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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For August 13:
Captain Lewis (current)
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We had proceeded about four miles through a wavy plain parallel to the valley or river bottom when, at the distance of about a mile, we saw two women, a man, and some dogs on an eminence immediately before us. They appeared to view us with attention, and two of them, after a few minutes, sat down as if to wait our arrival. We continued our usual pace toward them. When we had arrived within half a mile of them, I directed the party to halt, and leaving my pack and rifle, I took the flag, which I unfurled, and advanced singly toward them. The women soon disappeared behind the hill. The man continued until I arrived within a hundred yards of him and then likewise, absconded, though I frequently repeated the word "tab-ba-bone" sufficiently loud for him to have heard it.
I now hastened to the top of the hill where they had stood but could see nothing of them. The dogs were less shy than their masters; they came about me pretty close. I therefore thought of tying a handkerchief about one of their necks, with some beads and other trinkets, and then let them loose to search their fugitive owners, thinking by this means to convince them of our pacific disposition toward them. But the dogs would not suffer me to take hold of them. They also soon disappeared.
I now made a signal for the men to come on. They joined me and we pursued the back track of these Indians, which led us along the same road which we had been traveling. The road was dusty and appeared to have been much traveled lately both by men and horses. We had not continued our route more than a mile when we were so fortunate as to meet with three female savages. The short and steep ravines which we passed concealed us from each other until we arrived within 30 paces. A young woman immediately took to flight. An elderly woman and a girl of about 12 years old remained. I instantly laid by my gun and advanced toward them. They appeared much alarmed but saw that we were too near for them to escape by flight. They therefore seated themselves on the ground, holding down their heads as if reconciled to die, which they expected no doubt would be their fate.
I took the elderly woman by the hand and raised her up, repeated the word "tab-ba-bone," and stripped up my shirt sleeve to show her my skin to prove to her the truth of the assertion that I was a white man, for my face and hands, which have been constantly exposed to the sun, were quite as dark as their own. They appeared instantly reconciled; and the men coming up, I gave these women some beads, a few moccasin awls, some pewter looking glasses, and a little paint. I directed Drouilliard to request the old woman to recall the young woman, who had run off to some distance by this time, fearing she might alarm the camp before we approached and might so exasperate the natives that they would perhaps attack us without inquiring who we were.
The old woman did as she was requested, and the fugitive soon returned, almost out of breath. I bestowed an equivalent portion of trinkets on her with the others. I now painted their tawny cheeks with some vermilion, which, with this nation, is emblematic of peace. After they had become composed, I informed them by signs that I wished them to conduct us to their camp; that we were anxious to become acquainted with the chiefs and warriors of their nation. They readily obeyed, and we set out, still pursuing the road down the river.
We had marched about 2 miles when we met a party of about 60 warriors, mounted on excellent horses, who came in nearly full speed. When they arrived, I advanced toward them with the flag, leaving my gun with the party about 50 paces behind me. The chief and two others, who were a little in advance of the main body, spoke to the women, and they informed them who we were and exultingly showed the presents which had been given them. These men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way, which is by putting their left arm over your right shoulder, clasping your back, while they apply their left cheek to yours, and frequently vociferate the word "âh-hí-e, âh-hí-e" - that is, "I am much pleased; I am much rejoiced." Both parties now advanced, and we were all caressed and besmeared with their grease and paint until I was heartily tired of the national hug.
I now had the pipe lit and gave them smoke. They seated themselves in a circle around us and pulled off their moccasins, before they would receive or smoke the pipe. This is a custom among them, as I afterward learned, indicative of a sacred obligation of sincerity in their profession of friendship, given by the act of receiving and smoking the pipe of a stranger; which is as much as to say, that they wish they may always go barefoot if they are not sincere - a pretty heavy penalty, if they are to march through the plains of their country! After smoking a few pipes with them, I distributed some trifles among them with which they seemed much pleased, particularly with the blue beads and vermilion.
I now informed the chief that the object of our visit was a friendly one, that after we would reach his camp I would undertake to explain to him fully those objects - who we were, from whence we had come, and whither we were going; that, in the meantime, I did not care how soon we were in motion, as the sun was very warm and no water at hand. They now put on their moccasins, and the principal chief, Cameâhwait, made a short speech to the warriors. I gave him the flag which, I informed him, was an emblem of peace among white men, and now that it had been received by him it was to be respected as the bond of union between us. I desired him to march on, which he did, and we followed him. The dragoons moved on in squadron in our rear.
