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Lewis and Clark: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

 

CHAPTER VII

OVER THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

A messenger was sent back to Captain Clark, detailing what had been discovered, and giving such instructions as would best enable him to bring up the boats. It is now Captain Clark's turn to bear testimony to the spirit of the men:—

"June 15th.... Proceeded with great difficulty, in consequence of the increased rapidity of the current. The channel is constantly obstructed by rocks and dangerous rapids. During the whole progress, the men are in the water holding the canoes, and walking on sharp rocks and round stones, which cut their feet or cause them to fall. Rattlesnakes are so numerous that the men are constantly on their guard against being bitten by them; yet they bear the fatigues with the most undiminished cheerfulness."

The severest labor was necessary in making a portage of the falls. The remaining periogue was abandoned, the canoes only being carried on. To accomplish this, a large cottonwood tree was felled, its trunk being cut into short sections to serve as wheels for improvised carriages; the mast of the periogue, cut into lengths, being used as axles. Before these carriages could be utilized, it was necessary for the men to carry the canoes and baggage upon their shoulders to the level plains above the cañon walls, where Captain Clark had marked out with stakes the easiest path for a portage. This was a trying labor; and the portage itself was not less laborious. The journal says:—

"Here [on the plains above the river] they all repaired their moccasins, and put on double soles to protect them from the prickly-pear, and from the sharp points of earth which have been formed by the trampling of the buffalo during the late rains. This of itself is enough to render the portage disagreeable to one who has no burden; but as the men are loaded as heavily as their strength will permit, the crossing is really painful. Some are limping with the soreness of their feet; others are scarcely able to stand for more than a few minutes, from the heat and fatigue. They are all obliged to halt and rest frequently; at almost every stopping-place they fall, and most of them are asleep in an instant; yet no one complains, and they go on with great cheerfulness."

Notwithstanding this hardship, Lewis's journal entry of June 25th has this fine bit:—

"Such as were able to shake a foot amused themselves in dancing on the green to the music of the violin, which Cruzatte plays extremely well."

Captain Lewis had brought along in the baggage a steel skeleton or framework for a boat, thirty-six feet in length, which he had planned to use in shallow water. It was to be completed by stretching over the steel ribs a covering of skins, making the whole water-tight by any means that might be at hand. This was the place for the experiment. Much time was spent in collecting and curing skins, which, when fitted to the frame, were smeared with a composition of tallow, beeswax, and charcoal. This failed, however. As soon as the mixture dried, it fell away in flakes, and the vessel was entirely worthless. But Lewis wrote that "the boat in every other rispect completely answers my most sanguine expectations"! Then the men were employed for some time in making "dugout" canoes from cottonwood logs,—a weary labor, considering the tools they had. Not until July 15th was the long interruption ended, and the journey resumed.

July 25th Captain Clark, who was in advance of the main party, discovered the three forks of the Missouri, which were named the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers. By the westernmost of these, the Jefferson, they proceeded, keeping a careful lookout for Indians.

"July 27th [Mr. Biddle's edition of the journals]. We are now very anxious to see the Snake Indians. After advancing for several hundred miles into this wild and mountainous country, we may soon expect that the game will abandon us. With no information of the route, we may be unable to find a passage across the mountains when we reach the head of the river—at least, such a pass as will lead us to the Columbia. Even are we so fortunate as to find a branch of that river, the timber which we have hitherto seen in these mountains does not promise us any fit to make canoes, so that our chief dependence is on meeting some tribe from whom we may procure horses. Our consolation is that this southwest branch can scarcely head with any other river than the Columbia; and if any nation of Indians can live in the mountains we are able to endure as much as they can, and have even better means of procuring subsistence."

By the first days of August this fear for the scarcity of game had become a reality; they were getting beyond the summer range of deer and buffalo, which had been their chief reliance. Through their long season of toil they had been plentifully fed; but they were now to know the pains of hunger, and the ills which follow upon a meagre diet. The hunters were daily reporting increasingly bad luck in the chase; some days would yield nothing; upon other days the camp would heartily welcome an owl, an eagle, or a bag of insignificant small birds of any sort, or even a wolf—anything that had flesh on its bones.

