Gordon Thomas Ward

Rekindle the Wonder!

inspiring, powerful, and engaging Music, Books, & Presentations

Welcome to the Past

Grandfather River


Gordon Thomas Ward on lead and harmony vocals, 6-string grand concert guitar, and 8-string chromatic bass walkabout dulcimer. David Rimelis contributed his artistry on fiddle, and Eric Troyer added the shaker, bass, and hand claps.

Background & Inspiration

In 1994, I retraced 1,800 miles of the Lewis and Clark Trail by bicycle, foot, and canoe. The life-changing experience ended up being told in my book Life on the Shoulder. In the spring of 2013, I was playing the riff to this song on my porch. It sounded catchy enough to develop a song around it. I had always wanted to write a song about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804 to 1806). After all, how many Lewis and Clark songs do you know? Yeah, I don't know of any either. It took me a day or so to write the tune and another week to refine the lyrics. In the early 1800s, the Native Americans used to say that the Missouri River had a grandfather spirit. Since the Missouri River is the river on which Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the rest of the “Corps of Discovery” began and ended their exploration, I thought “Grandfather River” was a fitting song title. It was lots of fun adding harmonies to this song.


Back in May 1804

Several boats launched from the shore.

From Wood River one could see

The Corps of Discovery.


Clark and Lewis in command

With over thirty men on hand

Struck out for the great unknown

’Gainst the great Missouri’s flow.


(Chorus) Up that old, Grandfather River,

Untamed land they struggled through,

Clear across those Rocky Mountains,

’Till that ocean was in view.


Jefferson asked them to go

To find all there was to know

Of that wild uncharted land

We had just acquired from France.

That our country bought from France.


Some folks dreamed that there could be

A northwest passage to the sea.

What was out there no one knew

What was false and what was true.




The aggressive Teton Sioux

Almost did not let them through,

But the Mandans took them in

O’er the winter as their friends.


There a Mandan girl they met

Who had knowledge of the west,

So she went with them next spring

And her baby she did bring.




Well they survived attack by bear

And the thorny prickly pear,

Braved the storms, the snow, and ice

Paying such a lofty price.

Lost one man when he took ill,

Starving, freezing in the hills,

But they kept on pressing through

Doing what they had to do.




By God’s grace they did survive

With the caring Nez Perce tribe,

And they soon were on their way

Down the rivers to the bay.


When they finally met the sea

They had changed our history.

Under Lewis and Clark’s command

They had opened up the land.