Lewis & Clark: Down the Pacific Slope
Down the Pacific Slope
The early days of October were spent in making preparations for the descent of the river,-the Kooskooskee. Here they made their canoes, and they called their stopping-place Canoe Camp. This was at the junction of the north fork of the river with the main stream; and all below that point is called the Lower Kooskooskee, while that above is known as the upper river. The latitude of the camp, according to the journal of the explorers, was 46'0 34' 56" north. Here they buried in a cache their saddles, horse-gear, and a small supply of powder and musket balls for possible emergencies. The Kooskooskee, it should be borne in mind, is now better known as the Clearwater; it empties into the Snake River, and that into the Columbia. As far as the explorers knew the water-course down which they were to navigate, they called it Clark's River, in honor of Captain Clark. But modern geographers have displaced the name of that eminent explorer and map-maker and have divided the stream, or streams, with other nomenclature.
On the eighth of October the party set out on their long water journey in five canoes, one of which was a small craft intended to go on ahead and pilot the way (which, of course, was unknown) for the four larger ones, in which travelled the main party with their luggage. They met with disaster very soon after their start, one of the canoes having struck a rock, which made a hole in its side and caused the sinking of the craft. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but the voyage was interrupted. The party went ashore and did not resume their journey until their luggage was dried and the canoe repaired. On the ninth, says the journal:-
"The morning was as usual cool; but as the weather both yesterday and to-day was cloudy, our merchandise dried but slowly. The boat, though much injured, was repaired by ten o'clock so as to be perfectly fit for service; but we were obliged to remain during the day till the articles were sufficiently dry to be reloaded. The interval we employed in purchasing fish for the voyage, and conversing with the Indians. In the afternoon we were surprised at hearing that our old Shoshonee guide and his son had left us and had been seen running up the river several miles above. As he had never given any notice of his intention, nor had even received his pay for guiding us, we could not imagine the cause of his desertion; nor did he ever return to explain his conduct. We requested the chief to send a horseman after him to request that he would return and receive what we owed him. From this, however, he dissuaded us, and said very frankly that his nation, the Chopunnish, would take from the old man any presents that he might have on passing their camp. The Indians came about our camp at night, and were very gay and good-humored with the men. Among other exhibitions was that of a squaw who appeared to be crazy. She sang in a wild, incoherent manner, and offered to the spectators all the little articles she possessed, scarifying herself in a horrid manner if anyone refused her present. She seemed to be an object of pity among the Indians, who suffered her to do as she pleased without interruption."
The river was full of rapids and very dangerous rocks and reefs, and the voyagers were able to make only twenty miles a day for some distance along the stream. At the confluence of the Kooskooskee and the Snake River they camped for the night, near the present site of Lewiston, Idaho. This city, first settled in May, 1861, and incorporated in 1863, was named for Captain Lewis of our expedition. From this point the party crossed over into the present State of Washington. Of their experience at their camp here the journal says:-
"Our arrival soon attracted the attention of the Indians, who flocked in all directions to see us. In the evening the Indian from the falls, whom we had seen at Rugged rapid, joined us with his son in a small canoe, and insisted on accompanying us to the falls. Being again reduced to fish and roots, we made an experiment to vary our food by purchasing a few dogs, and after having been accustomed to horse-flesh, felt no disrelish for this new dish. The Chopunnish have great numbers of dogs, which they employ for domestic purposes, but never eat; and our using the flesh of that animal soon brought us into ridicule as dog-eaters."
When Fremont and his men crossed the continent to California, in 1842, they ate the flesh of that species of marmot which we know as the prairie-dog. Long afterwards, when Fremont was a candidate for the office of President of the United States, this fact was recalled to the minds of men, and the famous explorer was denounced as "a dog-eater."
