The Journals

Clark Field Notes--Keelboat  William Clark Field Notes, 1804, page showing keelboat
"Clark Field Notes--Keelboat" William Clark Field Notes, 1804, page showing keelboat

Lewis & Clark In Idaho

James Richard Fromm

The Journey of the Corps of Discovery – taken from the journals of Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Sergeants John Ordway and Patrick Gass, and Private Joseph Whitehouse – are arranged in chronological order. The entries of these five Corps members cover the period of August 12, 1805 and conclude on June 30, 1806.

The Corp of Discovery entered the present day State of Idaho on August 12, 1805, returning into what is now the State of Montana on September 3, 1805.  They re-entered Idaho on September 13, 1805 and continued traveling westerly into today's Washington State, where they arrived on October 10, 1805, spending 50 days in Idaho during the year 1805.

Upon their return journey the Corp of Discovery entered Idaho on May 5, 1806 staying 55 days.  They crossed the Bitterroot Mountains leaving Idaho on June 29, 1806 having spent a total of 105 days among the Shoshoni and Nez Perce of Idaho.

Between August 27, 1805 and January 1, 1806 Meriwether Lewis made only eleven (11) journal entries, excluding intermittent weather and celestial observations.  His journal has entries for September 9th and 10th, September 18th through 22nd, November 29th and 30th, and December 1st and 18th.  Of the 50 days the Corp of Discovery spent in Idaho during 1805 Lewis made 20 entries, 15 of which were in August and 5 in September.

Because the journal writers did not use consistent spelling numerous words are spelled in many different ways.  Every attempt is made to utilize the same spelling as written by the five journalists.

On August 12, 1805 Lewis and his three men (George Drouillard, Hugh McNeal, John Shields) continued following Indian paths up later Trail Creek. At the head of that stream they reached what they considered the source of the "heretofore deemed endless Missouri." A short distance beyond was the ridge of the Continental Divide. From this vantage point Lewis could look west and see further ranges of mountains--proof that the portage to the waters of the Columbia would not be as easy as he had hoped. His immediate problem, however, remained that of making friendly contact with the Shoshones.

Lewis's party had crossed Lemhi Pass into Idaho, the first U.S. citizens to traverse the Continental Divide. On August 13 they continued down into the valley of the Lemhi River, still following the Indian trail. Once again they encountered some Indians, who fled at their approach. Finally they found a woman and two girls who did not see them until they were quite close. One of the girls fled, but the woman and the other girl apparently thought it was too late to run and sat waiting for the strangers to kill them. Lewis took the woman's hand, repeating the word "ta-ba-bone," which he evidently obtained from Sacagawea and which he thought meant "white man." He rolled up his sleeve to show his white skin and gave the two Shoshones presents. Somehow he calmed them and, through George Drouillard's sign language, persuaded them to call back the girl who had fled before she could raise an alarm in the main Shoshone camp.

Through these three Shoshones Lewis was able to make contact with their people who were camped on the Lemhi River. The chief, Cameahwait, seemed friendly, but his people were still afraid that the strangers were in league with the Blackfeet and would betray them into the hands of their enemies. Lewis, trying to persuade them to go with him to meet Clark's party on the Beaverhead River, feared that they would take alarm and disperse into the mountains, where he knew that he would never find them, and that his command would be left stranded in the mountains with winter coming on. To prevent this he used every form of persuasion he could think of, including promises that white traders would follow him and would provide the Shoshones with trade goods, such as guns to use against their enemies. He gave the chief his own gun, saying that Cameahwait could shoot him (August 16) if he proved unfaithful. Recovering a message he himself had left at the forks of the Beaverhead for Clark, he stalled for a time, saying it was a message from Clark that the main party would soon be there. These means, along with stories about a man with black skin and another with read hair--wonders that greatly intrigued the Indians--persuaded them to wait at the forks until Clark's party arrived on August 17. Such was the captains' relief that they called the campsite at the forks of the Beaverhead "Camp Fortunate."

Geographical information obtained from the Shoshones was not encouraging. A reconnaissance, August 19-23, by Clark confirmed that the principal streams in the vicinity, though they did flow toward the Columbia, were unnavigable because of rapids. In his journal of August 21 Clark wrote, "I shall in justice to Capt. Lewis who was the first white man ever on this fork of the Columbia Call this Louis's river." For the 23rd. of August Clark writes, "The Hills or mountains were not like those I had Seen but like the Side of a tree Streight up." The alternative as proposed by Clark was to obtain horses from the Shoshones and cross the mountains by land. Patrick Gass records for that same day that they "found it was not possible to go down either by land or water without much risk and trouble." Fortunately, they secured the services of an Indian they called "Toby," who knew of a route over the ranges. The latter part of August and much of September would be consumed by the overland trek, which would take them back into Montana, then back to Idaho, and would include a journey over the rugged Lolo Trail. Along the way they met the Flathead Indians, another tribe who had never seen white men.

Traveler's Rest to the Clearwater

The trip over the Bitterroot Mountains via the Lolo Trail was perhaps the severest test of the whole expedition. The party set out early on September 1, traveling cross-country over high, rugged hills, to today's North Fork of the Salmon river (Fish Creek to Lewis and Clark), following their Shoshone guide. They were headed almost due north and climbing toward the Continental Divide (on their right, to the east) in rough, seldom-traveled mountainous country, with no Indian trail or any other sign of human presence.

They were entering mountains far more difficult to pass than any American had ever attempted. The confusions of creeks and ravines cutting through the steep mountainsides has made the route the expedition used one of the most disputed of the entire journey. Clark described the route: "thro' thickets in which we were obliged to Cut a road, over rockey hill Sides where our horses were in [perpetual] danger of Slipping to Ther certain distruction & up & Down Steep hills . . . with the greatest dificuelty risque &c. we made 7 1/2 miles." Joseph Whitehouse writes on September 1 that "in the afternoon we descended a Mountain nealy as Steep as the roof of a house." Pack animals slipped and fell down steep mountain sides.

