Lewis & Clark: Overland east of the Columbia

Updated May 14, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Overland east of the Columbia

It was now early in May, and the expedition, travelling eastward along Touchet Creek, were in the country of their friends, the Chopunnish. On the third, they were agreeably surprised to meet Weahkootnut, whom they had named Bighorn from the fact that be wore a born of that animal suspended from his left arm. This man was the first chief of a large band of Chopunnish, and when the expedition passed that way, on their path to the Pacific, the last autumn, he was very obliging and useful to them, guiding them down the Snake, or Lewis River. He had now heard that the white men were on their return, and he had come over across the hills to meet them. As we may suppose, the meeting was very cordial, and Weahkootnut turned back with his white friends and accompanied them to the mouth of the Kooskooskee, a stream of which our readers have heard before; it is now known as the Clearwater.

Captain Lewis told Weahkootnut that his people were hungry, their slender stock of provisions being about exhausted. The chief told them that they would soon come to a Chopunnish house where they could get food. But the journal has this entry:-

"We found the house which Weahkootnut had mentioned, where we halted for breakfast. It contained six families, so miserably poor that all we could obtain from them were two lean dogs and a few large cakes of half-cured bread, made of a root resembling the sweet potato, of all which we contrived to form a kind of soup. The soil of the plain is good, but it has no timber. The range of southwest mountains is about fifteen miles above us, but continues to lower, and is still covered with snow to its base. After giving passage to Lewis' [Snake] River, near their northeastern extremity, they terminate in a high level plain between that river and the Kooskooskee. The salmon not having yet called them to the rivers, the greater part of the Chopunnish are now dispersed in villages through this plain, for the purpose of collecting quamash and cows, which here grow in great abundance, the soil being extremely fertile, in many places covered with long-leaved pine, larch, and balsam-fir, which contribute to render it less thirsty than the open, unsheltered plains."

By the word "cows," in this sentence, we must understand that the story-teller meant cowas, a root eaten by the Indians and white explorers in that distant region. It is a knobbed, irregular root, and when cooked resembles the ginseng. At this place the party met some of the Indians whom Captain Clark had treated for slight diseases, when they passed that way, the previous autumn. They bad sounded the praises of the white men and their medicine, and others were now waiting to be treated in the same manner. The Indians were glad to pay for their treatment, and the white men were not sorry to find this easy method of adding to their stock of food, which was very scanty at this time. The journal sagely adds, "We cautiously abstain from giving them any but harmless medicines; and as we cannot possibly do harm, our prescriptions, though unsanctioned by the faculty, may be useful, and are entitled to some remuneration." Very famous and accomplished doctors might say the same thing of their practice. But the explorers did not meet with pleasant acquaintances only; in the very next entry is recorded this disagreeable incident:

"Four miles beyond this house we came to another large one, containing ten families, where we halted and made our dinner on two dogs and a small quantity of roots, which we did not procure without much difficulty. Whilst we were eating, an Indian standing by, looking with great derision at our eating dogs, threw a poor half-starved puppy almost into Captain Lewis' plate, laughing heartily at the humor of it. Captain Lewis took up the animal and flung it with great force into the fellow's face; and seizing his tomahawk, threatened to cut him down if he dared to repeat such insolence. He immediately withdrew, apparently much mortified, and we continued our repast of dog very quietly. Here we met our old Chopunnish guide, with his family; and soon afterward one of our horses, which had been separated from the rest in charge of Twisted-hair, and had been in this neighborhood for several weeks, was caught and restored to us."

Later in that day the party came to a Chopunnish house which was one hundred and fifty-six feet long and fifteen feet wide. Thirty families were living in this big house, each family having its fire by itself burning on the earthen floor, along through the middle of the great structure. The journal says:-

"We arrived very hungry and weary, but could not purchase any provisions, except a small quantity of the roots and bread of the cows. They had, however, heard of our medical skill, and made many applications for assistance, but we refused to do anything unless they gave us either dogs or horses to eat. We soon had nearly fifty patients. A chief brought his wife with an abscess on her back, and promised to furnish us with a horse to-morrow if we would relieve her. Captain Clark, therefore, opened the abscess, introduced a tent, and dressed it with basilicon. We also prepared and distributed some doses of flour of sulphur and cream of tartar, with directions for its use. For these we obtained several dogs, but too poor for use, and therefore postponed our medical operations till the morning. In the mean time a number of Indians, besides the residents of the village, gathered about us or camped in the woody bottom of the creek."