The journal of the explorers gives this interesting account of the Indians among whom they now found themselves:-
"The Chopunnish or Pierced-nose nation, who reside on the Kooskooskee and Lewis' [Snake] rivers, are in person stout, portly, well-looking men; the women are small, with good features and generally handsome, though the complexion of both sexes is darker than that of the Tushepaws. In dress they resemble that nation, being fond of displaying their ornaments. The buffalo or elk-skin robe decorated with beads; sea-shells, chiefly mother-of-pearl, attached to an otter-skin collar and hung in the hair, which falls in front in two cues; feathers, paints of different kinds, principally white, green, and light blue, all of which they find in their own country; these are the chief ornaments they use. In the winter they wear a short skirt of dressed skins, long painted leggings and moccasins, and a plait of twisted grass round the neck. The dress of the women is more simple, consisting of a long shirt of argalia [argali] or ibex [bighorn] skin, reaching down to the ankles, without a girdle; to this are tied little pieces of brass, shells, and other small articles; but the head is not at all ornamented.
"The Chopunnish have very few amusements, for their life is painful and laborious; all their exertions are necessary to earn even their precarious subsistence. During the summer and autumn they are busily occupied in fishing for salmon and collecting their winter store of roots. In winter they hunt the deer on snow-shoes over the plains, and toward spring cross the mountains to the Missouri for the purpose of rafficking for buffalo-robe. The inconveniences of their comfortless life are increased by frequent encounters with their enemies from the west, who drive them over the mountains with the loss of their horses, and sometimes the lives of many of the nation."
After making a short stage on their journey, October 11, the party stopped to trade with the Indians, their stock of provisions being low. They were able to purchase a quantity of salmon and seven dogs. They saw here a novel kind of vapor bath which is thus described in the journal:-
"While this traffic was going on we observed a vapor bath or sweating-house, in a different form from that used on the frontier of the United States or in the Rocky Mountains. It was a hollow square six or eight feet deep, formed in the river bank by damming up with mud the other three sides and covering the whole completely, except an aperture about two feet wide at the top. The bathers descend by this hole, taking with them a number of heated stones and jugs of water; after being seated round the room they throw the water on the stones till the steam becomes of a temperature sufficiently high for their purposes. The baths of the Indians in the Rocky Mountains are of different sizes, the most common being made of mud and sticks like an oven, but the mode of raising the steam is exactly the same. Among both these nations it is very uncommon for a man to bathe alone; he is generally accompanied by one or sometimes several of his acquaintances; indeed, it is so essentially a social amusement, that to decline going in to bathe when invited by a friend is one of the highest indignities which can be offered to him. The Indians on the frontier generally use a bath which will accommodate only one person, formed of a wicker-work of willows about four feet high, arched at the top, and covered with skins. In this the patient sits, till by means of the heated stones and water he has perspired sufficiently. Almost universally these baths are in the neighborhood of running water, into which the Indians plunge immediately on coming out of the vapor bath, and sometimes return again and subject themselves to a second perspiration. This practice is, however, less frequent among our neighboring nations than those to the westward. This bath is employed either for pleasure or for health, and is used indiscriminately for all kinds of diseases."
