for consideration by the membership. The changes were adopted as is in a unanimous vote.

Chapter Treasurer Linda O'Connor was asked to give a quick report and she announced that the Chapter account balance was $1,393.03. Chapter Vice-President Bob Holcomb next gave an update on his efforts to form a Mid-Valley section of the Oregon Chapter. He gave a brief account of the January 10th meeting which he had organized in Philomath, OR and then encouraged all the meeting participants to become Chapter members. Chapter Secretary Jay Rasmussen spoke a few words about plans for the next Chapter meeting. It will be a joint meeting with the Washington State Chapter on April 25th, 1999 in Longview, WA. It will consist of a brunch cruise on the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge followed by a program and business meeting in Longview.

Keith Hay then talked on a small variety of subjects including Dr. Gary Moulton's planned 10 week visit to Oregon this summer and the three public speeches Dr. Moulton is scheduled to give. Keith also provided some information about a meeting that took place on December 16th, 1998 with Senator Slate Gorton (WA) and Senator Gordon Smith (OR). Senator Smith requested information from groups in Oregon regarding projects for the upcoming Lewis and Clark Bicentennial that may require Federal funds. Keith Hay next introduced Ted Kaye, Director of Lewis and Clark programs at the Oregon Historical Society. Ted also discussed the December 16th meeting, Lewis and Clark Bicentennial efforts in Oregon and a set of 15 interpretive signs, paid for by the Oregon Trail license plate fund that are to be placed along sites near the Columbia River.

Keith Hay next talked about the Lewis and Clark Columbia River Water Trail project which will produce a booklet of maps and information organized in 18 sections that cover the 140 miles of the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean. Keith also mentioned efforts underway at the Oregon Tourism Department (Lewis and Clark Tourism Initiative) and his desire for the Oregon Chapter to compile a Speaker's Bureau list of local experts and information resources. Keith then asked Jay Rasmussen to say a couple of words about the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council's upcoming Fourth Annual Planing meeting. This meeting is to be held in Vancouver, WA from April 21 through April 24, 1999. Those desiring further information on this meeting can contact the Council at (888) 999-1803.

Finally, Keith Hay asked Chapter Program Director, Mike Carrick to give an introduction for professor and author, Dr. Albert Furtwangler. With this, the business segment of the meeting ended and the program portion of the meeting began at 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Furtwangler gave a very interesting talk entitled "What Are We Digging For?: Jefferson and the Expedition in the Light of Current Science". His talk lasted about one hour and he followed it with a question and answer period. He fielded a number of questions over the next 20 minutes or so and the Winter Council Meeting of the Oregon Chapter adjourned at 2:22 p.m.

From the size and response of the crowd, and the enthusiasm for Dr. Furtwangler's program, the Winter Council Meeting must be judged a great success. A number of new members joined the Oregon Chapter and as of this writing we now have 102 active memberships.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jay Rasmussen
Secretary, OR LCTHF
January 30, 1999

Report on Dr. Albert Furtwangler's speech entitled
"What Are We Digging For?
Jefferson and the Expedition in the Light of Current Science".

By Jay Rasmussen

Dr. Albert Furtwangler
Dr. Albert Furtwangler

What follows is my report, my slant on, the program presented by Professor Furtwangler at the Winter Council Meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in Salem, OR on January 23, 1999. I base it, of necessity, on my own experience, my own perspective, of his talk. This concept of personal truths was one of the themes of Dr. Furtwangler's presentation. With history, there is an ultimate truth; Thomas Jefferson either did or didn't have a child by Sally Hemings; Meriwether Lewis either did or didn't commit suicide. However, all the facts may not survive the ravages of time, and the history in books and folklore is a fabric with many threads interwoven, each an integral part of the whole composite. The beliefs of society and changing perspectives brought on by time and experience mold the shape of the historical fabric.

Dr. Furtwangler's speech covered three main topics:

1) Current Lewis and Clark archaeological research, and specifically the September 19th, 1998 presentation delivered to the Oregon Chapter at Fort Clatsop by Dr. Ken Karsmizki, Associate Curator of Historical Archaeology of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT.

2) The recent DNA evidence concerning Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings.

3) The topic of exhumation of human remains, specifically Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson.

Dr. Furtwangler took a three pronged approach to each of these topics. He first looked at the most negative aspects of the application of modern science to each of these topics, followed by the most positive aspects and concluding with his own personal viewpoint on each. I had trouble distinguishing between each of these three phases and the perspectives seemed to be intermingled rather than specifically presented in order. Therefore, these phases may be even less distinguishable in this report.

