THOUGH Gray suffered eclipse, and though the Government of the United States maintained an attitude of indifference towards his discovery, there was one American statesman with that vision of bis nation’s natural domain which had inspired the sweeping phrase “from sea to sea” in the charters granted to the first English colonists. Thomas Jefferson dreamed of expansion to the Pacific Ocean for at least twenty years before the way opened to put his desire into effect. In December, 1783, he had written on this matter to George Rogers Clark, whose military genius during the Revolution had given the young Republic its farthest western boundary. The fact that the British at this time entertained the idea of exploration overland apparently had its influence on Jefferson, for he wrote:
I find they have subscribed a very large sum of money in England for exploring the country from the Mississippi to California. They pretend it is only to promote knowledge. I am afraid they have thoughts of colonising into that quarter. Some of us have been talking here in a feeble way of making the attempt to search that country. But I doubt whether we have enough of that kind of spirit to raise the money. How would you like to lead such a party? tho I am afraid our prospect is not worth asking the question.
Jefferson’s doubts as to the prospects were evidently justified, for nothing was done. Three years later in Paris, as American Minister, Jefferson listened sympathetically to a young country-man named John Ledyard, who had sailed with Cook and who was eager to cross the continent from the North Pacific. His plan included the establishment of trading posts and the exploration of the intervening unknown territory for the purpose of laying claim to it in the name of his country. Jefferson gave Ledyard the only assistance in his power, which was to request the Em-press of Russia to permit Ledyard to cross her domains. She refused, but nevertheless the young explorer set out to traverse Siberia to Kamchatka, whence he was to go by sea to Nootka, and essay the crossing of the continent. In Siberia he was arrested by the Russian authorities, who were aware of his plans with regard to the fur trade, and was carried back to Poland. He made his way to France and presently joined an exploring expedition bound for Africa. There he perished.
The American chronicles of these years are all but silent on the theme of Pacific exploration. In 1793, the year after Gray’s discovery of the River of the West, Jefferson made a positive effort to set an expedition on the way to the Pacific by land. Again, as in 1783, apparently he did not find “enough of that kind of spirit to raise the money” among the elect of Congress, for it was the American Philosophical Society which responded to his plea. A French botanist named André Michaux was chosen to make the journey in the interests of science. If the selection of Michaux satisfied the American Philosophical Society, it did not at all please a certain Virginian youth who was one of Jefferson’s friends. This youth, who was just finishing his education at a Latin school, was more than willing to forgo further literary wanderings in the company of Virgil’s hero for the sake of writing in action an epic of his own on the virgin soil of the West. But Meriwether Lewis, at eighteen years of age, failed to convince the philosophers or Jefferson that he possessed the qualifications and experience requisite to make a success of the venture. The wise men might better have en-trusted their affair to this valiant American boy than to the Frenchman Michaux, for no sooner had the botanist reached Kentucky than his scientific mind revolted from the peaceful study of stamens and pistils and exercised itself busily with military intrigue.
Another decade elapsed without further progress, though the passing years were not without their events and their lessons. Spain conceded to Americans the right of navigation on the Mississippi; but, before the concession, the secret machinations of Spanish agents had kept the trans-Appalachian commonwealths in perpetual ferment. The diplomacy of Spain in respect to Kentucky and Tennessee, however, served the purpose of arousing the American authorities to the danger threatening the young Republic the danger of being hemmed in on three sides by hostile powers and thus barred from expansion. In 1800 Spain secretly ceded Louisiana to France, stipulating that the territory should not be ceded to any other power without Spain’s consent. The transfer be-came known to American statesmen and increased their uneasiness. On the north, in Canada, were the none too friendly British; to the south were the Spanish; and now Louisiana, with its vast and undefined boundaries, had come into the possession of France the militaristic France of Napoleon Bonaparte. And, in 1802, Napoleon was planning a military and colonizing expedition to New Orleans to strangle the commerce of the United States on the Mississippi and to occupy his new colonial empire lying between that river and the Rocky Mountains.
Meanwhile, in March, 1801, Jefferson had become President of the United States. He made two attempts to purchase from France and Spain New Orleans and the Floridas. His failure in both instances no doubt had not a little to do with the determination he reached in January, 1803, to send an expedition to the Pacific coast to the mouth of that River of the West discovered in 1792 by Robert Gray. Because the expedition must proceed as far as the Rockies across country which lay within the vague boundaries of Louisiana and which therefore was foreign soil, its true character and intents must be kept secret. So Jefferson, in the private message sent by him to Congress, asked for an appropriation of $2500 for a “literary Pursuit.”
While other civilized nations have encountered great expense to enlarge the boundaries of knowledge by undertaking voyages of discovery, and for other literary purposes, in various parts and directions, our nation seems to owe to the same object, as well as to its own interests, to explore this the only line of easy communication across the continent, and so directly traversing our own part of it. The interests of commerce place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of Congress, and that it should incidentally advance the geographical knowledge of our own continent can not but be an additional gratification. The nation claiming the territory, regarding this as a literary pursuit, which it is in the habit of permitting within its dominions, would not be disposed to view it with jealousy. . . . The appropriation of $2500 “for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,” while understood and considered by the Executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals might otherwise previously prepare in its way.
While Jefferson’s expedition was in preparation in the spring of 1803, it happened that Napoleon experienced a change of heart in regard to Louisiana because the Mistress of the Seas was clearing her decks for war on him. Napoleon was now anxious to get rid not of New Orleans alone but of the whole territory. Whatever motives may have contributed to his swift decision, he took satisfaction in the belief that he had given England a rival that should one day humble her pride. That no spirit of good-will towards the United States inspired him is evident from his remark that the Louisiana territory “shall one day cost dearer to those who oblige me to strip myself of it, than to those to whom I wish to deliver it.”