As the party ascended toward the Divide, the going grew worse. On September 3, it snowed. Winter was already beginning in the high country in September, and the party would struggle through deepening snow. Their last thermometer broke. Clark described the misery of the day: "We passed over emince hils and Some of the worst roade that ever horses passed our horses frequently fell." Lack of game, except for a few grouse, forced them to kill and eat some of their horses. The expedition reached the Divide (whether the location be Lost Trail Pass or Chief Joseph Pass is disputed), which they followed for some miles, along the present Idaho-Montana border, before beginning their descent to the Bitterroot Valley, west of the Divide. There was a hard freeze that night.

On September 4, 1805, the party fell down a very steep descent to a north-flowing river that Lewis named "Clark's River" (today's Bitterroot River). There, at Ross's Hole, the captains encountered "a part[y] of the Tushepau nation, of 33 Lodges about 80 men 400 Total and at least 500 horses", a band of the Salish (Flathead) Indians. Communication was possible but difficult. The Flatheads were allies of the Shoshones and this band was on its way to join Cameahwait's people at the Three Forks. Certainly the presence of Toby eased the way for the Americans. In addition, a Shoshone boy lived with the Flatheads and he could speak with the captains through translation channels. They were generous even though their provisions were as low as that of the expedition. The Corp was able to trade for horses at much better prices than the Shoshones demanded. The captains bought thirteen horses for "a fiew articles of merchendize," and the Flatheads exchanged seven of the run-down Shoshone ponies for what Clark called "ellegant horses." Private Joseph Whitehouse refers to the Flatheads as, "the likelyest and honestst Savages we have ever yet Seen." The expedition now had approximately thirty-nine horses, three colts, and one mule--for packing, riding, or food in the last extreme.

On the morning of September 6, the captains directed the men to lighten the loads on the Shoshone horses and pack the excess on the Salish horses. by midafternoon, that task was completed and the party set off down the Bitterroot River (north) while the Salish rode out for the Three Forks and the buffalo hunt with Cameahwait's people. The expedition made 10 miles and camped, with nothing to eat but two grouse and some berries. They had still with them a little corn and the portable soup purchased in Philadelphia.

For the next three days the descent of the Bitterroot Valley was relatively easy. The expedition made 22 miles on the 7th, 23 miles on the 8th, and 21 miles on the 9th. But as they moved along, the captains and their men kept looking to their left (west) at the snow-covered Bitterroot Mountains, described by Sergeant Patrick Gass as "the most terrible mountains I ever beheld."

The Bitterroot River was wide enough to float but the captains did not consider stopping to make canoes. They asked Toby about its course and he could only inform them that it continued to flow north and he did not know whether it joined the Columbia River or not (it did, but far to the north). The absence of salmon on the River told the captains there had to be a great falls downstream. Making further inquires of Toby, Lewis learned that a few miles downstream (west of today's Missoula, Montana) the Bitterroot was joined by another river (today's Clark Fork) that flowed from the Continental Divide through an extensive valley. Their guide informed them that by traveling up the Clark Fork to its source they could cross the Divide over a low pass and would then descend down a gentle slope to the Missouri River near the Gates of the Rocky Mountains. As Toby put it, "a man might pass to the missouri from hence by that rout in four days." It had taken the Corp of Discovery 53 days to travel from the Gates of the Rocky Mountains to its present location.

The party camped the night of September 9 at the junction of a stream coming in from the west (today's Lolo Creek, some ten miles south-southwest of Missoula). Toby informed Lewis that at this place the party could leave the Bitterroot River and head almost straight west, up Lolo Creek, and then over the mountains. The time had approached that each man had dreaded every time he looked left toward those snow-caped peaks. Lewis wrote of "those unknown formidable snow clad Mountains," which the party was about to attempt "on the bare word of a Savage, while 99/100th of his Countrymen assured us that a passage was impracticable."

"The weather appearing settled and fair," Lewis wrote, "I determined to halt the next day rest our horses and take some scelestial Observations." He called this camp of September 9-11 "Travellers rest." On the morning of September 10, Lewis sent out all the hunters. They returned with four deer, a beaver, and three grouse. Private John Colter brought in three Indians from a tribe that lived across the mountains. The captains called them Flatheads, but they were surely Nez Perce. They were in pursuite of a band of Shoshones that had stolen 21 horses--proof the mountains could be crossed. One of the three agreed to remain with the Americans "to introduce us to his relations whom he informed us were numerous and resided in the plain below the mountains on the columbia river, from whence he said the water was good and capable of being navigated to the sea." He also told Lewis that "some of his relation were at the sea last fall and saw an old whiteman who resided there by himself." The best news of all, Lewis recorded, was that the Indian said "it would require five sleeps wich is six days travel, to reach his relations."

Further inquiry revealed the river that flowed into the Bitterroot a few miles north (today's Clark Fork) received a smaller stream (today's Blackfoot) some little distance to the east (near today's Missoula, Montana) and that it was this stream the Nez Perce followed to get to a low pass over the Continental Divide, bringing them to the buffalo country in the vicinity of either the Dearborn or the Medicine (today's Sun) River. That information confirmed there were two mountain crossings required to get to the Missouri drainage from the Nez Perce country west of the Bitterroot Mountains. It told the captains there were at least two better routes across the Continental Divide than the one they had taken--one via today's Clark Fork to today's MacDonald Pass (6,320 feet) down to today's Helena, a second via the Blackfoot River to today's Lewis and Clark Pass ( 6,000 feet) down to the Great Falls, and a possible third, via Gibbons Pass (6,941 feet), down the Wisdom River (today's Big Hole River) to the Jefferson River. Which of these answered Jefferson's order to find "the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent," only further exploration would tell. Being late in the year the present requirement was to get over the Bitterroots before the fall snows began. On the return trip they could examine the alternate routes.

During the night of September 10-11, two horses strayed. Not until 3:00 p.m. were they caught and brought in causing an expensive delay. The Indian who had volunteered to guide the expedition to his people got impatient and left. Having left their Traveler's Rest camp late in the afternoon of September 11 they proceeded up Lolo Creek seven miles. Here they stopped for the night on a smooth bottom beside the creek where Indians had recently encamped. The next day, September 12, they followed a road through thickly timbered country stopping along the way to briefly inspect an Indian-made, earth-covered sweathouse and a number of pine trees that had been peeled by the natives to get at the inner bark.

