It is so hard to find out the truth by looking at the past. The process of time obscures the truth and even contemporaneous writers disguise and twist out of malice or flattery. — Plutarch

Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell




Lewis and Clark—V

The winter was spent chiefly in procuring food and in observing the natives and the geography of the neighboring country, and the expedition had not expected to leave their permanent camp, Fort Clatsop, before the first of April. By the first of March, however, the elk, on which they chiefly depended for food, had moved away to ascend the mountains, and their trade goods being almost exhausted, they were too poor to purchase food from the Indians. It was evident that they must start back up the river, in the hope of there finding food, and must reach the point where they had left their horses before the Indians there should have moved off across the mountains or dispersed over the country.

During the winter they had worked hard at dressing skins, so that they were now well clad, and had besides three or four hundred pairs of moccasins. They still had also one hundred and forty pounds of powder and about twice that weight of lead, quite enough to carry them back.

On the 23d of March, therefore, after giving certificates to some of the Indian chiefs, and leaving tacked up on one of their cabins a notice of their successful crossing of the continent and their start back, they set out in two canoes up the Columbia. As they passed along they at first found little difficulty in securing provisions from the acquaintances they had made while descending the river; and besides this, the hunters killed some game. Before long, however, they began to meet Indians coming down the river who informed them that they had been driven from the Great Rapids by lack of provisions, their winter store of dried fish having become exhausted, and the salmon not being expected for a month or more. This was dismal news to people who were ascending the river in the hope of obtaining provisions, but there was nothing for them to do except to keep on, living on the country as well as they could, trying to reach the place where they had left their horses before the Indians should have departed. Their hunters succeeded in killing some deer and elk on the south side of the river, though there seemed no game on the north. Besides that, the deer killed were so extremely thin in flesh that it hardly seemed worth while to bring them into camp.

Many of the Indians still stood in great fear of the "medicine" of the white men; and Captain Clark, returning from a short exploring trip, saw an example of this. "On entering one of the apartments of the house, Captain Clark offered several articles to the Indians in exchange for wappatoo; but they appeared sullen and ill-humored, and refused to give him any. He therefore sat down by the fire opposite to the men, and, drawing a portfire match from his pocket, threw a small piece of it into the flames; at the same time he took out his pocket compass, and by means of a magnet which happened to be in his inkhorn, made the needle turn round very briskly. The match immediately took fire, and burned violently, on which the Indians, terrified at this strange exhibition, brought a quantity of wappatoo and laid it at his feet, begging him to put out the bad fire; while an old woman continued to speak with great vehemence, as if praying and imploring protection. After receiving the roots, Captain Clark put up the compass, and, as the match went out of itself, tranquillity was restored, though the women and children still sought refuge in their beds and behind the men. He now paid them for what he had used, and, after lighting his pipe and smoking with them, continued down the river."

The hunters still were killing some game, but it was so thin as to be unfit for use; six deer and an elk were left in the timber, while two deer and a bear were brought in. The wappatoo was now largely the food of all the Indians. The bulb, which grows in all the ponds of the interior, is gathered by the women, who, standing in deep water, feel about in the mud for the roots of the plant and detach the bulbs with their toes; these rise to the surface and are thrown into the canoe. The roots are like a small potato and are light and very nutritious.

A few days later they obtained from the Indians the skin of a "sheep" (mountain goat), which is described so that there is no doubt about the identification. The hunters also killed three black-tailed deer. Near Sepulcher Rock, a burial-place for the surrounding tribes, Captain Clark crossed the river in the endeavor to purchase a few horses, by which they might transport their baggage and some provisions across the mountains, but in this he was unsuccessful. However, some Indians were met, who promised a little later to meet them and furnish some horses. At the foot of the Great Narrows four were purchased to assist in carrying the baggage and the outfit over the portage.