In fact, Napoleon believed that he was selling to the United States, at a stiff price, a Pandora’s Box of troubles. Some of his malign prophecies had a temporary fulfillment. In biblical language, which narrates evils as transient experiences, they “came to pass” came and passed. And we may won-der today what thoughts would have agitated the mind of Napoleon if he could have seen the fleets of England and America keeping guard together in the North Sea while, on the soil of France, Britons from five lands fought side by side with Americans and Frenchmen for France; or could he have looked upon an American people unified from coast to coast and from the Rio Grande to the Canadian line, with little else than a yearly Mardi Gras Carnival at New Orleans to remind them that the Louisiana territory, forming now the greater part of thirteen States, was once in the possession of a hostile France and was sold to America with a curse.
Jefferson paid for Louisiana $15,000,000. The treaty of purchase was signed in May, the month of England’s declaration of war, and ratified by the Senate in October, 1803. It will be seen that Napoleon did not allow the conditions of his treaty with Spain to stand in his way. Spain, however, could do nothing but suffer indignantly. Jefferson’s expedition to the mouth of the Columbia would make its way westward across all American territory. The Fates seemed propitious for the enterprise.
Having won the cooperation of Congress, Jefferson’s next move was to select a leader. His choice fell upon that same young Virginian who, ten years before, had advanced his claim against that of the unstable French botanist. Meriwether Lewis since then had gone far to qualify himself for the great adventure. He had become a captain in the regular army and had taken a gallant part in the frontier wars; and, as Jefferson’s private secretary since 1801, he had convinced the President of his fitness to lead the expedition. In Jefferson’s Memoir we find the following:
I had now had opportunities of knowing him intimately. Of courage undaunted; possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction; careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline; intimate with the Indian character, customs, and principles; habituated to the hunting life; guarded, by exact observation of the vegetables and animals of his own country, against losing time in the description of objects al-ready possessed; honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves with all these qualifications, as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him.
Portraits of Lewis confirm Jefferson’s description. They show a finely formed head and a face eloquent of courage, of integrity, and intelligence.
Lewis took up the desired task with energy. Conscious of his need of astronomy and natural science in order to make faithful geographical notes, he spent some time in Philadelphia “under tutorage of the distinguished professors of that place.” He personally supervised the construction of the necessary boats and arms; and he wrote to his friend, William Clark, inviting him to join in the splendid adventure and offering him equality with himself in command and honors. William Clark, then with his brother, George Rogers Clark, at. Clarksville, Tennessee, where Lewis desired him to enlist frontiersmen for the expedition, accepted the invitation with a light-heartedness equal to his friend’s. It is this enthusiasm, bubbling frequently into mirth, which makes Lewis and Clark’s journals even when the journals record days of peril and severe hardship such live reading.
William Clark, born in Virginia in 1770, was four years older than Lewis. He had joined his brother, George Rogers, in Louisville at the age of fourteen and had fought in the Indian wars, first under his brother and later under Charles Scott and “Mad Anthony” Wayne. He was described in 1791 as “a youth of solid and promising parts, and as brave as Caesar.” He was a tall man, strongly built, with bright red hair and blue eyes; his brow was broad, his not handsome features were strongly marked, and the expression of his countenance was friendly and firm. As a young officer under Wayne he had acquitted himself with a dignity and an adroitness beyond his years on important missions to the Spanish authorities in Louisiana. But he was no scholar, as the original spelling in his journal shows.
The personnel of the expedition included forty-three men besides the two leaders. The men, nearly all of them young, were enlisted from among the Kentucky frontiersmen and from the western garrisons. Among the Kentucky volunteers were sons, or other kin, of the men who had first crossed the Appalachians with Daniel Boone and who had held Kentucky through the bloody Indian raids of the Revolution and won the Illinois country under the leadership of George Rogers Clark. Some of the regular army men, indeed, were taken from the Kaskaskia garrison. One of the young frontiersmen was Charles Floyd, a kinsman of that John Floyd who fought in Dunmore’s War, the war which pushed the white man’s frontier from the Appalachians to the Ohio River in the year 1774, the year of Meriwether Lewis’s birth. The guide was a Frenchman named Charboneau, who brought with him his Indian wife Sacajawea, the Bird-Woman. Clark’s servant York, a huge black man, accompanied his master. The three boats specially built to convey the expedition up the Missouri River were two pirogues and a bateau fifty-five feet long, which was propelled by a sail and twenty-two oars and boasted a forecastle and cabin. Besides arms and munitions, the bales in the boats contained presents for the Indians, mathematical instruments, medicines, meal, and pork, and a variety of camp equipment.
The explorers wintered at the mouth of the Wood River opposite the mouth of the Missouri, waiting till spring should dissolve the ice, breaking the routine of their camp by frequent hunting trips. On May 14, 1804, to quote Clark, having crossed the Mississippi, they “proceeded on under a Jentle brease up the Missourie.” The speed of their boats, under favorable conditions, was from twelve to fifteen miles a day. On the afternoon of the sixteenth, Clark with the boats reached St. Charles, twenty-five miles up the stream, and here Lewis, who had been detained at St. Louis, joined him on the twentieth. They set out the next day, making slow progress because of shifting sand bars and crumbling cliffs. Once, at least, a falling bank almost swamped one of the pi-rogues and the men had to jump overboard and hold the boat steady until the current swept away the sand.
After four days of such travel they reached La Charette, a tiny village and the last outpost of civilization. Here Daniel Boone was living at this time, filling the office of syndic, or magistrate; and here the explorers hove to for the night, pitching camp just above the village. On the next day they said farewell to the last white habitation they were to see until their return two years later and pushed on into the unknown.