The expedition was now on the Snake River, making all possible speed toward the Columbia, commonly known to the Indians as "The Great River." The stream was crowded with dangerous rapids, and sundry disasters were met with by the way; thus, on the fourteenth of October, a high wind blowing, one of the canoes was driven upon a rock sidewise and filled with water. The men on board got out and dragged the canoe upon the rock, where they held her above water. Another canoe, having been unloaded, was sent to the relief of the shipwrecked men, who, after being left on the rock for some time, were taken off without any other loss than the bedding of two of them. But accidents like this delayed the party, as they were forced to land and remain long enough to dry the goods that had been exposed to the water. Several such incidents are told in the journal of the explorers. Few Indians were to be seen along the banks of the river, but occasionally the party came to a pile of planks and timbers which were the materials from which were built the houses of such Indians as came here in the fishing season to catch a supply for the winter and for trading purposes. Occasionally, the complete scarcity of fuel compelled the explorers to depart from their general rule to avoid taking any Indian property without leave; and they used some of these house materials for firewood, with the intent to pay the rightful owners, if they should ever be found. On the sixteenth of October, they met with a party of Indians, of whom the journal gives this account:-
"After crossing by land we halted for dinner, and whilst we were eating were visited by five Indians, who came up the river on foot in great haste. We received them kindly, smoked with them, and gave them a piece of tobacco to smoke with their tribe. On receiving the present they set out to return, and continued running as fast as they could while they remained in sight. Their curiosity had been excited by the accounts of our two chiefs, who had gone on in order to apprise the tribes of our approach and of our friendly disposition toward them. After dinner we reloaded the canoes and proceeded. We soon passed a rapid opposite the upper point of a sandy island on the left, which has a smaller island near it. At three miles is a gravelly bar in the river; four miles beyond this the Kimooenim [Snake] empties into the Columbia, and at its mouth has an island just below a small rapid.
"We halted above the point of junction, on the Kimooenim, to confer with the Indians, who had collected in great numbers to receive us. On landing we were met by our two chiefs, to whose good offices we were indebted for this reception, and also the two Indians who had passed us a few days since on horseback; one of whom appeared to be a man of influence, and harangued the Indians on our arrival. After smoking with the Indians, we formed a camp at the point where the two rivers unite, near to which we found some driftwood, and were supplied by our two old chiefs with the stalks of willows and some small bushes for fuel.
"We had scarcely fixed the camp and got the fires prepared, when a chief came from the Indian camp about a quarter of a mile up the Columbia, at the head of nearly two hundred men. They formed a regular procession, keeping time to the music, or, rather, noise of their drums, which they accompanied with their voices; and as they advanced, they ranged themselves in a semicircle around us, and continued singing for some time. We then smoked with them all, and communicated, as well as we could by signs, our friendly intentions towards every nation, and our joy at finding ourselves surrounded by our children. After this we proceeded to distribute presents among them, giving the principal chief a large medal, a shirt, and a handkerchief; to the second chief, a medal of a smaller size; and to a third, who had come down from some of the upper villages, a small medal and a handkerchief. This ceremony being concluded, they left us; but in the course of the afternoon several of them returned, and remained with us till a late hour. After they had dispersed, we proceeded to purchase provisions, and were enabled to collect seven dogs, to which some of the Indians added small presents of fish, and one of them gave us twenty pounds of fat dried horse-flesh."
The explorers were still in the country which is now the State of Washington, at a point where the counties of Franklin, Yakima, and Walla Walla come together, at the junction of the Snake and the Columbia. We quote now from the journal:-
"From the point of junction the country is a continued plain, low near the water, from which it rises gradually, and the only elevation to be seen is a range of high country running from northeast to southwest, where it joins a range of mountains from the southwest, and is on the opposite side about two miles from the Columbia. There is on this plain no tree, and scarcely any shrubs, except a few willow-bushes; even of smaller plants there is not much more than the prickly-pear, which is in great abundance, and is even more thorny and troublesome than any we have yet seen. During this time the principal chief came down with several of his warriors, and smoked with us. We were also visited by several men and women, who offered dogs and fish for sale; but as the fish was out of season, and at present abundant in the river, we contented ourselves with purchasing all the dogs we could obtain.
"The nation among which we now are call themselves Sokulks; with them are united a few of another nation, who reside on a western branch which empties into the Columbia a few miles above the mouth of the latter river, and whose name is Chimnapum. The languages of these two nations, of each of which we obtained a vocabulary, differ but little from each other, or from that of the Chopunnish who inhabit the Kooskooskee and Lewis' rivers. In their dress and general appearance they also much resemble those nations; the men wearing a robe of deer- or antelope-skin, under which a few of them have a short leathern shirt. The most striking difference is among the females, the Sokulk women being more inclined to corpulency than any we have yet seen. Their stature is low, their faces are broad, and their heads flattened in such a manner that the forehead is in a straight line from the nose to the crown of the head. Their eyes are of a dirty sable, their hair is coarse and black, and braided without ornament of any kind. Instead of wearing, as do the Chopunnish, long leathern shirts highly decorated with beads and shells, the Sokulk women have no other covering but a truss or piece of leather tied round the hips, and drawn tight between the legs. The ornaments usually worn by both sexes are large blue or white beads, either pendant from their ears, or round the neck, wrists, and arms; they have likewise bracelets of brass, copper, and born, and some trinkets of shells, fishbones, and curious feathers.