Early on September 13 the party arrived at a series of hot springs (Lolo Hot Springs) that "Spouted from the rocks" and which was "nearly boiling hot". Ordway reported that the party "came to a warm Spring which run from a ledge of rocks." Clark waited for Lewis to come up. When he arrived, the party followed what Clark called a "tolerbl rout" that crossed the Divide, separating the Bitterroot and Lochsa watersheds. Sergeant Ordway said that they "found it to be only about half a mile from the head Spring of the waters running East to the head Spring of the waters running West." Descending the western Slope, they soon came to a large open area, now Packer Meadow, through which ran a small stream flowing west. Lewis and Clark called it Glade Creek (Packer Creek). They camped that night at the lower end of the meadow. Here the mountains, "a vast mass of curving, winding, peak-crowned spurs," closed in on them. It would take them eight very difficult days before they would escape to other hardships.

September 14, starting early, after consuming the last of their meat, the party left Packer Creek and crossed a ridge to the junction of Crooked Fork and Brushy Creeks. Here they waded Brushy Creek, climbed four miles to the summit of another ridge, and then descended to the point where Colt-killed (Whitesand) and Crooked Fork Creeks unite to form Lochsa River (the Kooskooskee of Lewis and Clark).

Wading the Lochsa to the north side, Lewis and Clark proceeded downriver for two miles when darkness forced them to halt for the night (on the site of present-day Powell Ranger Station). Toby led the party down the drainage to a fishing camp on the Lochsa (Kooskooskee) where Indians had recently been and whose ponies had eaten all the grass. The large mountain they crossed during the day, Clark said, was "excessively bad & thickly strowed with falling timber & Pine Spruce fur Hackmatak & Tamerack." Private Whitehouse, who often surprises the reader by noting things of interest overlooked by the other journalists, reported seeing "Some tall Strait Sipress [cypress] or white ceeder." He was referring to the western red cedar or arbor vitae (Thuja plicata) that grows abundantly at low levels, and to a great size-as much as seven feet in diameter four and a half feet above the ground and 150 feet tall. If Lewis and Clark had followed down Crooked Fork Creek instead of crossing the mountain, they would have passed through a majestic grove of cedars (upstream about four miles from Powell Ranger Station) dedicated to the memory of Bernard DeVoto, conservationist, author, and historian. He often camped there while pursuing the trail of Lewis and Clark, and here, at his request, his ashes were scattered.

Lewis and Clark had this day traveled through cold rain and intermittent hail and snow. When they camped for the night they were hungry, miserable, and exhausted. Making matters worse, the hunters had succeeded in killing during the day nothing except two or three grouse on which, Gass remarked, "without a miracle it was impossible to feed 30 hungry men. . .. So Capt. Lewis gave out some portable soup, which he had along, to be used in cases of necessity. Some of the men did not relish this soup, and agreed to kill a colt." So the 193 pounds of portable soup that Lewis had carried all the way from Philadelphia at last began to serve the purpose for which it had been intended.

By descending into the gorge of the Lochsa River, the party had veered from the main (Lolo) trail and had let themselves in for all sorts of trouble. At that time a maze of Indian and as now game trails ran through these mountains, many diverging from the main one to fisheries along the streams. It seemed to Clark that "Toby," an infrequent visitor to these parts, became confused and took the wrong one. Whatever the reason for this circuitous route, it delayed the completion of the Bitterroot crossing by at least a day.

September 15 after breakfasting on colt meat, the party went on down the Lochsa about four miles to an old fishing place recognizable as such by the presence of Indian-made weirs. Private Whitehouse mentioned passing a pond on the road to this point. The pond is still there and is today called Whitehouse Pond.

From the fishing place, the explorers began the long climb out of the gorge to Wendover Ridge far above. Because of the extreme steepness of the mountain side and "the emence quantity of falling timber", the trail wound back and forth as though reluctant to reach a destination. Sergeant Ordway guessed they climbed at least 10 miles before reaching the summit. Clark said that the road "was as bad as it can possibly be to pass." Some of the horses lost their footing and rolled down the abrupt slopes as much as 30 to 40 yards. One such tumble broke Clark's portable desk. That it was a near impossible climb may be gauged by the fact that two of the heavily laden pack animals gave out and had to be left behind.

Once they had gained the top of the ridge (at some 7,000 feet elevation), they struck the main trail again, a narrow, ill-defined road which followed the elongate hog-back separating the Lochsa and North Fork of the Clearwater. The scenic grandeur of the Bitterroots was now in evidence on all sides. Clark remarked on the "high ruged [rugged] mountains winding in every direction". Darkness brought them to a halt on a high point of the ridge (possibly about two miles east of Cayuse junction). The hunters had killed nothing during the day except two grouse. Water was unobtainable. With melted snow (from an old snow bank), they prepared more portable soup and cooked the last of the horse flesh.

"Maney parts [of this country were] bare of timber," Clark observed, "they haveing burnt it down & . . . it lies on the ground in every direction". Clark was suggesting that Indians had been responsible for the fires, as they may well have been. On the return trip over the Bitterroots, Lewis and Clark told about their Nez Perce guides creating a tremendous bonfire, explaining that such a conflagration would produce fair weather for the trip. However, most of the fires occurring then and now were due to natural causes. Electric storms strike these mountains, unleashing bolts of lightning which set fires of unbelievable magnitude and destructive force.

One of the most difficult problems the explorers had to contend with in crossing these mountains was the profusion of trees that had fallen across the trail. These had to be climbed over or bypassed, causing exasperating delay, and this situation persisted day after day throughout the entire decent. Another problem was finding forage and water for their horses. When Lewis and Clark encountered grassy fields, they had no other choice but to allow the horses time to graze, even though it meant further delay. Their successful crossing depended on these animals.

Much of the virgin forest present here when Lewis and Clark passed still stands, unscarred and unspoiled. As a result, the traveller who crosses the Lolo Motorway today may view many of the same trees that the explorers gazed upon in 1805-1806.

The more important trees, all evergreens, constituting the Clearwater Forest then and now are , in the low country. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa, grand fir (Abies grandis), western larch (Larix occidentalis), western white pine (Pinus monticola), and western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and, at higher elevations, Engelmann's spruce (Picea engelmannii), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis).

