First Across the Continent
From the Minnetarees to the Shoshonees
Travelling in a westerly direction, with a very gradual descent, Captain Lewis, on the thirteenth of August, came upon two Indian women, a man, and some dogs. The Indians sat down when the strangers first came in sight, as if to wait for their coming; but, soon taking alarm, they all fled, much to the chagrin of the white men. Now striking into a well-worn Indian road, they found themselves surely near a village. The journal says:-
"They had not gone along the road more than a mile, when on a sudden they saw three female Indians, from whom they had been concealed by the deep ravines which intersected the road, till they were now within thirty paces of each other. One of them, a young woman, immediately took to flight; the other two, an elderly woman and a little girl, seeing they were too near for them to escape, sat on the ground, and holding down their heads seemed as if reconciled to the death which they supposed awaited them. The same habit of holding down the head and inviting the enemy to strike, when all chance of escape is gone, is preserved in Egypt to this day.
"Captain Lewis instantly put down his rifle, and advancing toward them, took the woman by the hand, raised her up, and repeated the words `tabba bone!' at the same time stripping up his shirt-sleeve to prove that he was a white man- for his hands and face had become by constant exposure quite as dark as their own. She appeared immediately relieved from her alarm; and Drewyer and Shields now coming up, Captain Lewis gave them some beads, a few awls, pewter mirrors, and a little paint, and told Drewyer to request the woman to recall her companion, who had escaped to some distance and, by alarming the Indians, might cause them to attack him without any time for explanation. She did as she was desired, and the young woman returned almost out of breath. Captain Lewis gave her an equal portion of trinkets, and painted the tawny checks of all three of them with vermilion,- a ceremony which among the Shoshonees is emblematic of peace.
"After they had become composed, he informed them by signs of his wishes to go to their camp, in order to see their chiefs and warriors; they readily obeyed, and conducted the party along the same road down the river. In this way they marched two miles, when they met a troop of nearly sixty warriors, mounted on excellent horses, riding at full speed toward them. As they advanced Captain Lewis put down his gun, and went with the flag about fifty paces in advance. The chief, who with two men was riding in front of the main body, spoke to the women, who now explained that the party was composed of white men, and showed exultingly the presents they had received. The three men immediately leaped from their horses, came up to Captain Lewis, and embraced him with great cordiality, putting their left arm over his right shoulder, and clasping his back, applying at the same time their left cheek to his, and frequently vociferating ah hi e! ah hi e! `I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced.' The whole body of warriors now came forward, and our men received the caresses, and no small share of the grease and paint, of their new friends. After this fraternal embrace, of which the motive was much more agreeable than the manner, Captain Lewis lighted a pipe, and offered it to the Indians, who had now seated themselves in a circle around the party. But, before they would receive this mark of friendship, they pulled off their moccasins: a custom, as we afterward learned, which indicates the sacred sincerity of their professions when they smoke with a stranger, and which imprecates on themselves the misery of going barefoot forever if they prove faithless to their words- a penalty by no means light for those who rove over the thorny plains of this country. â¦
"After smoking a few pipes, some trifling presents were distributed among them, with which they seemed very much pleased, particularly with the blue beads and the vermilion. Captain Lewis then stated to the chief that the object of his visit was friendly, and should be explained as soon as he reached their camp; and that, as the sun was oppressive, and no water near, he wished to go there as soon as possible. They now put on their moccasins, and their chief, whose name was Cameahwait, made a short speech to the warriors. Captain Lewis then gave him the flag, which he informed him was among white men the emblem of peace; and, now that he had received it, was to be in future the bond of union between them. The chief then moved on; our party followed him; and the rest of the warriors, in a squadron, brought up the rear."
