DUGOUT CANOE MAGIC
The claimed great-great-great-great grandson of Capt. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition has led a similar lifestyle to that of his alleged ancestor. From participating in a full-fledged reenactment portraying Capt. Clark to paddling up the Missouri River in a handmade dugout canoe, Churchill Clark has carved his way into history.
Descendant of William Clark comes to Columbia
Wayward traveler goes where the wind takes him
Churchill Clark is an eccentric man who spends his time carving dugout canoes. His tangled mane of gray hair exemplifies his relaxed demeanor and eclectic outlook on life.
At the age of 5, Clark learned from his father that he was claimed to be the descendant of the explorer Capt. William Clark. After hearing this, Clark wanted to relive the “great camping trip” of Capt. Clark.
“I said, ‘I’m going to do it, dad,’ and that’s all I remember,” Clark said.
Clark fulfilled his dream to retrace the footsteps during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in 2003-2006, where he acted as Capt. William Clark in the Corps of Discovery’s journey.
“I fell into a full-fledged reenactment,” he said. “I followed the journals for two- and-a-half years, paddled trees, rode horses, lived on a keelboat, met with the tribes, did everything –
but the canoes really changed my life.”
After his trip, Clark did not seem to feel right with how he was living. It wasn’t until a scooter wreck that left Clark legally blind for three years, without his senses of taste and smell for five months that he carved his first canoe, Knotty.
“This cottonwood just came to me at the right time,” he said.“She was part of my recovery;she saved my life. I just got done paddling the whole Missouri river with her last year.”
Despite Clark’s traditional fashion choices and way of life, Clark claimed his current lifestyle was not a tribute to his claimed ancestry. He said the reenactment was for Capt. Clark, and everything after Knotty has been for himself.
“I did the trip for William to honor him, and it changed my life,” Clark said. “I’m aware of how all things work in our world.”
Aside from canoe carving, Clark became an activist to help people understand the money system, the Federal Reserve, Monsanto and other government systems.
“I wanted to tell everybody,” Clark said, “but I got past that and asked myself what could I do myself to make change in the world. The trees were my answer. It’s not one I came up with, but the trees called and always found me.”
Another one of Clark’s canoes was Crazy Mary, made from Ponderosa, an evergreen.
“I was listening to a Pearl Jam song, and I had a few homeless people chopping on the canoe with me, which is what the song is about,” Clark said. “It just fit. It was a crazy ride with Crazy Mary.”
Crazy Mary was donated to the Yellowstone Gateway Museum in Livingston, Montana. Norm Miller, Curator of the Lewis and Clark exhibit at the museum, said Clark’s dugout canoe was very popular with visitors and the local schools, since they were allowed to actually get inside.
“People have a better appreciation for history and can connect to past when they realize that this canoe was built by a direct descendant of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” Miller said. “I feel people read about characters from our past and don’t make the connection to the present because there is nothing to compare to it, but with Churchill’s canoe, it transports you back in time. Churchill is preserving history through his craft of canoe building.”
Knotty and Crazy Mary are both for sale on Clark’s website listed at $10,000. However, the custom canoe carving that Clark offers can cost much more than that.
“I haven’t sold one yet,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people on the market for a hand carved canoe right now, but if I could sell one or two a year, I should be able to pay my bills.”
While Clark has carved on many types of trees, the most popular to use are Cottonwoods. He found a prospective one his friend Mike Cooper’s campground, Cooper’s Landing.
“I just volunteered a tree here that I’ve kind of been considering as being dangerous to a couple R.Vs,” Cooper said. “He told me what he wanted to do, and I was really excited about it.”
Clark has crafted over a dozen canoes, but this will be the first time he will carve two canoes from one tree.
“Though I was looking forward to the first big one I’ve done in a while, the tree has spoken,” Clark said. “I’ve never had the honor of doing this before. I am humbled, and already in awe of this tree. Canoe! Canoe!”
A "riverbillie's" resort for rest and relaxation
Only 14 miles from downtown Columbia lies a small campsite and marina tucked away in the woods on the Missouri river and Katy Trail. There are two camping areas with RV sites and “primitive camping.” The locale is for both travelers and “riverbillies” of all ages. Visitors come from all around the country to experience the beauty of the river and enjoy the serene atmosphere of Cooper’s Landing.