September 16 saw the men awake to find themselves covered with a two-inch blanket of snow. This was to become the worst day the expediton had experienced to date. It was extremely cold and windy, and the snow continued to fall. Before loading horses, the men mended moccasins and those without socks wrapped their feet in rags. Whitehouse recorded the cheerless fact that they "Set out without anything to eat". They might have eased hunger pains with venison if Clark's gun had not had a loose flint. When he attempted to shoot a mule deer, his rifle failed to fire seven consecutive times, even though it had a "Steel fuzee and had never Snaped 7 times before".

The accumulating snow, six to eight inches by evening, almost obliterated the trail. The men kept to it only by close scrutiny of trunks and limbs of trees which bore marks put on them in previous years by Indian packs rubbing against them. Low-hanging clouds reduced the limit of visibility to less than 200 yards. Ordway's diary for that evening said, "It appeared as if we have been in the clouds all this day." The road continued to follow the high ridge, a knobby one, with intervening saddles. Even on the level, it was a difficult route. Sergeant Gass declared that they "proceeded over the most terrible mountains I ever beheld." Both men and horses frequently slipped and fell, and they continued the painful procedure of surmounting or skirting numerous windfalls. "I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life," Clark wrote; "indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin Mockirsons which I wore".

At mid-day when the party came to a grass-covered slope, they halted to let the horses graze and to make fires to melt snow for more portable soup, the first food they had eaten since the previous evening. Some have suggested the location of this noon camp at or near a point known as the Indian post office though others believe it was at Spring Hill (about six miles east of the Post Offices) since the distance checks and there is an abundance of grass. The Post Offices alluded to are two piles of stone about four or five feet high that stand conspicuously beside the present Lolo Motorway. Whether they were there in 1805 no one can say, for Lewis and Clark definitely made no reference to them. (They did see other similar stone piles farther west on the return trip.) It is possible that they missed them because they were snow-covered, or because the trail then ran differently. The origin of the name Post Office is unknown, though one story is that the Nez Perce Indians transmitted information by piling stones in different ways. This the Indians of today deny, claiming that the mounds are trail markers. If Lewis and Clark did make their noon stop here on September 16, they were then at the highest point on the trail at an elevation of 7,036 feet.

After completing lunch, Clark took one man and hurried ahead. Some six miles farther along, they came to a heavily timbered saddle through which ran a small stream flowing north. Here they built huge, roaring fires which proved most welcome to the remainder of the party when they straggled in later on, wet, disheartened, half-starved, and chilled to the bone. Since they had found no game whatever during the day, they killed another colt and consumed half of it. They spent the night here, though, according to Clark, the densely wooded terrain was "scurcely large enough for us to lie leavel." (The location of this campsite is uncertain.) Whitehouse said it was in a "lonesome cove". Others believe it was on Moon Creek.

The horses, in a near-starvation situation, strayed during the night, searching for grass. The morning of September 17 found them scattered widely. In order to allow the horses to move about at night to obtain what little forage the woods provided, Lewis and Clark did not hobble them. It was a gamble whether they would all remain in the immediate vicinity, but a necessary one.

Because of their distressingly late start, the party made only about 10 miles before darkness compelled them to halt for the night. Private Whitehouse wrote that they camped "at a Small branch on the mountain near a round deep Sinque hole full of water". This "Sinque hole" may be at the first saddle east of Indian Grave Mountain as there is a small pond there today that fits the description.

The hunters had another bad day and succeeded in shooting only a few grouse. One of the men chased a bear up a mountain side, but the bear outran him. That night they killed the last of their colts. "The Want of provisions together with the difficul[t]y of passing those emence mountains [has] deampened the sperits of the party," Clark wrote. The successive Bitterroot ranges, tinged blue by distance, had the appearance of going on forever, and the minds of the men, weakened by privation, began to entertain the thought that they might never escape from them. To anyone who has traveled the Lolo Trail throughout its difficult length, this was a quite understandable reaction.

Finally the captains decided to adopt their old procedure of sending one of the officers ahead with a small party to find open country and make contact with friendly Indians. Accordingly, Clark, without their guide "Toby", set out with six men on September 18. At a distance of about 20 miles, Clark and his men checked their horses on a high, barren part of the ridge. The day was clear, visibility excellent, and from this vantage point they could see in the distance southwest "an emence Plain and leavel Countrey". It was a moment of inexpressible joy for the seven men; their minds were now freed of the gnawing obsession that these inhospitable mountains would never end. They could only guess at the distance separating them from the level country ahead and how long it would take them to reach it, but at least it was in sight. The elevation on which they had halted is today known as Sherman Peak, and the open Idaho country is that extending from Grangeville, about 45 miles distant, to Winchester (farther north), about 60 miles.

Clark covered 12 additional miles that day. Descending from Sherman Peak, he soon left the ridge and traveled almost due south until he came to a small stream running to the Lochsa River. Here he and his men spent the night. Since they had nothing whatever to eat, they called this stream Hungry Creek. In time it became Obia Creek and so appears on older maps. Its name was changed back to Hungry Creek in 1961. Leaving the ridge and turning south, Clark bore away from the main trail.

Back on the trail, Lewis and the rest of the Corp continued to have their problems. Lewis ordered the horses brought in early, "to force my march as much as the abilities of our horses would permit." Unfortunately, Private Alexander Willard's horse had strayed. Lewis sent him to search for it while the men ate what was left of the colt for breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. the party got started (Willard rejoined the men late in the afternoon, without his horse). Both men and animals suffered for lack of water and food. The guns of the hunters remained silent. "There is nothing here upon earth," declared Lewis, "except ourselves and a few small pheasants, small grey squirrels, and a blue bird of the vulter kind about the size of a turtle dove or jay bird". (The squirrel is Sciurus fremonti, the "blue bird" was probably Maximilian's jay, Gymnokitta cyanocephala.) This is the first time Lewis has resumed his writing since laying his pen down on August 26.

After travelling some 18 miles, they halted where they found water in a steep ravine about one-half mile from their camp. Their supper that night reveals the straits to which they had been reduced. It consisted of portable soup, a small amount of bear oil and, topping that off, 20 pounds of candles.

