Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell

Lewis and Clark—IV

By the end of August the explorers, having procured a number of horses, set to work to make saddles, cache their extra baggage, and set out for their journey north and west. The way led them over rough mountains, often without a trail. They were fortunate in having an old Indian as guide, but met much cold weather, and found the country barren of game. However, after two or three days of very difficult travel, they came upon a camp of friendly Indians, who fed them. These people professed to be an offshoot of the Tushepaw tribe, had plenty of horses, and were fairly well provided. They told them that down the great river was a large fall, near which lived white people, who supplied them with beads and brass wire. Not long after this they met the first Chopunnish, or Pierced-nose Indians, whom we know to-day as Nez Perces. They were friendly, and were treated as other tribes had been.

Although the explorers had had one satisfying meal, yet food was very scarce, and the Indians subsisted as best they might on the few salmon still remaining in the streams, which they shared with the white men. The privations suffered recently were making them weak; many were sick; and it was so necessary to husband their strength that Captain Clark determined to make the remaining journey by water. Canoes were built, and the thirty-eight horses were branded and turned over to three Indians to care for until the explorers returned. Provisions for the trip were difficult to obtain. On the morning of October 7 they started down Lewis River without two of the Nez Perce chiefs who had promised to go with them. Indian encampments were numerous along the river, but food continued very scarce, and their only supply consisted of roots, which they got from the Indians. Later they bought some dogs from the Nez Perces for food, and were laughed at by the Indians, who did not eat dogs. The Nez Perth during summer and autumn occupied themselves in fishing for salmon and collecting roots and berries, while in winter they hunted the deer on snow-shoes, and toward spring crossed the mountains to the Missouri for the purpose of trading for buffalo robes. They appeared very different from the kindly Shoshoni; they were selfish and avaricious, and expected a reward for every service and a full price for every article they parted with.

Although it was now drawing toward mid-October, the weather continued warm. Progress down the stream was rapid, though more so in appearance than in reality, owing to the river's bends. On the bank of the stream, at a large Indian camp where they stopped October 11, a novel form of sweat-house was observed. Earth was banked up on three sides against a cut-bank at the river's edge, and the Indians, descending through the roof, which was covered with brush and earth, except for a small aperture, took down their hot stones and vessels of water and bathed here.

They were now approaching the camp of a different nation of Indians, who had been warned of the coming of the party by the two chiefs who had gone before, and they began to receive visits from men who had come up the stream to satisfy the curiosity excited by the reports. When they reached the camp they were hospitably received, and the usual council was held, accompanied by distribution of presents and medals. Here they obtained from the Indians some dogs, a few fish, and a little dried horse-flesh. This was at the junction of the Lewis River and the Columbia; and the Indians, who called themselves Sokuiks, seemed a mild and peaceable people, living in a state of comparative happiness. The men appeared to have but one wife, old age was respected, and the people were agreeable to deal with. Their support was largely fish, to which were added roots and the flesh of the antelope. They were chiefly canoe people, and possessed but few horses.

Here Captain Clark, while ascending the Columbia in a small canoe, first saw, besides the captured fish drying on scaffolds, "immense numbers of salmon strewed along the shore, or floating on the surface of the water." At the Indian villages that he passed he was hospitably received, and here first the sage grouse, called a "prairie cock, a bird of the pheasant kind, of about the size of a small turkey," was captured.

Proceeding down the Columbia a few days' journey, an interesting incident took place. "As Captain Clark arrived at the lower end of the rapid before any, except one of the small canoes, he 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 toward 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 homes. 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 toward 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 toward 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 tranquility 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 intentions toward them. Soon after the interpreter's wife 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 him self 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."

Below this, other Indian villages were passed, and there was more or less intercourse between the white men and the Indians. On the 20th an island was visited, one end of which was devoted to the burial of the dead. The passage down the river continued to be more or less interrupted by rapids and falls, about which they were obliged to make portages. All the Indians seemed to be friendly, and seemed also to be in great dread of the Snake Indians, with whom they were constantly at war.

Here is described the method of certain tribes of preparing fish, by drying, and pounding it fine, and then placing it in a basket lined with skin of the salmon, and covering the top of the basket with skins. Fish prepared in this way would keep sound and sweet for years. It was an article of trade between these people and those farther down the river, who eagerly purchased it. The preparation seems to have been the equivalent of the pemmican, made of flesh, and so extensively used on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.

The rapids which they constantly encountered greatly delayed them, and sometimes the contents of one or more boats were soaked by being upset or by shipping water. Food was scarce, and they continued to purchase dogs for provisions. October 24 a change was noticed in the actions of the Indians, who seemed more suspicious than usual and approached the travellers with more caution. This alarmed the two Indian chiefs who had come with them down the river, and they wished to leave the party and return to their own country. However, they were persuaded to remain two nights longer, since they had proved most useful in quieting the fears of the different tribes met with and inspiring them with confidence in the white people.