"The houses of the Sokulks are made of large mats of rushes, and are generally of a square or oblong form, varying in length from fifteen to sixty feet, and supported in the inside by poles or forks about six feet high. The top is covered with mats, leaving a space of twelve or fifteen inches the whole length of the house, for the purpose of admitting the light and suffering the smoke to escape. The roof is nearly flat, which seems to indicate that rains are not common in this open country; and the house is not divided into apartments, the fire being in the middle of the enclosure, and immediately under the bole in the roof. The interior is ornamented with their nets, gigs, and other fishing-tackle, as well as the bow of each inmate, and a large quiver of arrows, which are headed with flint.
"The Sokulks seem to be of a mild and peaceable disposition, and live in a state of comparative happiness. The men, like those on the Kimooenim, are said to content themselves with a single wife, with whom the husband, we observe, shares the labors of procuring subsistence much more than is common among savages. What may be considered an unequivocal proof of their good disposition, is the great respect which is shown to old age. Among other marks of it, we noticed in one of the houses an old woman perfectly blind, and who, we were told, had lived more than a hundred winters. In this state of decrepitude, she occupied the best position in the house, seemed to be treated with great kindness, and whatever she said was listened to with much attention. They are by no means obtrusive; and as their fisheries supply them with a competent, if not an abundant subsistence, although they receive thankfully whatever we choose to give, they do not importune us by begging. Fish is, indeed, their chief food, except roots and casual supplies of antelope, which latter, to those who have only bows and arrows, must be very scanty. This diet may be the direct or the remote cause of the chief disorder which prevails among them, as well as among the Flatheads on the Kooskooskee and Lewis' rivers. With all these Indians a bad soreness of the eyes is a very common disorder, which is suffered to ripen by neglect, till many are deprived of one of their eyes, and some have totally lost the use of both. This dreadful calamity may reasonably, we think, be imputed to the constant reflection of the sun on the waters, where they are constantly fishing in the spring, summer, and fall, and during the rest of the year on the snows of a country which affords no object to relieve the sight.
"Among the Sokulks, indeed among all the tribes whose chief subsistence is fish, we have observed that bad teeth are very general; some have the teeth, particularly those of the upper jaw, worn down to the gums, and many of both sexes, even of middle age, have lost them almost entirely. This decay of the teeth is a circumstance very unusual among Indians, either of the mountains or the plains, and seems peculiar to the inhabitants of the Columbia. We cannot avoid regarding as one principal cause of it the manner in which they eat their food. The roots are swallowed as they are dug from the ground, frequently covered with a gritty sand; so little idea have they that this is offensive that all the roots they offer us for sale are in the same condition."
