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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For June 7:
Captain Lewis (current)
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It continued to rain almost without intermission last night, and, as I expected, we had a most disagreeable and restless night. Our camp possessing no allurements, we left our watery beds at an early hour and continued our route down the river. It still continues to rain, the wind hard from N.E., and cold; the ground remarkably slippery, insomuch that we were unable to walk on the sides of the bluffs where we had passed as we ascended the river. Notwithstanding the rain that has now fallen, the earth of these bluffs is not wet to a greater depth than 2 inches. In its present state it is precisely like walking over frozen ground which is thawed to a small depth, and slips equally bad. This clay not only appears to require more water to saturate it, as I before observed, than any earth I ever observed, but when saturated it appears, on the other hand, to yield its moisture with equal difficulty.
In passing along the face of one of these bluffs today, I slipped at a narrow pass about 30 yards in length, and but for a quick and fortunate recovery by means of my espontoon, I should have been precipitated into the river down a craggy precipice of about ninety feet. I had scarcely reached a place on which I could stand with tolerable safety, even with the assistance of my espontoon, before I heard a voice behind me cry out, "Good God, Captain, what shall I do?"
On turning about, I found it was Windsor, who had slipped and fallen about the center of this narrow pass, and was lying prostrate on his belly, with his right-hand arm and leg over the precipice while he was holding on with the left arm and foot as well as he could, which appeared to be with much difficulty. I discovered his danger, and the trepidation which he was in gave me still further concern, for I expected every instant to see him lose his strength and slip off.
Although much alarmed at his situation, I disguised my feelings and spoke very calmly to him, and assured him that he was in no kind of danger to take the knife out of his belt behind him with his right hand, and dig a hole with it in the face of the bank to receive his right foot, which he did, and then raised himself to his knees. I then directed him to take off his moccasins and to come forward on his hands and knees, holding the knife in one hand and the gun in the other. This he happily effected and escaped. Those who were some little distance behind returned by my orders and waded the river at the foot of the bluff, where the water was breast deep. It was useless we knew, to attempt the plains on this part of the river in consequence of the numerous steep ravines which intersected, and which were quite as bad as the river bluffs. We therefore continued our route down the river, sometimes in the mud and water of the bottom lands, at others in the river to our breasts, and when the water became so deep that we could not wade, we cut footsteps in the face of the steep bluffs with our knives and proceeded. We continued our disagreeable march through the rain, mud, and water until late in the evening, having traveled only about 18 miles, and encamped in an old Indian stick lodge which afforded us a dry and comfortable shelter.
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.