Lewis & Clark: The Expedition Subdivided
The Expedition Subdivided
On the third of July, accordingly, Captain Lewis, with nine of his men and five Indians, proceeded down the valley lying between the Rocky and the Bitter Root ranges of mountains, his general course being due northwest of Clark's fork of the Columbia River. Crossing several small streams that make into this river, they finally reached and crossed the Missoula River from west to east, below the confluence of the St. Mary's and Hell-gate rivers, or creeks; for these streams hardly deserve the name of rivers. The party camped for the night within a few miles of the site of the present city of Missoula, Montana. Here they were forced to part from their good friends and allies, the Indians, who had crossed the range with them. These men were afraid that they would be cut off by their foes, the Pahkees, and they wanted to find and join some band of the Indian nation with whom they were on terms of friendship. The journal gives this account of the parting:-
"We now smoked a farewell pipe with our estimable companions, who expressed every emotion of regret at parting with us; which they felt the more, because they did not conceal their fears of our being cut off by the Pahkees. We also gave them a shirt, a handkerchief, and a small quantity of ammunition. The meat which they received from us was dried and left at this place, as a store during the homeward journey. This circumstance confirms our belief that there is no route along Clark's River to the Columbian plains so near or so good as that by which we came; for, though these people mean to go for several days' journey down that river, to look for the Shalees [Ootlashoots], yet they intend returning home by the same pass of the mountains through which they have conducted us. This route is also used by all the nations whom we know west of the mountains who are in the habit of visiting the plains of the Missouri; while on the other side, all the war-paths of the Pahkees which fall into this valley of Clark's River concentre at Traveller's-rest, beyond which these people have never ventured to the west."
During the next day or two, Captain Lewis kept on the same general course through a well-watered country, the ground gradually rising as be approached the base of the mountains. Tracks of Indians, supposed to be Pahkees, became more numerous and fresh. On the seventh of July, the little company went through the famous pass of the Rocky Mountains, now properly named for the leaders of the expedition. Here is the journal's account of their finding the Lewis and Clark Pass:-
"At the distance of twelve miles we left the river, or rather the creek, and having for four miles crossed two ridges in a direction north fifteen degrees east, again struck to the right, proceeding through a narrow bottom covered with low willows and grass, and abundantly supplied with both deer and beaver. After travelling seven miles we reached the foot of a ridge, which we ascended in a direction north forty-five degrees east, through a low gap of easy ascent from the westward; and, on descending it, were delighted at discovering that this was the dividing ridge between the waters of the Columbia and those of the Missouri. From this gap Fort Mountain is about twenty miles in a northeastern direction. We now wound through the hills and mountains, passing several rivulets which ran to the right, and at the distance of nine miles from the gap encamped, having made thirty-two miles. We procured some beaver, and this morning saw tracks of buffalo, from which it appears that those animals do sometimes penetrate a short distance among the mountains."
Next day the party found themselves in clover, so to speak. Game was plenty, and, as their object now was to accumulate meat for the three men who were to be left at the falls (and who were not hunters), they resolved to strike the Medicine, or Sun, River and hunt down its banks. On that river the journal, July 10, has this to say:-
"In the plains are great quantities of two species of prickly-pear now in bloom. Gooseberries of the common red kind are in abundance and just beginning to ripen, but there are no currants. The river has now widened to one hundred yards; it is deep, crowded with islands, and in many parts rapid. At the distance of seventeen miles, the timber disappears totally from the river-bottoms. About this part of the river, the wind, which had blown on our backs, and constantly put the elk on their guard, shifted round; we then shot three of them and a brown bear. Captain Lewis halted to skin them, while two of the men took the pack-horses forward to seek for a camp. It was nine o'clock before he overtook them, at the distance of seven miles, in the first grove of cottonwood. They had been pursued as they came along by a very large bear, on which they were afraid to fire, lest their horses, being unaccustomed to the gun, might take fright and throw them. This circumstance reminds us of the ferocity of these animals, when we were last near this place, and admonishes us to be very cautious. We saw vast numbers of buffalo below us, which kept up a dreadful bellowing during the night. With all our exertions we were unable to advance more than twenty-four miles, owing to the mire through which we are obliged to travel, in consequence of the rain."
