Lewis and Clark Title Timeline.1805


The Missouri River Breaks to Great Falls, MT

May 25, 1805 - June 16,1805

 NOTE: The following is an abbreviated summary for each day of the Lewis and Clark journey, combining the journal entries of Lewis, Clark, Ordway, Floyd, Gass and Whitehouse into one seamless account. As much as possible, the original thoughts were retained. In cases of quotes or unique information, the individual who made the statement is added in parenthesis (). The original journal entries have also been corrected for spelling, grammar and readability. Click to view the journals in their original state.

The Corps of Discovery officially began their journey to the Pacific on May 14, 1804 and returned to St. Louis, MO on September 23, 1806.

May 25:

The Corps remained in place until the six men and two canoes, carrying the buffalo meat, rejoined them around 8 a.m. Then they departed with strong current and a hard wind against them, forcing the party to use the tow line. Lewis spotted several herds of big horned sheep on the steep bluffs and cliffs. Drouillard was dispatched to kill one and he did, as did Clark and Bratton who were working the shore during the evening hours. Drouillard’s sheep had horns that weighed 27 pounds. The Indians use these horns to construct bows, cups, plates and spoons. For more civilized uses, the horns have several uses, including “elegant...hair combs.”

The country is now “high, broken and rocky” with narrow, tree-less river bottoms. They are entering the desolate Missouri River “breaks” of north central Montana. Gibson attempted to climb one bluff and dislocated his shoulder.  To the north of the river are the Little Rocky and Bear Paw mountain ranges, and to the south are Judiths and Moccasins (near present-day Lewistown). The Corps encountered their first skunk in several days. Buffalo are now scarce and Lewis fears his “harvest of white puddings (made from buffalo intestines) are at an end.” The party camped on the south side. 18 miles


May 26:

The Corps departed at sunrise on a Sunday morning and continued to use the tow line principally to move the boats upstream. The hills are “high and jutting in on both sides.” Clark took a man to explore the shoreline in the morning and summit one of the bluffs. He could see mountains on both sides of the Missouri river, as well as some elk, several herds of big-horned sheep and large hares. During the afternoon Lewis walked the bluffs and “river hills” and found it “fatiguing.” On one summit, the captain spotted the Rocky Mountains for the first times (still “covered with snow”).

Lewis wrote: “While I viewed these mountains I felt a secret pleasure in finding myself so near the head of the...Missouri [river]; but when I reflected on the difficulties which this snowy barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific, and the suffering and hardships of myself and party in them, it in some measure counterbalanced the joy I had felt in the first moment in which I gazed on them; but as I have always held it a crime to anticipate evils I will believe it a good comfortable road until I am compelled to believe differently.”

On Lewis’ return to camp he discovered several soft-shelled turtles in a creek (so he named it “Soft Shell Turtle Creek.” He also killed a fat buffalo. Some of the men helped him butcher the beast and bring it back to the camp after dark. On his return Lewis nearly stepped on a rattler, who seemed surprised and not “in a striking attitude.” The captain used his spear (espontoon) to kill the snake. The hunters killed two more big-horned sheep. The Corps finally camped after dark in a small cottonwood bottom near a “considerable rapids” that they passed through with some difficulty. They later named it “Elk and Fawn Riffle” for the cow and fawn elk they saw swimming through the rapids. Clark wrote: “This country may with propriety I think be termed the deserts of America, as I do not conceive any part can ever be settled, as it is deficient in water, timber and too steep to be tilled.” 23 miles


May 27:

A hard wind delayed departure until 10 a.m., and even then the boat party employed the tow line most of the day. This river current is fast now, while the bluffs on both sides are steep and rugged, more “broken and barren than yesterday (Lewis).” It is “country which presents little to our view,” penned Gass, “but scenes of barrenness and desolation...[with] no encouraging prospects that it will terminate...[it is] the most dismal country I ever beheld; nothing but barren mountains on both sides of the river, as far as our view could extend.” The river is also full of rocks, fallen from nearby cliffs. The temperatures also climb inside this stone “oven” canyonlands. More herds of big-horned sheep are spotted, as well as a few elk. The Corps camped near two dead cottonwood trees for no other reason than the wood it provided for fire. 14 miles


May 28:

The Corps left at dawn to dark clouds on the horizon and a “smoky wind.” They used the tow line, as well as poles in places (like the rapids and rocky points) to navigate the boats upstream. There are even more rapids and rocky points than yesterday, causing concern. If a pirogue or canoe got overturned or spun just right against the rocks, it would smash the vessel to pieces. Their elk-skin ropes are “slender...weak and rotten” from being continually wet and stretched. Several times in recent days ropes have snapped. The party found along the shoreline an Indian lodge pole, a ball used for Indian games and other native articles. It’s evidence Indians are in the area. During the morning hours, Clark explored the shore and killed a big-horned sheep. A very large grizzly was also spotted, but without timber to climb and a river to run into, the men opted not to make the bear mad by shooting him. Around 10 a.m. some rain fell, with thunder in the distance (something they’d not heard since leaving Fort Mandan).