Arriving at the village, the ceremony of smoking the pipe of peace was solemnly observed; and the women and children of the tribe were permitted to gaze with wonder on the first white men they had ever seen. The Indians were not much better provided with food than were their half-famished visitors. But some cakes made of service-berries and choke-berries dried in the sun were presented to the white men "on which," says Captain Lewis, "we made a hearty meal." Later in the day, however, an Indian invited Captain Lewis into his wigwam and treated him to a small morsel of boiled antelope and a piece of fresh salmon roasted. This was the first salmon he had seen, and the captain was now assured that he was on the headwaters of the Columbia. This stream was what is now known as the Lemhi River. The water was clear and limpid, flowing down a bed of gravel; its general direction was a little north of west. The journal says:-
"The chief informed him that this stream discharged, at the distance of half a day's march, into another [Salmon River] of twice its size, coming from the southwest; but added, on further inquiry, that there was scarcely more timber below the junction of those rivers than in this neighborhood, and that the river was rocky, rapid, and so closely confined between high mountains that it was impossible to pass down it either by land or water to the great lake [Pacific Ocean], where, as he had understood, the white men lived.
"This information was far from being satisfactory, for there was no timber here that would answer the purpose of building canoes,- indeed not more than just sufficient for fuel; and even that consisted of the narrow-leaved cottonwood, the red and the narrow-leaved willow, chokecherry, service-berry, and a few currant bushes, such as are common on the Missouri. The prospect of going on by land is more pleasant, for there are great numbers of horses feeding in every direction round the camp, which will enable us to transport our stores, if necessary, over the mountains."
While Captain Lewis was thus engaged, his companions in the canoes were slowly and laboriously ascending the river on the other side of the divide. The character of the stream was much as it had been for several days, and the men were in the water three-fourths of the time, dragging the boats over the shoals. They had but little success in killing game, but caught, as they had done for some days before, numbers of fine trout.
"August 14. In order to give time for the boats to reach the forks of Jefferson River," proceeds the narrative, "Captain Lewis determined to remain where he was, and obtain all the information he could collect in regard to the country. Having nothing to eat but a little flour and parched meal, with the berries of the Indians, he sent out Drewyer and Shields, who borrowed horses from the natives, to hunt for a few hours. About the same time the young warriors set out for the same purpose. There are but few elk or black tailed deer in this neighborhood; and as the common red deer secrete themselves in the bushes when alarmed, they are soon safe from the arrows, which are but feeble weapons against any animals which the huntsmen cannot previously run down with their horses. The chief game of the Shoshonees, therefore, is the antelope, which, when pursued, retreats to the open plains, where the horses have full room for the chase. But such is its extraordinary fleetness and wind, that a single horse has no possible chance of outrunning it or tiring it down, and the hunters are therefore obliged to resort to stratagem.
"About twenty Indians, mounted on fine horses, and armed with bows and arrows, left the camp. In a short time they descried a herd of ten antelope: they immediately separated into little squads of two or three, and formed a scattered circle round the herd for five or six miles, keeping at a wary distance, so as not to alarm them till they were perfectly enclosed, and selecting, as far as possible, some commanding eminence as a stand. Having gained their positions, a small party rode towards the animals, and with wonderful dexterity the huntsmen preserved their seats, and the horses their footing, as they ran at full speed over the hills, down the steep ravines, and along the borders of the precipices. They were soon outstripped by the antelopes, which, on gaining the other extremity of the circle, were driven back and pursued by the fresh hunters. They turned and flew, rather than ran, in another direction; but there, too, they found new enemies. In this way they were alternately pursued backward and forward, till at length, notwithstanding the skill of the hunters, they all escaped and the party, after running for two hours, returned without having caught anything, and their horses foaming with sweat. This chase, the greater part of which was seen from the camp, formed a beautiful scene; but to the hunters it is exceedingly laborious, and so unproductive, even when they are able to worry the animal down and shoot him, that forty or fifty hunters will sometimes be engaged for half a day without obtaining more than two or three antelope.
"Soon after they returned, our two huntsmen came in with no better success. Captain Lewis therefore made a little paste with the flour, and the addition of some berries formed a very palatable repast. Having now secured the good will of Cameahwait, Captain Lewis informed him of his wish that he would speak to the warriors, and endeavor to engage them to accompany him to the forks of Jefferson River; where by this time another chief [Clark], with a large party of white men, was awaiting his [Lewis'] return; that it would be necessary to take about thirty horses to transport the merchandise; that they should be well rewarded for their trouble; and that, when all the party should have reached the Shoshonee camp, they would remain some time among them to trade for horses, as well as concert plans for furnishing them in future with regular supplies of merchandise. He readily consented to do so, and after collecting the tribe together, he made a long harangue. In about an hour and a half he returned, and told Captain Lewis that they would be ready to accompany him in the morning."