The Sun, or Medicine, River empties into the Missouri just above the great falls of that stream; and near here, opposite White Bear Islands, the expedition had deposited some of their property in a cache dug near the river bank, when they passed that way, a year before. On the thirteenth of the month, having reached their old camping-ground here, the party set to work making boat-gear and preparing to leave their comrades in camp well fixed for their stay. The journal adds:-
"On opening the cache, we found the bearskins entirely destroyed by the water, which in a flood of the river had penetrated to them. All the specimens of plants, too, were unfortunately lost: the chart of the Missouri, however, still remained unhurt, and several articles contained in trunks and boxes had suffered but little injury; but a vial of laudanum had lost its stopper, and the liquid had run into a drawer of medicines, which it spoiled beyond recovery. The mosquitoes were so troublesome that it was impossible even to write without a mosquito bier. The buffalo were leaving us fast, on their way to the southeast."
One of the party met with an amusing adventure here, which is thus described:-
"At night M'Neal, who had been sent in the morning to examine the cache at the lower end of the portage, returned; but had been prevented from reaching that place by a singular adventure. Just as he arrived near Willow run, he approached a thicket of brush in which was a white bear, which he did not discover till he was within ten feet of him. His horse started, and wheeling suddenly round, threw M'Neal almost immediately under the bear, which started up instantly. Finding the bear raising himself on his hind feet to attack him, he struck him on the head with the butt end of his musket; the blow was so violent that it broke the breech of the musket and knocked the bear to the ground. Before he recovered M'Neal, seeing a willow-tree close by, sprang up, and there remained while the bear closely guarded the foot of the tree until late in the afternoon. He then went off; M'Neal being released came down, and having found his horse, which had strayed off to the distance of two miles, returned to camp. These animals are, indeed, of a most extraordinary ferocity, and it is matter of wonder that in all our encounters we have had the good fortune to escape. We are now troubled with another enemy, not quite so dangerous, though even more disagreeable-these are the mosquitoes, who now infest us in such myriads that we frequently get them into our throats when breathing, and the dog even howls with the torture they occasion."
The intention of Captain Lewis was to reach the river sometimes known as Maria's, and sometimes as Marais, or swamp. This stream rises near the boundary between Montana and the British possessions, and flows into the Missouri, where the modern town of Ophir is built. The men left at the great falls were to dig up the canoes and baggage that had been cached there the previous year, and be ready to carry around the portage of the falls the stuff that would be brought from the two forks of the Jefferson, later on, by Sergeant Ordway and his party. It will be recollected that this stuff had also been cached at the forks of the Jefferson, the year before. The two parties, thus united, were to go down to the entrance of Maria's River into the Missouri, and Captain Lewis expected to join them there by the fifth of August; if he failed to meet them by that time, they were to go on down the river and meet Captain Clark at the mouth of the Yellowstone. This explanation is needed to the proper understanding of the narrative that follows; for we now have to keep track of three parties of the explorers.
Captain Lewis and his men, having travelled northwest about twenty miles from the great falls of the Missouri, struck the trail of a wounded buffalo. They were dismayed by the sight, for that assured them that there were Indians in the vicinity; and the most natural thing to expect was that these were Blackfeet, or Minnetarees; both of these tribes are vicious and rascally people, and they would not hesitate to attack a small party and rob them of their guns, if they thought themselves able to get away with them.
