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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For August 14:
Captain Lewis (current)
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The game which they principally hunt is the antelope, which they pursue on horseback and shoot with their arrows. This animal is so extremely fleet and durable that a single horse has no possible chance to overtake them or run them down. The Indians are therefore obliged to have recourse to stratagem when they discover a herd of the antelope. They separate and scatter themselves to the distance of five or six miles in different directions around them, generally selecting some commanding eminence for a stand. Some one, or two, now pursue the herd at full speed over the hills, valleys, gullies, and the sides of precipices that are tremendous to view. Thus, after running them from five to six or seven miles, the fresh horses that were in waiting head them [off] and drive them back, pursuing them as far or perhaps further quite to the other extreme of the hunters, who now in turn pursue on their fresh horses, thus worrying the poor animal down and finally killing them with their arrows. Forty or fifty hunters will be engaged for half a day in this manner and perhaps not kill more than two or three antelopes.
They have but few elk or black-tailed deer, and the common red deer they cannot take as they secrete themselves in the brush when pursued, and they have only the bow and arrow, which is a very slender dependence for killing any game except such as they can run down with their horses. I was very much entertained with a view of this Indian chase. It was after a herd of about 10 antelope, and about 20 hunters. It lasted about 2 hours, and a considerable part of the chase in view from my tent. About 1 A.M., the hunters returned, had not killed a single antelope, and their horses foaming with sweat. My hunters returned soon after and had been equally unsuccessful. I now directed McNeal to make me a little paste with the flour and added some berries to it, which I found very palatable.
The means I had of communicating with these people was by way of Drouilliard, who understood perfectly the common language of gesticulation, or signs, which seems to be universally understood by all the nations we have yet seen. It is true that this language is imperfect and liable to error, but it is much less so than would be expected. The strong parts of the ideas are seldom mistaken.
I now prevailed on the chief to instruct me with respect to the geography of his country. This he undertook very cheerfully by delineating the rivers on the ground, but I soon found that his information fell far short of my expectation or wishes. He drew the river on which we now are [i.e., the Lemhi], to which he placed two branches just above us, which he showed me, from the openings of the mountains, were in view. He next made it discharge itself into a large river which flowed from the S.W. about ten miles below us, then continued this joint stream in the same direction of this valley, or N.W., for one day's march, and then inclined it to the west for two more days' march. Here he placed a number of heaps of sand on each side, which, he informed me, represented the vast mountains of rock eternally covered with snow through which the river passed. That the perpendicular, and even jutting, rocks so closely hemmed in the river that there was no possibility of passing along the shore; that the bed of the river was obstructed by sharp pointed rocks, and the rapidity of the stream such that the whole surface of the river was beaten into perfect foam, as far as the eye could reach. That the mountains were also inaccessible to man or horse. He said that, this being the state of the country in that direction, himself nor none of his nation had ever been farther down the river than these mountains. I then inquired the state of the country on either side of the river, but he could not inform me. He said there was an old man of his nation a day's march below who could probably give me some information of the country to the northwest and referred me to an old man then present for that to the southwest.
I now told Cameahwait that I wished him to speak to his people and engage them to go with me tomorrow to the forks of Jefferson's River, where our baggage was by this time arrived with another chief and a large party of white men, who would wait my return at that place; that I wished them to take with them about thirty spare horses to transport our baggage to this place, where we would then remain some time among them and trade with them for horses, and finally concert our future plans for getting on to the ocean and of the trade which would be extended to them, after our return to our homes.
He complied with my request and made a lengthy harangue to his village. He returned in about an hour and a half and informed me that they would be ready to accompany me in the morning. I promised to reward them for their trouble. Drouilliard, who had had a good view of their horses, estimated them at 400. Most of them are fine horses. Indeed, many of them would make a figure on the south side of James River, or the land of fine horses. I saw several with Spanish brands on them, and some mules, which they informed me that they had also obtained from the Spaniards. I also saw a bridle bit of Spanish make, and sundry other articles, which I have no doubt were obtained from the same source.
Notwithstanding the extreme poverty of those poor people, they are very merry. They danced again this evening until midnight. Each warrior keeps one or more horses tied by a cord to a stake near his lodge both day and night, and are always prepared for action at a moment's warning. They fight on horseback altogether. I observe that the large flies are extremely troublesome to the horses as well as ourselves.
This morning being cold, and the men stiff and sore from the exertions of yesterday, Captain Clark did not set out this morning until 7 A.M. The river was so crooked and rapid that they made but little way. At one mile, he passed a bold running stream on starboard, which heads in a mountain to the north, on which there is snow. This we called Track Creek. It is 4 yards wide and 3 feet deep. At 7 miles, passed a stout stream which heads in some springs under the foot of the mountains on larboard. The river near the mountain they found one continued rapid, which was extremely laborious and difficult to ascend. This evening Charbonneau struck his Indian woman, for which Captain Clark gave him a severe reprimand. Joseph and Reuben Fields killed 4 deer and an antelope. Captain Clark killed a buck. Several of the men have lamed themselves by various accidents in working the canoes through this difficult part of the river, and Captain Clark was obliged personally to assist them in this labor.
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.