Learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition isn't just about American heritage for two Belmont County girls - it's about their family heritage.
The Anderson sisters, Hannah, 11, and Samantha, 10, in June became the first recipients in the nation of the new Lewis and Clark patch through their American Heritage Girls troop and the Ohio River Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.
Their grandfather, Robert "Bob" Shannon Anderson of Marysville, presented the girls with their patches, dressed in a period costume from the Lewis and Clark era. He served as a camp cook during the 2003-06 traveling bicentennial re-enactment of the explorers' travels. His interest and enthusiasm in the expedition stem from the family's roots. His great-great-great uncle, Belmont County native George Shannon, was a member of the Corps of Discovery commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to traverse the unknown western reaches of the continent in 1803.
Hannah “Gus” Anderson, 11, left, and Samantha “Sammy” Anderson, 10, of Bethesda show the Lewis and Clark patches they earned through American Heritage Girls . They were the first in the country to earn the patches. With them is their grandfather, Bob Anderson, dressed in 1803 period uniform from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Andersons are decended from the youngest member of the original expedition, Belmont County native George Shannon.
"It just tickles me to death they got to be the first ones in the country to earn (the patch)," he said. "What a thrill."
The Lewis and Clark Patch was designed in April by the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation to encourage American Heritage Girls to learn more about the expedition. Hannah, who goes by the nickname Gus, and Samantha, or Sammy, already had earned dozens of patches in the two years since they joined the Heritage Girls troop, which meets at First Christian Church in Martins Ferry.
The girls earn patches for a variety of achievements and "service stars" for every five hours of community service.
"There's not enough room (on their vests) for all their patches," said their dad, Rob.
But they tackled the requirements for the Lewis and Clark patch with a certain enthusiasm. Of 15 potential tasks, the girls completed seven in less than two months - although they only needed four to earn their patches.
"They are incorporating family history into what they are learning," said their mother, Jeannie. "We are going to do all 15 (activities), as a family project."
Discussing what they have done so far, the girls rattled off:
"We had to take a two- hour long canoe ride," Gus said.
"We had to write in journals," said Sammy.
"We had to cook a meal outside," said Gus. "And these doughnut things," Sammy added. The fried dough has become a staple of family breakfasts, their dad said.
One of the requirements is to visit one of several historic Lewis and Clark sites, including the Wheeling wharf, where Lewis's party stopped in September 1803 on its way down the Ohio River. The girls pasted into their journals a photo of themselves in front of the Lewis and Clark marker at Heritage Port.
They also read and reported on a historical book about the expedition, made presentations about the expedition and learned some Indian sign language, using the book, "Indian Sign Language" by William Tompkins.
Those signs may have been used by "Uncle George," as the Andersons call their explorer ancestor, on the expedition's travels into territory populated by Native Americans.
Bob Anderson said Uncle George had been sent to school in Pittsburgh by his father, also George, who was one of the first legal white settlers in Belmont County beyond the riverside settlements. The Anderson clan settled somewhere near Mount Olivet, outside Barnesville. It was probably not more than five or 10 miles from where Rob and Jeannie Anderson now live off Belmont County 26, south of Bethesda.
Uncle George was 18 and working on the riverbank when he met Capt. Meriwether Lewis, Bob Anderson said. Lewis told him he could join the expedition on the conditin he proved himself on the journey to St. Louis and that Capt. William Clark approved. The conditions were met, and he embarked with them from St. Charles, Mo., the youngest member of the expedition. His parents didn't know of his involvement; and, in fact, his father died of exposure during a blizzard in 1803, still unaware. Uncle George was not the only Anderson sibling to make the history books.
Years later, his youngest brother, Wilson Shannon, became the first native-born governor of Ohio.
The Anderson Homestead
Some of the rugged tasks the Anderson girls completed to earn their Lewis and Clark patches were, perhaps, not as difficult for them as they might be for city girls or those used to modern conveniences.
That's because Gus and Sammy, along with their parents and 13-year-old brother Seth, are "homesteaders." Their farmhouse has no electricity, and their water comes from a spring on their property. Rob, originally from Marysville, and Jeannie, a Middletown native, were living in North Carolina and relocated to the Ohio Valley after Rob's job with Cardinal Health brought him to Wheeling. They bought the farm, which includes 25 acres, three years ago from an Amish family. They lease an additional 85 acres.
Every day, the family members milk the cow and collect eggs from their free-range chickens. The kids help Mom in the kitchen and Dad in the fields. They have a plowhorse, but it doesn't get worked.
"I'm a wimp, I have a tractor," Rob said.
They raise their own vegetables and meat and can everything, even the meat, because their propane-run refrigerator-freezer, although full size, can't store a lot.
"They just canned 80 cans of strawberry jam," Rob said. Blueberries and raspberries will be next. What they don't eat or can, they sell at the Captine Auction or the Barnesville farmers' market.
"We're country folk ... It is peaceful, but it is a lot of work," said Rob. Perhaps more than Jeannie realized, she acknowledged, but she does take advantage of some modern conveniences such as the laundromat and an Internet-capable cell phone.
While Seth loathes going to the laundromat, he doesn't mind their way of life.
"I love it here," he said.
None of them mind going without TV, radio and video games.
"If I get bored, I just put my rabbit in a dress," Sammy said.
In addition to farm and household chores, the kids all raise animals to show at the county fair through 4-H. Gus raises lambs, Sammy raises chickens and Seth raises pigs.
They also shoot. Sammy's specialty is rifle, Gus's is archery and Seth's is pistol, although each is proficient at more than one.
The girls went to public school at Union Local for the first time this year, having been homeschooled prior to that. Jeannie said she was a little concerned that the kids wouldn't fit in, but they brought home A's and seem to be doing well socially.
"I already have a boyfriend!" said Sammy, who wants to be a cheerleader next year and plays softball.
"I like my teachers a lot," said Gus, who also plays softball and may go out for cross-country with Seth next year.
Jeannie started the girls in American Heritage Girls when they moved to Belmont County as a social and service opportunity. It is a faith-based program for girls in kindergarten through age 18, focusing on building leadership and character development with a particular emphasis on service.
"One of the things I love about American Heritage Girls is they do a lot of community service. Everything is family oriented, and the service is what I love," Jeannie said. Service projects have included volunteering at the animal shelter, caroling at nursing homes and baking cupcakes and taking them to the homeless shelter in Wheeling.
"My favorite part is getting to know other kids and having fun making friends," Sammy said.
"I like all the work we do and the merit badges we have and praising God," Gus said.
American Heritage Girls was founded in Cincinnati in 1995 and now has 100 chapters and 14,000 members. The Martins Ferry troop, OH7777, has about 60 members and is the only one in the Ohio Valley. The closest troop in West Virginia is in Morgantown.
For more information about American Heritage Girls, call troop leader Sheila Fox, 740-635-4946 or visit the website, www.ahgonline.org.