But the Indians were suspicious and reluctant to take the word of the white man. Captain Lewis, almost at his wits' end, appealed to their courage. He said that if they were afraid of being led into a trap, he was sure that some among them were not afraid.
"To doubt the courage of an Indian is to touch the tenderest string of his mind, and the surest way to rouse him to any dangerous achievement. Cameahwait instantly replied that he was not afraid to die, and mounting his horse, for the third time harangued the warriors. He told them that he was resolved to go if he went alone, or if he were sure of perishing; that he hoped there were among those who heard him some who were not afraid to die, and who would prove it by mounting their horses and following him. This harangue produced an effect on six or eight only of the warriors, who now joined their chief. With these Captain Lewis smoked a pipe; and then, fearful of some change in their capricious temper, set out immediately."
The party now retraced the steps so lately taken by Captain Lewis and his men. On the second day out, one of the spies sent forward by the Indians came madly galloping back, much to the alarm of the white men. It proved, however, that the spy had returned to tell his comrades that one of the white hunters [Drewyer] had killed a deer. An Indian riding behind Captain Lewis, fearful that he should not get his share of the spoil, jumped off the horse and ran for a mile at full speed. The journal says:-
"Captain Lewis slackened his pace, and followed at a sufficient distance to observe them. When they reached the place where Drewyer had thrown out the intestines, they all dismounted in confusion and ran tumbling over each other like famished dogs. Each tore away whatever part he could, and instantly began to eat it. Some had the liver, some the kidneys-in short, no part on which we are accustomed to look with disgust escaped them. One of them, who had seized about nine feet of the entrails, was chewing at one end, while with his hand he was diligently clearing his way by discharging the contents at the other. It was indeed impossible to see these wretches ravenously feeding on the filth of animals, the blood streaming from their mouths, without deploring how nearly the condition of savages approaches that of the brute creation. Yet, though suffering with hunger, they did not attempt, as they might have done, to take by force the whole deer, but contented themselves with what had been thrown away by the hunter. Captain Lewis now had the deer skinned, and after reserving a quarter of it gave the rest of the animal to the chief, to be divided among the Indians, who immediately devoured nearly the whole of it without cooking. They now went toward the [Prairie] creek, where there was some brushwood to make a fire, and found Drewyer, who had killed a second deer. The same struggle for the entrails was renewed here, and on giving nearly the whole deer to the Indians, they devoured it even to the soft part of the hoofs. A fire being made, Captain Lewis had his breakfast, during which Drewyer brought in a third deer. This too, after reserving one-quarter, was given to the Indians, who now seemed completely satisfied and in good humor."
They now approached the forks of the Jefferson, where they had expected to meet Clark and his party with the canoes. Not seeing any signs of them, the Lewis party were placed in a critical position. The Indians were again alarmed and suspicious. Here Captain Clark's journal says:-
"As they went on towards the point, Captain Lewis, perceiving how critical his situation had become, resolved to attempt a stratagem, which his present difficulty seemed completely to justify. Recollecting the notes he had left at the point for us, he sent Drewyer for them with an Indian, who witnessed his taking them from the pole. When they were brought, Captain Lewis told Cameahwait that, on leaving his brother chief at the place where the river issues from the mountains, it was agreed that the boats should not be brought higher than the next forks we should meet; but that, if the rapid water prevented the boats from coming on as fast as they expected, his brother chief was to send a note to the first forks above him, to let him know where they were: that this note had been left this morning at the forks, and mentioned that the canoes were just below the mountains, and coming up slowly in consequence of the current. Captain Lewis added that he would stay at the forks for his brother chief, but would send a man down the river; and that if Cameahwait doubted what he said, one of their young men could go with him, while he and the other two remained at the forks. This story satisfied the chief and the greater part of the Indians; but a few did not conceal their suspicions, observing that we told different stories, and complaining that their chief exposed them to danger by a mistaken confidence. Captain Lewis now wrote, by the light of some willow-brush, a note to Captain Clark, which he gave to Drewyer, with an order to use all possible expedition in descending the river, and engaged an Indian to accompany him by the promise of a knife and some beads.