The Indians at the upper end were rejoicing over the catching of the first salmon; and they were so good-natured that they sold the white men four more horses for two kettles, which reduced the stock of kettles to one. There was a good deal of trouble here from thefts by the Indians, and from their practice of trading articles and then returning and giving back the price that they had received and demanding articles that had been traded. So annoying did this become, that Captain Clark declared to the Indians in council assembled that the next man caught thieving would be shot; and a little bit later he was obliged to threaten to burn the village. At last, however, they got away, with ten horses, and proceeding up the river secured a few others. By this time they had exhausted pretty much all their trade goods, and the capacity to buy was about at an end. The Indian tribes that they were passing now did not seem to be particularly friendly and held themselves aloof; but a chief of the Walla Wallas, whom they met a little later, treated them most hospitably, and in striking contrast to the people that they had lately seen. This chief presented Captain Clark with a fine horse, and received in return a sword, one hundred balls, some powder, and some other small presents. The chief helped them cross the river in his canoes, and they camped on the Columbia, at the mouth of the Walla Walla River. They now possessed twenty-three horses, and on the whole were in pretty good shape, except that they had but little food and had nothing left which they could trade for food. About the first of May they met a party of Indians, consisting of one of the' chiefs of the Nez Pelvis who had gone down Lewis River with them the previous year and had been of great service to them, and had now come to meet them. They were now out of provisions, but at an Indian camp not far off managed to obtain two lean dogs and some roots. As they went on they learned that most of the Nez Perces were scattered out gathering spring roots, but the Indian in whose charge their horses had been left was not far away.

At this point the explorers were applied to by two or three persons who were ill, and their simple treatment benefiting the Indians, their fame greatly increased. The white men were careful to give the Indians only harmless medicine, trying to assist nature rather than to do anything that was radical. The Indians who had been benefited gave material evidence of their gratitude.

Since they had been on the Columbia River the Indians had made great fun of the white men because they ate dogs, and it was just after their experience in doctoring, but at another village, that "an Indian standing by, and looking with great derision at our eating dog's flesh, threw a poor half-starved puppy almost into Captain Lewis's plate, laughing heartily at the humor of it. Captain Lewis took up the animal and flung it back with great force into the fellow's face, and seizing his tomahawk, threatened to cut him down if he dared to repeat such insolence. He immediately withdrew, apparently much mortified, and we continued our dog repast very quietly." Continuing their journey, they were again applied to for medical advice and assistance, but declined to practice without remuneration. One or two small operations were performed, and a woman who had been treated, declaring the next day that she felt much better, her husband brought up a horse, which they at once killed.

Having crossed the river, on the advice of the Indians that more game was to be found, they kept on their way, and the day after the hunters brought in four deer, which, with the remains of the horse, gave them for the moment an abundant supply of food. Here they met Twisted Hair, in whose charge they had left their horses. He told them that, owing to the care that he had taken of their horses, he had been obliged to quarrel with other chiefs, who were jealous of him, and that finally he had given up the care of the horses, which were now scattered. They soon recovered twenty-one of their horses—most of which were in good condition—a part of their saddles, and some powder and lead which had been put in the cache with them. The Indians gave them two fat young horses for food, asking nothing in return, and the hospitality and generosity of these Indians made a great impression on the white men, who were now disposed to treat them with a great deal more courtesy and consideration than had been their custom. Captain Lewis at this meeting is quite enthusiastic about these Chopunnish Indians, whom he describes as industrious, cleanly, and generous—a report quite different from that made on the way down the river.

At the village where they camped May 11, the Indians lived in a single house, one hundred and fifty feet long, built of sticks, straw, and dried grass. It contained about twenty-four fires, about double that number of families, and might muster, perhaps, one hundred fighting men. The difficulty of talking to these Indians was great, for Captains Lewis and Clark were obliged to speak in English to one of the men, who translated this in French to Chaboneau, who interpreted to his wife in Minnetari; she told it in Shoshoni to a young Shoshoni prisoner, who finally explained it to the Nez Perth in their own tongue. After the council was over, the wonders of the compass, the spy-glass, the magnet, the watch, and the air-gun were all shown to the Indians. Here they were obliged also to do a good deal of doctoring, and finally another council was held, at which it was agreed by the Indians to follow the advice of Captains Lewis and Clark. Presents were made by the Indians to the whites, and to each chief was given a flag, a pound of powder, and fifty balls, and the same to the young men who had presented horses to them. They also paid the man who had charge of their horses, in part, agreeing with him to give the balance so soon as the remainder of the horses were brought in.