Starting early, on September 19, Clark and his men moved up Hungry Creek for a distance of about six miles where they came to a small glade. Here, opportunely and unexpectedly, they encountered a stray Indian horse. Since no food had entered their stomachs in the last 24 hours, the men were not long in reaching a decision about what to do with this animal. They promptly shot it and after filling themselves, hung the balance in a tree where Lewis could be expected to find it.

The road up Hungry Creek had been "much worse than any other part," Clark wrote, "as the hill sides are steep and at many places obliged for several yds. to pass on the sides of rocks where one false step of a horse would be certain destruction". Two miles beyond the glade, they left Hungry Creek on their right and struggled over two mountains before camping on a small stream (Cedar Creek) in a beautiful group of huge western red ceder now called "Lewis and Clark Grove."

On this morning Lewis and his party awoke to a clear, sunshiny day. According to Ordway, they ate "the verry last morcil of our provisions except a little portable soup." For once the horses had not strayed so they were able to make an early start. Some six miles farther "the ridge terminated [at today's Sherman Peak] and we to our inexpressable joy discovered a large tract of Prairie country laying to the S.W. and widening as it appeared to extend to the W." Here they exulted in the view, as had Clark the day before, of the distant prairie. Declared Sergeant Gass, "There was much joy and rejoicing among the men, as happens among passengers at sea, who have experienced a dangerous and protracted journey, when they first discover land on the long looked for coast."

With invigorated step, they soon left the ridge, plunged down to Hungry Creek, and began the ascent of that stream along the part of the trail alluded to by Clark as particularly precarious. According to Lewis, "The road was excessively dangerous . . . being a narrow rockey path generally on the side of steep precipice, from which in many places if ether man or horse were precipitated they would inevitably be dashed in pieces." Clark had passed it without incident, but Lewis was not so fortunate. Lewis noted that "Fraziers horse fell from this road in the evening and roled with his load near a hundred yards into the Creek." Incredibly, twenty minutes later this animal was on the trail again, moving along with the other horses. Lewis regarded this as "the most wonderful escape" he had ever witnessed.

They camped that night in a thicket of pine and fir on Hungry Creek and eased their hunger with more of the unappetizing portable soup. "The most of the party," Whitehouse revealed, "is weak and feeble Suffering with hunger". Lewis added that "several of the men unwell of the disentary, breakings out, or irruptions of the Skin".

On September 20 Clark wrote, "I set out early and proceeded on through a Countrey as ruged as usial passed over a low mountain into the forks of a large Creek which I kept down 2 miles and assended a high Steep mountain leaving the Creek to our left hand passed the head of several dreans on a divideing ridge, and at 12 miles decended the mountain to a leavel pine Country" This is Weippe Prairie, an open area in west-central Idaho, where he was the first white man to meet the Nez Perce Indians. (As later reconstructed the route for this day, Clark climbed to the top of the ridge between Cedar and Lolo Creeks. He then went down this ridge to the forks of Eldorado and Lolo Creeks; thence down Lolo Creek to the mouth of Trout Creek. From this point he climbed to Crane Meadows on Trout Creek. From there he went over the shoulder of Brown's ridge and down Miles Creek to Weippe Prairie.)

After he had moved west across the prairie some five miles, Clark chanced upon three Indian boys who quickly tried to hide in the grass. He located two of them, tamed their fright with presents, and followed them to their village a short distance away. Here he was conducted to a lodge where a minor chief informed him, through the medium of sign language, that the head chief and all the warriors had recently departed on a punitive foray against enemies to the southwest. Indian woman soon produced a small piece of buffalo meat, dried salmon, and roots of different kinds. The principle root was from the plant now called camas (Camassia quamash), a member of the lily family. In succeeding days and months this root would play an important role in the lives of the explorers. Clark and his men at once ate freely of it and then, trailed by some 100 native men, women, and children, moved two miles to another village where they spent the night. Lewis and Clark most often referred to these Indians as either the Chopunnish or the Pierced Noses.

On this same day, Lewis had trouble rounding up the horses again and started late. Ordway wrote, "we found a handful or two of Indian peas and a little bears oil which we brought with us we finished the last morcil of it and proceeded on half Starved and very weak." After travelling only two miles, they discovered "the greater part of a horse which Capt Clark had met with and killed for us." We can imagine Whitehouse's statement that they "dined sumptiously". There would be no further need for portable soup. But as Lewis ate, he received more bad news. One of the packhorses, with his load, was missing. That load was particularly valuable to Lewis, for it contained his stock of winter clothing. He sent Private Lapage--who was responsible for the horse--back to search for it, but Lapage returned at 3:00 p.m. without it. Lewis then sent "two of my best woodsmen in surch of him" and proceeded. Because of the late start, Lewis made only 12 miles before darkness forced him to halt, probably on a ridge between Dollar and Sixbit Creeks.

During the five day period when Lewis kept a journal, he contributed more faunal and floral information than all the other journalists combined during the entire Bitterroot transit. For instance, as he dropped to lower elevations on Hungry Creek he noted a pronounced warming trend and, with it, a marked change in the plant life. He mentioned "a kind of huneysuckle which bears a white bury and rises about 4 feet high not common but to the western side of the rockey mountains". Beyond reasonable doubt this was the shrub now called snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus). He was properly impressed with red cedars. "I saw several sticks large enough to form eligant perogues of at least 45 feet in length". In time he would learn of the tremendous importance of this magnificent tree to coastal Indians. He referred also to an alder (Alnus sinuata), a honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa), and a huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum). All three have been identified as new to science.

Lewis further described a bird with "a blue shining colour with a very high tuft of feathers on the head a long tale, it feeds on flesh and the beak and feet black. it's note is cha-ah, cha-ah. it is about the size of a pigeon, and in shape and action resembles the blue jay". This noisy bird, the black-headed jay (Cyanocitta stelleri annectens) is a subspecies of Steller's jay, the only blue bird of any sort with a crest found between the Rockies and the Pacific. On this same day Lewis wrote of encountering "Three species of Phesants, a large black species, with some feathers irregularly scattered on the breast neck and belley-a smaller kind of a dark uniform colour with a red stripe above the eye, and a brown and yellow species that a good deel resembles the phesant common to the Atlantic States". A significant sentence, containing mention of three pheasants then unknown to science, though Lewis had earlier discovered the "large black species" (Richardson's blue grouse, Dendragapus obscurus richardsonii) on the Jefferson River. The one with a red stripe above the eye was Franklin's grouse (Canachites canadensis franklinii), and the third, "the brown and yellow species," was the Oregon ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus sabini).

