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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For April 2:
Captain Clark (current)
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The men who went in quest of the elk and deer which were killed yesterday returned at 8 A.M. We now informed the party of our intention of laying in a store of meat at this place and immediately dispatched two parties, consisting of nine men, to the opposite side of the river.
About this time, several canoes of the natives arrived at our camp, among others two from below with eight men of the Shahala nation. Those men informed us that they reside on the opposite side of the Columbia near some pine trees which they pointed to, in the bottom south of the Dimond Island. They singled out two young men who, they informed us, lived at the falls of a large river which discharges itself into the Columbia on its south side, some miles below us.
We readily prevailed on them to give us a sketch of this river, which they drew on a mat with a coal. It appeared that this river, which they call Multnomah, discharged itself behind the island we call the Image Canoe Island, and as we had left this island to the south in descending and ascending the river we had never seen it. They informed us that it was a large river, and runs a considerable distance to the south between the mountains.
I determined to take a small party and return to this river and examine its size, and collect as much information of the natives on it or near its entrance into the Columbia of its extent; the country which it waters; and the natives who inhabit its banks, &c. I took with me six men: Thompson, J. Potts, Peter Cruzat, P. Wiser, T. P. Howard, Joseph Whitehouse, and my man York in a large canoe, with an Indian whom I hired for a sun-glass to accompany me as a pilot.
At 11:30 A.M., I set out and had not proceeded far ere I saw four large canoes, at some distance above, descending and bending their course toward our camp, which at this time is very weak, Captain Lewis having only 10 men with him. I hesitated for a moment whether it would not be advisable for me to return and delay until a part of our hunters should return to add more strength to our camp, but on a second reflection and reverting to the precautions always taken by my friend Captain Lewis on those occasions, banished all apprehensions, and I proceeded on down.
At 3 P.M. I landed at a large double house of the Ne-er-che-ki-oo tribe of the Shahala nation. I entered one of the rooms of this house and offered several articles to the natives in exchange for wappato. They were sulky, and they positively refused to sell any.
I had a small piece of port fire match in my pocket, off of which I cut a piece one inch in length and put it into the fire, and took out my pocket compass and sat myself down on a mat on one side of the fire, and also showed a magnet, which was in the top of my inkstand. The port fire caught and burned vehemently, which changed the color of the fire. With the magnet I turned the needle of the compass about very briskly, which astonished and alarmed these natives, and they laid several parcels of wappato at my feet, and begged of me to take out the bad fire. To this I consented. At this moment, the match being exhausted was of course extinguished, and I put up the magnet, &c. This measure alarmed them so much that the women and children took shelter in their beds, and behind the men. All this time, a very old blind man was speaking with great vehemence, apparently imploring his god.
I lit my pipe and gave them a smoke, and gave the women the full value of the roots which they had put at my feet. They appeared somewhat pacified, and I left them and proceeded on. At the distance of thirteen miles below the last village and at the place I had supposed was the lower point of Image Canoe Island, I entered this river which the natives had informed us of, called Multnomah River, so called by the natives from a nation who reside on Wappetoe Island a little below the entrance of this river.
Multnomah discharges itself in the Columbia on the S.E., and may be justly said to be the size of that noble river.
Reprinted by permission of the American Studies Programs at the University of Virginia.
The complete text can also be downloaded for printing from their website.