On the 14th of May they crossed the river and made a camp, where they purposed to wait until the snow had melted in the mountains. The hunters killed two bears and some small game, much of which they gave to the Indians, to whom it was a great treat, since they seldom had a taste of flesh. Many patients continued to be brought to them, whom they doctored, and with some success.

Early in June they began to make preparations to cross the mountains, though the Indians told them it would be impossible to do this before about the first of July. They were now well provided with animals, each man having a good riding horse, with a second horse for a pack, and some loose horses to be used in case of accident or for food. The salmon had not yet come up the river. They started on the 15th of June in a rain, and on the way found three deer, which their hunters had killed. They soon began to climb the mountains, and before long found themselves travelling over hard snow, which bore up their horses well; but it was evident that the journey would be too long to make, since for several days' travel there would be no food for the animals. So they were obliged to turn back and wait for the warmer weather.

Two men who had been sent back to the Indian village to hurry up the Indians who had promised to cross the mountains with them, and make peace with the Indians on the upper Missouri, returned with three Indians who agreed to go with them to the falls of the Missouri. A little later they started again, usually keeping on the divide, in order to head all streams and not cross any running water. The country was completely covered with snow. On the 26th of June they camped high up on the mountains, where there was good food for the horses. The travelling was pleasant; the snow hard. Their provisions had now about given out, however, except that they still had some roots; but now and then a deer was killed, which kept them from absolute starvation.

By July i they had reached a country where game was quite abundant, deer, elk, and big-horn being plenty in the neighborhood. It was determined to divide the party and to cover more country on the return than they had when coming out. Captain Lewis, with nine men, was to go to the falls of the Missouri, leave three men there to prepare carts for transporting baggage and canoes across the portage, and with the remaining six to ascend Mafia's River and explore the country there. The remainder of the party were to go to the head of the Jefferson River, where nine men under Sergeant Ordway should descend it with the canoes. Captain Clark's party was to go to the Yellowstone, there build canoes, and go down that river with seven men; while Sergeant Pryor, with two others, should take the horses overland to the Mandans, and thence go north to the British posts on the Assiniboine and induce Mr. Henry to persuade some of the Sioux chiefs to go with him to Washington. This plan was carried out.

Captain Lewis kept on to the Dearborn River. This was a good game country and they made rapid progress, and before long found themselves at their old station, White Bear Island. During the flood of the river the water had entered their cache and spoiled much of their property. They had much trouble here with lost horses, and one of their men, riding suddenly upon a bear, his horse wheeled and threw him, and the bear drove him up a tree where he was kept all day.

Captain Lewis now started to explore the Maria's River, and, following it up, almost reached the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Here they met a band of Indians, who stated that they were Gros Ventres of the Prairie, or, as Lewis and Clark put it, Minnetari of Fort de Prairie, and who, after some hesitation, appeared to be friendly enough, and smoked with Captain Lewis. They expressed themselves as willing to be at peace with the Indians across the mountains, but said that those Indians had lately killed a number of their relations. Captain Lewis kept a very close watch, fearing that the Indians would steal his horses. This did not happen, but on the following day, July 27, the Indians seized the rifles of four of the party. As soon as Fields and his brother saw the Indian running off with their two rifles they pursued him, and, overtaking him, stabbed him through the heart with a knife. The other guns were recovered without killing any of the Indians; but as they were trying to drive off the horses, Captain Lewis ordered the men to follow up the main party, who were driving the horses, and shoot them. He himself ran after two other Indians, who were driving away another bunch of horses, and so nearly overtook them that they left twelve of their own animals but continued to drive off one belonging to the white men. Captain Lewis had now run as far as he could, and calling to the Indians several times that unless they gave up the horse he would shoot, he finally did so, and killed an Indian. The other men now began to come up, having recovered a considerable number of the horses; they had lost one of their own horses and captured four belonging to the Indians. They now retreated down the river with the horses that they had, but took nothing from the Indians' camp.

