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Nebraska Towns Boosting the Guy Who Lost His Way

A scavenger hunt will be used to lure thousands to the Shannon trail, named for a Lewis & Clark member who strayed for 16 days.

October 26, 2003|Mark Thiessen | Associated Press Writer

NIOBRARA, Neb. — Forget Lewis and Clark.

Some towns in northeast Nebraska are celebrating a lesser-known member of the Corps of Discovery expedition who was definitely the most directionally challenged person in the group.

Pvt. George Shannon almost died of starvation during the expedition when he got lost for 16 days while in present-day northeast Nebraska just south of the Missouri River.

No one knows for sure the route that Shannon walked before being reunited with the explorers on the river.

That hasn't stopped 15 Nebraska communities in the area from creating and promoting the 240-mile Shannon Trail.

They are trying to lure thousands of Lewis and Clark buffs away from the river as they retrace the expedition on its 200th anniversary.

Laurie Larsen, a Bloomfield resident who leads the Shannon Trail Promoters, was looking for a tourism hook for those cities not on the Missouri River.

"I knew that Shannon had gotten lost in this area," Larsen said.

"It just kind of took off from there."

In the name of poor Pvt. Shannon, what has evolved is a scavenger hunt of sorts for families looking for a day's adventure.

Each community along the trail has put up a carved-wood statue of Shannon.

Each features the private in a different pose during his lost days, and some are hidden in the communities -- some better than others.

The statue locations range from more obvious places, like in Hartington, where he is standing in the open with a com- pass, or in Niobrara, where the statue is along Nebraska Highway 12, holding an American flag.

Shannon, 18, was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. During his 16 days alone, he survived on wild grapes and the one rabbit he killed.

One historian says Shannon has gotten a bad rap because other corps members also strayed off. They just weren't gone as long as Shannon.

"He simply misjudged it and thought the party was ahead of him, and kept rushing forward," while the others were behind him the whole time, said Gary Moulton, a history professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Shannon's troubles didn't end once he was reunited with the expedition above Pickstown, S.D.

He got lost again when the Corps of Discovery was in the Three Forks area of Montana in 1805.

Moulton also disputes that Shannon got lost a second time, preferring to say he was separated from the group for a few days.

"People make a little much of it," he said.

Shannon later lost a leg in a battle with the Arikara Indians and became known as "Peg Leg" Shannon.

His life was not all full of misfortune.

He assisted Nicholas Biddle in preparing the first edition of the Lewis and Clark journals. He also became a lawyer and later a senator from Missouri. He died in a courtroom while sitting as a judge and was buried in Palmyra, Mo.

Even Shannon's final resting place is lost.

The exact location of his grave is not known because a railroad eventually was built through the cemetery.

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