Their troubles with sand bars, snags, and falling banks continued, but they met those troubles gaily. Frequently they stopped for hunting, for forty-five lusty explorers could consume a goodly quantity of fresh meat. They were not yet quite alone in the wilderness, for sometimes they met the descending pirogues of trappers and hunters who were bringing their winter’s harvest of furs and deer-skins to St. Louis. From one of these parties they engaged an interpreter named Dorion to facilitate their intercourse with the Siouan tribes through whose territory they would pass.
By the middle of June, mosquitoes and flies were upon them in clouds. In places the driftwood and snags were so thick that they must chop their way through them. Their oars were already worn out and they were obliged to cut timber and shape new ones. On the twenty-sixth they reached the mouth of the Kansas River, having traveled some three hundred and forty miles from their starting point at the mouth of the Missouri. Where Kansas City stands now, Lewis and Clark found the lower villages of the Kaw or Kansas Indians, a tribe “not verry noumerous at this time,” owing to wars. An important part of Lewis’s duties, in accordance with Jefferson’s instructions, was to establish trade relations with the Indians along the route and to make them understand that the territory wherein they dwelt was now a part of the United States whose President was the Indians’ Great Father. In the interests of science, as well as of commerce, Lewis was also to learn whatever he could of Indian habits and languages and to note the differences and similarities between the various tribes. His copious notes in A Statistical View of the Indian Nations Inhabiting the Territory of Louisiana furnish us, indeed, with the only information we have concerning some of the tribes of that time as they were before contact with the white race had changed them.
The Fourth of July was celebrated near the site of the present Atchison, Kansas, by firing a salute and by a dance. There was a fiddler among the men and he and his fiddle did their tuneful service on all occasions when there was a fête day to honor or when a succession of hardships had tinged the crew’s mood with glumness. Throughout the whole march, when the shadow of defeat crept down, it was banished by a round of grog and the sound of the fiddle calling on the men to dance.
And they danced. Sometimes hungry, sometimes sure that the dangers already experienced had led them only into an impasse where they were about to perish, often sore-footed and spent, they danced and all was well again. On this first Independence Day in the wilderness the captains not only ordered a salute and a dance, but they had a christening as well. They named two creeks Fourthof-July and Independence. The latter still ripples under the name given it by its godfathers, Lewis and Clark, perhaps the first white men to spy its waters.
On the 3d of August Lewis held council with chiefs of the Otoes, a branch of the Pawnees, on a cliff about twenty miles above the present city of Omaha. This cliff Lewis and Clark named the Council Bluff. Lewis was the chief spokesman at the council, while Clark “Mad up a Small preasent for those people in perpotion to their Consiquence.” Speeches were made by the chiefs in answer to Lewis’s “talk,” and gifts were exchanged. With buffalo robes and painted skin tents the chiefs responded to the medals and gold-braided uniforms bestowed upon them. Here Liberté, a Frenchman, deserted and, although searched for, was not to be found; but a soldier, Reed, who attempted the same thing was recaptured and punished by being made to run the gauntlet several times while being soundly beaten with rods. Lewis and Clark, in keeping with the ideas of their time, believed in severe penalties. Their journals record one other instance of insubordination in which the culprit received seventy-five lashes on his bare back. Perhaps it is not surprising that there were so few incidents of the sort to set down.
Sometimes Lewis recorded the day’s events; sometimes Clark was the diarist. Not only by the orthography (Clark spelled as he listed and capitalized adjectives or prepositions as the humor seized him) is it easy to trace each author. Lewis pictures Nature’s handiwork with a touch of romance as well as with a carefulness of detail which shows that the instruction he received from the “distinguished professors” in Philadelphia has not been wasted. Clark’s entries reveal the keen observation of the frontiersmen. His accuracy is a natural gift, trained solely by woodsman’s experience and for practical purposes. A gorgeous sky does not leave him cold, but his first thought about it is concerned with its prophecy of weather. As for instance when he notes that “at Sunset the atmespier presented every appearance of wind.
Blue & White Streeks centiring at the Sun as She disappeared and the Clouds Situated to the S. W. Guilded in the most butifull manner.” The “appearance of wind” was a matter of very practical import to the expedition which was being pushed up the stream by sail as well as by oars. It had its bearing on the safety of the night camp, and on the chances of the hunt. Generally in the same spirit, Clark notes rapids and bluffs and the outlines of banks and the quality of soils. A bad stretch of portage compels him to cast an appraising eye over the river falls which cause his discomfort. He is interested, too, in setting down the personal incidents and gossip of each day. So that in reading his entries we get illuminating side-lights on the characters and dispostions of the men as well as of their leaders. Clark’s narrative, realistic and “human,” runs side by side with Lewis’s with its scientific data, its flashes of wit, and its romantic enthusiasms and supplements it in a way that makes the Lewis and Clark Journals a unique literary work and a perfect example of collaboration.
On the 20th of August, Clark records the only death which took place on the journey. Charles Floyd “Died with a great deel of composure. . . . a butifull evening.” Today a tall obelisk on Floyd’s Bluff, Sioux City, Iowa, marks the grave of the first American who fell in that country in the cause of civilization.
As they neared the mouth of the Big Sioux River, the explorers heard from Dorion, the interpreter, an interesting story. Near the source of that river, he said, there was a creek which flowed in from the east between high cliffs of red rock. Of this red stone the Indians made their pipes. And, since pipes were a supreme necessity in both their domestic and political life, they had established a law under which that region was held sacred to peace. Tribes at war with each other met there to mine the brilliant stone, without the least show of hostility, and there an Indian fleeing from his foes might find sure refuge. Among these jagged red cliffs the fugitive was as one “between the horns of the altar.”
