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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For June 9:
Captain Lewis (current)
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We determined to deposit at this place the large red pirogue, all the heavy baggage which we could possibly do without, and some provisions, salt, tools, powder and lead &c., with a view to lighten our vessels and at the same time to strengthen their crews by means of the seven hands who have been heretofore employed in navigating the red pirogue. Accordingly we set some hands to digging a hole or cellar for the reception of our stores. These holes in the ground, or deposits, are called, by the engages, "caches." On inquiry I found that Cruzat was well acquainted with this business and therefore left the management of it entirely to him. Today we examined our maps and compared the information, derived as well from them as from the Indians, and fully settled in our minds the propriety of adopting the south fork for the Missouri, as that which it would be most expedient for us to take.
The information of Mr. Fidler, incorrect as it is, strongly argued the necessity of taking the south fork, for if he has been along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains as far as even latitude 47ø, which I think fully as far south as he ever was in that direction, and saw only small rivulets making down from those mountains, the presumption is very strong that those little streams do not penetrate the Rocky Mountains to such distance as would afford rational grounds for a conjecture that they had their sources near any navigable branch of the Columbia. And if he has seen those rivulets as far south as 47ø, they are most probably the waters of some northern branch of the Missouri or south fork, probably the river called by the Indians Medicine River. We therefore cannot hope by going northwardly of this place, being already in latitude 47ø 24", to find a stream between this place and the Saskatchewan which does penetrate the Rocky Mountains and which, agreeably to the information of the Indians with respect to the Missouri, does possess a navigable current some distance in those mountains. The Indian information also argued strongly in favor of the south fork. They informed us that the water of the Missouri was nearly transparent at the Great Falls (this is the case with the water of the south fork), that the falls lay a little to the south of sunset from them (this is also probable, as we are only a few minutes north of Fort Mandan, and the south fork bears considerably south from hence to the mountains); and that falls are below the Rocky Mountains and near the northern termination of one range of those mountains. A range of mountains which appear behind the S. mountains (and which appear to terminate S.W. from this place and on this side of the unbroken chain of the Rocky Mountains) gives us hope that this part of their information is also correct, and there is sufficient distance between this and the mountains for many, and I fear, for us, much too many falls.
Another impression on my mind is that, if the Indians had passed any stream as large as the south fork on their way to the Missouri, they would not have omitted mentioning it. And the south fork, from its size and complexion of its waters, must enter the Rocky Mountains and, in my opinion, penetrates them to a great distance, or else whence such an immense body of water as it discharges? It cannot proceed from the dry plains to the N.W. of the Yellowstone River on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, for those numerous large dry channels which we witnessed on that side as we ascended the Missouri forbid such a conjecture. And that it should take its sources to the N.W. under those mountains, the travels of Mr. Fidler forbid us to believe.
Those ideas as they occurred to me I endeavored to impress on the minds of the party, all of whom, except Captain Clark, being still firm in the belief that the N. fork was the Missouri and that which we ought to take. They said, very cheerfully, that they were ready to follow us anywhere we thought proper to direct; but that they still thought that the other was the river, and that they were afraid that the south fork would soon terminate in the mountains and leave us at a great distance from the Columbia.
Cruzat, who had been an old Missouri navigator and who, from his integrity, knowledge, and skill as a waterman, had acquired the confidence of every individual of the party, declared it as his opinion that the N. fork was the true genuine Missouri and could be no other.
Finding them so determined in this belief, and wishing, if we were in an error, to be able to detect it and rectify it as soon as possible, it was agreed between Captain Clark and myself that one of us should set out with a small party by land up the south fork, and continue our route up it until we found the falls or reached the snowy mountains, by which means we should be enabled to determine this question pretty accurately.
This expedition I preferred undertaking, as Captain Clark is the best waterman, &c., and determined to set out the day after tomorrow. I wished to make some further observations at this place, and as we had determined to leave our blacksmith's bellows and tools here, it was necessary to repair some of our arms, and particularly my air gun, the main spring of which was broken, before we left this place. These and some other preparations will necessarily detain us two, perhaps three, days.
I felt myself very unwell this morning, and took a portion of salts, from which I feel much relief this evening.
The cache being completed, I walked to it and examined its construction. It is in a high plain about 40 yards distant from a steep bluff of the south branch on its northern side The situation a dry one, which is always necessary. A place being fixed on for a cache, a circle about 20 inches in diameter is first described, the turf or sod of this circle is carefully removed, being taken out as entire as possible in order that it may be replaced in the same situation when the cache is filled and secured. This circular hole is then sunk perpendicularly to the depth of one foot, if the ground be not firm, somewhat deeper. They then begin to work it out wider as they proceed downward, until they get it about six or seven feet deep, giving it nearly the shape of the kettle, or lower part of a large still. Its bottom is also somewhat sunk in the center.
The dimensions of the cache are in proportion to the quantity of articles intended to be deposited. As the earth is dug, it is handed up in a vessel and carefully laid on a skin or cloth, and then carried to some place where it can be thrown in such manner as to conceal it, usually into some running stream where it is washed away and leaves no traces which might lead to the discovery of the cache.
Before the goods are deposited, they must be well dried. A parcel of small dry sticks are then collected, and with them a floor is made, three or four inches thick, which is then covered with some dry hay or a raw hide well dried. On this, the articles are deposited, taking care to keep them from touching the walls by putting other dry sticks between as you stow away the merchandise. When nearly full, the goods are covered with a skin, and earth thrown in and well rammed until, with the addition of the turf first removed, the hole is on a level with the surface of the ground. In this manner, dried skins or merchandise will keep perfectly sound for several years.
The traders of the Missouri, particularly those engaged in the trade with the Sioux, are obliged to have frequent recourse to this method in order to avoid being robbed.
Most of the men are busily engaged dressing skins for clothing. In the evening, Cruzat gave us some music on the violin and the men passed the evening in dancing, singing, &c., and were extremely cheerful.
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.