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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For April 13:
Captain Lewis (current)
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Being disappointed in my observations of yesterday for longitude, I was unwilling to remain at the entrance of the river another day for that purpose, and therefore determined to set out early this morning, which we did accordingly. The wind was in our favor after 9 A.M., and continued favorable until 3 P.M. We therefore hoisted both the sails in the white pirogue, consisting of a small square sail and spritsail, which carried her at a pretty good gait until about 2 in the afternoon, when a sudden squall of wind struck us and turned the pirogue so much on the side as to alarm Charbonneau, who was steering at the time.
In this state of alarm, he threw the pirogue with her side to the wind, when the spritsail, jibing, was as near oversetting the pirogue as it was possible to have missed. The wind, however, abating for an instant, I ordered Drouilliard to the helm and the sails to be taken in, which was instantly executed, and the pirogue, being steered before the wind, was again placed in a state of security.
This accident was very near costing us dearly. Believing this vessel to be the most steady and safe, we had embarked on board of it our instruments, papers, medicine, and the most valuable part of the merchandise which we had still in reserve as presents for the Indians. We had also embarked on board ourselves, with three men who could not swim and the squaw with the young child, all of whom, had the pirogue overset, would most probably have perished, as the waves were high, and the pirogue upwards of 200 yards from the nearest shore. However, we fortunately escaped, and pursued our journey under the square sail, which, shortly after the accident, I directed to be again hoisted.
Our party caught 3 beaver last evening, and the French hunters, 7. As there was much appearance of beaver just above the entrance of the Little Missouri, these hunters concluded to remain some days. We therefore left them without the expectation of seeing them again. Just above the entrance of the Little Missouri, the Great Missouri is upwards of a mile in width, though immediately at the entrance of the former it is not more than 200 yards wide and so shallow that the canoes passed it with setting poles.
At the distance of 9 miles, passed the mouth of a creek on the starboard side which we called Onion Creek from the quantity of wild onions which grow in the plains on its borders. Captain Clark, who was on shore, informed me that this creek was 16 yards wide a mile and a half above its entrance, discharges more water than creeks of its size usually do in this open country, and that there was not a stick of timber of any description to be seen on its borders, or the level plain country through which it passes.
Saw some buffalo and elk at a distance today, but killed none of them. We found a number of carcasses of the buffalo lying along shore, which had been drowned by falling through the ice in winter, and lodged on shore by the high water when the river broke up about the first of this month. We saw also many tracks of the white bear of enormous size, along the river shore and about the carcasses of the buffalo, on which I presume they feed.
We have not as yet seen one of these animals, though their tracks are so abundant and recent. The men, as well as ourselves, are anxious to meet with some of these bear. The Indians give a very formidable account of the strength and ferocity of this animal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six, eight, or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party.
The savages attack this animal with their bows and arrows and the indifferent guns with which the traders furnish them. With these they shoot with such uncertainty and at so short a distance that, unless shot through head or heart wound not mortal, they frequently miss their aim and fall a sacrifice to the bear. Two Minnetarees were killed during the last winter in an attack on a white bear This animal is said more frequently to attack a man on meeting with him, than to flee from him. When the Indians are about to go in quest of the white bear, previous to their departure they paint themselves and perform all those superstitious rites commonly observed when they are about to make war upon a neighboring nation.
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.