On the twenty-third, Fields, one of the party, had the honor of killing their first buffalo; and, a week or so later, Lewis shot an antelope and introduced the prairie dog to science. The journal here has a long account of the Dakota Sioux, with whom Lewis and Clark held councils. One of these councils threatened to turn out badly. Clark went on shore “with a view of reconciling those men to us.” The Indians seized a pirogue and were “very insolent both in words and justures” so that Clark drew his sword and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. The Indians who surrounded him drew their arrows from their quivers and were bending their bows, when the swivel in the boat was instantly pointed toward them, and “those with me also Showed a Disposition to Defend themselves and me. I felt My Self warm & Spoke in very positive terms.” The Sioux chief, impressed by this resolute front, ordered the warriors to draw back. Clark continues, “after remaining in this Situation Sometime I offered my hand to the 1. & 2. Chiefs who refused to receive it.” Presently the chiefs changed their minds, however, as Clark turned away towards the boats. They waded in after him and he invited them on board. So, through a frank show of both warlike courage and good-will a peril was passed. The conclusion of Clark’s story of the event discloses that strain of buoyancy in both leaders which must have been one of the strongest bonds of their friendship. After proceeding about a mile they anchored off a little island overgrown with willows which they called “bad humered Island as we were in a bad humer.”
They had now been for some weeks in the big game country. Deer, buffalo, elk, antelopes, wolves, and bears were seen frequently in herds and packs. On the 19th of October they saw fifty-two herds of buffalo and three herds of elk. Two days later they passed the Heart River a little below the spot where a railway bridge now joins the towns of Bismarck and Mandan. Advance gusts from oncoming winter assailed the explorers as they hastened on, passing nine ruined villages of the Mandans in whose chief towns they intended to make their winter camp. They reached their destination on the twenty-sixth; and in the first week of the following month they began the building of their fort, on the east bank of the Missouri, about twenty miles beyond the present town of Wash-burn, North Dakota. They had traveled some sixteen hundred miles from their starting point.
A relict of the Mandan tribe lives today on the Fort Berthold reservation, but there are very few full-bloods among them. In 1804 the Mandans numbered over twelve hundred. They were sufficiently unlike the other plains tribes to cause much romantic speculation as to their origin. They were fairer skinned; and light hair was not uncommon among them. They wore their hair very long, sometimes trailing to their heels. They lived in earthen houses, well built, circular in shape with slightly domed roofs. They were cultivators of the soil, with no lust for warfare; and consequently they were despised and raided by the ferocious Sioux. It was their boast, then and afterwards, that they had never shed the blood of a white man. Lewis and Clark were not the first white men they had entertained. The Canadian explorer La Vérendrye spent a part of December, 1738, with them. They were familiar with the traders of the North-West Company and of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Some of these traders, indeed, came to the Mandan villages while Lewis and Clark were wintering there.
Buffalo hunts were among the diversions and duties of the winter months. Lewis had ample time to study the Mandans and to inscribe their legends and history as well as to collect and prepare specimens of various sorts to send to President Jefferson in the spring. To give a practical proof of the American Government’s friendship for its Mandan children, Clark offered to go out with a number of the men of the expedition and a party of Indians to pursue and punish a band of Sioux who had attacked some Mandans. The Indians were greatly pleased at this compliment; but, as the snow was thick and the going bad, they preferred to take the will for the deed. In February the exploring party was augmented by one papoose, a boy, his mother being Sacajawea, the young Indian wife of Toussaint Charboneau the guide.
On April 7, 1805, the explorers left Fort Mandan and pushed on up the Missouri in canoes and pirogues. The more imposing bateau was now headed down stream, manned by thirteen men who vowed to bring it safely to St. Louis. Its precious contents included, besides specimens, skins, Indian articles, buffalo robes, and other trophies for Jefferson, a report from Lewis and a copy of Clark’s diary. The spirit which animated not only the leaders but the rank and file is attested to by Lewis in his letter to the President. Of the men who were to guide the bateau, Lewis wrote: “I have but little doubt but they will be fired on by the Sioux; but they have pledged themselves to us that they will not yeald while there is a man of them living.”
Lewis and Clark’s party now numbered thirty-two persons. Following the list of their names we read that Charboneau and his wife, with her infant, accompanied the expedition as “Interpreter and interpretress.” Sacajawea was a Shoshone who had been captured when a child by Minnetarees and by them sold as a slave to Charboneau. The old voyageur brought her up and afterwards married her. From now on we are to find the young Indian woman, Sacajawea, gradually taking a prominent part in the councils of the expedition.
On the Nth of April the explorers passed the mouth of the Yellowstone River and gave it its English name, translated from the French roche-jaune. Three days later Lewis had a lively en-counter with two “brown or yellow bears” of a sort new to him. One of these animals, wounded by Lewis, pursued him for “seventy or eighty yards” but only to its own death, for Lewis man-aged to reload and kill it and so made the scientific discovery of the grizzly bear. From now on “yellow” bears, “white” bears, and “brown” bears, all variously tinted grizzlies, appeared with disturbing frequency, and whenever they caught sight of an explorer they gave chase. One brown-furred guardian of the wild, with seven bullets in him, forced the intruding hunters to throw down their guns and pouches and leap twenty feet into the river; he plunged in after his foes and had all but snapped upon the hindmost when a shot from the shore put the eighth ball in him and ended the chase. This happened on the 14th of May. It was surely a day of tests for the explorers. While the hunters were fleeing from Bruin, a squall struck a canoe under sail and upset it, with the assistance of Charboneau, who completely lost his head: “Charbono cannot swim and is perhaps the most timid waterman in the world.” Fortunately the little vessel, which contained “our papers, instruments, books, medicine . . . and in short al-most every article indispensibly necessary to further the views, or insure the success of the enter-prize in which we are now launched to the distance of 2200 miles” was not completely overturned. But the lighter articles were washed overboard and were saved only by the cool courage and nimble fingers of Charboneau’s wife, the Bird-Woman, who snatched back most of them from the hungry stream. In this merry fashion did the explorers celebrate the anniversary of their setting out from the mouth of the Wood River.