They were now in the midst of vast herds of buffalo, so numerous that the whole number seemed one immense herd. Hanging on the flanks were many wolves; hares and antelope were also abundant. On the fourth day out, Captain Lewis struck the north fork of Maria's River, now known as Cut-bank River, in the northwest corner of Montana. He was desirous of following up the stream, to ascertain, if possible, whether its fountain-head was below, or above, the boundary between the United States and the British possessions. Bad weather and an accident to his chronometer prevented his accomplishing his purpose, and, on the twenty-sixth of July, he turned reluctantly back, giving the name of Cape Disappointment to his last camping-place. Later in that day, as they were travelling down the main stream (Maria's River), they encountered the Indians whom they had hoped to avoid. Let us read the story as it is told in the journal of the party:-
"At the distance of three miles we ascended the hills close to the river-side, while Drewyer pursued the valley of the river on the opposite side. But scarcely had Captain Lewis reached the high plain when he saw, about a mile on his left, a collection of about thirty horses. He immediately halted, and by the aid of his spy-glass discovered that one-half of the horses were saddled, and that on the eminence above the horses several Indians were looking down toward the river, probably at Drewyer. This was a most unwelcome sight. Their probable numbers rendered any contest with them of doubtful issue; to attempt to escape would only invite pursuit, and our horses were so bad that we must certainly be overtaken; besides which, Drewyer could not yet be aware that the Indians were near, and if we ran be would most probably be sacrificed. We therefore determined to make the most of our situation, and advance toward them in a friendly manner. The flag which we had brought in case of any such accident was therefore displayed, and we continued slowly our march toward them. Their whole attention was so engaged by Drewyer that they did not immediately discover us. As soon as they did see us, they appeared to be much alarmed and ran about in confusion; some of them came down the hill and drove their horses within gunshot of the eminence, to which they then returned, as if to await our arrival. When we came within a quarter of a mile, one of the Indians mounted and rode at full speed to receive us; but when within a hundred paces of us, he halted. Captain Lewis, who had alighted to receive him, held out his hand and beckoned to him to approach; he only looked at us for some time, and then, without saying a word, returned to his companions with as much baste as be had advanced. The whole party now descended the hill and rode toward us. As yet we saw only eight, but presumed that there must be more behind us, as there were several horses saddled. We however advanced, and Captain Lewis now told his two men that he believed these were the Minnetarees of Fort de Prairie, who, from their infamous character, would in all probability attempt to rob us; but being determined to die rather than lose his papers and instruments, he intended to resist to the last extremity, and advised them to do the same, and to be on the alert should there be any disposition to attack us. When the two parties came within a hundred yards of each other, all the Indians, except one, halted. Captain Lewis therefore ordered his two men to halt while be advanced, and after shaking hands with the Indian, went on and did the same with the others in the rear, while the Indian himself shook hands with the two men. They all now came up; and after alighting, the Indians asked to smoke with us. Captain Lewis, who was very anxious for Drewyer's safety, told them that the man who had gone down the river had the pipe, and requested that as they had seen him, one of them would accompany R. Fields, to bring him back. To this they assented, and Fields went with a young man in search of Drewyer."
Captain Lewis now asked them by signs if they were Minnetarees of the north, and he was sorry to be told in reply that they were; he knew them to be a bad lot. When asked if they had any chief among them, they pointed out three. The captain did not believe them, but, in order to keep on good terms with them, he gave to one a flag, to another a medal, and to the third a handkerchief. At Captain Lewis' suggestion, the Indians and the white men camped together, and in the course of the evening the red men told the captain that they were part of a big band of their tribe, or nation. The rest of the tribe, they said, were hunting further up the river, and were then in camp near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The captain, in return, told them that his party had come from the great lake where the sun sets, and that he was in hopes that he could induce the Minnetarees to live in peace with their neighbors and come and trade at the posts that would be established in their country by and by. He offered them ten horses and some tobacco if they would accompany his party down the river below the great falls. To this they made no reply. Being still suspicious of these sullen guests, Captain Lewis made his dispositions for the night, with orders for the sentry on duty to rouse all hands if the Indians should attempt to steal anything in the night. Next morning trouble began. Says the journal:-