As his initial act of September 21 Clark sent hunters out in different directions to look for game. To allay suspicion and to gain information, he himself stayed with the Indians. The chief informed him that one of their important leaders, Twisted Hair, could then be located on the Clearwater River, to the west about 15 miles, where he had gone to fish for salmon. When the hunters returned empty-handed, Clark purchased a horseload of berries, roots, and dried salmon and charged Reuben Field to deliver it to Lewis.

Late that afternoon Clark and the remaining men set out for the Clearwater, taking a road that paralleled the present Jim Ford Creek. He arrived late at night, after making the long, steep descent into the gorge of the Clearwater. Twisted Hair, whom he soon located, proved to be "a Chearfull man with apparent sincerity". He presented him with a medal, after which the two talked until after midnight, the conversation of necessity being limited largely to sign language.

Back on the trail, with the horses widely scattered still another time, Lewis was unable to move until near noon and made only 15 miles before he was compelled to halt for the night. During the day, the hunters killed a few grouse, some of the other men lifted several crayfish from a creek, and Lewis himself shot a coyote. That evening, with what remained of the horse, and with coyote, grouse, and crayfish, they made "one more hearty meal, not knowing where the next was to be found".

Sunday, September 22 - Clark had made the forced march to the Clearwater primarily to have a close look at it. He found it to be a comparatively large stream, about 160 yards wide, and that ponderosa pines large enough for dugouts stood on its banks. There was no reason why, as he saw it, the Expedition could not once again take to the water. When he had made up his mind on this point, he left his men here to hunt and headed back to Weippe Prairie where he found, much to his delight, that Lewis and the remainder of the party had arrived ahead of him.

That evening Lewis wrote: "The pleasure I now felt in having tryumphed over the rockey Mountains and descending once more to a level and fertile country where there was every rational hope of finding a comfortable subsistence for myself and party can be more readily conceived than expressed, nor was the flattering prospect of the final success of the expedition less pleasing". However, the long and difficult trip from mountain pass to meadows dashed all hope of a short portage across the Rocky Mountains and ended dreams of an easy passage to the Orient.

Clearwater to Snake River

The Indians offered the party such Nez Perce staples as dried salmon and camas roots, quite a change from that to which the men had long been accustomed, but the food proved a mixed blessing, for it caused indigestion and diarrhea among most of the Corps' men. In Clark's entry from September 24 he noted, "Several 8 or 9 men sick, Capt. Lewis sick and complain of a Lax & heaviness at the stomack. . . . Capt. Lewis scarcely able to ride on a jentle horse which was furnished by the chief, Several men so unwell that they were Compelled to lie on the Side of the road for Some time others obliged to be put on horses".

Gass reported on September 24, "The men are generally unwell, owing to the change of diet . . . the Indian provisions did not agree with us. Captain Clarke gave all the sick a dose of Rush's pills, to see what effect that would have." Clark noted in his journal of September 24 that "We arrived at the Island on which I found Twisted hare and formed a Camp on a large Island a littl below". This is the same location he had recorded in his entry of September 21.

On September 25 Clark states, "When I arrived at camp, found Capt Lewis verry Sick, Several men also verry Sick, I gave some Salts and Tarter emetic". Clark reports for September 26 that "Capt. Lewis Still very unwell, Several men taken Sick on the way down, I administered Salts Pils Galip [jalap], Tarter emetic &c. I feel unwell this evening" Whitehouse further records "Several of the men Sick with the Relax, caused by a suddin change of diet and water as well as the climate". Also that day Clark says, "Set out early and proceeded on down the river to a bottom opposit the forks of the river on the South Side and formed a Camp." This is the "Canoe Camp" opposite the mouth of the North Fork Clearwater named by Lewis & Clark as the Chopunnish River. Here they began building dugout canoes for the trip to the Pacific.

It is quite apparent that the men were in bad shape. With Lewis completely incapacitated, it was incumbent on Clark to take charge. He was an uncertain and much puzzled "doctor," but that did not deter him from prescribing Rush's pills, "to see what effect that would have," nor, as the cases multiplied he administered at one time not only a dose of salts but also Rush's pills, jalap, and tartar emetic.

Though the men attributed the cause of their illness variously, it was undoubtedly a radical change in diet. The men had come down out of the mountains ravenous as wolves and had stuffed themselves with salmon and camas roots, foods altogether different from buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope to which their stomachs had become conditioned. John Townsend, young Philadelphia ornithologist with the Wyeth Expedition, recorded that when he crossed the Rockies to the Columbia watershed in 1834: "The sudden and entire change from flesh exclusively, to fish, has effected us all, more or less, with diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen; several of the men have been so extremely sick, as scarcely to be able to travel." The Astorian, Gabriel Franchere, reported similarly. The salmon, he said was "extremely fat and oily; which renders it unwholesome for those who are not accustomed to it, and who eat too great a quantity; thus several of our people were attacked with diarrhoea in a few days after we began to make this fish our ordinary sustenance."

Camas roots appear to have a similar effect which opinion Lewis and Clark gradually came around to. "This root," Lewis declared, "is pallateable but disagrees with me in every shape I have ever used it".

Even though many of the men were feeling the effects of their diet Clark notes for September 27, "all the men able to work comened building 5 Canoes, Several taken Sick at work, our hunters returned Sick without meet".

On September 28 Clark writes, "Our men nearly all Complaining of ther bowels, a heaviness at the Stomack & Lax, Some of those taken first getting better" and the next day September 29 he says, "men Sick as usial, all The men that are able to at work, at the Canoes" For September 30 his notes state, "all at work doing Something except 2 which are verry Sick"

For October 1 Clark wrote, "Capt Lewis getting much better." The next day, October 2, he notes, "we have nothing to eate but roots, which give the men violent pains in their bowels after eating much of them. . . . Provisions all out, which Compells us to kill one of our horses to eate and make Suep for the Sick men."