A little later they met Indians, some of whom wore white men's clothing, said to have been obtained from people farther down the stream, and who had also a musket, a cutlass, and several brass kettles. A chief who had some white men's clothing exhibited to the travellers, as trophies, fourteen dried forefingers, which he told them had belonged to enemies whom he had killed in fighting, to the southeast. At a burial-place were deposited brass kettles and frying-pans with holes in the bottoms. The making holes in these vessels, which were to contain liquid, was, of course, for the purpose of "killing" the vessel, that it might be useful to the spirit who was to use it in another life. Not very far below this they first met the wappato, a word now firmly established in the vernacular of the North west; it is the root of the plant Sagittaria, well known as an excellent food for human beings, and eagerly eaten by wild-fowl. The Indians with whom the explorers now came in contact were troublesome mortals, very presuming, and disposed to take anything that was left about. They possessed still more articles of white men's manufacture, some having muskets and pistols. Below the mouth of the Coweliske River they found an Indian who spoke a few words of English, and he gave them the name of the principal person who traded with them—a Mr. Haley.

The river was now growing wider; there were great numbers of water-fowl; and on the afternoon of November 7 the fog suddenly cleared away and they saw the ocean, the object of all their labors, the reward of all their anxiety. The weather was almost constantly rainy, and they were continually wet. There were numerous villages along the river, and these were to be avoided, because, like all Indian villages recently passed, they were terribly infested by fleas. Among the wild fowl killed in this locality were a goose and two canvas-back ducks. The sea was heavy in this mouth of the river, and the motion so great that several of the men became seasick. They landed in the bay, but the hills came down so steeply to the water's edge that there was no room for them to make a satisfactory camp nor to secure the baggage above high water. However, they raised the baggage on poles and spent a most uncomfortable night. For some days now they camped on the beach, wet, cold, and comfortless, with nothing but dried fish to satisfy their hunger. Hunters sent out failed to bring in any game, but they bought a few fresh fish from the Indians. On the 15th of November, however, the sun came out, and they were able to dry their merchandise; and, the wind falling, they loaded their canoes, and after proceeding a short distance found a sand beach, where they made a comfortable camp. This was in full view of the ocean, quite on the route traversed by the Indians, many of whom visited them; and there was more or less game in the neighborhood, for the hunters brought in two deer, some geese and ducks, and a crane.

It was now almost winter, and the travellers began to look out for a place where they might build their winter camp. The Indians reported deer and elk reasonably abundant on the opposite side of the bay; but, on the other hand, the explorers wished to be near the ocean, that they might provide themselves with salt, and also for the chance of meeting some of the trading vessels, which were expected in the course of the next two or three months. The rain continued and the hunters were unsuccessful. A diet of dried fish was making the men ill, and the prospects were not bright. However, on the 2d of December, one of the hunters killed an elk, the first taken on the west side of the Rocky Mountains; and we may imagine how much its flesh was enjoyed after the long diet of roots and fish. And now for some time deer and elk were killed in great abundance; but the continued wet weather caused much of the flesh to spoil. The Indians seemed to be taking a good many salmon—presumably in the salt water of the bay—and they had many berries.

Christmas and New Year's passed, and in the first days of January there came the news that a whale had been cast up on the beach. All the Indians hurried to it; and following them went Captain Clark and some of the men, and with them Chaboneau and his wife,' the latter extremely anxious to venture to the edge of the salt water and to see the enormous "fish" which had come ashore. The skeleton of the whale measured one hundred and five feet in length.

"While smoking with the Indians, Captain Clark was startled about ten o'clock by a loud, shrill cry from the opposite village, on hearing which all the natives immediately started up to cross the creek, and the guide informed him that some one had been killed. On examination, one of our men was discovered to be absent, and a guard was despatched, who met him crossing the creek in great haste. An Indian belonging to another band, and who happened to be with the Killamucks that evening, had treated him with much kindness, and walked arm in arm with him to a tent, where our man found a Chinnook squaw who was an old acquaintance. From the conversation and manner of the stranger, this woman discovered that his object was to murder the white man for the sake of the few articles on his person; and when he rose and pressed our man to go to another tent, where they would find something better to eat, she held McNeal by the blanket. Not knowing her object, he freed himself from her, and was going on with his pretended friend, when she ran out and gave a shriek which brought the men of the village over, and the stranger ran off before McNeal knew what had occasioned the alarm."

With a small load of blubber and oil, the party returned to the fort, where they found that game was still being killed, and endeavored to jerk some of it. Much is said in the journal about the various Indian tribes of the neighborhood, their method of hunting and fishing, their habitations, and their dress and implements. The canoes, and the skill in managing them, excited the unfeigned admiration of the white men; and the fact that such canoes could be constructed by people without axes, and armed only with a chisel, made of an old file, about an inch or an inch and a half in width, seemed to them very extraordinary. It was noted that some of the Indians, especially the women, appeared to tattoo the legs and arms; and on the arm of one woman was read the name J. Bowman; perhaps some trader who had visited the locality. Among these people women were very well treated, and old age was highly respected.