But these deprivations did not one whit abate the zeal for discovery. About this time they found the Jefferson River to be formed by three minor streams, to which they gave the names of Philosophy, Philanthropy, and Wisdom rivers, "in commemoration of those cardinal virtues which have so eminently marked that deservedly selibrated character." It is a pity to record that this complimentary intention was thwarted by time; but Philosophy is now known as Willow Creek, Wisdom is now the Big Hole, and Philanthropy bears the hard name of Stinking Water.

Since leaving Fort Mandan, in the preceding April, they had seen no Indians. They were now somewhat reassured by Sacajawea, the "Bird Woman," who said that they were nearing the site of her old home with the Snakes. She was as anxious as they for a meeting with her people, which she told them must soon occur. But anxiety increased as the days passed, and on the 9th of August Captain Lewis, accompanied by several of the men, set out in advance of the rest, "with a resolution to meet some nation of Indians before they returned, however long they might be separated from the party."

Three days later the stream, along which their route had lain for so long, was shrunken to such a width that one of the men was able to stand with his feet upon opposite banks; and in that posture he thanked God that he had lived to bestride the Missouri. Within a little time they drank from the icy spring that gave the rivulet its birth. They then stood upon the crest of the great Continental Divide, on the boundary between the present States of Montana and Idaho. They had run the mighty Missouri to its lair!

As if that were not satisfaction enough for one day, they went forward for three fourths of a mile, and there "reached a handsome, bold creek of cold, clear water, running to the westward." Stooping, they drank of the waters of the Lemhi River, one of the upper branches of the Columbia.

On the following day, as they were tracing the course of this stream, they observed two women, a man, and some dogs, stationed upon the summit of a hill at the distance of a mile. Captain Lewis advanced, unarmed, displaying a flag. The women retreated at once; and the man, after waiting until Lewis had approached to within a hundred paces, also disappeared in the thick brush. After following the trail for a mile, they came suddenly upon three Indian women. One of these made her escape; but the others, an old dame and a child, seated themselves upon the ground and bowed their heads, as though expecting to be put to death forthwith. Captain Lewis advanced, took the older woman by the hand and raised her to her feet, at the same time displaying the white skin of his arm,—for exposure had tanned his face and hands as dark as those of the natives themselves. He then gave them some trinkets, and the other woman being recalled, he painted the faces of the three with vermilion, an act understood by all Indians as signifying pacific intentions. While he was thus engaged, sixty mounted Shoshone warriors galloped up, armed and voicing their war-cry, thinking to do battle with Minnetaree foes, for whom they had mistaken the whites. They were overjoyed upon discovering the identity of their visitors, saluted them heartily, smoked with them the pipe of peace, and offered such entertainment as they had. They were without food, excepting some indifferent cakes made from service-berries and choke-cherries, dried in the sun.

To secure the friendly regard of these people, Captain Lewis tried to induce some of them to return with him to the point where he was to rejoin Captain Clark and the others, saying that the main party was bringing merchandise for trade; and he was at last successful in getting a goodly escort.

When he met with the men of the main party, they were still toiling heavily up the narrow channel of the Missouri, dragging the canoes. Sacajawea at once recognized the members of her tribe. A woman of the band ran forward to meet her, and they embraced with signs of extravagant joy, for they had been playmates in childhood.

"While Sacajawea was renewing among the women the friendships of former days," says the journal, "Captain Clark went on, and was received by Captain Lewis and the chief, who, after the first embraces and salutations were over, conducted him to a sort of circular tent or shade of willows. Here he was seated on a white robe, and the chief immediately tied in his hair six small shells resembling pearls, an ornament highly valued by these people, who procure them in the course of trade from the seacoast. The moccasins of the whole party were then taken off, and after much ceremony the smoking began. After this the conference was to be opened. Glad of an opportunity of being able to converse more intelligibly, they sent for Sacajawea, who came into the tent, sat down, and was beginning to interpret, when in the person of Cameawait (the chief) she recognized her brother. She instantly jumped up and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket, and weeping profusely. The chief was himself moved, though not in the same degree. After some conversation between them, she resumed her seat and attempted to interpret for us; but her new situation seemed to overpower her, and she was frequently interrupted by tears."


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