October 3 Clark indicates "all our men getting better in helth, and at work at the canoes &c." Then on October 4 he states, "Capt Lewis Still Sick but able to walk about a little." For October 5 he noted, "nothing to eate but dried roots & Dried fish, Capt Lewis & my Self eate a Supper of roots boiled, which filled us So full of wind, that we were Scercely able to Breathe all night felt the effects of it. Lanced 2 Canoes to day one proved a little leakey the other a verry good one"

He states on October 6, "all the Canoes finished this evening ready to be put into the water. I am taken verry unwell with a paine in the bowels & Stomach, which is certainly the effects of my diet"

On October 7 they were ready to start out, leaving their horses, 38 in all, with the Twisted Hair to await their return. He wrote, "I continu verry unwell but obliged to attend every thing all the Canoes put into the water and loaded, fixed our Canoes as well as possible and Set out"

The following day October 8 a mishap near Colters Creek (Present day Potlatch River) delayed further travel until October 10. Clark states, one canoe in which Serjt. Gass was Stearing and was nearle turning over, She Sprung a leak or Split open on one Side and Bottom filled with water & Sunk on the rapid, the men, Several of which Could not Swim hung on to the Canoe, I had one of the other Canoes unloaded & with the assistance of our Small Canoe and one Indian Canoe took out every thing & toed the empty Canoe on Shore, one man Tompson a little hurt, every thing wet".

During this interval, October 9, "Toby" and his son left the party unannounced and was last "Seen running up the river Several miles above". That same evening "a woman faind madness &c. &c. (This was apparently a Nez Perce custom when grieving the loss of a loved one.)

The Clearwater epidemic might have dragged on even longer if the men had not been introduced to food more agreeable to their digestive tracts. On this same day Gass wrote, "We have some Frenchmen, who prefer dogflesh to fish; and they have got two or three dogs from the Indians." Soon we find Clark writing, "Purchased all the dogs we could". And from then on while west of the Rockies, that is exactly what they did--purchase all the dogs they could.

On October 10 the Expedition arrived at the confluence of the Clearwater with the Snake River, called by the Indians, Kimooenim. Sergeant Gass said it was very large and "of a goslin-green color." Clark declared that it was the same stream they had camped on while with the Shoshoni which he had named Lewis's River.

Lewis and Clark stopped just below the junction of the Clearwater and Snake, near the present sites of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. According to Private Whitehouse the scene was, "No timber, barron & broken prairies on each side."

On October 18 they bought 40 dogs all told, giving in return articles of such small value as beads, belts, and thimbles. Until they climbed back over the Continental Divide the follow spring, back to the land of beaver tail and buffalo hump, they reduced the dog population of the Columbia River valley appreciably.

The Return Trip

On the westward journey the captains had promised Chief Yelleppit that they would remain with him for a few days on the way back. They kept their promise and camped with the Walulas from April 27 to 29, at the mouth of the Walla Walla River. Yelleppit told them about an overland shortcut to the Nez Perces, so on the thirtieth they continued eastward by land following a Nez Perce guide they had met several days earlier. They were anxious to reach the Nez Perces, with whom they had left their horses on the westbound trip.

This east bound trip took the party over new ground; going west they had traveled by canoe down the Clearwater and Snake rivers to the Columbia. With the advice of their guide they now took the shortcut between the Walla Walla and the Snake, passing the present towns of Waitsburg, Dayton, and Pomeroy, Washington. They reached the Snake a little below the mouth of the Clearwater. On the way they met Wearkoomt, a Nez Perce chief who had been helpful to them on their way down the Snake the previous fall. Having reached the Snake and crossed it on May 4. The next day, May 5, the party continued up its north side to the Clearwater and up the north bank of that river to near Colter's Creek or today's Potlatch River.

Here in the Nez Perce country, in modern west-central Idaho, the captains assumed a new and demanding role as physicians to the local people. On the westward trip some medicines they had prescribed had eased the ailments of several patients, and had, said Clark, "given those nativs an exolted oppinion of my skill as a phisician." During a period of nearly six weeks that they were forced to remain with the Nez Perces in May and June of 1806 they were visited by a host of afflicted, suffering from a variety of ills, notably rheumatic complaints, sore eyes, and abscesses. Lewis was doubtful if any permanent cures could result, but the immediate benefit to relations with the Nez Perces was so great that he decided to continue treatment, wishing that they could indeed cure these "poor wretches."

Remaining at their encampment until late the following day, May 6, they had occasion to meet "with three men of a nation called the Skeets-so-mish who reside at the falls of a large river discharging itself into the Columbia on it's East side to the North of the entrance of Clark's river." These are believed to be the Skitswish, a Salishan-language people now known as the Coeur d'Alenes, from the French "Awl Hearts" or "Pointed Hearts". They lived on Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Coeur d'Alene River in northern Idaho. Another possibility is that they were members of those Indians today known as the Spokane Indians as they also resided in this same general vicinity. Even further speculation may suggest that those Indians belonged to a band which resided, a short distance further to the north, near Pend O'Reille Lake and the river of the same name. This river also has a falls which eventually discharges itself into the Columbia.   These Indians are known as the Pend O'Reille and Kootenai's.

On May 7, having traveled only 12 miles, Lewis records in his journal, "our gude conducted us through the plain and down a steep and lengthey hill to a creek which we called Musquetoe Creek in consequence of being infested with swarms of those insects on our arrival at it." This camp was probably located south of Peck on the east side of Big Canyon Creek in Nez Perce County.

The captains also had to mediate a dispute, May 8, between the local Nez Perce leaders. The previous fall they had left their horses with the hospitable chief Twisted Hair; some more prominent chiefs who had then been absent were vexed with him on returning, thinking that he had presumed too much in taking on the responsibility. Twisted Hair, disgusted with their criticism, had let the horses wander over a considerable area. Now Lewis and Clark did their best to reconcile the squabbling chiefs so that their animals could be recovered.

At four in the afternoon of May 10 they "descended the hills to Commearp Creek and arrived at the Village of Tunnachemootoolt, the cheeif at whos lodge we had left a flag last fall." This location is in Lewis County, on Lawyer (Commearp) Creek, southwest of present Kamiah where they remained until May 13.