It will be recollected that when the expedition was in this region (on the Kooskooskee), during the previous September, on their way westward, they left their horses with Chief Twisted-hair, travelling overland from that point. They were now looking for that chief, and the journal says:-

"About two o'clock we collected our horses and set out, accompanied by Weahkoonut, with ten or twelve men and a man who said he was the brother of Twisted-hair. At four miles we came to a single house of three families, but could not procure provisions of any kind; and five miles further we halted for the night near another house, built like the rest, of sticks, mats, and dried hay, and containing six families. It was now so difficult to procure anything to eat that our chief dependence was on the horse which we received yesterday for medicine; but to our great disappointment he broke the rope by which be was confined, made his escape, and left us supperless in the rain."

Next day they met an Indian who brought them two canisters of powder, which they at once knew to be some of that which they had buried last autumn. The Indian said that his dog had dug it up in the meadow by the river, and he had restored it to its rightful owners. As a reward for his honesty, the captains gave him a flint and steel for striking fire; and they regretted that their own poverty prevented them from being more liberal to the man.

They observed that the Rocky Mountains, now in full sight, were still covered with snow, and the prospect of crossing them was not very rosy. Their Chopunnish guide told them that it would be impossible to cross the mountains before the next full moon, which would be about the first of June. The journal adds: "To us, who are desirous of reaching the plains of the Missouri- if for no other reason, for the purpose of enjoying a good meal- this intelligence was by no means welcome, and gave no relish to the remainder of the horse killed at Colter's Creek, which formed our supper, as part of which had already been our dinner." Next day, accordingly, the hunters turned out early in the morning, and before noon returned with four deer and a duck, which, with the remains of horse-beef on hand, gave them a much more plentiful stock of provisions than had lately fallen to their lot. During the previous winter, they were told, the Indians suffered very much for lack of food, game of all sorts being scarce. They were forced to boil and eat the moss growing on the trees, and they cut down the pine-trees for the sake of the small nut to be found in the pine-cones. Here they were met by an old friend, Neeshnepahkeeook and the Shoshonee, who had acted as interpreter for them. The journal says:-

"We gave Neeshnepahkeeook and his people some of our game and horse-beef, besides the entrails of the deer, and four fawns which we found inside of two of them. They did not eat any of them perfectly raw, but the entrails had very little cooking; the fawns were boiled whole, and the hide, hair, and entrails all consumed. The Shoshonee was offended at not having as much venison as he wished, and refused to interpret; but as we took no notice of him, he became very officious in the course of a few hours, and made many efforts to reinstate himself in our favor. The brother of Twisted-hair, and Neeshnepahkeeook, now drew a sketch, which we preserved, of all the waters west of the Rocky Mountains."

They now met Twisted-hair, in whose care they had left their horses and saddles the previous fall, and this was the result of their inquiries:-

"Between three and four o'clock in the afternoon we set out, in company with Neeshuepahkeeook and other Indians, the brother of Twisted-hair having left us. Our route was up a high steep hill to a level plain with little wood, through which we passed in a direction parallel to the [Kooskooskee] River for four miles, when we met Twisted-hair and six of his people. To this chief we had confided our horses and a part of our saddles last autumn, and we therefore formed very unfavorable conjectures on finding that he received us with great coldness. Shortly afterward he began to speak in a very loud, angry manner, and was answered by Neeshnepahkeeook. We now discovered that a violent quarrel had arisen between these chiefs, on the subject, as we afterward understood, of our horses. But as we could not learn the cause, and were desirous of terminating the dispute, we interposed, and told them we should go on to the first water and camp. We therefore set out, followed by all the Indians, and having reached, at two miles' distance, a small stream running to the right, we camped with the two chiefs and their little bands, forming separate camps at a distance from each other. They all appeared to be in an ill humor; and as we had already heard reports that the Indians had discovered and carried off our saddles, and that the horses were very much scattered, we began to be uneasy, lest there should be too much foundation for the report. We were therefore anxious to reconcile the two chiefs as soon as possible, and desired the Shoshonee to interpret for us while we attempted a mediation, but be peremptorily refused to speak a word. He observed that it was a quarrel between the two chiefs, and he had therefore no right to interfere; nor could all our representations, that by merely repeating what we said he could not possibly be considered as meddling between the chiefs, induce him to take any part in it.