The Missouri now wound about the base of tall cliffs of white sandstone sculptured by wind and water into grotesque shapes. Perhaps it was this remarkable environment that stirred the practical Clark into a romantic mood and led him to christen a stream they passed presently, “Judith’s River,” in honor of the lady of his heart whom he afterwards married. Clark was one of those to whom a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; the lady’s name was, in fact, Julia Hancock, not Judith. Nevertheless the Judith River still marks the map of Montana in her memory. A little later Lewis also complimented a lady, his cousin Maria Wood, though the turbulent waters of Maria’s River (now written Marias) “but illy comport with the pure celestial virtues and amiable qualifications of that lovely fair one.”
At Maria’s River, on the 2d of June, they came to a halt, for they did not know which of the two streams was the Missouri. Here the party divided. Lewis with six men set off to investigate Maria’s River, and Clark proceeded up the south fork, the Missouri. Both leaders had serious encounters with grizzly bears, besides other difficulties, before they returned to the forks; but they returned of one mind, convinced that the south fork was the Missouri. What manner of leaders they were is revealed in the fact that their party willingly turned up the south fork with them, although all the men were also of one mind, but in the opposite conviction.
Leaving Clark in charge of the boats, Lewis proceeded up the river on foot, until he heard a distant rush of waters and saw spray rise above the plain like a column of smoke and immediately vanish. The noise, increasing as he approached, soon “began to make a roaring too tremendious for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri.” Then the Falls came into view. Lewis hurried down the banks of the river, which were two hundred feet high and “difficult of access,” and sat on a rock below the center of the Falls to enjoy “this truly magnificent and sublimely grand object, which has from the commencement of time been concealed from the view of civilized man.” The Great Falls were more than a sublime spectacle to Lewis and Clark; they were proof positive that the explorers were on the true Missouri, heading towards the passes that led into the region of the Columbia River.
While waiting for the boats, Lewis explored the surrounding country, and he crowded a great deal of excitement into the few days. He shot a buffalo and was waiting to see it drop when he discovered a brown bear within twenty steps of him. He had forgotten to reload, so that there was nothing for it but flight. The bear, open-mouthed, pursued him, gaining fast. The plain was bare of trees or brush. Lewis decided that his only chance was to plunge into the river and force the bear to attack under the handicap of swimming. His ruse was successful. But a little later, as he continued his explorations, three buffalo bulls ran at him. Lewis writes: “I thought at least to give them some amusement and altered my direction to meet them; when they arrived within a hundred yards they made a halt, took a good view of me and retreated with precipitation.” He now pushed rapidly through the dark towards camp to escape from a place which “from the succession of curious ad-ventures” seemed to him an enchanted region. “Sometimes for a moment I thought it might be a dream, but the prickley pears which pierced my feet very severely once in a while . . . convinced me that I was really awake.” He made his bed that night under a tree and awoke in the morning to find a large rattlesnake coiled on the trunk just above him.
Clark, with the boats, was meeting dangers of another sort. “We set out at the usual time and proceeded on with great difficulty . . . the current excessively rapid and difficult to assend great numbers of dangerous places, and the fatigue which we have to encounter is incretiatable the men in the water from morning until night hauling the cord & boats walking on sharp rocks and round slippery stones which alternately cut their feet & throw them down, not with standing all this dificuelty they go with great chearfulness, aded to those dificuelties the rattlesnakes inumerable & require great caution to prevent being bitten.” Of the five falls on the Missouri two received from Lewis and Clark the names they still bear Great Falls and Crooked Falls.
At this point, of course, navigation became impossible. To reach free water again it was necessary to make a portage of about seventeen miles. The men shaped wheels from the one lone cottonwood tree on the bank and made axles and tongues of willow and other light woods within reach. With these they moved the laden canoes across the rough surface of the plain which was dented deep by the hoofs of the buffalo. The hard dried edges of the dents tortured the men’s moccasined feet and made hauling difficult and slow. The tongues and axles broke repeatedly and had to be renewed. But the men were helped sometimes by high winds, which blew the canoes under sail at a good pace over the earth. They had stumbled across rough country for thirteen days when at last they reached the launching point above the Falls. Then, while Cruzatte, the French voyageur, scraped his fiddle, all who could make use of their feet had a dance on the green.
On the 29th of June, Clark, Charboneau, and the Bird-Woman and her baby almost lost their lives in a cloud-burst. They had taken refuge from the rain in a narrow ravine when suddenly a torrent descended upon them. “The rain appeared to descend in a body and instantly collected in the rivene and came down in a roling torrent with irresistible force driving rocks mud and everything before it which opposed it’s passage. Capt C fortunately discovered it a moment before it reached them and seizing his gun and shot pouch with his left hand with his right he assisted himself up the steep bluff shoving occasionally the Indian woman before him who had her child in her arms; Sharbono had the woman by the hand indeavoring to pull her up the hill but was so much frightened that he remained frequently motionless and but for Capt C both himself and his woman and child must have perished.” The water rose so swiftly that it was up to Clark’s waist before he had begun to climb and “he could scarcely ascend faster than it arrose till it had obtained the debth of 15 feet with a current tremendious to behold. One moment longer & it would have swept them into the river just above the cataract of 87 feet where they must have inevitably perished.” In this adventure Clark lost his compass, Charboneau dropped his gun, shot pouch, and powder-horn, and the Bird-Woman had barely time to grasp her baby before the net in which it lay at her feet was swept away. Some of the men had been out on the plain when the storm broke and the heavy hail, driven upon them by the violent wind, had felled several of them so that they were “bleeding freely and complained of being much bruised.”
