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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For July 27:
Captain Lewis (current)
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Ascended the S.W. fork 1 3/4 miles and encamped at a larboard bend in a handsome, level, smooth plain just below a bayou, having passed the entrance of the middle fork at 1/2 a mile. Here I encamped to wait the return of Captain Clark, and to give the men a little rest, which seemed absolutely necessary to them. At the junction of the S.W. and middle forks, I found a note which had been left by Captain Clark informing me of his intended route, and that he would join me at this place, provided he did not fall in with any fresh sign of Indians, in which case he intended to pursue until he overtook them, calculating on my taking the S.W. fork, which I most certainly prefer, as its direction is much more promising than any other.
Believing this to be an essential point in the geography of this western part of the continent, I determined to remain at all events until I obtained the necessary data for fixing its latitude, longitude, &c. After fixing my camp, I had the canoes all unloaded and the baggage stowed away and securely covered on shore, and then permitted several men to hunt.
I walked down to the middle fork and examined and compared it with the S.W. fork, but could not satisfy myself which was the largest stream of the two; in fact they appeared as if they had been cast in the same mold, there being no difference in character or size. Therefore, to call either of these streams the Missouri would be giving it a preference which its size does not warrant, as it is not larger than the other. They are each 90 yards wide. In these meadows I saw a number of the mallard duck with their young, which are now nearly grown.
Captain Clark arrived very sick, with a high fever on him, and much fatigued and exhausted. He informed me that he was very sick all last night, had a high fever and frequent chills and constant aching pains in all his muscles. This morning, notwithstanding his indisposition, he pursued his intended route to the middle fork, about 8 miles, and finding no recent sign of Indians, rested about an hour, and came down the middle fork to this place.
Captain Clark thought himself somewhat bilious and had not had a passage for several days. I prevailed on him to take a dose of Rush's pills, which I have always found sovereign in such cases, and to bathe his feet in warm water and rest himself. Captain Clark's indisposition was a further inducement for my remaining here a couple of days. I therefore informed the men of my intention, and they put their deer skins in the water in order to prepare them for dressing tomorrow.
We begin to feel considerable anxiety with respect to the Snake Indians. If we do not find them or some other nation who have horses, I fear the successful issue of our voyage will be very doubtful, or at all events much more difficult in its accomplishment. We are now several hundred miles within the bosom of this wild and mountainous country, where game may rationally be expected shortly to become scarce and subsistence precarious without any information with respect to the country, not knowing how far these mountains continue, or where to direct our course to pass them to advantage or intercept a navigable branch of the Columbia; or even were we on such an one, the probability is that we should not find any timber within these mountains large enough for canoes, if we judge from the portion of them through which we have passed.
However, I still hope for the best, and intend taking a tramp myself in a few days to find these yellow 2 gentlemen if possible. My two principal consolations are that from our present position it is impossible that the S.W. fork can head with the waters of any other river but the Columbia, and that if any Indians can subsist in the form of a nation in these mountains with the means they have of acquiring food, we can also subsist.
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.