The Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and The Betty Strong Encounter Center

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The Lewis and Clark Expedition is the Center’s core. The historic journey inspires broad and varied themes for programs and exhibits. Lewis & Clark, as instructed by President Thomas Jefferson, compel us to explore everything from Native and other cultures to traditional games to natural resources, especially the Missouri River, to music, agriculture, our military and much more.

The Lewis & Clark Expedition often is described as America’s greatest road trip. Since opening in 2002, the Sioux City (Iowa) Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center/Betty Strong Encounter Center has embraced that description with exhibits, programs and activities about the explorers’ time in the present-day Siouxland, from late July to early September 1804.

The Center’s road trip, however, doesn’t end in September 1806 with the Corps of Discovery’s return to St. Louis. It continues, fueled by a permanent mission of encountering stories of the past, present and possible future of the natural resources and diverse people of Siouxland.

Great Plains animals

Encounters begin on the Center’s Missouri Riverfront grounds with life-sized, bronze sculptures of Plains animals, including a bison, elk, grizzly bear, white-tailed deer, two coyotes and a marmot. Created by Wyoming artist Mike Flanagan, each sculpture embodies stories about Lewis & Clark and Native peoples they encountered.

The 1,000-pound “buffalo” sculpture, for example, helps visitors imagine Lewis & Clark’s unsuccessful efforts to sponsor a peace council between the Otoe-Missouria and the Omaha tribes to promote U.S. trade interests. The Omaha people had been devastated by smallpox. Those who remained reportedly had left their nearby village to hunt buffalo.

Overlooking the animal sculptures, the 14-foot-tall “Spirit of Discovery” depicts Capts. Lewis and Clark, and Lewis’ Newfoundland dog, Seaman. Created by Loveland, Colo., artist Pat Kennedy, the bronze sculpture shows the captains in dress uniform in a relaxed moment, looking out over the Missouri River. Seaman sits between his master and Clark. A 30-by-50 U.S. Flag welcomes visitors year around.

Military operation

Inside the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, visitors travel back to the Corps of Discovery’s time in the area. Aspects of the military operation are expressed in animatronics of Lewis, Clark, and Seaman interacting with a prairie dog. Murals by Split Rock Studios, journal stamping stations, computers, flip books, text-and-graphic panels, lift-and-drop panels, a brass-rubbing station, reproductions of military uniforms and equipment, and traditional Native games offer a broad range of entry points for learning about the Corps of Discovery’s time in the present-day area.

In the Enlistment Center, visitors may “enlist” by stamping one of the eight expedition roles: Lewis, Clark, York, Sergeant, Private, Indian, French Boatman, Hunter. Sacagawea does not figure in the Center’s story; the Corps would not meet her until November 1804 in present-day North Dakota.

Visitors proceed to meet the ailing Sgt. Floyd whose symptoms suggest a ruptured appendix. The treatment is described in the context of his time. With his death and burial, animatronic mannequins of Lewis and Clark eulogize the “young man of much merit” on a bluff over the Missouri River. They discuss the impact of Floyd’s death on the other soldiers and regret that he could save him. The scene is complemented by the story of Floyd’s original grave site, marked by a “seeder post,” to the 100-foot sandstone obelisk erected in 1901, his fourth burial site.

Visitors learn about the election of Pvt. Patrick Gass to succeed Floyd. They gain insight into the court martial of deserter Pvt. Moses Reed and the punishment considered exceptionally harsh by the Otoe Missouri.

Native peoples

Natural resources encountered in the area figure into the interpretive experience. A contemporary Lakota painted buffalo robe has deep historical connections to Native peoples who decorated animal hides with symbolic designs and pictographic art. It also connects to non-Natives who encountered this art form, including Lewis & Clark

In the “The Buffalo Dance” mural, Ho-Chunk artist Henry Payer, Jr. imagines encounters between Native peoples of the Great Plains and the Corps of Discovery – encounters in which the explorers saw rituals of dance, music and prayer to bring the buffalo closer to the hunters and ensure success.

Exhibits honor the history of the U.S. Flag and the veterans who have served under the Flag. The Keelboat Theatre recalls the 55-foot-long vessel of the Lewis & Clark Expedition as a setting for DVD presentations on Lewis & Clark and Native cultures and live programs.

“Encounters,” a Henry Payer Jr. mural, connects the interpretive center to the Encounter Center. The mural interprets encounters in a changing world along the Missouri River. The traditional Native ledger style honors the way Plains people recorded their history.

The Mighty Mo and beyond

 “The Changing River” exhibit begins with the “wild” Missouri River that helped sustain Native people before Lewis & Clark and European-American settlers. It moves through the exploration and steamboat years, the coming of the railroads and subsequent efforts to create a navigational channel up to the great flood of 2011. Efforts to tame Missouri River tributaries, including the Floyd River, looks back at flooding in 1892, 1908, 1909, 1934 and 1952 and the questions of human effort to control over nature.

In the Betty Strong Encounter Center,  galleries, an auditorium and activity room are home to changing exhibits, programs and activities on diverse themes, including Native cultures, Missouri River fish, plants and animals, heritage food and music, traditional (non-electronic) games, auto-racing history, and entertainments. Changing exhibits have featured the work of photojournalists and fine arts photographers.

“The Children of St. Augustine Indian Mission” (Winnebago, Neb.) showcases the annual portraits of students photographed by Don Doll, S.J. at the nearby school. “Everyday I Saw You in My Prayers” presents historic photos and stories by Joseph A. Zimmerman, S.J., a Westphalia, Iowa, native who lived and worked among the Lakota people for some 50 years.

Weekend programs

 Weekend programs in the Encounter Center auditorium have become a cornerstone of the Center’s active life. Programs cover a broad range of topics, from music to freedom of speech. They draw thousands of visitors each year.