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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For August 11:
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We set out very early this morning, it being my wish to arrive at the Burnt Hills by noon in order to take the latitude of that place, as it is the most northern point of the Missouri. I informed the party of my design and requested that they would exert themselves to reach the place in time, as it would save us the delay of nearly one day. Being as anxious to get forward as I was, they plied their oars faithfully, and we proceeded rapidly.
Half after 11 A.M., we saw a large herd of elk on the northeast shore, and I directed the men in the small canoes to halt and kill some of them, and continued on in the pirogue to the Burnt Hills. When I arrived here, it was about 20 minutes after noon, and of course, the observation of the sun's meridian altitude was lost. Just opposite to the Burnt Hills, there happened to be a herd of elk on a thick willow bar, and finding that my observation was lost for the present, I determined to land and kill some of them. Accordingly, we put to, and I went out with Cruzat only. We fired on the elk. I killed one and he wounded another. We reloaded our guns and took different routes through the thick willows in pursuit of the elk.
I was in the act of firing on the elk a second time when a ball struck my left thigh about an inch below my hip joint. Missing the bone, it passed through the left thigh and cut the thickness of the bullet across the hinder part of the right thigh. The stroke was very severe. I instantly supposed that Cruzat had shot me in mistake for an elk, as I was dressed in brown leather and he cannot see very well. Under this impression I called out to him, "Damn you, you have shot me," and looked toward the place from whence the ball had come. Seeing nothing, I called Cruzat several times as loud as I could, but received no answer.
I was now persuaded that it was an Indian that had shot me, as the report of the gun did not appear to be more than 40 paces from me and Cruzat appeared to be out of hearing of me. In this situation, not knowing how many Indians there might be concealed in the bushes, I thought it best to make good my retreat to the pirogue, calling out as I ran for the first hundred paces as loud as I could to Cruzat to retreat, that there were Indians, hoping to alarm him in time to make his escape also. I still retained the charge in my gun which I was about to discharge at the moment the ball struck me.
When I arrived in sight of the pirogue, I called the men to their arms, to which they flew in an instant. I told them that I was wounded but I hoped not mortally - - by an Indian I believed - - and directed them to follow me, that I would return and give them battle and relieve Cruzat if possible, who I feared had fallen into their hands. The men followed me as they were bid and I returned about a hundred paces, when my wounds became so painful and my thigh so stiff that I could scarcely get on. In short, I was compelled to halt, and ordered the men to proceed and, if they found themselves overpowered by numbers, to retreat in order, keeping up a fire. I now got back to the pirogue as well as I could, and prepared myself with a pistol, my rifle, and air gun, being determined - - as a retreat was impracticable - - to sell my life as dearly as possible.
In this state of anxiety and suspense I remained about 20 minutes, when the party returned with Cruzat and reported that there were no Indians nor the appearance of any. Cruzat seemed much alarmed, and declared if he had shot me it was not his intention, that he had shot an elk in the willows after he left or separated from me. I asked him whether he did not hear me when I called to him so frequently, which he absolutely denied. I do not believe that the fellow did it intentionally but after finding that he had shot me, was anxious to conceal his knowledge of having done so.
The ball had lodged in my breeches, which I knew to be the ball of the short rifles such as that he had; and there being no person out with me but him and no Indians that we could discover, I have no doubt in my own mind of his having shot me. With the assistance of Sergeant Gass, I took off my clothes and dressed my wounds myself as well as I could, introducing tents of patent lint into the ball holes. The wounds bled considerably, but I was happy to find that it had touched neither bone nor artery.
I sent the men to dress the two elk which Cruzat and myself had killed, which they did in a few minutes and brought the meat to the river. My wounds being so situated that I could not, without infinite pain, make an observation, I determined to relinquish it and proceeded on. At 4 P.M. we passed an encampment which had been evacuated this morning by Captain Clark. Here I found a note from Captain Clark informing me that he had left a letter for me at the entrance of the Yellowstone River, but that Sergeant Pryor, who had passed that place since he left it, had taken the letter; that Sergeant Pryor having been robbed of all his horses, had descended the Yellowstone River in skin canoes and had overtaken him at this encampment.
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.