"At sunrise, the Indians got up and crowded around the fire near which J. Fields, who was then on watch, had carelessly left his rifle, near the head of his brother, who was still asleep. One of the Indians slipped behind him, and, unperceived, took his brother's and his own rifle, while at the same time two others seized those of Drewyer and Captain Lewis. As soon as Fields turned, he saw the Indian running off with the rifles; instantly calling his brother, they pursued him for fifty or sixty yards; just as they overtook him, in the scuffle for the rifles R. Fields stabbed him through the heart with his knife. The Indian ran about fifteen steps and fell dead. They now ran back with their rifles to the camp. The moment the fellow touched his gun, Drewyer, who was awake, jumped up and wrested it from him. The noise awoke Captain Lewis, who instantly started from the ground and reached for his gun; but finding it gone, drew a pistol from his belt, and turning saw the Indian running off with it. He followed him and ordered him to lay it down, which he did just as the two Fields came up, and were taking aim to shoot him; when Captain Lewis ordered them not to fire, as the Indian did not appear to intend any mischief. He dropped the gun and was going slowly off when Drewyer came out and asked permission to kill him; but this Captain Lewis forbade, as he had not yet attempted to shoot us. But finding that the Indians were now endeavoring to drive off all the horses, he ordered all three of us to follow the main party, who were chasing the horses up the river, and fire instantly upon the thieves; while he, without taking time to run for his shot-pouch, pursued the fellow who had stolen his gun and another Indian, who were driving away the horses on the left of the camp. He pressed them so closely that they left twelve of their horses, but continued to drive off one of our own.
"At the distance of three hundred paces they entered a steep niche in the river-bluffs, when Captain Lewis, being too much out of breath to pursue them any further, called out, as he had done several times before, that unless they gave up the horse he would shoot them. As he raised his gun one of the Indians jumped behind a rock and spoke to the other, who stopped at the distance of thirty paces. Captain Lewis shot him in the belly. He fell on his knees and right elbow; but, raising himself a little, fired, and then crawled behind a rock. The shot had nearly proved fatal; for Captain Lewis, who was bareheaded, felt the wind of the ball very distinctly. Not having his shot-pouch, be could not reload his rifle; and, having only a single charge also for his pistol, he thought it most prudent not to attack them farther, and retired slowly to the camp. He was met by Drewyer, who, hearing the report of the guns, had come to his assistance, leaving the Fields to follow the other Indians. Captain Lewis ordered him to call out to them to desist from the pursuit, as we could take the horses of the Indians in place of our own; but they were at too great a distance to hear him. He therefore returned to the camp, and while he was saddling the horses the Fields returned with four of our own, having followed the Indians until two of them swam the river and two others ascended the hills, so that the horses became dispersed."
The white men were gainers by this sad affair, for they had now in their possession four of the Indians' horses, and had lost one of their own. Besides these, they found in the camp of the Indians four shields, two bows and their quivers, and one of their two guns. The captain took some buffalo meat which be found in the camp, and then the rest of their baggage was burned on the spot. The flag given to one of the so-called chiefs was retaken; but the medal given to the dead man was left around his neck. The consequences of this unfortunate quarrel were far-reaching. The tribe whose member was killed by the white men never forgave the injury, and for years after there was no safety for white men in their vicinity except when the wayfarers were in great numbers or strongly guarded.
