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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For April 26:
Captain Lewis (current)
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This morning I dispatched Joseph Field up the Yellowstone River with orders to examine it as far as he could conveniently and return the same evening. Two others were directed to bring in the meat we had killed last evening, while I proceeded down the river with one man in order to take a view of the confluence of this great river with the Missouri, which we found to be two miles distant, on a direct line N.W., from our encampment. The bottom land on the lower side of the Yellowstone River near its mouth, for about one mile in width, appears to be subject to inundation, while that on the opposite side of the Missouri and the point formed by the junction of these rivers is of the common elevation, say from 12 to 18 feet above the level of the water, and of course not liable to be overflowed except in extreme high water, which does not appear to be very frequent. There is more timber in the neighborhood of the junction of these rivers, and on the Missouri as far below as the White Earth River, than there is on any part of the Missouri above the entrance of the Cheyenne River to this place.
About 12 o'clock I heard the discharge of several guns at the junction of the rivers, which announce to me the arrival of the party with Captain Clark. I afterwards learned that they had fired on some buffalo which they met with at that place, and of which they killed a cow and several calves - the latter now fine veal. I dispatched one of the men to Captain Clark requesting him to send up a canoe to take down the meat we had killed, and our baggage, to his encampment, which was accordingly complied with.
After I had completed my observations in the evening, I walked down and joined the party at their encampment on the point of land formed by the junction of the rivers. Found them all in good health, and much pleased at having arrived at this long - wished-for spot. And, in order to add in some measure to the general pleasure which seemed to pervade our little community, we ordered a dram to be issued to each person. This soon produced the fiddle, and they spent the evening with much hilarity, singing and dancing, and seemed as perfectly to forget their past toils as they appeared regardless of those to come!
In the evening, the man I had sent up the river this morning returned, and reported that he had ascended it about eight miles on a straight line; that he had found it crooked, meandering from side to side of the valley formed by it, which is from four to five miles wide. The current of the river, gentle, and its bed much interrupted and broken by sandbars. At the distance of five miles, he passed a large island well covered with timber, and three miles higher, a large creek falls in on the S.E. side, above a high bluff in which there are several strata of coal. The country bordering on this river, as far as he could perceive - like that of the Missouri - consisted of open plains. He saw several of the big-horned animals in the course of his walk, but they were so shy that he could not get a shot at them. He found a large horn of one of these animals, which he brought with him. The bed of the Yellowstone River is entirely composed of sand and mud, not a stone of any kind to be seen in it near its entrance.
Captain Clark measured these rivers just above their confluence: found the bed of the Missouri 520 yards wide, the water occupying 330. Its channel deep. The Yellowstone River, including its sand bar, 858 yards, of which the water occupied 297 yards. The deepest part, 12 feet. It was falling at this time and appeared to be nearly at its summer tide.
The Indians inform that the Yellowstone River is navigable for pirogues and canoes nearly to its source in the Rocky Mountains, and that in its course, near these mountains, it passes within less than half a day's march of a navigable part of the Missouri. Its extreme sources are adjacent to those of the Missouri, River Platte, and I think probably with some of the south branch of the Columbia 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.