The explorers had been for some time, of course, in sight of the Rocky Mountains, and, while not unimpressed by the grandeur and beauty of the great range, they were doubtless thinking more of the passes among the peaks which they must find and penetrate. On the 13th of July, they took stream again at a point about three miles above the present city of Great Falls, Montana; and on the twenty-fifth they reached Three Forks, the confluence of the three rivers which unite their waters to form the Missouri. These rivers were named by Lewis and Clark the Madison, the Jefferson, and the Gallatin.
They were now in the country of the Snakes, or Shoshones, the Bird-Woman’s people. Near by Sacajawea pointed out the very spot where she had been captured. Eagerly she watched for signs of her tribe, minutely examining deserted brush wickiups to discern how recently they had been tenanted, straining her eyes for smoke signals among the blue mists on the mountains.
Sacajawea, searching the sunlit horizon or looking wistfully out into the dusk as it drifted down and extinguished her hope of that day, was little understood by the two busy leaders, who had already noted in their journal that, true to the Indian character, she viewed the old scenes with indifference. But her preoccupation provoked her lord and master, so that one evening he dealt her a blow, for which Clark gave him a “severe repremand.”
At length, after navigating the shallows and canyons of the Jefferson to a point near the present town of Dillon, Montana, the explorers met with a company of famishing Shoshones, pressing on eastward to the buffalo grounds along the Missouri. Lewis, exploring by land, had found them first and with difficulty had persuaded them to remain to greet the boat party. These Indians were so often the prey of the fierce Blackfeet that they were intensely nervous and suspicious. The appearance of the boats reassured them, and so great was the relief of their frightened chief that he fell upon Lewis’s neck and repeatedly embraced him till he was “besmeared with their grease” and “heartily tired of the national hug.” The party disembarked. The eager Bird-Woman raced ahead and presently, says Clark, “danced for the joyful sight,” as she held out her arms to a young woman who rushed towards her. The two had been companions in childhood and had also been together in captivity.
The Shoshone chief took Lewis and Clark to his lodge. His warriors quickly marked a small circle in the sod, in the center of the tent, by tearing up the bunch grass; and here Indians and white men seated themselves on green boughs covered with antelope skins. Then the sacred pipe was brought/ Clark was enough impressed with this pipe to make a drawing of it; and, from his picture and written description, we can see its long stem and its large bowl of green stone, polished like crystal and gleaming like jade, as the chief slowly gestured with it to the four points of the compass. But though the white men knew that the chief meant them well because he had taken off his moccasins as one who said, “May I forever go bare-foot if I deal not truly with you” yet they could not make their needs known to him. And those needs were great. For here, at the foot of the high Mountains of Bright Stones, all their hopes would end unless this chief could be influenced to guide them through the pass. They knew that it would not be easy to persuade him to part with horses enough for their party and bag-gage; and, as they regarded his “fierce eyes and lank jaws grown meagre from the want of food,” they doubted if anything they could offer would induce him and his starving tribe to turn back from their hunting trip. So Sacajawea was sent for, not only to interpret but to plead, as a Shoshone, with her kin to open the sealed door in that great stone barrier that the white men might go on to the wide waters of the River of the West.
It was surely a dramatic moment for the Bird-Woman when she slipped into the formal council circle, with head bent and eyes downcast as became a woman among chiefs. But a keener experience was in store for her. As the chief began to speak, telling the white men that not by his war name but by his peace name, Cameahwait, or Come and Smoke, would he be known to them, the Bird-Woman recognized her brother. She sprang up with a cry, ran to him, and threw her blanket about him, weeping. The chief also was deeply moved by this strange meeting, and for a brief moment the white men caught a glimpse of the universal human heart beating behind the racial barrier. “The meeting of those people was really affecting,” Lewis writes. Lewis and Clark could only guess at the meaning of Sacajawea’s long earnest speech to her brother, but they could heartily rejoice at its results, for the chief agreed to fulfill all their desires.
The explorers had now to adapt their outfit to overland travel; so they set about making pack-saddles. For nails they used rawhide thongs; and, for boards, oar handles and the planks of some of their boxes encased in rawhide. While the crew, assisted by the Indian men, were at this task, the Indian women were busy mending the white men’s moccasins. Though the chief had promised that the Shoshones would help transport the baggage and see the party safely over the mountains, yet on the day before the departure he secretly pre-pared to go down the Missouri to the buffalo grounds. Taxed with his double-dealing, he admitted it to Lewis regretfully, explaining that the tribe’s food supply had come to an end and that, seeing his people in want, he had forgotten his promise to the white men, which, however, he would now fulfill at all costs. In this incident we get a pure white flash of the young Bird-Woman’s character, for, despite her joy in the reunion with her kin, her loyalty to Lewis and Clark moved her to betray to them the change in her brother’s plans which so menaced the success of the expedition.
Moved by these experiences among the Shoshones, Lewis, in one of his most thoughtful moods, thus records his birthday, the 18th of August:
This day I completed my thirty-first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain…. I had as yet done but little . . . to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret, the many hours I have spent in indolence and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. But since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought, and resolved, in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to pro-mote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.