After we had marched about a mile in this order, he halted them and gave a second harangue, after which six or eight of the young men rode forward to their encampment, and no further regularity was observed in the order of march.
I afterwards understood that the Indians we had first seen this morning had returned and alarmed the camp. These men had come out armed cap à pie for action, expecting to meet with their enemies, the Minnetarees of Fort de Prairie, whom they call Pahkees. They were armed with bows, arrows, and shields, except three whom I observed with small pieces such as the North-West Company furnish the natives with, which they had obtained from the Rocky Mountain Indians on the Yellowstone River, with whom they are at peace.
On our arrival at their encampment on the river in a handsome level and fertile bottom, at the distance of 4 miles from where we had first met them, they introduced us to a lodge made of willow brush and an old leather lodge, which had been prepared for our reception by the young men which the chief had dispatched for that purpose. Here we were seated on green boughs and the skins of antelopes. One of the warriors then pulled up the grass in the center of the lodge, forming a small circle about 2 feet in diameter.
The chief next produced his pipe and native tobacco and began a long ceremony of the pipe, when we were requested to take off our moccasins, the chief having previously taken off his, as well as all the warriors present. This we complied with. The chief then lit his pipe at the fire, kindled in this little magic circle, and, standing on the opposite side of the circle, uttered a speech of several minutes in length, at the conclusion of which he pointed the stem to the four cardinal points of the heavens, first beginning at the east and ending with the north. He now presented the pipe to me as if desirous that I should smoke, but when I reached my hand to receive it, he drew it back and repeated the same ceremony three times, after which he pointed the stem first to the heavens, then to the center of the magic circle, smoked himself with three whiffs, and held the pipe until I took as many as I thought proper. He then held it to each of the white persons and then gave it to be consumed by his warriors.
This pipe was made of a dense semitransparent green stone, very highly polished, about 2 1/2 inches long and of an oval figure, the bowl being in the same direction with the stem. A small piece of burned clay is placed in the bottom of the bowl to separate the tobacco from the end of the stem and is of an irregularly rounded figure not fitting the tube perfectly close in order that the smoke may pass. This is the form of the pipe. Their tobacco is of the same kind as that used by the Minnetarees, Mandans, and Arikaras of the Missouri. The Shoshones do not cultivate this plant, but obtain it from the Rocky Mountain Indians and some of the bands of their own nation who live further south. I now explained to them the objects of our journey, &c.
All the women and children of the camp were shortly collected about the lodge to indulge themselves with looking at us, we being the first white persons they had ever seen. After the ceremony of the pipe was over, I distributed the remainder of the small articles I had brought with me, among the women and children. By this time it was late in the evening and we had not tasted any food since the evening before. The chief informed us that they had nothing but berries to eat and gave us some cakes of serviceberries and chokecherries which had been dried in the sun. Of these I made a hearty meal and then walked to the river, which I found about 40 yards wide, very rapid, clear, and about 3 feet deep. The banks low and abrupt as those of the upper part of the Missouri, and the bed formed of loose stones and gravel. Cameâhwait informed me that this stream discharged itself into another doubly as large, at the distance of half a day's march, which came from the S.W. But, he added on further inquiry, that there was but little more timber below the junction of those rivers than I saw here, and that the river was confined between inaccessible mountains, was very rapid and rocky insomuch that it was impossible for us to pass either by land or water down this river to the great lake where the white men lived, as he had been informed. This was unwelcome information but I still hoped that this account had been exaggerated with a view to detain us among them. As to timber, I could discover not any that would answer the purpose of constructing canoes, or, in short, more than was barely necessary for fuel.
On my return to my lodge, an Indian called me into his bower and gave me a small morsel of the flesh of an antelope, boiled, and a piece of a fresh salmon roasted, both of which I ate with a very good relish. This was the first salmon I had seen, and perfectly convinced me that we were on the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The course of this river is a little to the north of west as far as I can discover it, and is bounded on each side by a range of high mountains, though those on the east side are lowest and more distant from the river.
This evening, the Indians entertained us with their dancing nearly all night. At 12 o'clock I grew sleepy and retired to rest, leaving the men to amuse themselves with the Indians. I observe no essential difference between the music and manner of dancing among this nation and those of the Missouri. I was several times awakened in the course of the night by their yells, but was too much fatigued to be deprived of a tolerable sound night's repose.
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.