More about Phyllis Yeager

The following information was excerpted from a Gary Kimsey article, Passions and value of extending Lewis and Clark Trail,  posted Sept. 24, 2018:

Phyllis Yeager has worked diligently to promote Lewis and Clark within the Eastern Legacy. Her home in the Clarksville area is near the Falls of the Ohio. Louisville, Kentucky, is located across the river from Clarksville.

Phyllis Yeager with some of her Lewis and Clark mementos.

Yeager grew up in Montana’s Lewis and Clark country where the history of the expedition is commonly known. Her grandfather told her stories about the extraordinary journey. From her childhood home, she could see national forests and mountain peaks named after the explorers. So Yeager was steeped in the expedition’s story when she moved to Indiana in the 1980s and became associated with the local convention and tourism board.

After relocating to Indiana, she was surprised by the small smattering of local appreciation for Lewis and Clark’s time in Clarksville and Louisville, and along the Ohio River. The only Lewis and Clark recognition to be found was an inconspicuous historical marker on the banks of the Ohio River. Yeager photographed the marker caked with mud from a high flow of the river. Next to the marker was an old car tire.

Once described as a natural phenomenon of energy” by a former magazine editor, Yeager was appointed in 2001 by the Indiana governor to sit on the board of the state’s newly created Lewis and Clark Expedition Commission, a position she continues to hold. She served on the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation board from 2004 to 2010, and was active in the local, state and national celebrations of the bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 2003 to 2006. She was also active in successful lobbying efforts in Indiana and Kentucky to have Lewis and Clark’s names put on a new 2,500-foot Ohio River bridge in 2016 that connects the two states.

During her years of Lewis and Clark volunteer work, she realized the Eastern Legacy’s potential importance to public education, tourism, recreation, and, among other benefits, keeping alive the story of the most important expedition in U.S. history.

“It’s been a passion for me,” she said in a telephone interview.

The idea of extending the official trail to include Eastern Legacy segments gained strength as activities of the 2003-06 bicentennial familiarized more Americans with the expedition. The extension effort was long on volunteerism but short on funds. This prompted some creative maneuvers. Yeager and others began promoting the Eastern Legacy’s contribution to the expedition. Among their endeavors was a successful project that resulted in the state issuing special vehicle license plates designed with Lewis and Clark artwork. A portion of the revenue from the ongoing project goes to the state’s Lewis and Clark Expedition Commission.

An example of the specialized Indiana license plates that help raise funds for the state’s Lewis and Clark Expedition Commission. 1803, by the way, refers to the year when the explorers traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers on their way west. And, of course, “LC” refers to Lewis and Clark.

In another interesting tactic, Yeager and husband Ray held annual Kentucky Derby parties with Lewis and Clark themes, a public relations effort to acquaint influential people about the local importance of the expedition. At first blush, tying Lewis and Clark to the nearby famous horse race may seem like a stretch, but there is an unusual connection. Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is held in Louisville, was developed by William Clark’s grandson, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.

The Kentucky Derby story “made for a fun time,” Yeager said, “and it helped us tell the story of Lewis and Clark in our area.”

{Read two articles about the involvement of Phyllis Yeager and others in the Eastern Legacy and bicentennial celebration}

One of Yeager’s favored keepsakes from her Eastern Legacy volunteer work is an autograph of Stephen E. Ambrose in her copy of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the West. For many Lewis and Clark fans, Ambrose’s book is the bible of the Lewis and Clark’s story.

Knowing that Yeager resided in the Clarksville area, Ambrose signed his name on the page that has this important statement about the meeting of Lewis and Clark in Clarksville: “When they shook hands, the Lewis and Clark Expedition began.”

This shaking of the hands occurred in October 1803 after Lewis arrived in Clarksville. There he met up with Clark, who was living in the home of his older brother, Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark. This meeting was the first opportunity Lewis and Clark had to talk face-to-face about the impending journey. Until then, the two friends, who knew each other from serving in the army years earlier, had only corresponded about the expedition by mail.

The image of the handshake has become a major theme in promoting Lewis and Clark in the Ohio River region of Indiana and Kentucky. A museum in the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville features an exhibit on the topic while an outside bronze statute by the late Carol Grende portrays the two men shaking hands. Yeager, who has written a book about the statue (The Story of the Lewis and Clark Statue), helped arrange the creation and acquisition of the statue. This October 20th a festival celebrating the 215th anniversary of the handshake will be held at the park.