These Indians were probably not Gros Ventres, as stated in the Lewis and Clark journal. Precisely the same story was told me in the year 1888 by the oldest Indian in the Blackfoot camp, as having been witnessed by him in his boyhood on Birch Creek, a branch of the Maria's. Wolf Calf, the narrator, was considered much the oldest Indian in the Piegan camp, and was supposed to be more than ninety-five years old. The Indian killed by Fields was named Side Hill Calf. He said that he was a boy with the Indian war party.

Captain Lewis, believing that they would be promptly pursued by a much larger party of Indians and attacked, at once began a retreat. The Indian horses which had been captured proved good ones, the plains were level, and they rode hard for more than eighty miles, only stopping twice to kill a buffalo and to rest their horses. They stopped at two o'clock in the morning, and at day-light started on again, and at last when they reached the Missouri they heard the report of a gun, and then a number of reports and before long had the satisfaction of seeing their friends going down the river. They landed, and Captain Lewis's party, after turning loose the horses, embarked, with the baggage, and kept on down the stream. Before long they met Sergeants Gass and Willard, who were bringing down horses from the falls, and now the whole party had come together, except Captain Clark's outfit, which had gone down the Yellowstone.

The journey down the Missouri was quickly made, and at the mouth of the Yellowstone a note was found from Captain Clark, who had gone on before them. Not far below this Captain Lewis, while hunting elk on a willow grove sand-bar, was shot in the thigh by his companion, Cruzatte, who apparently mistook him for an elk, he being clad in buckskin. At first Captain Lewis thought that they had been attacked by Indians, but no signs of Indians being found, the conclusion that Cruzatte had shot him, apparently by mistake, seemed inevitable. On August 12 they met Captain Clark's party, whose adventures had been much less startling than theirs. His party had started up Wisdom River, on the west side of the mountains, and, crossing over to the head of the Jefferson, had passed through a beautiful country—the Beaverhead—very lovely in its surroundings, with fertile soil, and abounding in game.

Most of the party had gone down the river in canoes, but a few men had been left on the land to drive down the horses. A part of these, under Sergeant Ordway, kept on down the river, while at the mouth of the Madison, Captain Clark, with ten men and the wife and child of Chaboneau, taking the fifty horses, crossed over to go to the Yellowstone and descend it. When they reached the Yellowstone, they followed it down for some little time, through a country abounding in buffalo, deer, and elk. Very likely they would have gone on farther but for an accident to one of the men, who was so badly hurt that he could not sit on his horse. Small timber being found, canoes were constructed, which were lashed together and loaded preparatory to setting out. While all this was being done, twenty-four of their horses disappeared, and a little search showed a piece of rope and a moccasin, which made it clear that the horses had been run off by the Indians. Sergeant Pryor, with two men, was ordered to take the remaining horses down the river to the mouth of the Bighorn, where they could cross and from there he was to take them to the Mandans. The canoes which went on down the river passed various streams, and at one point came upon what appeared to have been a medicine lodge of the Blackfeet. At a stream to which they gave the name of Horse Creek, they found Pryor with his animals. He had had much trouble in driving the horses, since, as many of them had been used by the Indians in hunting buffalo, whenever they saw a bunch of buffalo they would set off in pursuit of them. To prevent this, Sergeant Pryor was obliged to send one man ahead of the horse herd to drive away the buffalo.

