After leaving the Ricara villages, the men were possessed by an ardent longing to get home; and the Missouri, as though it had learned to know and respect and love them, and could appreciate their ardor, lent them its best aid. Upon the swift current, and under pleasant skies, the boats flew onward. Seventy-five or eighty miles a day was a common achievement; but even that progress did not keep pace with the speed of their desires. There was nothing more to be accomplished, no reason for lingering by the way; and there was nothing to be guarded against, except possible trouble with the Tetons. As the boats passed through their country, these people appeared in large numbers upon the banks, shouting invitations to land; but the officers felt safer in refusing further intercourse. The Tetons were obliged to content themselves with trotting along upon the shore, keeping abreast of the boats as well as they were able, crying out taunts and imprecations; and one, more zealous in his passion, went to the top of a hill and struck the earth three times with the butt of his gun,—the registration of a mighty oath against the whites, long since abundantly fulfilled.
Occasionally there was a meeting with a trading party from St. Louis or elsewhere, with brief exchange of news and gossip; but they were growing too eager for loitering. On the 9th of September they passed the mouth of the Platte; and on the 12th they met one of their own men who had been sent back with the batteau from Fort Mandan, in April, 1805. This man was now returning to the Ricaras, with a message from President Jefferson, and an independent mission to instruct the Ricaras in methods of agriculture. A few days later they met with one Captain McClellan, an old acquaintance of Captain Clark, who told them that the people of the United States had generally given them up for lost, though the President still entertained hopes of their return.
"September 20th.... As we moved along rapidly we saw on the banks some cows feeding, and the whole party almost involuntarily raised a shout of joy at seeing this image of civilization and domestic life. Soon after we reached the little French village of La Charette, which we saluted with a discharge of four guns and three hearty cheers. We landed, and were received with kindness by the inhabitants.... They were all equally surprised and pleased at our arrival, for they had long since abandoned all hopes of ever seeing us return."
The next day they came to the village of St. Charles; and on the 22d they stopped at a cantonment of United States soldiery, three miles above the mouth of the Missouri, where they passed the day. The concluding paragraphs of the journals must be quoted literally from Captain Clark:—
"September 23rd. Took an early brackfast with Colo Hunt and set out, descended to the Mississippi and down that river to St. Louis at which place we arived about 12 o'clock. We suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a Salute to the Town. We were met by all the village and received a harty welcom from its inhabitants &c here I found my old acquaintance Maj W. Christy who had settled in this town in a public line as a Tavern Keeper. He furnished us with storeroom for our baggage and we accepted of the invitation of Mr. Peter Choteau and took a room in his house. We payed a friendly visit to Mr. Auguste Choteau and some of our old friends this evening. As the post had departed from St. Louis Capt. Lewis wrote a note to Mr. Hay in Kahoka to detain the post at that place until 12 tomorrow which was rather later than his usual time of leaveing it.
"Wednesday 24th of September, 1806. I sleped but little last night however we rose early and commenced wrighting our letters Capt. Lewis wrote one to the presidend and I wrote Gov. Harrison and my friends in Kentucky and sent off George Drewyer with those letters to Kohoka & delivered them to Mr. Hays &c. We dined with Mr. Chotoux to day and after dinner went to a store and purchased some clothes, which we gave to a taylor and derected to be made. Capt. Lewis in opening his trunk found all his papers wet and some seeds spoiled.
"Thursday 25th of Septr. 1806. had all our skins &c suned and stored away in a storeroom of Mr. Caddy Choteau, payed some visits of form, to the gentlemen of St. Louis, in the evening a dinner & Ball.
"Friday 26th of Septr. 1806. a fine morning we commenced wrighting, &c."
That is the last word in the chronicles of the expedition,—modest, unassuming, matter-of-fact—the word of one who had done a difficult thing thoroughly and well, and who was at the end, as he had been throughout, larger than the mere circumstances of his labor. His companion was of the same stalwart stuff. It is hard to choose between them in any essential detail of manhood. Nor were the officers much exalted in temper above the men of their command. When we are celebrating the heroes of our national life, every name upon the roster of the Lewis and Clark Expedition deserves to be remembered.
In this brief narrative, we have just touched the hilltops of the adventures of the expedition. Much of importance has been suggested indirectly; much has been passed by altogether. Each day's work was full of value and had a lasting significance.
One thing remains to be said. We must not forget that the undertaking was not primarily one of adventure; it was an exploration, in the broadest sense of the word. It was not the mere fact of getting across the continent and back that gave the work its character, but the observations that were made by the way. A book of this size would not contain a bare catalogue of the deeds and discoveries of those twenty-eight months; nor could any number of volumes do full justice to their importance. Whoever reads the journals, from whatever point of view, is amazed by what they reveal. Geographers, ethnologists, botanists, geologists, Indian traders, and men of affairs, all are of one mind upon this point. We must wait long before we find the work of Lewis and Clark equaled.