"Soon afterward Drewyer returned from hunting, and was sent to invite Twisted-hair to come and smoke with us. He accepted the invitation, and as we were smoking the pipe over our fire he informed us that according to his promise on leaving us at the falls of the Columbia, he had collected our horses and taken charge of them as soon as he reached home. But about this time Neeshnepahkeeook and Turmachemootoolt (Broken-arm), who, as we passed, were on a war-party against the Shoshonees on the south branch of Lewis' River, returned; and becoming jealous of him, because the horses had been confided to his care, were constantly quarrelling with him. At length, being an old man and unwilling to live in perpetual dispute with these two chiefs, he had given up the care of the horses, which had consequently become very much scattered. The greater part of them were, however, still in the neighborhood; some in the forks between the Chopunnish and Kooskooskee, and three or four at the village of Broken Arm, about half a day's march higher up the river. He added, that on the rise of the river in the spring, the earth had fallen from the door of the cache, and exposed the saddles, some of which had probably been lost; but that, as soon as be was acquainted with the situation of them, he had them buried in another deposit, where they now were. He promised that, if we would stay the next day at his house, a few miles distant, he would collect such of the horses as were in the neighborhood, and send his young men for those in the forks, over the Kooskooskee. He moreover advised us to visit Broken Arm, who was a chief of great eminence, and he would himself guide us to his dwelling.

"We told him that we would follow his advice in every respect; that we had confided our horses to his care, and expected he would deliver them to us, on which we should cheerfully give him the two guns and the ammunition we had promised him. With this he seemed very much pleased, and declared he would use every exertion to restore the horses. We now sent for Neesbnepahkeeook, or Cut Nose, and, after smoking for some time, began by expressing to the two chiefs our regret at seeing a misunderstanding between them. Neeshnepahkeeook replied that Twisted Hair was a bad old man, and wore two faces; for, instead of taking care of our horses, he had suffered his young men to hunt with them, so that they had been very much injured, and it was for this reason that Broken Arm and himself had forbidden him to use them. Twisted Hair made no reply to this speech, and we then told Neeshnepahkeeook of our arrangement for the next day. He appeared to be very well satisfied, and said he would himself go with us to Broken Arm, who expected to see us, and had TWO BAD HORSES FOR US; by which expression we understood that Broken Arm intended to make us a present of two horses."

Next day, the party reached the house of Twisted-hair, and began to look for their horses and saddles. The journal gives this account of the search:-

"Late in the afternoon, Twisted-hair returned with about half the saddles we had left in the autumn, and some powder and lead which were buried at the same place. Soon after, the Indians brought us twenty-one of our horses, the greater part of which were in excellent order, though some had not yet recovered from hard usage, and three had sore backs. We were, however, very glad to procure them in any condition. Several Indians came down from the village of Tunnachemootoolt and passed the night with us. Cut-nose and Twisted-hair seem now perfectly reconciled, for they both slept in the house of the latter. The man who had imposed himself upon us as a brother of Twisted-hair also came and renewed his advances, but we now found that he was an impertinent, proud fellow, of no respectability in the nation, and we therefore felt no inclination to cultivate his intimacy. Our camp was in an open plain, and soon became very uncomfortable, for the wind was high and cold, and the rain and hail, which began about seven o'clock, changed in two hours to a heavy fall of snow, which continued till after six o'clock [May 10th], the next morning, when it ceased, after covering the ground eight inches deep and leaving the air keen and cold. We soon collected our horses, and after a scanty breakfast of roots set out on a course S. 35'0 E."

They were now following the general course of the Kooskooskee, or Clearwater, as the stream is called, and their route lay in what is now Nez Perce County, Idaho. They have passed the site of the present city of Lewiston, named for Captain Lewis. They have arrived in a region inhabited by the friendly Chopunnish, or Nez Perce, several villages of which nation were scattered around the camp of the white men. The narrative says:

"We soon collected the men of consideration, and after smoking, explained how destitute we were of provisions. The chief spoke to the people, who immediately brought two bushels of dried quamash-roots, some cakes of the roots of cows, and a dried salmon-trout; we thanked them for this supply, but observed that, not being accustomed to live on roots alone, we feared that such diet might make our men sick, and therefore proposed to exchange one of our good horses, which was rather poor, for one that was fatter, and which we might kill. The hospitality of the chief was offended at the idea of an exchange; he observed that his people had an abundance of young horses, and that if we were disposed to use that food we might have as many as we wanted. Accordingly, they soon gave us two fat young horses, without asking anything in return, an act of liberal hospitality much greater than any we have witnessed since crossing the Rocky Mountains, if it be not in fact the only really hospitable treatment we have received in this part of the world. We killed one of the horses, and then telling the natives that we were fatigued and hungry, and that as soon as we were refreshed we would communicate freely with them, began to prepare our repast.

