ATCHISON (KSNT) – The date was July 4, 1804, and the location: Independence Creek in Atchison, Kan.
It was this spot along the Missouri River where explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson, were the first to commemorate the Fourth of July west of the Mississippi River.
It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress declared the Fourth of July a federal holiday, 66 years after first firing a cannon to celebrate the nation’s birth.
Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that they camped near an unoccupied village of the Kanza Indians. It was in this spot, according to the National Park Service, that Captain Clark named two streams in honor of the nation’s Independence Day: 4th of July 1804 Creek and Independence Creek.
At the Independence Creek campsite, Lewis and Clark fired their boat’s swivel gun as a makeshift celebration, according to the NPS.
In the present day, a marker and a covered bridge over the 4th of July 1804 Creek commemorate the spot where they named the pair of creeks.
If you’re looking for the 1804 encampment site today, you will have to walk several miles from the creek. Since 1804 the river has changed course, and the original site is now several miles from the banks of the Missouri River.
For pioneers and other explorers like Lewis and Clark, the local museum caretaker explained why they would make a point to visit Atchison. At that time, it was the farthest western point of the Missouri River.
“Atchinson was a very important place,” Atchison County Historical Museum Vice President Steve Caplinger told KSNT News. “A lot of wagon trains stopped at Atchison.”
The Atchison County Historical Museum also has exhibits that feature the Lewis & Clark expedition, as well as stories about the early days of Kansas and the role Kansas played in the anti-slavery conflict.
The memorial marker and the covered bridge from Lewis and Clark’s first Fourth of July celebration are a stone’s throw away for anyone who visits the Atchison County Historical Museum and Atchison Rail Museum.