The party crossed the backbone of the Rockies through the Lemhi Pass and entered a wild country of deep gorges, mad streams, and thickly wooded mountain flanks. Here Sacajawea’s kinsmen took leave of the white men and returned to the eastern side of the range all but one old Shoshone who consented to remain and guide the expedition, for the explorers had still to encounter grave perils be-fore the navigable waters of the Columbia River would ease their travel. Clark spent a week in fruitless explorations of the branches of the Lemhi and the Salmon in Idaho. There was no clear river highway here. The expedition then pushed north-west through the hills and, veering east, passed the Continental Divide into Montana again. Here Lewis and Clark had friendly encounters with Nez Percés and Flathead or Salish Indians. On the 7th of September they camped south of the present Grantsdale, Montana. They pressed on north-ward to Lo Lo Creek, named by them Travelers Rest, and crossed again into Idaho through the Lo Lo Pass. Heading towards the Clearwater, the Shoshone guide sometimes mistook the trail and it seems that the expedition floundered about. The men suffered from hunger, from cold and fatigue. They were obliged to kill a horse occasionally for food. Sometimes the main party halted, while Clark with some of the hunters went out searching for a way out of the maze of foaming streams and snow-crowned precipices. But by the twenty-sixth all were safely camped on the Clearwater. Both leaders and men were very ill from the privations they had undergone; nevertheless they began building canoes at once. On the 7th of October they were headed down the river and three days later they camped near its mouth. Then, launching their canoes on the Snake, they came on the sixteenth to the mouth of that river which pours its waters into the Columbia itself. Here Indians, as though to celebrate the great event the significance of which they could not have grasped had it been told to them collected in numbers to receive the white men. “A Chief came from this camp which was about 14 of a mile up the Columbia river at the head of about 200 men singing and beeting on their drums Stick and keeping time to the musik, they formed a half circle around us and Sung for Some time.”
On the 18th of October Lewis and Clark floated out upon the River of the West. They portaged the Celilo Falls on the twenty-third and took-stream again in that stretch of the river known as the Dalles where the water runs over lava beds and between grotesquely carved lava cliffs. The navigators presently saw ahead of them a tremendous rock stretching across the river leaving a channel “between two rocks not exceeding forty five yards wide” through which the whole body of the Columbia must press its way. A portage here was considered by Clark “impossible with our Strength”; he therefore “deturmined to pass through this place notwithstanding the horrid appearance of this agitated gut swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction, which from the top of the rock did not appear as bad as when I was in it; however we passed Safe.” Two days later they passed the Long Narrows, where their canoes were nearly swamped by the boiling tide, and camped on Quinett Creek near the present city of The Dalles. Then one more bad stretch of water, the Cascades, must be portaged before the ease of continuous unobstructed navigation was theirs. On the 7th of November, according to Clark, there was “Great joy in camp, we are in view of the Ocian, . . . this great Pacific Octean which we have been so long anxious to See, and the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey shores may be heard distictly.”
It would seem that what they saw, however, was not the ocean but the mouth of the Columbia, which is over a dozen miles wide at this point below the site of the future Astoria. They now experienced the ocean swells which roll through the river here and also the blowing rain and fog characteristic of the Northwest Coast. Their first camp was on Point Ellice, called by Clark Point Distress. Here for several days they were not only drenched to the skin but pelted with stones which the rains loosened from the hillside. In this wretched condition they remained, wet and cold, and with only a little dried fish to satisfy their hunger. The men were scattered on floating logs or trying to shelter themselves in the crevices of the bank. Here also “we found great numbers of flees which we treated with the greatest caution and distance.” The weather cleared on the 15th of November and the explorers moved round the point into Baker’s Bay, where they built shelters for them-selves with the timbers from the walls of an abandoned Indian village. Their journey had occupied eighteen months and had covered four thousand miles. On the rugged wilderness from the mouth of the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark and their loyal band had written America’s greatest epic of adventure. Here they were now at the mouth of Robert Gray’s river; and presently we see the indefatigable Clark climbing joyously to the top of Meares’s Cape Disappointment. On one side of him rolls a free sea; on the other stretches a wooded cliff line which shall be the western shore of the United States.
Lewis and Clark wintered among the Clatsop Indians, south of the Columbia, a few miles up the Lewis and Clark River, where Lewis pursued his ethnological studies and the others passed the time in hunting and exploring.
On March 23, 1806, the expedition turned home-wards. On the 30th of June, having recrossed the Great Divide through Lo Lo Pass and reached Travelers Rest Camp, a mile above the mouth of Lo Lo Creek, the leaders decided on the dangerous plan of separating the party to make explorations. On the 1st of July Lewis wrote:
From this place I determined to go with a small party by the most direct rout to the falls of the Missouri, there to leave [three men] to prepare carriages and geer for the purpose of transporting the canoes and baggage over the portage, and myself and six volunteers to ascend Maria’s river with a view to explore the country and ascertain whether any branch of that river lies as far north as Latd 50. and again return and join the party who are to decend the Missouri, at the entrance of Maria’s river . . . the other part of the men are to proceed with Capt Clark to the head of Jefferson’s river where we deposited sundry articles and left our canoes. from hence Sergt Ordway with a party of 9 men are to decend the river with the canoes; Capt C with the remaining ten including Charbono and York will proceed to the Yellowstone river at it’s nearest approach to the three forks of the Missouri, here he will build a canoe and decend the Yellowstone river with Charbono the indian woman, his servant York and five others to the missouri where should he arrive first he will wait my arrival. Sergt Pryor with two other men are to proceed with the horses by land to the Mandans and thence to the British posts on the Assinniboin [Clark says, "the tradeing Establishments of the N W Co"] . . . to prevail on the Sioux to join us on the Missouri.
