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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For July 26:
Captain Lewis (current)
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The country through which this portion of Maria's River passes to the fork which I ascended appears much more broken than that above and between this and the mountains. I had scarcely ascended the hills before I discovered, to my left, at the distance of a mile, an assemblage of about 30 horses. I halted and used my spyglass, by the help of which I discovered several Indians on the top of an eminence just above them, who appeared to be looking down toward the river - - I presumed, at Drouilliard. About half the horses were saddled.
This was a very unpleasant sight. However, I resolved to make the best of our situation and to approach them in a friendly manner. I directed J. Fields to display the flag which I had brought for that purpose, and advanced slowly toward them. About this time they discovered us and appeared to run about in a very confused manner as if much alarmed. Their attention had been previously so fixed on Drouilliard that they did not discover us until we had begun to advance upon them. Some of them descended the hill on which they were, and drove their horses within shot of its summit and again returned to the height as if to wait our arrival or to defend themselves.
I calculated on their number being nearly or quite equal to that of their horses, that our running would invite pursuit, as it would convince them that we were their enemies, and our horses were so indifferent that we could not hope to make our escape by flight. Added to this, Drouilliard was separated from us, and I feared that his not being apprised of the Indians in the event of our attempting to escape, he would most probably fall a sacrifice.
Under these considerations, I still advanced toward them. When we had arrived within a quarter of a mile of them, one of them mounted his horse and rode full speed toward us, which when I discovered, I halted and alighted from my horse. He came within a hundred paces, halted, looked at us, and turned his horse about, and returned as briskly to his party as he had advanced.
While he halted near us, I held out my hand and beckoned him to approach, but he paid no attention to my overtures. On his return to his party, they all descended the hill and mounted their horses, and advanced toward us, leaving their horses behind theme We also advanced to meet them. I counted eight of them but still supposed that there were others concealed, as there were several other horses saddled.
I told the two men with me that I apprehended that these were the Minnetarees of Fort de Prairie, and from their known character I expected that we were to have some difficulty with them; that if they thought themselves sufficiently strong, I was convinced that they would attempt to rob us, in which case, be their numbers what they would, I should resist to the last extremity, preferring death to being deprived of my papers, instruments, and gun; and desired that they would form the same resolution, and be alert and on their guard.
When we arrived within a hundred yards of each other, the Indians, except one, halted. I directed the two men with me to do the same and advanced singly to meet the Indian, with whom I shook hands and passed on to those in his rear, as he did also to the two men in my rear. We now all assembled and alighted from our horses. The Indians soon asked to smoke with us, but I told them that the man whom they had seen pass down the river had my pipe and we could not smoke until he joined us. I requested, as they had seen which way he went, that they would one of them go with one of my men in search of him. This they readily consented to, and a young man set out with R. Fields in search of Drouilliard.
I now asked them by signs if they were the Minnetarees of the North which they answered in the affirmative. I asked if there was any chief among them, and they pointed out three. I did not believe them. However, I thought it best to please them and give to one a medal, to a second a flag, and to the third a handkerchief, with which they appeared well satisfied. They appeared much agitated with our first interview, from which they had scarcely yet recovered. In fact, I believe they were more alarmed at this accidental interview than we were.
From no more of them appearing, I now concluded they were only eight in number, and became much better satisfied with our situation, as I was convinced that we could manage that number should they attempt any hostile measures. As it was growing late in the evening, I proposed that we should remove to the nearest part of the river and encamp together. I told them that I was glad to see them and had a great deal to say to them.
We mounted our horses and rode toward the river, which was at but a short distance. On our way we were joined by Drouilliard, Fields, and the Indian. We descended a very steep bluff about 250 feet high to the river, where there was a small bottom of nearly 1/2 a mile in length. In this bottom, there stand three solitary trees, near one of which the Indians formed a large semicircular camp of dressed buffalo skins and invited us to partake of their shelter, which Drouilliard and myself accepted, and the Fieldses lay near the fire in front of the shelter. With the assistance of Drouilliard, I had much conversation with these people in the course of the evening. I learned from them that they were a part of a large band which lay encamped at present near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, on the main branch of Maria's River, 1 1/2 days' march from our present encampment; that there was a white man with their band; that there was another large band of their nation hunting buffalo near the broken mountains and were on their way to the mouth of Maria's River, where they would probably be in the course of a few days.
I told these people that I had come a great way from the East, up the large river which runs toward the rising sun, that I had been to the great waters where the sun sets and had seen a great many nations, all of whom I had invited to come and trade with me, on the rivers on this side of the mountains; that I had found most of them at war with their neighbors and had succeeded in restoring peace among them. That I was now on my way home and had left my party at the Falls of the Missouri with orders to descend that river to the entrance of Maria's River and there wait my arrival, and that I had come in search of them in order to prevail on them to be at peace with their neighbors, particularly those on the west side of the mountains, and to engage them to come and trade with me when the establishment is made at the entrance of this river; to all of which they readily gave their assent, and declared it to be their wish to be at peace with the Tushepaws who they said had killed a number of their relations lately, and pointed to several of those present who had cut their hair, as an evidence of the truth of what they had asserted.
I found them extremely fond of smoking and plied them with the pipe until late at night. I told them that if they intended to do as I wished them, they would send some of their young men to their band with an invitation to their chiefs and warriors to bring the white man with them and come down and counsel with me at the entrance of Maria's River, and that the balance of them would accompany me to that place, where I was anxious now to meet my men, as I had been absent from them some time and knew that they would be uneasy until they saw me. That if they would go with me, I would give them ten horses and some tobacco. To this proposition they made no reply.
I took the first watch tonight and sat up until half after eleven. The Indians by this time were all asleep. I roused up R. Fields and lay down myself. I directed Fields to watch the movements of the Indians, and if any of them left the camp, to awake us all, as I apprehended they would attempt to steal our horses.
This being done, I fell into a profound sleep and did not wake until the noise of the men and Indians awoke me a little after light, in the morning.
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.