SIOUX CITY | Keesha Graham remembers climbing the stairs at the Sergeant Floyd Monument as a student attending Joy Elementary School years ago.
In June, she retraced her childhood steps, and brought her sons to do the same. They came from St. Petersburg, Florida, where Graham has lived for 16 years. She's now a third-grade teacher and thrilled to share local history.
"I brought my sons back to see the history of where I grew up," Graham said as Jaxon Graham, 5, and Jayce Graham, 8, took pictures of the country's first national historic monument, a 100-foot obelisk that serves as the fourth and final burial site for Sgt. Charles Floyd, the only man who died on the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Modern-day medical professionals believe Floyd likely died of appendicitis on Aug. 20, 1804. His body was carried to the highest bluff in the vicinity and he was buried with full military honors in a service led by Capt. Meriwether Lewis.
The burial site washed away in an 1857 flood, meaning that officials had to collect his remains and bury him again in May 1857, about 600 feet from the original burial site.
"We have record of his skull, shoulder blades, a full set of leg bones, a partial set of leg bones and some vertebrae," said Bev Hinds, a Sioux Cityan who serves as president for the Sergeant Floyd Tri-State Chapter, which operates under the umbrella of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.
"We do programs and have obtained grant funds that purchase the 15-star, 15-stripe U.S. flag at the monument, a flag that matches the one flown on the expedition," Hinds said.
Hinds also flies that flag at her home.
Sergeant Floyd's journal was found in 1893 and published in 1894. One year later, Sioux City leaders asked about the site of his burial. After locating the grave, his remains were placed in two earthenware urns, which were buried again on Aug. 20, 1895, the anniversary of his death.
"After that third burial, John Herr Charles decided there should be a monument for Sergeant Floyd," Hinds said.
John Herr Charles, who was president of the Floyd Association (which no longer exists), began raising funds to erect a monument. It took five years to raise $20,000, an amount that triggered the start of the monument with the pouring of a concrete base in May 1900. Workers then dug up the urns containing Floyd's remains and buried them for a final time on Aug. 20, 1900.
"He's been buried three times on Aug. 20," Hinds said. "He is under the monument."
Workers advanced on the monument some 55 feet into the air that summer and then finished the 100-foot structure in 1901. And since that time, thousands of visitors have trekked to the site, a small park that is maintained by the Sioux City Parks Department and overseen by Hinds, who changes out the guest registry every two weeks or so.
"I estimate that one or two out of every 10 people there stop to sign the registry," said Hinds, who also does programming at the Sergeant Floyd Welcome Center on Sioux City's Riverfront.
"Someone from Micronesia signed in May. We've had visitors from Japan, Germany and Holland in recent months. Last year, we had someone from Belarus stop by."
Hinds begins each new registry with her name, her city (Sioux City) and a comment about the day of her visit, often something like, "Beautiful, but windy."
"I leave a comment so that people can follow suit," she said.
They do. Recent visitors from all over Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and the rest of the U.S. have written comments that vary from, "I love Iowa," to "Awesome," to "Beautiful sunset."
"Big front," wrote a guest who listed their name as "Storm Gazers."
It really offers one of Sioux City's prime vistas, allowing one to peer miles into the distance from a bluff that overlooks Interstate 29, Lewis Boulevard and parts of Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and South Sioux City, Nebraska -- areas that the Lewis & Clark Expedition experienced for the first time in 1804 as soldiers commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find a route to the Pacific Ocean through this vast, new territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.
Visitors still wind their way along that route and find themselves stopping here to remember a young soldier who gave his life in the service of his young country.
An annual program at the Floyd Monument recreates that solemn service. It always takes place on the Saturday closest to the date of Floyd's death, Aug. 20.
This year, that date falls on a Saturday. Hinds will be there, joined by dozens of others and, perhaps, several out-of-state guests and history seekers. The program begins at 6 p.m.