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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For May 31:
Captain Lewis (current)
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The obstructions of rocky points and riffles still continue as yesterday. At those places the men are compelled to be in the water even to their armpits, and the water is yet very cold, and so frequent are those points that they are one-fourth of their time in the water. Added to this, the banks and bluffs along which they are obliged to pass are so slippery, and the mud so tenacious, that they are unable to wear their moccasins, and in that situation, dragging the heavy burden of a canoe, and walking occasionally for several hundred yards over the sharp fragments of rocks which tumble from the cliffs and garnish the borders of the river. In short, their labor is incredibly painful and great, yet those faithful fellows bear it without a murmur. The towrope of the white pirogue - - the only one, indeed, of hemp, and that on which we most depended - - gave way today at a bad point. The pirogue swung and but slightly touched a rock, yet was very near oversetting. I fear her evil genius will play so many pranks with her that she will go to the bottom one of these days.
Captain Clark walked on shore this morning but found it so excessively bad that he shortly returned. At 12 o'clock P.M. we came to for refreshment and gave the men a dram, which they received with much cheerfulness - - and well deserved.
The hills and river cliffs which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. The bluffs of the river rise to the height of from two to three hundred feet, and in most places perpendicular. They are formed of remarkable white sandstone which is sufficiently soft to give way readily to the impression of water.
Two or three thin horizontal strata of white freestone, on which the rains or water make no impression, lie imbedded in these cliffs of soft stone, near the upper part of them. The earth on the top of these cliffs is a dark rich loam which, forming a gradually ascending plain, extends back from 1/2 a mile to a mile, where the hills commence and rise abruptly to a height of about 300 feet more. The water, in the course of time, in descending from those hills and plains, on either side of the river, has trickled down the soft sand cliffs and worn it into a thousand grotesque figures which, with the help of a little imagination, and an oblique view, at a distance are made to represent elegant ranges of lofty free-stone buildings, having their parapets well stocked with statuary.
Columns of various sculpture, both grooved and plain, are also seen supporting long galleries in front of those buildings. In other places, on a much nearer approach and with the help of less imagination, we see the remains or ruins of elegant buildings: some columns standing and almost entire, with their pedestals and capitals; others retaining their pedestals but deprived by time or accident of their capitals; some lying prostrate and broken; others in the form of vast pyramids of conic structure bearing a series of other pyramids on their tops, becoming less as they ascend and finally terminating in a sharp point. Niches and alcoves of various forms and sizes are seen at different heights as we pass.
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.