MONTVILLE, NJ - Patrons of the Montville Township Public Library were taken on a journey, previously made by two famous American explorers. The lecture on Feb. 21 was conducted by Gordon Thomas Ward, a singer/songwriter from Pottersville. Ward and a friend undertook the same route through the American frontier as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark did through the Louisiana Purchase from 1804-06.
"Montville library is one of my favorite venues, with its modern space and a great projection screen," said Ward. "The subject of Lewis and Clark is near and dear to my heart. I had gone on this trip with a friend, back in 1994, over the course of eight weeks, to raise money for a school scholarship. We traced 1,800 miles of the Lewis and Clark Trail by canoe, bike and foot. We came to appreciate the landscapes at the pace we went, while other people were speeding along the highway."
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson made a deal with France, buying land that doubled the size of the United States. But as that time no one knew anything about what laid west of the Mississippi River.
"Thomas Jefferson just purchased this huge tract of land and we had no idea what we bought," said Ward. "We knew more about the moon at that time than what we knew about this new territory. Fur traders and Native Americans told stories about this land, such as woolly mammoths still roaming the plains. They turned out to be buffalo! And then there were tales of spirit people living in holes among the mountains and plains. And they turned out to be prairie dogs!"
That same year, President Jefferson commissioned an expedition to explore and map the newly acquired territory, and to establish U.S. sovereignty before other European powers tried to claim it. The journey was also to study the land's flora and fauna, and geography, and to establish trade with Native American tribes. The expedition started and returned back to St. Louis, with Lewis and Clark bringing with them a mountain of maps, sketches, and journals. Ward spoke of both men and other known individuals among their troop.
"Sacagawea was an important figure in their group, but not as a guide, as more of an interpreter," said Ward. "And just the presence of her with her baby gave the explorers the image of travelers, instead of as a war party. This was really helpful against any hostile Indian tribes."
But while the lecture was on the two American explorers, Ward related his own journey on the Lewis & Clark Trail. At first, Ward and his traveling friend wanted to do the Oregon Trail, but changed their minds when they studied Lewis and Clark, and visited historical sites and memorials.
"We read all of the journals and learned so much of Lewis and Clark," said Ward, who displayed a collection of photographs taken by himself and his friend on the journey. "And on this journey, we felt that we became Lewis & Clark in a way."
Their journey included all kinds of fun and exciting things, including a string of thunderstorms, followed by hail as big as grapefruits, snakes, mosquitoes, thorny flowers, getting lost on roads, contrasted with beautiful God-made landscapes. There were even some tense moments on the trip, like when the two men had to take immediate shelter in a small single tent from a dust storm while on the great plains of north central Montana.
"At one point, along the journey, I had to go to the hospital due to a high fever. I was treated first for dehydration until I noticed a red bull's-eye on my side," Ward recalled. "People came to see and take pictures of the red ring. They told me, 'You're the first documented Lyme disease case in Montana.' After that, they gave me the proper antibiotics and we were back on the trail the next day."
Ward had written a book on his Lewis & Clark travels, "Life on the Shoulder" (2005, Lucky Press, from Ohio). Copies of this book and other written texts were on sale at the lecture, including his music CDs.
Numbering to over 60 attendees, library patrons enjoyed hearing the events of both parallel journeys.
"This lecture was fantastic with good planning throughout," said Jeff Altschul, from Parsippany. "I didn't know Ward had utilized a support vehicle to follow him and his friends in case of emergencies on the journey. It was a very organized trip with great photography. I'm a professional photographer myself and I'm already motivated to travel it myself."
Ward is also a ghost hunter and lecturer of the supernatural, often visiting on state locations that are alleged to be haunted. He has several books published on the same subjects, including “Tracing Infinity: Bridging the Gap between Earth and Heaven” (Engage Faith Press, 2013) and “Ghosts of Central New Jersey” (The History Press, 2008).
Ward has done lectures on various subjects for the past 10 years, and is a former history teacher, ministry programs director for a church, and group transformation facilitator in the experiential field.
Furthermore, Ward works as a professional musician/songwriter, with two independent albums "Welcome to the Past" (2013) and "Providence" (2018). One of his own songs, "Grandfather River," played during a montage of photographs taken during his own Lewis & Clark journey.
To learn more about the Montville Township Public Library and its events and programs, visit its website at http://www.montvillelibrary.org/.
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