A forced march was now necessary for the explorers, and they set out as speedily as possible, well knowing that the Indians would be on their trail. By three o'clock in the afternoon of that day they had reached Tansy River, now known as the Teton, having travelled sixty-three miles. They rested for an hour and a half to refresh their horses, and then pushed on for seventeen miles further before camping again. Having killed a buffalo, they had supper and stopped two hours. Then, travelling through vast herds of buffalo until two o'clock in the morning, they halted again, almost dead with fatigue; they rested until daylight. On awaking, they found themselves so stiff and sore with much riding that they could scarcely stand. But the lives of their friends now at or near the mouth of Maria's River were at stake, as well as their own. Indeed, it was not certain but that the Indians had, by hard riding and a circuitous route, already attacked the river party left at the falls. So Captain Lewis told his men that they must go on, and, if attacked, they must tie their horses together by the head and stand together, selling their lives as dearly as possible, or routing their enemies. The journal now says:-
"To this they all assented, and we therefore continued our route to the eastward, till at the distance of twelve miles we came near the Missouri, when we heard a noise which seemed like the report of a gun. We therefore quickened our pace for eight miles farther, and, being about five miles from Grog Spring, now heard distinctly the noise of several rifles from the river. We hurried to the bank, and saw with exquisite satisfaction our friends descending the river. They landed to greet us, and after turning our horses loose, we embarked with our baggage, and went down to the spot where we had made a deposite. This, after reconnoitring the adjacent country, we opened; but, unfortunately, the cache had caved in, and most of the articles were injured. We took whatever was still worth preserving, and immediately proceeded to the point, where we found our deposits in good order. By a singular good fortune, we were here joined by Sergeant Gass and Willard from the Falls, who had been ordered to come with the horses here to assist in procuring meat for the voyage, as it had been calculated that the canoes would reach this place much sooner than Captain Lewis's party. After a very heavy shower of rain and hail, attended with violent thunder and lightning, we started from the point, and giving a final discharge to our horses, went over to the island where we had left our red pirogue, which, however, we found much decayed, and we had no means of repairing her. We therefore took all the iron work out of her, and, proceeding down the river fifteen miles, encamped near some cottonwood trees, one of which was of the narrow-leafed species, and the first of that kind we had remarked in ascending the river.
"Sergeant Ordway's party, which had left the mouth of Madison River on the thirteenth, had descended in safety to White Bear Island, where he arrived on the nineteenth, and, after collecting the baggage, had left the falls on the twenty-seventh in the white pirogue and five canoes, while Sergeant Gass and Willard set out at the same time by land with the horses, and thus fortunately met together."
Sergeant Ordway's party, it will be recollected, had left Captain Clark at the three forks of the Missouri, to which they had come down the Jefferson, and thence had passed down the Missouri to White Bear Islands, and, making the portage, had joined the rest of the party just in time to reinforce them. Game was now abundant the buffalo being in enormous herds; and the bighorn were also numerous; the flesh of these animals was in fine condition, resembling the best of mutton in flavor. The reunited party now descended the river, the intention being to reach the mouth of the Yellowstone as soon as possible, and there wait for Captain Clark, who, it will be recalled, was to explore that stream and meet them at the point of its junction with the Missouri. The voyage of Captain Lewis and his men was without startling incident, except that Cruzatte accidentally shot the captain, one day, while they were out hunting. The wound was through the fleshy part of the left thigh, and for a time was very painful. As Cruzatte was not in sight when the captain was hit, the latter naturally thought he had been shot by Indians hiding in the thicket. He reached camp as best he could, and, telling his men to arm themselves, he explained that he had been shot by Indians. But when Cruzatte came into camp, mutual explanations satisfied all hands that a misunderstanding had arisen and that Cruzatte's unlucky shot was accidental. As an example of the experience of the party about this time, while they were on their way down the Missouri, we take this extract from their journal:-
"We again saw great numbers of buffalo, elk, antelope, deer, and wolves; also eagles and other birds, among which were geese and a solitary pelican, neither of which can fly at present, as they are now shedding the feathers of their wings. We also saw several bears, one of them the largest, except one, we had ever seen; for he measured nine feet from the nose to the extremity of the tail. During the night a violent storm came on from the northeast with such torrents of rain that we had scarcely time to unload the canoes before they filled with water. Having no shelter we ourselves were completely wet to the skin, and the wind and cold air made our situation very unpleasant."
On the twelfth of August, the Lewis party met with two traders from Illinois. These men were camped on the northeast side of the river; they had left Illinois the previous summer, and had been coming up the Missouri hunting and trapping. Captain Lewis learned from them that Captain Clark was below; and later in that day the entire expedition was again united, Captain Clark's party being found at a point near where Little Knife Creek enters the Missouri River. We must now take up the narrative of Captain Clark and his adventures on the Yellowstone.