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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For August 23:
Captain Lewis (current)
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I wished to have set out this morning, but the chief requested that I would wait until another party of his nation arrived which he expected today. To this I consented from necessity, and therefore sent out the hunters. I also laid up the canoes this morning in a pond near the forks; sunk them in the water and weighted them down with stone, after taking out the plugs of the gage holes in their bottoms, hoping by this means to guard against both the effects of high water and that of the fire which is frequently kindled in these plains by the natives. The Indians have promised to do them no intentional injury, and I believe they are too lazy at any rate to give themselves the trouble to raise them from their present situation in order to cut or burn them.
At three p.m. the expected party of Indians arrived, about 50 men, women, and children. There was a good deal of anxiety on the part of some of those who had promised to assist me over the mountains; I felt some uneasiness on this subject, but as they still said they would return with me as they had promised, I said nothing to them but resolved to set out in the morning as early as possible.
Captain Clark set out this morning very early and proceeded but slowly in consequence of the difficulty of his road, which lay along the steep side of a mountain over large irregular and broken masses of rocks which had tumbled from the upper part of the mountain. It was with much risk and pain that the horses could get on. At the distance of four miles, he arrived at the river, and the rocks here were so steep and jutted into the river in such manner that there was no other alternative but passing through the river. This he attempted with success, though the water was so deep for a short distance as to swim the horses and was very rapid.
He continued his route one mile along the edge of the river under this steep cliff to a little bottom, below which the whole current of the river beat against the starboard shore on which he was, and which was formed of a solid rock perfectly inaccessible to horses. Here also the little track, which he had been pursuing, terminated. He therefore determined to leave the horses and the majority of the party here and, with his guide and three men, to continue his route down the river still further, in order more fully to satisfy himself as to its practicability.
Accordingly, he directed the men to hunt and fish at this place until his return. They had not killed anything today but one goose, and the balance of the little provision they had brought with them, as well as the five salmon they had procured yesterday, were consumed last evening. There was, of course, no inducement for his halting at any time, at this place.
After a few minutes, he continued his route, clambering over immense rocks and along the sides of lofty precipices on the border of the river to the distance of 12 miles.
He saw some late appearance of Indians having been encamped, and the tracks of a number of horses. Captain Clark halted here about 2 hours, caught some small fish on which, with the addition of some berries, they dined. The river, from the place at which he left the party to his present station, was one continued rapid, in which there were five shoals, neither of which could be passed with loaded canoes, nor even run with empty ones. At those several places, therefore, it would be necessary to unload and transport the baggage for a considerable distance over steep and almost inaccessible rocks where there was no possibility of employing horses for the relief of the men. The canoes would next have to be let down by cords, and even with this precaution, Captain Clark conceived there would be much risk of both canoes and men.
After dinner, Captain Clark continued his route down the river and at 1/2 a mile passed another creek not so large as that just mentioned, or about 5 yards wide. Here his guide informed him that by ascending this creek some distance, they would have a better road, and would cut off a considerable bend which the river made to the south. Accordingly, he pursued a well-beaten Indian track, which led up this creek about six miles, then, leaving the creek on the right, he passed over a ridge; and at the distance of a mile, arrived at the river where it passes through a well-timbered bottom of about eighty acres of land. They passed this bottom and ascended a steep and elevated point of a mountain from whence the guide showed him the break of the river through the mountains for about 20 miles further. This view was terminated by one of the most lofty mountains, Captain Clark informed me, he had ever seen which was perfectly covered with snow.
Captain Clark being now perfectly satisfied as to the impracticability of this route either by land or water, informed the old man that he was convinced of the veracity of his assertions and would now return to the village from whence they had set out, where he expected to meet myself and party.
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.