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The Two Rivers of Lewis & Clark
Entries For September 17:
Captain Lewis (current)
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Having for many days past confined myself to the boat, I determined to devote this day to amusing myself on shore with my gun, and view the interior of the country lying between the river and the Corvus Creek. Accordingly, before sunrise, I set out with six of my best hunters, two of whom I dispatched to the lower side of Corvus Creek, two with orders to hunt the bottoms and woodland on the river, while I retained two others to accompany me in the intermediate country.
One quarter of a mile in rear of our camp, which was situated in a fine open grove of cottonwood, passed a grove of plum trees, loaded with fruit and now ripe. Observed but little difference between this fruit and that of a similar kind common to the Atlantic states. The trees are smaller and more thickly set. This forest of plum trees garnish a plain about 20 feet more elevated than that on which we were encamped.
This plain extends back about a mile to the foot of the hills one mile distant, and to which it is gradually ascending. This plain extends with the same breadth from the creek below to the distance of nearly three miles above, parallel with the river, and it is entirely occupied by the burrows of the barking squirrel heretofore described. This animal appears here in infinite numbers. And the shortness and verdure of grass gave the plain the appearance, throughout its whole extent, of beautiful bowling green in fine order. Its aspect is S.E. A great number of wolves of the small kind, hawks and some polecats were to be seen. I presume that those animals feed on this squirrel. Found the country in every direction, for about three miles, intersected with deep ravines and steep irregular hills 100 to 200 feet high. At the tops of these hills, the country breaks off as usual into a fine level plain extending as far as the eye can reach. From this plain I had an extensive view of the river below, and the irregular hills which border the opposite sides of the river and creek.
The surrounding country had been burnt about a month before, and young grass had now sprung up to a height of 4 inches, presenting the live green of the spring; to the west a high range of hills stretch across the country from N. to S., and appeared distant about 20 miles. They are not very extensive, as I could plainly observe their rise and termination. No rock appeared on them, and the sides were covered with verdure similar to that of the plains. This scenery, already rich, pleasing, and beautiful, was still further heightened by immense herds of buffalo, deer, elk, and antelopes, which we saw in every direction, feeding on the hills and plains. I do not think I exaggerate when I estimate the number of buffalo which could be comprehended at one view to amount to 3,000. My object was, if possible, to kill a female antelope, having already procured a male. I pursued my route on this plain to the west, flanked by my two hunters, until eight in the morning, when I made the signal for them to come to me, which they did shortly after.
We rested ourselves about half an hour, and regaled ourselves on half a biscuit each, and some jerks of elk, which we had taken the precaution to put in our pouches in the morning before we set out, and drank of the water of a small pool, which had collected on the plain from the rains which had fallen some days before. We had now, after various windings in pursuit of several herds of antelope which we had seen on our way, made the distance of about eight miles from our camp.
We found the antelope extremely shy and watchful, insomuch that we had been unable to get a shot at them. When at rest they generally select the most elevated point in the neighborhood, and as they are watchful and extremely quick of sight, and their sense of smelling very acute, it is almost impossible to approach them within gunshot. In short, they will frequently discover, and flee from, you at the distance of three miles.
I had this day an opportunity of witnessing the agility and the superior fleetness of this animal which was to me really astonishing. I had pursued and twice surprised a small herd of seven. In the first instance they did not discover me distinctly, and therefore did not run at full speed, though they took care before they rested to gain an elevated point where it was impossible to approach them under cover, except in one direction, and that happened to be in the direction from which the wind blew toward them. Bad as the chance to approach them was, I made the best of my way toward them, frequently peeping over the ridge with which I took care to conceal myself from their view. The male, of which there was but one, frequently encircled the summit of the hill on which the females stood in a group, as if to look out for the approach of danger. I got within about 200 paces of them when they smelled me and fled. I gained the top of the eminence on which they stood as soon as possible, from whence I had an extensive view of the country. The antelopes, which had disappeared in a steep ravine, now appeared at the distance of about three miles on the side of a ridge which passed obliquely across me, and extended about four miles.
So soon had these antelopes gained the distance at which they had again appeared to my view, I doubted at first that they were the same that I had just surprised, but my doubts soon vanished when I beheld the rapidity of their flight along the ridge before me. It appeared rather the rapid flight of birds than the motion of quadrupeds. I think I can safely venture the assertion that the speed of this animal is equal, if not superior, to that of the finest blooded courser.
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.