"At bedtime the chief and five others slept round the fire of Captain Lewis, and the rest hid themselves in different parts of the willow-brush to avoid the enemy, who, they feared, would attack them in the night. Captain Lewis endeavored to assume a cheerfulness he did not feel, to prevent the despondency of the savages. After conversing gayly with them he retired to his mosquito-bier, by the side of which the chief now placed himself. He lay down, yet slept but little, being in fact scarcely less uneasy than his Indian companions. He was apprehensive that, finding the ascent of the river impracticable, Captain Clark might have stopped below Rattlesnake bluff, and the messenger would not meet him. The consequence of disappointing the Indians at this moment would most probably be that they would retire and secrete themselves in the mountains, so as to prevent our having an opportunity of recovering their confidence. They would also spread a panic through all the neighboring Indians, and cut us off from the supply of horses so useful and almost so essential to our success. He was at the same time consoled by remembering that his hopes of assistance rested on better foundations than their generosity- their avarice and their curiosity. He had promised liberal exchanges for their horses; but what was still more seductive, he had told them that one of their countrywomen, who had been taken with the Minnetarees, accompanied the party below; and one of the men had spread the report of our having with us a man [York] perfectly black, whose hair was short and curled. This last account had excited a great degree of curiosity, and they seemed more desirous of seeing this monster than of obtaining the most favorable barter for their horses."
On the following day, August 17, the two parties of explorers finally met. Under that date the journal has this interesting entry:-
"Captain Lewis rose very early and despatched Drewyer and the Indian down the river in quest of the boats. Shields was sent out at the same time to hunt, while M'Neal prepared a breakfast out of the remainder of the meat. Drewyer had been gone about two hours, and the Indians were all anxiously waiting for some news, when an Indian, who had straggled a short distance down the river, returned with a report that he had seen the white men, who were only a short distance below, and were coming on. The Indians were transported with joy, and the chief, in the warmth of his satisfaction, renewed his embrace to Captain Lewis, who was quite as much delighted as the Indians themselves. The report proved most agreeably true.
"On setting out at seven o'clock, Captain Clark, with Chaboneau and his wife, walked on shore; but they had not gone more than a mile before Captain Clark saw Sacajawea, who was with her husband one hundred yards ahead, begin to dance and show every mark of the most extravagant joy, turning round to him and pointing to several Indians, whom he now saw advancing on horseback, sucking her fingers at the same time, to indicate that they were of her native tribe. As they advanced, Captain Clark discovered among them Drewyer dressed like an Indian, from whom be learned the situation of the party. While the boats were performing the circuit, he went toward the forks with the Indians, who, as they went along, sang aloud with the greatest appearance of delight.
"We soon drew near the camp, and just as we approached it a woman made her way through the crowd toward Sacajawea; recognizing each other, they embraced with the most tender affection. The meeting of these two young women had in it something peculiarly touching, not only from the ardent manner in which their feelings were expressed, but also from the real interest of their situation. They had been companions in childhood; in the war with the Minnetarees they had both been taken prisoners in the same battle; they had shared and softened the rigors of their captivity till one of them had escaped from their enemies with scarce a hope of ever seeing her friend rescued from their hands.
"While Sacajawea was renewing among the women the friendships of former days, Captain Clark went on, and was received by Captain Lewis and the chief, who, after the first embraces and salutations were over, conducted him to a sort of circular tent or shade of willows. Here he was seated on a white robe; and the chief immediately tied in his hair six small shells resembling pearls, an ornament highly valued by these people, who procure them in the course of trade from the seacoast. The moccasins of the whole party were then taken off, and, after much ceremony, the smoking began. After this the conference was to be opened; and, glad of an opportunity of being able to converse more intelligibly, Sacajawea was sent for: she came into the tent, sat down, and was beginning to interpret, when in the person of Cameahwait she recognized her brother. She instantly jumped up, and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket, and weeping profusely: the chief was himself moved, though not in the same degree. After some conversation between them she resumed her seat, and attempted to interpret for us; but her new situation seemed to overpower her, and she was frequently interrupted by her tears. After the council was finished, the unfortunate woman learned that all her family were dead except two brothers, one of whom was absent, and a son of her eldest sister, a small boy, who was immediately adopted by her."