The explorers were now at the entrance of the mighty Columbia,-"The Great River" of which they had heard so much from the Indians. We might suppose that when they actually embarked upon the waters of the famous stream, variously known as "The River of the North" and "The Oregon," the explorers would be touched with a little of the enthusiasm with which they straddled the headwaters of the Missouri and gazed upon the snow-covered peaks of the Rocky Mountains. But no such kindling of the imagination seems to have been noted in their journal. In this commonplace way, according to their own account, Captain Clark entered upon the mighty Columbia:-
"In the course of the day [October 17, 1805], Captain Clark, in a small canoe with two men, ascended the Columbia. At the distance of five miles he passed an island in the middle of the river, at the head of which was a small but not dangerous rapid. On the left bank, opposite to this island, was a fishing-place consisting of three mat houses. Here were great quantities of salmon drying on scaffolds; and, indeed, from the mouth of the river upward, he saw immense numbers of dead salmon strewed along the shore, or floating on the surface of the water, which is so clear that the fish may be seen swimming at the depth of fifteen or twenty feet. The Indians, who had collected on the banks to observe him, now joined him in eighteen canoes, and accompanied him up the river. A mile above the rapids he came to the lower point of an island, where the course of the stream, which had been from its mouth north eighty-three degrees west, now became due west. He proceeded in that direction, until, observing three house's of mats at a short distance, he landed to visit them. On entering one of these houses, he found it crowded with men, women, and children, who immediately provided a mat for him to sit on, and one of the party undertook to prepare something to eat. He began by bringing in a piece of pine wood that had drifted down the river, which he split into small pieces with a wedge made of elkhorn, by means of a mallet of stone curiously carved. The pieces of wood were then laid on the fire, and several round stones placed upon them. One of the squaws now brought a bucket of water, in which was a large salmon about half dried, and, as the stones became heated, they were put into the bucket till the salmon was sufficiently boiled for use. It was then taken out, put on a platter of rushes neatly made, and laid before Captain Clark, while another was boiled for each of his men. During these preparations he smoked with such about him as would accept of tobacco, but very few were desirous of smoking, a custom which is not general among them, and chiefly used as a matter of form in great ceremonies.
"After eating the fish, which was of an excellent flavor, Captain Clark set out and, at the distance of four miles from the last island, came to the lower point of another near the left shore, where he halted at two large mat-houses. Here, as at the three houses below, the inhabitants were occupied in splitting and drying salmon. The multitudes of this fish are almost inconceivable. The water is so clear that they can readily be seen at the depth of fifteen or twenty feet; but at this season they float in such quantities down the stream, and are drifted ashore, that the Indians have only to collect, split, and dry them on the scaffolds. Where they procure the timber of which these scaffolds are composed he could not learn; but as there is nothing but willow-bushes to be seen for a great distance from this place, it rendered very probable what the Indians assured him by signs, that they often used dried fish as fuel for the common occasions of cooking. From this island they showed him the entrance of the western branch of the Columbia, called the Tapteal, which, as far as could be seen, bears nearly west and empties about eight miles above into the Columbia, the general course of which is northwest."
The Tapteal, as the journal calls it, is now known as the Yakima, a stream which has its source in the Cascade range of mountains, Washington. The party tarried here long enough to secure from the Indians a tolerably correct description of the river upon which they were about to embark. One of the chiefs drew upon the skin-side of a buffalo robe a sketch of the Columbia. And this was transferred to paper and put into the journal. That volume adds here:-
"Having completed the purposes of our stay, we now began to lay in our stores. Fish being out of season, we purchased forty dogs, for which we gave small articles, such as bells, thimbles, knitting-needles, brass wire, and a few beads, an exchange with which they all seemed perfectly satisfied. These dogs, with six prairie-cocks killed this morning, formed a plentiful supply for the present. We here left our guide and the two young men who had accompanied him, two of the three being unwilling to go any further, and the third being of no use, as he was not acquainted with the river below. We therefore took no Indians but our two chiefs, and resumed our journey in the presence of many of the Sokulks, who came to witness our departure. The morning was cool and fair, and the wind from the southeast."