On May 14 the party settled in to a camp on the east side of the Clearwater at the modern town of Kamiah, Idaho, where they would remain for nearly a month. The Nez Perces told them that it would be at least that long before the snows in the Bitterroot Mountains melted sufficiently to allow passage east over the Lolo Trail. Their campsite has come to be called Camp Chopunnish after the explorers' name for the Nez Perces. It was never given any name by Lewis nor Clark and has also been referred to as the "Long Camp" by some students of The Corp of Discovery.  On May 21 the party was given the "remnant of our store of merchandize" and passed their time seeking food, counciling and socializing with the Nez Perces, and obtaining more horses for the next stage of the trip.

Some further medical problems engaged their attention during this lengthy sojourn. William Bratton had been suffering ever since Fort Clatsop from a mysterious back ailment which had virtually incapacitated him. No other remedy having worked, the captains tried a sweat bath suggested by John Shields, the extreme heat being alternated with immersion in a cold mountain stream. In a short time Bratton's back loosened up and he was able to walk again. Another patient was a Nez Perce chief who had suffered from paralysis for five years, with no apparent cause. For lack of a better remedy the captains subjected him to the sweat-bath treatment, and to their amazement he began recovering the use of his limbs.

On May 27 John Ordway and two others (Peter M. Weiser & Robert Frazer) were sent to the Lewis's river in search of salmon. On May 28 Frazer being one of the two men sent with Ordway to the Lewis River traded an old razer for two Spanish mill dollars. On May 30 two men in a canoe attempting to swim their horses across the river struck the canoe against a tree and she immediately sunk "with the loss of three blankets, a blanket-coat and some articles of merchandize." The two leaders continued their studies of natural history, native culture, and geography. Clark gathered what information he could about country to the north and south of the party's trail, together with the locations of Indian tribes, obtaining maps from the Nez Perces. Lewis continued his study of the grizzly bears, concluding that in spite of their many color variations they were all of the same species. He also discovered the cinnamon bear, a western color variant of the familiar black bear. A number of new animals and plants were described, including the pygmy horned lizard, western tanager, Columbian ground squirrel, beargrass, and ragged robin. It was probably here that they collected what seems to be the only zoological specimen of the expedition to have survived to the present day, the skin of a Lewis's woodpecker. In the land of the Nez Perce Lewis also made another discovery of a root much like the sweet potato. Lewis's description of cous (his "cows") is unmistakable; it constituted one of the basic food sources for natives in the region.

Lewis records in his journal of June 2 that "Sergt. Ordway Frazier and Wizer returned with 17 salmon" from the Lewis River. In council Lewis and Clark promised the Nez Perces that American traders would soon follow them to provide the Nez Perces with trade goods, especially guns with which to defend themselves against the Blackfeet and other enemies. They also promised, if they should meet the Blackfeet on their eastward trip, to try to persuade them to make peace with the Nez Perces. Their hosts may have been a bit skeptical on this point, but the hope of obtaining weapons to match those of their enemies inspired even greater regard for their visitors. The men found much to admire about their hosts' customs, hospitality, and appearance. The traveling ethnographers recorded much about Nez Perce material culture during the forced stay. Food, clothes, and housing, of course caught their attention and the horse culture of this equestrian people was also a matter of serious consideration. Finally, the captains tried to explain Nez Perce attitudes, ceremonies, and rituals in their journals.

By June 9, 1806, the captains decided to begin their move eastward. According to the Nez Perces the snow would not be gone from the mountains along the Lolo Trail until the beginning of July, but the whole party was anxious to start homeward, so they left the valley of the Clearwater for the flats above the river, "exolted," Clark says, "with the idea of once more proceeding on towards their friends and Country."

On June 10, 1806, the Corp of Discovery left their camp on the Clearwater River and moved up to higher ground on Weippe Prairie. They had waited over a month for the snow to melt in the Bitterroot Mountains so that they could proceed eastward on the Lolo Trail. Lewis states in his journal of June 14 the decision to "make a forsed march" to traveller's rest. They set out on the trail on June 15, but soon realized that they could not find their way in the deep snow. Patrick Gass in his journal entry of June 16 states "In the evening we came to Hungry creek and encamped." On June 17, after caching many of their goods in trees, they turned back. Lewis lamented, "this is the first time since we have been on this long tour that we have ever been compelled to retreat or make a retrograde march." To add discomfort to discouragement he also reported, "it rained on us most of this evening." Lewis further notes in his journal of June 18 that they "dispatched Drewyer and Shannon to the Chopunnish Indians in the plains" for the purpose of serving as guides. He further states that "Potts cut his leg very badly" and "Colter's horse fell with him in passing hungry creek and himself and horse were driven down the creek a considerable distance rolling over each other among the rocks". Clark noted "Musquetors Troublesome".

They returned to Weippe Prairie and sent to the Nez Perce camps to hire guides. Three young men offered to serve for the price of two guns. On June 24 the party set out again. The Indians found the trail easily and the party made their way to their old camp at Travelers' Rest, near present Missoula, Montana, taking only six days in contrast to the eleven days of the westbound trip. Clark writes on June 30, "Descended the mountain to Travellers rest leaveing these tremendious mountains behind us, in passing of which we have experienced cold and hunger of which I shall ever remember." They spent a few days resting for the next stage of the journey.

At Fort Clatsop the captains had decided to divide the party for an extended time to investigate previously unexplored territory. Lewis would head east across the mountains to the Great Falls of the Missouri, then explore the Marias River before returning to the Missouri. His purpose was to discover if the Marias drained northern reaches thus giving further territorial claims to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase. Clark would go southeast to the site of Camp Fortunate, then down the Beaverhead and Jefferson rivers to the Three Forks of the Missouri. Part of his party would then take canoes down the Missouri to the Great Falls to meet Lewis's party there, while Clark went east to the Yellowstone and down that river. His object was to inspect the Yellowstone and perhaps make contact with additional Indian tribes. The two captains and their men would meet at the mouth of the Yellowstone.


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  • Lewis & Clark Among the Nez Perce - August 6-8, 2003

    Lewis & Clark Over the Bitterroot Range - August 4-6, 2003

    Lewis & Clark: Encounters with Indians - July 7-11, 2003

    On the Trail of Lewis & Clark - June 16-21, 1998