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Cruzatte's fiddle.


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I have been studying the history surrounding the Lewis & Clark expedition for most of my adult life (and am finishing up a manuscript on the Corps) and I have often wondered about Cruzatte's famous fiddle that was with them on the trip.

For those who don't know, Pierre Cruzatte was a member of the Corps of Discovery and enlisted with the expedition in May of 1804. He was a near sighted, one eyed boatman who for the most part was a solid contribution to the party. At one point during the expedition he helped save supplies and specimens when one of the boats overturned. Unfortunately however he will probably be best remembered as the man who accidentally shot Capt. Lewis in the butt on their return trip. :)

He was mentioned in the journals on several occasions because of his fine violin playing. This music served not only to entertain the men during this incredible ordeal, but in more then entry it is mentioned how his playing entertained the chiefs of important and influential tribes, ones that could make or break the success of the Corps.

I have often wondered how this incredibly historic violin faired during the trip and what steps, if any, were made to protect it during the journey. How could he have kept what was no doubt a delicate instrument from being broken or otherwise rendered useless under such conditions? What could he have done about broken strings, cracks or broken parts?

And what become of this instrument? There is mention of the violin being played on June 8, 1806 during the return trip but after that there is never again a mention of the instrument, by any of the journal keepers. Did it finally break or otherwise become unusable?

So what do you think the style of play was like? Would we today, with our carefully tuned concert quality instruments, go running, screaming into the night when hearing the tunes that Pierre would play? or do you suspect that the music being played around those campfires would have been a solid rendition of a popular tune? Played well and in tune?

Frankly, it amazes me that the violin survived as long as it did, given the circumstances.

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Here's a likely-looking batch of tunes: 18th Centruy Pop

There's also a very nice essay from a shop in Idaho, easily obtainable by Googling "Lewis and Clarke Fiddle". Seems like there used to be a site with clips, but I didn't run across it this time.

What do you suppose Native Americans felt on hearing a fiddle for the first time? Imagine it coming across a body of water as wide as the Missouri near the confluence.

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During the L&C Bicentennial, Dan Slosberg put on a great one-man show about Cruzatte. Don't know if he's still doing it or not, but his website is still up --


And his CD is a very interesting take on the type of fiddling Cruzatte might have done. Very centered on Metis style. I enjoyed his show and the CD, which when you first hear, you might think of the fiddle as a percussion instrument, and at least a rhythm instrument. Dance music.

No one knows what type of music was played on the expedition. And there was at least one other fiddler on the expedition -- can't recall the name right off-hand, seems like John .... -- but you probably already know that.

I'm not sure if Marie Brown was referring to my web-site essay or not, but I'll plug it anyway :) --




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No one knows what type of music was played on the expedition. And there was at least one other fiddler on the expedition -- can't recall the name right off-hand, seems like John .... -- but you probably already know that.

His name was George Gibson, although his musical contribution was apparently limited, her served the Corps quite well. It is believed that he did not have his own instrument.

One could make a solid guess as to what kind of music was being played, basing that guess on popular tunes of the time and region (East Coast, St. lewis, etc) Also, one could take into account Cruzatte's own personal history to get some idea of what tunes his likely knew how to play. It is documented that many folk fiddlers of the day simply improvised a great deal of their music, making up for any lack of techincal skill with good rythm.

For the men of the expedition I doubt highly that the tune itself was important, just that it was easy to dance to.

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