Subtopic : Exploring a Foreign Place: The Lewis & Clark Expedition in Oregon Country: Across the Plains
Themes: People and the Environment, Exploration
The Expedition met no Indians from the time they left the Mandan and Hidatsa villages until they made contact with Sacagawea’s people in mid-August 1805, near present-day Lemhi Pass on the Continental Divide. The captains kept a keen lookout for any sign of Native peoples during their long trip up the Missouri, but they saw no Indians and few signs of camps or activity.
In the Journals, conflicts with grizzly bears posed the most exciting episodes on the upper Missouri, but the most taxing to the Corps was the three-week portage around the Great Falls. The portage required building carriages for the canoes and dragging them seventeen miles across prickly pears, with mosquitoes biting continually, a pounding hailstorm, and a flash flood that nearly washed Clark off a cliff. Route finding had also posed problems, first at the Marias River, downstream from the Great Falls, and again above the Three Forks of the Missouri. At the Marias, the captains brilliantly analyzed river conditions and chose the Missouri over the Marias.
On the Beaverhead River above Three Forks, Sacagawea recognized a landmark from her youth, confirming that the Corps was near Shoshone territory. Knowing they could contact Shoshone Indians at any time, Lewis became apprehensive, because the Shoshone were his best chance to acquire horses to ferry the Corps over the mountains. He also worried about what kind of reception the Shoshone might offer. The Corps had not had contact with any Indians since leaving the Mandan Villages months before. In a sequence a novelist would hesitate to write, Lewis made contact with the chief of a Shoshone band and watched in amazement when Sacagawea recognized the man, Cameahwait, as her brother. That joyous reunion and the Shoshone’s desire for trade goods and weapons to protect them from enemies brought the needed horses.
The Corps had successfully traveled the length of the major river of the Louisiana Territory. They had established good relations with the Mandan and evaluated the commercial potential of the Missouri, hoping that the same would prevail on the Columbia. They could only hope that their relations with Native people on the trail ahead would be as successful and profitable.
© William L. Lang, 2004
Themes: People and the Environment,Exploration
Regions: Oregon Country,Columbia River
Author: William L. Lang
Through most of their trip up the Missouri River the Corps saw no Indians and few signs of activity.
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