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Barry Schrader


I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.


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Following the trail of his ancestor

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist....................................March 22, 2019

I remember the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-’06 from history class, but never heard of William Bratton, not until last week anyway.

Meriwether Lewis and his friend William Clark were dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase Territory and try to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean, a 6,000 mile journey that took more than two years to complete.

Listening to Dan Hamingson from Sycamore, who owns Blackhawk Moving & Storage, tell the story of the expedition at a recent DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society meeting made it more interesting with a local twist.

Dan Hamingson points out his ancestor’s name on their family tree chart to he his wife Karen. (Schrader photo for ShawMedia)

Dan found out his great-great-great-grandfather, William E. Bratton, was a member of the “Corps of Discovery” and has pursued the history of that trek during the years since. From historical records, it is known that Bratton, then 25,was recruited with eight other young men in Kentucky for the journey.

He was well qualified as he had skills as a hunter, blacksmith and gunsmith. For his part in this arduous and dangerous foray into unknown territory, he was given $178.11 and 320 acres of land.

Some trivia about him: He had lived in New Madrid, Missouri, when the great earthquake of 1811 occurred; he had served in the War of 1812 and was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the British for a short time; at the ripe old age of 41 he married Polly Maxwell in Greenville, Ohio, and they had two daughters and eight sons. He remained a blacksmith but also was elected as the first justice of the Peace in Wayne Township in Indiana.

After researching historical journals and using National Geographic maps, Dan and his wife, Karen, decided to trace their ancestor’s journey as closely as possible.

In 2006, they rented a 24-foot RV, leaving from Camp River DuBois in Illinois the same day the original party of explorers left in 1804, stopping at every interpretive center, historical marker and museum along the Missouri River, even at some of the original campsites.

As an aside, it was not difficult to identify the stops made by the explorers since Lewis had brought along mercury, which was used as a cure for many ailments, so when the men excreted the mercury, it left evidence for researchers to track them 200 years later.

Dan said it was a fascinating trip of a lifetime. They encountered hikers following the original trail, saw spectacular lightning and thunderstorms, talked to local characters in the small towns along the way and drank from the spring at the source of the Missouri River near the Idaho-Montana border.

The farthest west they traveled was the Snake River, making the return trip along the Expedition’s Yellowstone River route. They even found a creek named after Bratton in Sweetgrass County, Montana. The Hamingsons’ RV trip was completed in 16 days.

Very few of us can follow in the footsteps of an early ancestor and experience the thrill at seeing some of the same scenery that person did more than 200 years ago. I hope Dan writes a book about all this someday.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115