On the Trail of Explorers

The deeds of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark helped define America, but to many students the pair of explorers is simply an answer on a history test. However, that isn’t the case with Trent and Eric Pribil.

The twins, juniors at Edmond North High School, have been portraying Lewis and Clark since they were in the eighth grade. This past summer, their essay on the 19th century explorers earned them a trip to North Dakota to study the Corps of Discovery expedition route.

“We got to tour areas along the route explored by the Corps," said Eric. "Our base was in Bismarck and we spent a few nights there, then got to see Ft. Abraham Lincoln. We also visited Ft. Mandan, which was established by the Corps in 1804. We were there the day of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark being there. That was neat.”

Trent added, “I was glad we were able to go and be part of the Youth Rendezvous. I knew we would learn a lot of interesting information about the expedition. We went to a lot of museums and interpretive centers along the route.”

Trent said that Ft. Mandan, where the Corps spent its first winter, was considerably smaller than he and Eric had expected. He also found it interesting to note what the men were using as they traveled west compared to what they were using on the return journey.

“They were using more steel at first, but they had to leave a lot of that at the Rocky Mountains,” he said. “On the way back, what they were using was more along the lines of what men would have been using in forts on the outskirts of the west.”

The essay contest that earned the 16-year-old Pribils the trip was part of a contest sponsored by the National Guard. “We found out about it over the Internet," Eric said. "We wrote about the full scope of duty of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The responsibility they had to each other, to ensure the Corps made it successfully to the Pacific and back, and how they represented the United States government, being members of the military, and achieving the goal set out for them by President Jefferson.”

Their interest in Lewis and Clark was a natural outgrowth of a general interest in the "mountain man" era and fur trade of early America. When they began looking into the era they quickly discovered Lewis and Clark and were fascinated.

“It was the way Lewis and Clark outdid everything everyone thought they would do as far as surviving to the Pacific and back,” Trent said. “Their just making it back to St. Louis was very interesting to us because they did a lot of what the mountain men had been doing prior to their expedition.”

Eric, an Eagle Scout, had met other likeminded people through the Boy Scouts, and those people fanned the Pribils’ interest. It’s a passion Eric said their parents fully support. Their mother even helps drum up publicity for the re-enactments the boys do for elementary schools.

The re-enactments began when the young men were in eighth grade and required to do a history fair project. “One option was to do a portrayal or skit presentation," said Eric. "We’d already been interested in the pre-1840 fur trade, the rendezvous and things like that. We had the materials and clothing to start our presentation. We presented there, then went to the state competition at the Capitol and placed third. Then we just kept doing a few 4-H speech competitions and things.”

At one of those competitions, one of the judges was a teacher who suggested the boys do their portrayal to elementary schools. Eric, who portrays Clark, said the hardest part of that is condensing all the information into a 30-minute presentation.
Trent said there was never really any discussion about who would play which of the two explorers. “We just kind of took each person and researched them,” he said.

Eric said they use some popular props in their presentation. “We have squirrel hides, deer hides and antlers, turkey feathers, skulls, beaver pelts and different wildlife they would have encountered along the way. That way we can not only talk about Lewis and Clark, but a lot of kids don’t know that much about deer and beaver, either.”

He said the beaver skull is especially popular because the teeth can be removed.

Both boys say they will continue to visit the elementary schools for at least another year. After that they plan to attend college. While one might expect they’d go for history degrees, that isn’t the case. They’re both interested in careers in wildlife conservation and biology, or maybe forestry. Trent said he’d like to have a job that keeps him outdoors in Wyoming, or somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

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