Fiddler mistook Capt. Lewis for an elk

July 24, 2001 11:00 pm
Pierre Cruzatte puts listeners in the boat with Lewis and Clark as he fiddles through stories about the historic expedition. Daniel Slosberg plays the Frenchman, Cruzatte, who was a navigator for Lewis and Clark. Hell portray the Frenchman again at the Interpretive Center this week. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Pierre Cruzatte puts listeners in the boat with Lewis and Clark as he fiddles through stories about the historic expedition. Daniel Slosberg plays the Frenchman, Cruzatte, who was a navigator for Lewis and Clark. Hell portray the Frenchman again at the Interpretive Center this week. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Were all born to do something, the historical re-enactor says with a dead-on French accent. I was born to play the fiddle.

With that claim, Daniel Slosberg as Pierre Cruzatte, the colorful fiddle player and navigator for the Lewis and Clark expedition launches into a delightful 45-minute program of music and monologue that will soon make a return visit to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Slosberg is slated for performances at the Leo Adler Theater at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26; 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday, July 27; and at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, July 28, during the Pioneer Heritage Festival.

He is also scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. performances August 15 through 19.

With simple props an eyepatch, a fiddle held at arms length (learning to play that way was no snap for the classically-trained Slosberg), and several period musical instruments, including Jews harp and spoons Cruzatte takes the audience through the daring 1804-06 journey that opened up the Pacific Northwest. He performs that task in such a fun manner that the audience doesnt mind learning something along the way.

Even though I have just one eye, I have much experience as a navigator, he tells the crowd, although it soon becomes apparent this fun-loving man has a secret to hide. In fact, he says, no one in the party will even look at me, because of this accident.

It takes him most of his 45 minutes to get around to what he means, but eventually we find out that Cruzatte and Capt. Meriwether Lewis were out hunting elk one day when Cruzatte mistook the partys leader with his flowing red hair for game.

Cruzatte! You scoundrel! You have shot me! Lewis tells him. The expeditions co-leader had to lie several days in the bottom of a boat while his Cruzatte-inflicted wounds healed. The party shunned him the rest of the voyage, and Lewis, in his diary, makes no reference of Cruzatte following the accident.

Before it happened, Lewis spoke glowingly of Cruzattes contributions, Slosberg said.

The accident wasnt all Cruzattes fault, of course, although research indicated he was blind in one eye and myopic in the other.

Capt. Lewis was wearing clothes made of elk skin. As I have only one eye, I could not see, so I mistook Capt. Lewis for dinner, Cruzatte explains.

Another memorable portion of Slosbergs performance is his rendition of Sacagaweas husband, Toussant Charbonneau, the expeditions cook and, we soon learn, chief coward.

That latter status stands in stark contrast to his wife, the expeditions guide, who performed her duties despite giving birth along the way.

In the Spring of 1805, while paddling past Fort Mandan, the expedition suffered an unexpected storm that found Charbonneau pleading, hands folded, Mon dieu! Spare me! while his wife, still pregnant, calmly hopped into the water to rescue medicine and Capt. Lewis priceless journal.

He was a burden on us all, but his buffalo sausage is tres magnifique! Cruzatte says of Charbonneau.

Slosberg interrupts Cruzattes stories from time to time to play authentic period musical pieces. Slosbergs research turned up several songs in the Metis tradition, a blend of French and Indian music in the folk style.

At one point, Slosberg distributes spoons and invites members of the audience to play along. He also performs songs that the band of explorers played for Indian tribes along the trail who prepared feasts of roasted fish for the hungry men.

One happy chief, impressed with Cruzattes version of Yankee Doodle, told Lewis and Clark his people would dance day and night until your return.

Slosberg, who lives in Los Angeles, gave up a job as a school administrator three years ago to play his music and perform historical re-enactments. The more he researched Cruzatte, the more he realized his story needed telling.

I had no interest in history, but a friend kept telling me about this Cruzatte person, Slosberg said. When I found out he was a half-French, half-Indian, 5-foot-four-inch, one-eyed guy, I jumped at the chance.

For more information about summer performances at the Interpretive Center, call 523-1843.