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Clark descendant says 2004 confrontation one of significant events of bicentennial

BONESTEEL -- A re-enactor on his return trip through South Dakota said Wednesday that a confrontation two years ago with American Indians at Chamberlain was "one of the most significant things that happened" during the bicentennial of the Lewis a...

BONESTEEL -- A re-enactor on his return trip through South Dakota said Wednesday that a confrontation two years ago with American Indians at Chamberlain was "one of the most significant things that happened" during the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Bud Clark, 61, a third-great-grandson of William Clark, was among 25 re-enactors camped at Whetstone Bay along the Missouri River Wednesday near Bonesteel. The group is known as the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., and has been retracing the Lewis and Clark waterway route with replica boats and a rotating crew since 2003. The expedition will end next month in St. Louis.

Clark is one of the few crew members who has been with the expedition since the beginning. During the expedition's upriver journey through South Dakota, crew members were confronted by about 25 Indians on Sept. 19, 2004, in Chamberlain.

The Indians said the expedition was an insulting symbol of the demise of native civilizations. They told the re-enactors to turn around or risk being forcibly stopped, and some of the Indians made violent, profane threats.

The expedition continued, and the Indians showed up at a few other encampments but eventually gave up the protest. Clark said he now views the confrontation as a mostly positive experience, and he said the Indians should, too.

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"In the final analysis, it was one of the best things that ever happened to them in terms of providing them a platform for discussion," Clark said.

The only regrettable aspects of the confrontation, Clark said, were the threats of violence from some of the Indians and what Clark called their "distortion" of historical facts. He said some of the Indians falsely claimed that Lewis and Clark spread smallpox and engaged in warfare.

Clark said the re-enactors discussed turning back but never seriously considered it. He said the crew did too many positive things -- including productive discussions with other Indians -- to give in to the demands of one group.

"Had we gone home, I don't think it would have been in the best interest of those that wanted us to go," Clark said. "Their platform would have went away with us."

Clark said he does not blame the Indians for being angry.

"If you look at the way American Indians have been treated, I think I'd be angry, too," Clark said.

Alex White Plume, the leader of the Indian contingent, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. He has since ascended to the presidency of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Protests were far from the minds of the re-enactors Wednesday. They were busy slaughtering a bison they shot Tuesday on the Joe Duling ranch and giving presentations to school children about the weapons, tools, medical supplies, uniforms and boats used during the 1803-1806 expedition.

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Most of the re-enactors will pack up today and travel to Yankton. Clark will give presentations Sunday in Gann Valley and Monday in Pierre before rejoining the rest of the group.

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