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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For June 17:
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Captain Clark set out early this morning with five men to examine the country and survey the river and portage, as had been concerted last evening. I set six men at work to prepare four sets of truck wheels with couplings, tongues and bodies, that they might either be used without the bodies for transporting our canoes, or with them in transporting our baggage. I found that the elk skins I had prepared for my boat were insufficient to complete her, some of them having become damaged by the weather and being frequently wet. To make up this deficiency, I sent out two hunters this morning to hunt elk.
The balance of the party I employed first in unloading the white pirogue, which we intend leaving at this place, and bringing the whole of our baggage together and arranging it in proper order near our camp. This duty being completed, I employed them in taking five of the small canoes up the creek, which we now call Portage Creek, about 1 3/4 miles. Here I had them taken out and laid in the sun to dry.
From this place there is a gradual ascent to the top of the high plain, to which we can now take them with ease. The bluffs of this creek below and those of the river above its entrance are so steep that it would be almost impracticable to have gotten them on the plain.
We found much difficulty in getting the canoes up this creek to the distance we were compelled to take them, in consequence of the rapids and rocks which obstruct the channel of the creek. One of the canoes overset and was very near injuring 2 men essentially. Just above the canoes, the creek has a perpendicular fall of 5 feet and the cliffs again become very steep and high. We were fortunate enough to find one cottonwood tree, just below the entrance of Portage Creek, that was large enough to make our carriage wheels about 22 inches in diameter. Fortunate I say, because I do not believe that we could find another of the same size, perfectly sound, within 20 miles of us. The cottonwood which we are obliged to employ in the other parts of the work is extremely illy calculated for it, being soft and brittle.
We have made two axletrees of the mast of the white pirogue, which I hope will answer tolerably well, though it is rather small. The Indian woman much better today. I have still continued the same course of medicine. She is free from pain, clear of fever, her pulse regular, and eats as heartily as I am willing to permit her, of broiled buffalo well seasoned with pepper and salt, and rich soup of the same meat. I think, therefore, that there is every rational hope of her recovery.
Saw a vast number of buffalo feeding in every direction around us in the plains, others coming down in large herds to water at the river. The fragments of many carcasses of these poor animals daily pass down the river, thus mangled I presume, in descending those immense cataracts above us. As the buffalo generally go in large herds to water, and the passages to the river about the falls are narrow and steep, the hinder part of the herd press those in front out of their depth, and the water instantly takes them over the cataracts, where they are instantly crushed to death without the possibility of escaping. In this manner, I have seen ten or a dozen disappear in a few minutes. Their mangled carcasses lie along the shores below the falls in considerable quantities and afford fine amusement for the bear, wolves, and birds of prey. This may be one reason - and I think not a bad one, either - that the bear are so tenacious of their right of spoil in this neighborhood.
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.