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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For June 8:
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It continued to rain moderately all last night. This morning was cloudy until about ten o'clock, when it cleared off and became a fine day. We breakfasted, and set out about sunrise and continued our route down the river bottoms through the mud and water as yesterday, though the road was somewhat better than yesterday, and we were not so often compelled to wade in the river. We passed some dangerous and difficult bluffs. The river bottoms affording all the timber which is to be seen in the country, they are filled with innumerable little birds that resort thither, either for shelter or to build their nests. When sun began to shine today, these birds appeared to be very gay and sang most enchantingly. I observed among them the brown thrush, robin, turtledove, linnet, goldfinch, the large and small blackbird, wren, and several other birds of less note. Some of the inhabitants of the prairies also take refuge in these woods at night, or from a storm.
The whole of my party to a man, except myself, were fully persuaded that this river was the Missouri. But, being fully of opinion that it was neither the main stream, nor that which it would be advisable for us to take, I determined to give it a name, and in honor of Miss Maria W - - d, called it Maria's River. It is true that the hue of the waters of this turbulent and troubled stream but illy comport with the pure, celestial virtues and amiable qualifications of that lovely fair one. But, on the other hand, it is a noble river, one destined to become, in my opinion, an object of contention between the two great powers of America and Great Britain with respect to the adjustment of the northwesterly boundary of the former. And that it will become one of the most interesting branches of the Missouri in a commercial point of view I have but little doubt as it abounds with animals of the fur kind, and most probably furnishes a safe and direct communication to that productive country of valuable furs exclusively enjoyed at present by the subjects of His Britannic Majesty. In addition to which, it passes through a rich, fertile, and one of the most beautifully picturesque countries that I ever beheld, through the wide expanse of which innumerable herds of living animals are seen, its borders garnished with one continued garden of roses, while its lofty and open forests are the habitation of myriads of the feathered tribes who salute the ear of the passing traveler with their wild and simple yet sweet and cheerful melody.
I arrived at camp about 5 o'clock in the evening much fatigued, where I found Captain Clark and the balance of the party waiting our return with some anxiety for our safety, having been absent near two days longer than we had engaged to return. On our way to camp we had killed 4 deer and two antelopes, the skins of which, as well as those we killed while on the route, we brought with us. Maria's River may be stated generally from sixty to a hundred yards wide, with a strong and steady current and possessing 5 feet of water in the most shallow parts.
I now gave myself this evening to rest from my labors, took a drink of grog, and gave the men who had accompanied me each a dram. Captain Clark plotted the courses of the two rivers as far as we had ascended them. I now began more than ever to suspect the veracity of Mr. Fidler, or the correctness of his instruments. For I see that Arrowsmith, in his late map of N. America, has laid down a remarkable mountain in the chain of the Rocky Mountains, called the Tooth, nearly as far south as latitude 45, and this is said to be from the discoveries of Mr. Fidler. We are now within a hundred miles of the Rocky Mountains and I find from my observation of the 3rd inst. that the latitude of this place is 47 24' 12" 8. The river must, therefore, turn much to the south between this and the Rocky Mountains to have permitted Mr. Fidler to have passed along the eastern border of these mountains as far S. as nearly 45 without even seeing it. But from hence, as far as Captain Clark had ascended the S. fork or Missouri, being the distance of 55 miles (45 miles in a straight line), its course is S. 29ø W., and it still appeared to bear considerably to the W. of south as far as he could see it. I think, therefore, that we shall find that the Missouri enters the Rocky Mountains to the north of 45ø.
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.