Dr. Furtwangler's negative approach to the archaeological research at Fort Clatsop was basically, "So what! We know the fort was around there somewhere. What will locating it precisely prove beyond what we already know? What can we learn from a privy pit with high mercury levels? We expect to find these things in this area. On the positive side however, he lauded Ken's presentation regarding the history of the Fort Clatsop site and the photos and title deeds that Ken had compiled. He felt that Ken's presentation energized a fuller understanding of the artifacts found so far. He also was impressed with the increase in the abilities of scientific methods that use chemical and DNA analysis and magnetometry instead of bulldozers. But he also questions, that if science has made so much progress in the past fifty years, does it make sense to hold off on some research for another fifty or hundred years to use even more powerful and less destructive techniques? He concurs that that is not how science works. For example, he asks, would it have made any sense for the Lewis and Clark Expedition to wait for the perfection of the steamboat before setting off up the Missouri?

On the subject of Thomas Jefferson and recent DNA test results that confirm a link between the male Jefferson line and Sally Hemings youngest offspring, Dr. Furtwangler pointed out a number of wry ironies. For example, Jefferson was well known for his attitude of great support for scientific pursuit. Now science has come back to tarnish his "alabaster, Mt. Rushmore image." He also pointed out that the timing of the Jefferson revelation is made even more poignant by the current sex scandals of William Jefferson Clinton in Washington DC. Dr. Furtwangler discussed the hatred between Jefferson and the Federalists and the scandal-mongering journalism of James Callender and John Quincy Adams regarding "Dusky Sally" and Jefferson's "Congo Harem." He discussed how the arguments of Fawn Brodie in her 1974 book "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History" persuaded many, but remained unconvincing. Since Thomas Jefferson left no male heirs, the Y chromosome lineage documented by Dr. Eugene A. Foster was rooted with Jefferson's paternal uncle. The DNA evidence conclusively shows that a Jefferson, though not necessarily Thomas, fathered Sally Heming's son Eston. Taken together with the circumstantial evidence of Jefferson's day, he concludes that Thomas Jefferson is "in for a rough ride, here on out." Dr. Furtwangler notes that the unfolding history of Thomas Jefferson has as much to say about the prejudices of previous Jefferson historians as it does about Jefferson the man. Dr. Furtwangler questions why a more humanistic view is not taken, one that accepts Jefferson as a man who gives us high ideals and shows a real passion for those ideals, and yet was a slave holder and a racist.

On the subject of exhuming the physical remains of Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson or others, Dr. Furtwangler's negative point of view was that there is no certainty of finding anything. Indeed, it is not at all clear what remains are buried and still in existence. Even if Jefferson's DNA matches that of his paternal uncle, science still couldn't conclusively prove Thomas Jefferson's involvment with Sally Hemings. Dr. Furtwangler is of the opinion that modern science is not at a state where, even if sufficient remains exist, that it could resolve the issue of whether Meriwether Lewis was murdered or committed suicide. In his discussions, Dr. Furtwangler, noted mankind's history of reverence for the human body and how some believe the body is a temple for the Holy Ghost. And, with this, he raised his major issue with exhumations, namely the sanctity of human remains. He drew analogies to our Pacific Northwest controversy with "Kennewick Man" and asks whether a distance in time changes the issue of sanctity versus curiousity.

I feel a need to state that I don't necessarily agree with what I viewed as Dr. Furtwangler's generally pessimistic view of modern science or the power of serendipity - how a seemingly inconsequential artifact, insight or piece of evidence can give birth to a sweeping change in the viewpoints of science and society. Yet the history of science is only sprinkled with infrequent cases where grand changes occurred. Most day-to-day science is built upon many smaller discoveries and insights. Each piece of a puzzle can be important. Science may not be able to totally prove many things, especially when it comes to history, but it can at least eliminate possibilities and move towards a clearer vision.

I very much enjoyed Dr. Furtwangler's thoughtful and thought-provoking presentation and I believe the audience shared this feeling. Many thanks to Dr. Furtwangler for his high-caliber, well-prepared and well-presented program. After seeing him in action, I now want to go back and re-read for further insights, my copy of his book, "Acts of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis and Clark Journals."

Pre-meeting agenda and information.

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Posted: January 30, 1999
Updated: February 5, 1999

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