"During this time a principal chief, called Hohastillpilp, came from his village, about six miles distant, with a party of fifty men, for the purpose of visiting us. We invited him into our circle, and he alighted and smoked with us, while his retinue, with five elegant horses, continued mounted at a short distance. While this was going on, the chief had a large leathern tent spread for us, and desired that we would make it our home so long as we remained at his village. We removed there, and having made a fire, and cooked our supper of horseflesh and roots, collected all the distinguished men present, and spent the evening in making known who we were, what were the objects of our journey, and in answering their inquiries. To each of the chiefs Tunnachemootoolt and Hohastillpilp we gave a small medal, explaining their use and importance as honorary distinctions both among the whites and the red men. Our men were well pleased at once more having made a hearty meal. They had generally been in the habit of crowding into the houses of the Indians, to purchase provisions on the best terms they could; for the inhospitality of the country was such, that often, in the extreme of hunger, they were obliged to treat the natives with but little ceremony; but this Twisted Hair had told us was very disagreeable. Finding that these people are so kind and liberal, we ordered our men to treat them with the greatest respect, and not to throng round their fires, so that they now agree perfectly well together. After the council the Indians felt no disposition to retire, and our tent was filled with them all night."

As the expedition was here in a populous country, among many bands of Indians, it was thought wise to have a powwow with the head men and explain to them what were the intentions of the United States Government. But, owing to the crooked course which their talk must needs take, it was very difficult to learn if the Indians finally understood what was said. Here is the journal's account of the way in which the powwow was conducted:-

"We collected the chiefs and warriors, and having drawn a map of the relative situation of our country on a mat with a piece of coal, detailed the nature and power of the American nation, its desire to preserve harmony between all its red brethren, and its intention of establishing trading-houses for their relief and support. It was not without difficulty, nor till after nearly half the day was spent, that we were able to convey all this information to the Chopunnish, much of which might have been lost or distorted in its circuitous route through a variety of languages; for in the first place, we spoke in English to one of our men, who translated it into French to Chaboneau; he interpreted it to his wife in the Minnetaree language; she then put it into Shoshonee, and the young Shoshonee prisoner explained it to the Chopunnish in their own dialect. At last we succeeded in communicating the impression we wished, and then adjourned the council; after which we amused them by showing the wonders of the compass, spy-glass, magnet, watch, and air-gun, each of which attracted its share of admiration."

The simple-minded Indians, who seemed to think that the white men could heal all manner of diseases, crowded around them next day, begging for medicines and treatment. These were freely given, eye-water being most in demand. There was a general medical powwow. The journal adds:-

"Shortly after, the chiefs and warriors held a council among themselves, to decide on an answer to our speech, and the result was, as we were informed, that they had full confidence in what we had told them, and were resolved to follow our advice. This determination having been made, the principal chief, Tunnachemootoolt, took a quantity of flour of the roots of cow-weed [cowas], and going round to all the kettles and baskets in which his people were cooking, thickened the soup into a kind of mush. He then began an harangue, setting forth the result of the deliberations among the chiefs, and after exhorting them to unanimity, concluded with an invitation to all who acquiesced in the proceedings of the council to come and eat; while those who were of a different mind were requested to show their dissent by not partaking of the feast. During this animated harangue, the women, who were probably uneasy at the prospect of forming this proposed new connection with strangers, tore their hair, and wrung their hands with the greatest appearance of distress. But the concluding appeal of the orator effectually stopped the mouths of every malecontent, and the proceedings were ratified, and the mush devoured with the most zealous unanimity.

"The chiefs and warriors then came in a body to visit us as we were seated near our tent; and at their instance, two young men, one of whom was a son of Tunnachemootoolt, and the other the youth whose father had been killed by the Pahkees, presented to us each a fine horse. We invited the chiefs to be seated, and gave every one of them a flag, a pound of powder, and fifty balls, and a present of the same kind to the young men from whom we had received the horses. They then invited us into the tent, and said that they now wished to answer what we had told them yesterday, but that many of their people were at that moment waiting in great pain for our medical assistance."

It was agreed, therefore, that Captain Clark, who seems to have been their favorite physician, should attend to the sick and lame, while Captain Lewis should conduct a council with the chiefs and listen to what they had to say. The upshot of the powwow was that the Chopunnish said they had sent three of their warriors with a pipe to make peace with the Shoshonees, last summer, as they had been advised to do by the white men. The Shoshonees, unmindful of the sacredness of this embassy, had killed the young warriors and had invited the battle which immediately took place, in which the Chopunnish killed forty-two of the Shoshonees, to get even for the wanton killing of their three young men. The white men now wanted some of the Chopunnish to accompany them to the plains of the Missouri, but the Indians were not willing to go until they were assured that they would not be waylaid and slain by their enemies of the other side of the mountains. The Chopunnish would think over the proposal that some of their young men should go over the range with the white men; a decision on this point should be reached before the white men left the country. Anyhow, the white men might be sure that the Indians would do their best to oblige their visitors. Their conclusion was, "For, although we are poor, our hearts are good." The story of this conference thus concludes:-