They now began again to meet Indians who had never before seen white men. On the nineteenth, says the journal:-
"The great chief, with two of his inferior chiefs and a third belonging to a band on the river below, made us a visit at a very early hour. The first of these was called Yelleppit,- a handsome, well-proportioned man, about five feet eight inches high, and thirty-five years of age, with a bold and dignified countenance; the rest were not distinguished in their appearance. We smoked with them, and after making a speech, gave a medal, a handkerchief, and a string of wampum to Yelleppit, but a string of wampum only to the inferior chiefs. He requested us to remain till the middle of the day, in order that all his nation might come and see us; but we excused ourselves by telling him that on our return we would spend two or three days with him. This conference detained us till nine o'clock, by which time great numbers of the Indians had come down to visit us. On leaving them we went on for eight miles, when we came to an island near the left shore, which continued six miles in length. At its lower extremity is a small island on which are five houses, at present vacant, though the scaffolds of fish are as usual abundant. A short distance below are two more islands, one of them near the middle of the river. On this there were seven houses, but as soon as the Indians, who were drying fish, saw us, they fled to their houses, and not one of them appeared till we had passed; when they came out in greater numbers than is usual for houses of that size, which induced us to think that the inhabitants of the five lodges had been alarmed at our approach and taken refuge with them. We were very desirous of landing in order to relieve their apprehensions, but as there was a bad rapid along the island all our care was necessary to prevent injury to the canoes. At the foot of this rapid is a rock on the left shore, which is fourteen miles from our camp of last night and resembles a hat in shape."
Later in the day, Captain Clark ascended a bluff on the river bank, where he saw "a very high mountain covered with snow." This was Mount St. Helen's, in Cowlitz County, Washington. The altitude of the peak is nine thousand seven hundred and fifty feet. "Having arrived at the lower ends of the rapids below the bluff before any of the rest of the party, be sat down on a rock to wait for them, and, seeing a crane fly across the river, shot it, and it fell near him. Several Indians had been before this passing on the opposite side towards the rapids, and some who were then nearly in front of him, being either alarmed at his appearance or the report of the gun, fled to their houses. Captain Clark was afraid that these people had not yet heard that the white men were coming, and therefore, in order to allay their uneasiness before the rest of the party should arrive, he got into the small canoe with three men, rowed over towards the houses, and, while crossing, shot a duck, which fell into the water. As he approached no person was to be seen except three men in the plains, and they, too, fled as he came near the shore. He landed in front of five houses close to each other, but no one appeared, and the doors, which were of mat, were closed. He went towards one of them with a pipe in his hand, and, pushing aside the mat, entered the lodge, where he found thirty-two persons, chiefly men and women, with a few children, all in the greatest consternation; some hanging down their heads, others crying and wringing their hands. He went up to them, and shook hands with each one in the most friendly manner; but their apprehensions, which had for a moment subsided, revived on his taking out a burning-glass, as there was no roof to the house, and lighting his pipe: he then offered it to several of the men, and distributed among the women and children some small trinkets which he had with him, and gradually restored a degree of tranquillity among them.
"Leaving this house, and directing each of his men to visit a house, he entered a second. Here he found the inmates more terrified than those in the first; but he succeeded in pacifying them, and afterward went into the other houses, where the men had been equally successful. Retiring from the houses, he seated himself on a rock, and beckoned to some of the men to come and smoke with him; but none of them ventured to join him till the canoes arrived with the two chiefs, who immediately explained our pacific intention towards them. Soon after the interpreter's wife [Sacajawea] landed, and her presence dissipated all doubts of our being well-disposed, since in this country no woman ever accompanies a war party: they therefore all came out, and seemed perfectly reconciled; nor could we, indeed, blame them for their terrors, which were perfectly natural. They told the two chiefs that they knew we were not men, for they had seen us fall from the clouds. In fact, unperceived by them, Captain Clark had shot the white crane, which they had seen fall just before he appeared to their eyes: the duck which he had killed also fell close by him; and as there were some clouds flying over at the moment, they connected the fall of the birds with his sudden appearance, and believed that he had himself actually dropped from the clouds; considering the noise of the rifle, which they had never heard before, the sound announcing so extraordinary an event. This belief was strengthened, when, on entering the room, he brought down fire from the heavens by means of his burning-glass. We soon convinced them, however, that we were merely mortals; and after one of our chiefs had explained our history and objects, we all smoked together in great harmony.