The two parties, Indian and white, now went into a conference, the white chiefs explaining that it would be needful for their Indian friends to collect all their horses and help to transport the goods of the explorers over the Great Divide. The journal says:-
"The speech made a favorable impression. The chief, in reply, thanked us for our expressions of friendship toward himself and his nation, and declared their willingness to render us every service. He lamented that it would be so long before they should be supplied with firearms, but that till then they could subsist as they had heretofore done. He concluded by saying that there were not horses enough here to transport our goods, but that he would return to the village to-morrow, bring all his own horses, and encourage his people to come over with theirs. The conference being ended to our satisfaction, we now inquired of Cameahwait what chiefs were among the party, and he pointed out two of them. We then distributed our presents: to Cameahwait we gave a medal of small size, with the likeness of President Jefferson, and on the reverse a figure of hands clasped with a pipe and tomahawk; to this was added an uniform coat, a shirt, a pair of scarlet leggings, a carrot [or twist] of tobacco, and some small articles. Each of the other chiefs received a small medal struck during the presidency of General Washington, a shirt, handkerchief, leggings, knife, and some tobacco. Medals of the same sort were also presented to two young warriors, who, though not chiefs, were promising youths and very much respected in the tribe. These honorary gifts were followed by presents of paint, moccasins, awls, knives, beads, and looking-glasses. We also gave them all a plentiful meal of Indian corn, of which the hull is taken off by being boiled in lye; as this was the first they had ever tasted, they were very much pleased with it. They had, indeed, abundant sources of surprise in all they saw- the appearance of the men, their arms, their clothing, the canoes, the strange looks of the negro, and the sagacity of our dog, all in turn shared their admiration, which was raised to astonishment by a shot from the air-gun. This operation was instantly considered `great medicine,' by which they, as well as the other Indians, mean something emanating directly from the Great Spirit, or produced by his invisible and incomprehensible agency. â¦
"After the council was over we consulted as to our future operations. The game did not promise to last here for many days; and this circumstance combined with many others to induce our going on as soon as possible. Our Indian information as to the state of the Columbia was of a very alarming kind; and our first object was, of course, to ascertain the practicability of descending it, of which the Indians discouraged our expectations. It was therefore agreed that Captain Clark should set off in the morning with eleven men, furnished, besides their arms, with tools for making canoes: that he should take Chaboneau and his wife to the camp of the Shoshonees, where he was to leave them, in order to hasten the collection of horses; that he should then lead his men down to the Columbia, and if be found it navigable, and the timber in sufficient quantity, begin to build canoes. As soon as he had decided as to the propriety of proceeding down the Columbia or across the mountains, be was to send back one of the men with information of it to Captain Lewis, who by that time would have brought up the whole party, and the rest of the baggage, as far as the Shoshonee village. Preparations were accordingly made at once to carry out the arrangement.
"In order to relieve the men of Captain Clark's party from the heavy weight of their arms, provisions, and tools, we exposed a few articles to barter for horses, and soon obtained three very good ones, in exchange for which we gave a uniform coat, a pair of leggings, a few handkerchiefs, three knives, and some other small articles, the whole of which did not, in the United States, cost more than twenty dollars; a fourth was purchased by the men for an old checkered shirt, a pair of old leggings, and a knife. The Indians seemed to be quite as well pleased as ourselves at the bargain they had made. We now found that the two inferior chiefs were somewhat displeased at not having received a present equal to that given to the great chief, who appeared in a dress so much finer than their own. To allay their discontent, we bestowed on them two old coats, and promised them if they were active in assisting us across the mountains they should have an additional present. This treatment completely reconciled them, and the whole Indian party, except two men and two women, set out in perfect good humor to return to their home with Captain Clark."