"As soon as this speech was concluded, Captain Lewis replied at some length; with this they appeared highly gratified, and after smoking the pipe, made us a present of another fat horse for food. We, in turn, gave Broken-arm a phial of eye-water, with directions to wash the eyes of all who should apply for it; and as we promised to fill it again when it was exhausted, he seemed very much pleased with our liberality. To Twisted-hair, who had last night collected six more horses, we gave a gun, one hundred balls, and two pounds of powder, and told him he should have the same quantity when we received the remainder of our horses. In the course of the day three more of them were brought in, and a fresh exchange of small presents put the Indians in excellent humor. On our expressing a wish to cross the river and form a camp, in order to hunt and fish till the snows had melted, they recommended a position a few miles distant, and promised to furnish us to-morrow with a canoe to cross. We invited Twisted-hair to settle near our camp, for he has several young sons, one of whom we hope to engage as a guide, and he promised to do so. Having now settled all their affairs, the Indians divided themselves into two parties, and began to play the game of hiding a bone, already described as common to all the natives of this country, which they continued playing for beads and other ornaments."

As there was so dismal a prospect for crossing the snow-covered mountains at this season of the year, the captains of the expedition resolved to establish a camp and remain until the season should be further advanced. Accordingly, a spot on the north side of the river, recommended to them by the Indians, was selected, and a move across the stream was made. A single canoe was borrowed for the transit of the baggage, and the horses were driven in to swim across, and the passage was accomplished without loss. The camp was built on the site of an old Indian house, in a circle about thirty yards in diameter, near the river and in an advantageous position. As soon as the party were encamped, the two Chopunnish chiefs came down to the opposite bank, and, with twelve of their nation, began to sing. This was the custom of these people, being a token of their friendship on such occasions. The captains sent a canoe over for the chiefs, and, after smoking for some time, Hohastillpilp presented Captain with a fine gray horse which he had brought over for that purpose, and he was perfectly satisfied to receive in return a handkerchief, two hundred balls, and four pounds of powder.

Here is some curious information concerning the bears which they found in this region. It must be borne in mind that they were still west of the Bitter Root Mountains:-

"The hunters killed some pheasants, two squirrels, and a male and a female bear, the first of which was large, fat, and of a bay color; the second meagre, grizzly, and of smaller size. They were of the species [Ursus horribilis] common to the upper part of the Missouri, and might well be termed the variegated bear, for they are found occasionally of a black, grizzly, brown, or red color. There is every reason to believe them to be of precisely the same species. Those of different colors are killed together, as in the case of these two, and as we found the white and bay associated together on the Missouri; and some nearly white were seen in this neighborhood by the hunters. Indeed, it is not common to find any two bears of the same color; and if the difference in color were to constitute a distinction of species, the number would increase to almost twenty. Soon afterward the hunters killed a female bear with two cubs. The mother was black, with a considerable intermixture of white hairs and a white spot on the breast. One of the cubs was jet black, and the other of a light reddish-brown or bay color. The hair of these variegated bears is much finer, longer, and more abundant than that of the common black bear; but the most striking differences between them are that the former are larger and have longer tusks, and longer as well as blunter talons; that they prey more on other animals; that they lie neither so long nor so closely in winter quarters; and that they never climb a tree, however closely pressed by the hunters. These variegated bears, though specifically the same with those we met on the Missouri, are by no means so ferocious; probably because the scarcity of game and the habit of living on roots may have weaned them from the practices of attacking and devouring animals. Still, however, they are not so passive as the common black bear, which is also to be found here; for they have already fought with our hunters, though with less fury than those on the other side of the mountains.

"A large part of the meat we gave to the Indians, to whom it was a real luxury, as they scarcely taste flesh once in a month. They immediately prepared a large fire of dried wood, on which was thrown a number of smooth stones from the river. As soon as the fire went down and the stones were heated, they were laid next to each other in a level position, and covered with a quantity of pine branches, on which were placed flitches of the meat, and then boughs and flesh alternately for several courses, leaving a thick layer of pine on the top. On this heap they then poured a small quantity of water, and covered the whole with earth to the depth of four inches. After remaining in this state for about three hours, the meat was taken off, and was really more tender than that which we had boiled or roasted, though the strong flavor of the pine rendered it disagreeable to our palates. This repast gave them much satisfaction; for, though they sometimes kill the black bear, they attack very reluctantly the fierce variegated bear; and never except when they can pursue him on horseback over the plains, and shoot him with arrows."

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