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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For June 17:
Captain Clark (current)
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A fine morning. Wind as usual. Captain Lewis with the party unloaded the pirogue, and he determined to keep the party employed in getting the loading to the creek about one mile over a low hill, in my absence on the portage.
I set out with 5 men at 8 o'clock, and proceeded on up the creek some distance, to examine that and, if possible ascend that sufficiently high, that a straight course to the mouth of Medicine River would head the two ravines. The creek I found confined, rapid, and shallow, generally passed through an open rolling prairie, so as to head the two ravines.
After heading two, we steered our course so as to strike the river below the great pitch. On our course to the river, crossed a deep ravine near its mouth, with steep cliffs. This ravine had running water which was very fine. The river at this place is narrow, and confined in perpendicular cliffs of 170 feet. From the tops of those cliffs, the country rises with a steep ascent for about 250 feet more.
We proceeded up the river, passing a succession of rapids and cascades, to the Falls, which we had heard for several miles, making a deadly sound. I beheld those cataracts with astonishment. The whole of the water of this great river confined in a channel of 280 yards and pitching over a rock of 97 feet 3/4 of an inch. From the foot of the Falls rises a continued mist which is extended for 150 yards down and to near the top of the cliffs on L. side.
The river below is confined in a narrow channel of 93 yards, leaving a small bottom of timber on the starboard side which is defended by a rock, ranging crosswise the river a little below the chute. A short distance below this cataract a large rock divides the stream. In descending the cliffs to take the height of the fall, I was near slipping into the water, at which place I must have been sucked under in an instant, and with difficulty and great risk I ascended again, and descended the cliff lower down (but few places can be descended to the river), and took the height with as much accuracy as possible, with a spirit level, &c. Dined at a fine spring 200 yards below the pitch, near which place 4 cotton willow trees grew. On one of them I marked my name, the date, and height of the falls. We then proceeded on up the river, passing a continued cascade and rapid to a fall of 19 feet at 4 small islands. This fall is diagonally across the river from the larboard side, forming an angle of 3/4 of the width for the larboard, from which side it pitches for 2,/3 of that distance. On the starboard side is a rapid decline. Below this chute, a deep ravine falls in, in which we camped for the night, which was cold.
The mountains in every direction have snow on them. The plain to our left is level. We saw one bear and innumerable numbers of buffalo. I saw 2 herds of those animals watering immediately above a considerable rapid. They descended by a narrow pass, &c., the bottom small. The river forced those forward into the water, some of which were taken down in an instant, and seen no more. Others made shore with difficulty. I beheld 40 or 50 of those swimming at the same time. Those animals in this way are lost, and accounts for the number of buffalo carcasses below the rapids.
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.