From the top of Pompey's Pillar Captain Clark had a wide and beautiful prospect over the country, dotted everywhere by herds of buffalo, elk, and wolves. Bighorn were abundant here and farther down the stream, and the noise of the buffalo—for this was now the rutting season—was continuous. The large herds of elk were so gentle that they might be approached within twenty paces without being alarmed. The abundance of buffalo was so great that the travellers were in great fear, either that they would come into their camp at night and destroy their boats by trampling on them, or that the herds, which were constantly crossing the river, would upset the boats. Bears, also, were very abundant, and quite as fierce as they had been on the Missouri. Captain Clark killed one, the largest female that they had seen, and so old that the canine teeth had been worn quite smooth. Mosquitoes here were terribly abundant; several times, it is sai4, they alighted on the rifle barrels in such numbers that it was impossible to take sight.

On August 8 they were joined by Sergeant Pryor and his men, who had no horses; every one of them had been taken off the second day after they left the party by Indians. They followed them for a short distance, but without overtaking them; and finally coming back to the river, built two row-boats, in which they came down the stream with the utmost safety and comfort. On the 11th of August they met two trappers who had left Illinois in the summer of 1804, and had spent the following winter with the Tetons, where they had robbed and swindled a French trader out of all his goods. They told Captain Clark that the Mandans and Minnetaris were at war with the Arikaras, and had killed two of them, and also that the Assiniboines were at war with the Mandans, news which could not have been very pleasing to the explorers, whose efforts on their way up the river had been so strong for peace.

The party having come together on August 12, they kept on down the river, and two days later reached the village of the Mandans. Here they had protracted councils with the Mandans and Minnetaris, and tried hard to persuade some of them to go on with them to Washington. Colter applied to the commanding officers for permission to join the two trappers who had come down the river to this point, and he was accordingly discharged, supplied with powder and lead, and a number of other articles which might be useful to him. The next day he started back up the river. What Colter's subsequent adventures were is well known to any one who has followed the course of early exploration in the West. Colter's Hell, if we recollect right, was the first name ever applied to the geyser basins of the Yellowstone Park.

Though the Mandans and Minnetaris were as friendly and hospitable as possible, and gave them great stores of corn, none of the principal men would consent to go to Washington. They promised, however, to be more attentive to the requests of the white men, to keep the peace with their neighbors, and were greatly pleased and proud of the gift to the chief of the Minnetaris, Le Borgne, of the swivel, for which Captain Clark no longer had any use, as it could not be discharged from the canoes on which they were travelling. Here, too, they discharged their interpreter, Chaboneau, who wished to remain with his wife and child. One of the chiefs, Big White, consented, with his wife and child, to accompany the white men. Before the expedition finally left the village there was a last talk with the Indians, who sent word to the Arikaras by Captain Clark, inviting them to come up and meet them, and saying that they really desired peace with the Arikaras, but that they could place no dependence on anything that the Sioux might say.

Keeping on down the river, they found game plenty and the mosquitoes troublesome. At the Arikara village they were well received, and found there a camp of Cheyennes, also friendly. The Rees expressed willingness to follow the advice that Captain Clark had given them, but made many excuses for the failure to follow their counsels of the year before. The Cheyenne chief invited the white men to his lodge, and Captain Clark presented a medal to the chief, to that individual's great alarm, for he feared that it was "medicine" and might in some way harm him. The Cheyennes are described as friendly and well-disposed, though shy.

The trip down the river was unmarked by adventure. Enormous quantities of buffalo were seen, and on the 30th of August they came upon a party of Teton Sioux, under a chief called Black Bull. Other Sioux were seen, and on September 3 they came to the trading post of a Mr. James Airs, who presented each of the party with as much tobacco as he could use for the rest of the voyage, and also gave them a barrel of flour. Below the mouth of the Big Sioux River they passed Floyd's grave, which they found had been opened. Two days later they passed the trading post of one of the Choteaus and a little later the Platte, and at last, on. September 20, reached the little village of La Charette. On September 23 they reached St. Louis and went on shore, where they received "a most hearty and hospitable welcome from the whole village."