In consequence of this daring plan, which was not fully carried out in detail, the party was separated for six weeks. Lewis explored Maria’s River and found that it had no branches reaching to the fiftieth parallel. His excursion, however, was not uneventful, for he exchanged shots with the war-like Blackfeet and later was shot accidentally and painfully wounded by Cruzatte, the fiddler, who mistook his leader for a deer. The Bird-Woman accompanied Clark’s party. It was she who recognized signs obliterated to other eyes, who pointed out the true passes in the maze of hills and ravines and guided the party safely to Three Forks. From Three Forks Clark set out to explore the Yellowstone River to its mouth. On the journey he mapped many points now famous, such as the Big Horn mountains and river, the plain where Custer’s monument now stands, and the huge rock called Pompey’s Pillar on which Clark’s signature and the date cut in with his knife are still legible. He lost all his horses, which were silently rounded up and driven away by Crow Indians. Descending the river, near the present city of Glendive, Clark and his men were forced to halt for an hour because the river, though a mile wide, was occupied from shore to shore by the crossing of a buffalo herd. The next day they witnessed the crossing of two herds.
One of Clark’s companions was John Colter. This man returned to the Yellowstone River in 1807, and was, so far as is known, the first white explorer of the mountains of Wyoming between the Big Horn Range and the Idaho border. He discovered the Three Tetons and Yellowstone Lake and some part at least of Yellowstone Park.
By the 14th of August Lewis and Clark were once more among the Mandans with whom they had spent their first winter on the trail. Here Colter left them to return to the wilderness. And here- they parted with Sacajawea and her family, since Charboneau desired to remain among the Mandans. Clark writes: “I offered to take his little son, a butifull promising child who is 19 months old to which they both himself & wife were willing provided the child had been weened.”
Lewis and Clark reached St. Louis at noon, September 23, 1806, announcing their approach by firing of cannon. All St. Louis, hearing the splendid noise, rushed down to the bank to greet them. The welcome, Clark says, was “harty.” On the next day they wrote letters, Clark to his brother, Lewis to Jefferson; and Drouillard, one of the crew, sprinted off with them to overtake the mounted postman. The explorers then sallied forth to pro-cure new attire, which they sadly needed. They bought cloth and took it to a “tayler.” On the twenty-fifth they “payed” visits and in the evening were honored by a “dinner & Ball.” The next day Clark jotted down the last line of the great epic: “A fine morning we commenced wrighting &c.”
In 1807 Meriwether Lewis was appointed Governor of Louisiana Territory. Two years later, while riding along the Natchez Trace on his way to Washington and accompanied only by his servant, a Spaniard, he paused for the night at a lonely inn, seventy-two miles below Nashville in Lewis County, Tennessee. Here he was shot. For a long time the impression prevailed that he had taken his own life in a fit of depression. Later investigations, however, have led to the conclusion that he was robbed and murdered by the half-caste, Grinder, who kept the inn. But the belief of Lewis’s family was that the Governor had been done away with by his Spanish servant, not only for the money on his person but for the sake of certain documents which Lewis was taking to Washington. Whether Lewis fell a victim to the rapacity of the ill-reputed Grinder, or whether his death was but one more knot in the intricate skein of Spanish intrigue, will now, probably, never be known. But, at least, the theory of suicide no longer beclouds his fame. His body was buried be-side the Trace near the spot where death found him. In 1848, the State of Tennessee raised a monument of marble over the grave. Even today the scene is a wild one. Forest, uninvaded by axe or plow, closes about the broken column which marks the place of Meriwether Lewis’s last sleep on trail.
William Clark survived his friend for thirty years. His was a life crowded with useful activities. A year after his return he entered the fur trade. He was appointed Governor of Missouri Territory in 1813 and retained the office until Missouri was admitted to statehood in 1820. Later he became Superintendent of Indian Affairs and held that post until his death. He had al-ready, on his western journey, established among the Indians a reputation for courage, justice, and friendship. His influence with the tribes was probably greater than that of any other white man since Sir William Johnson of colonial days. The name of “Red Head” was loved and revered in every lodge and wickiup from the Mississippi to the Pacific. As Governor and as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, his executive ability, shrewd common sense, and his farsightedness, integrity, and humanity made his official acts constructive incidents in the growth of the American commonwealth.
In his personal relations he was loyal, affection-ate, and generous. In behalf of his brother he addressed dignified and just appeals to the Virginian authorities for payment of the debts which George Rogers Clark had contracted in the equipment of his Illinois campaigns. And when Virginia would not pay, and George Rogers Clark could not, William Clark assumed the burden. It was his insistence that won at last a small pension for his brother. He also paid notes of Lewis’s which had been protested, so that the honor of his dead friend should not be smirched. We know that he did not wish to forget the Bird-Woman who had guided him safely to Three Forks on his home-ward journey, since he offered to adopt and educate the son born to her on the march, and presumably also he was responsible for the appointment of old Charboneau as interpreter at the Missouri Sub-Agency in 1837.
William Clark married twice and was the father of seven children. His first wife was the lady for whom, as he supposed, he had named Judith River. He died in 1838, aged sixty-eight years, and he was buried in Missouri.
Clark lived to see great changes come to Missouri after the transfer of the territory to American rule. Then St. Louis was only a small village, backward in comparison with any American settlement of its size, and La Charette, some forty odd miles to the northwest, was the farthest frontier. But in 1838 there were many thriving American settlements in Missouri, and St. Louis was the emporium of a vast trade in furs, the arteries of which ran through that great wilderness first mapped and in part first explored by Lewis and Clark.