Pat Williams: From our country's earliest days music has enlivened us. In the halls of the rich and the streets of the poor music was and remains an integral part of our American society. As Lewis and Clark came west they surely brought with them the music of the time. Our reporter Pelah Hoyt talked with Professor of Music Joseph Mussulman about the expedition and its music.
Pelah Hoyt: Joseph Mussulman is a former music professor at the University of Montana. He is retired now, but works nearly full time on a multi-media web site about Lewis and Clark. Mussulman says music on the Lewis and Clark Expedition entertained the men, but it also functioned as a diplomatic tool.
Joseph Mussulman: The native peoples that they met regarded music in their cultures as something very essential. So, on at least one occasion they were asked to trade medicine songs with a tribe. It was Yellepit of the Walula people, over on the Columbia River. You see, in Indian culture a song may be given but may not be stolen or taken. And a song has power, and so what you are doing when you give away a song is you give some power with it. Now, we all have medicine songs in our lives, they have certain power for us, but I don .t think we have the proprietary sense that the native peoples do, or did at that time.
And, on this occasion, it was in late April, 1806, the Corps was on its way back from the mouth of the Columbia. They stopped and visited with Yellepit and his people. Yellepit threw a big party and called the Yakimas down. He asked if they would sing one of their medicine songs, and his people would sing one of theirs. Well, the men of the Corps of Discovery sang two songs. Now, this had to be a real gaffe as far as Yellepit was concerned because, you know, it's like people come over for Christmas cheer and you know they are going to bring a present so you have one ready for them, but they bring two, then what do you do? You're embarrassed. Well, I don't know what he did, but the point is that they sang two songs.
We don't know what they sang, but we can make some pretty good guesses because many of the songs that were popular in their day are on the fringes of what we call folk music now. There's a tune that they might have sung;
Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Filled with pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more,
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.
That could have been one of those medicine songs that they sang for Chief Yellepit, that April night in 1806.