They passed a small creek they named “Buffalo Bull” after a buffalo bull swam across the river and passed “with great violence” through their camp around midnight. The frightened bull exited the river, climbed full speed up the bank and through the camp, nearly destroying the white pirogue and coming within inches of the “heads of some of the men who lay sleeping” in the dark. Then the frightened bull then turned and headed toward the captain’s tent, passing between four fires and barely missed trampling even more men. All this happened before the night guard could alarm the men. Thankfully, Lewis’ dog “Seaman” barked at the buffalo and chased him away. By this time, the men were awake and “in an uproar” (with guns ready to fire). When all was said and done, only a rifle belonging to York was trashed. York had “negligently” left his rifle in the pirogue and the buffalo violently stepped on it. Lewis concluded in his reflection of this event that the white pirogue, known for having mishaps, was “attended by some evil genie.”  21.5 miles


May 29:

The Corps departed at dawn and proceeded as usual by tow line. Nearly three miles upstream they passed “a handsome river” that discharged into the Missouri from the south side. It was the Judith River. Lewis explored the shoreline and traveled up the Judith about a mile and a half. The water was clear and the flow was good, with no large rocks or obstructions. Lewis counted the remains of 126 Indian tipis that were recent (a couple weeks). Sacagawea examined the moccasins they found and informed the captains the shoes were not Shoshone (more likely Blackfeet).

The Corps also saw the remains at least a hundred “mangled carcasses” of buffalo, driven over the cliff by the Indians to perish. The stench was “horrid.” This strategy for killing buffalo is common among the Missouri Indian tribes. They use a young warrior “decoy” (dressed in buffalo robe and wearing a horned buffalo headdress) to catch the buffalo’s attention while the rest of the tribe flank the herd and push it toward the cliff. When the buffalo see the decoy, they charge and he runs towards the cliff, then jumps over the side and hides in a “cranny or crevice” while the buffalo run headlong over the cliff to their death below. It’s a dangerous job where “decoys” can be trampled or killed in a fall over the cliff too. The Indians scavenge what they can and leave the rest to the wolves.

Clark explored the Judith River even further upstream and found it equally beautiful (it’s why he named it after his love interest—Julia “Judith” Hancock of Fincastle, VA). In the afternoon the skies darkened, and the wind picked up, so the Corps landed their vessels and set camp. Unfortunately there was little wood for fires and no timber in sight. The captains softened that disappointment with a small “dram” of whiskey. Since the men haven’t consumed alcohol that much since leaving Mandan, “they were all very merry” (a few slightly buzzed). The hunters killed an elk for supper and Clark shot two beavers. They spotted several grizzlies on the south side mountains. 18 miles


May 30:

The rain that fell all night (and the high winds) remained “with little intermission” until around 11 a.m. So the Corps departed when they could—even though more rain has fallen on them than they had experienced since last September 15. The climate is also remarkably different. The air is “astonishingly dry as well as pure.” The Missouri River continued to become clearer. However, proceeding upstream in the rapids and strong currents was difficult and required more muscle. The rain has made the riverbanks and steep cliffs so slippery it’s difficult for the men to walk ashore. The tow line remained their only dependable way to work the boats upstream. The Corps is now entering the “white cliff” part of the Missouri River “breaks” in modern-day northern Fergus County. Earth and rocks fell from the high cliffs, while the wind blew hard against the men. Several ropes snapped but fortunately without any damage to the pirogues and canoes.

Light showers continued all day, and the air was “disagreeably” cold. One of the corpsmen climbed a nearby hill and reported snow mixed with rain. He also shared there was no timber on either side, only scattered cottonwood in the bottoms. The party continued to pass old Indian camps with fresh Indian tracks and sign, which now they suspected to be Blackfeet. One of the hunters sot an elk. Two buffalo are killed above where the Corps stopped to make camp where Indians had left lodge poles and considerable firewood. 8 miles


May 31:

The Corps left at dawn with only the two pirogues. The canoes (and their crews) remained behind to bring up the meat from last night’s buffalo kill. Not long after departure it started to rain again. It didn’t stop raining until the afternoon. The river continued to have many rapids and rocky points. The labor required the men to walk “a fourth of their time” in cold river water up to their armpits. When on shore the banks and bluffs were so slick and the mud so thick and sticky, they had to work barefoot upon “sharp fragments of rocks” to drag a canoe several hundred yards. “In short,”

Lewis penned, “their labor is incredibly painful and great, yet those faithful fellows bear it without a murmur.” The tow rope for the white pirogue snapped, swinging the boat to “slightly” strike a rock, nearly overturning. Lewis continued to blame its bad luck on an “evil genie” who “will play so many pranks with her that she will go to the bottom [someday].” Clark also walked the shoreline but found the going so rough that by noon he was done. The captains awarded the men a shot of whiskey, which they “received with much cheerfulness.”

Lewis noted how the white sandstone cliffs and bluffs of the Missouri River breaks “exhibit a most romantic appearance.” He said these stone features “[represented] elegant ranges of lofty freestone buildings...parapets well stocked with statuary...long galleries...pedestals and capitals...vast pyramids...so perfect indeed are those walls that I should have thought that nature had attempted here to rival the human art of masonry.” Some of these cliffs rose 100 to 300 feet high above the river and are from one to twelve feet thick. In his evening walk, Lewis spied a type of pine unknown to him, as well as “the most beautiful fox in the world” (which he tried to kill).

The men also continued to see bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk and a few buffalo. They spotted a grizzly on the north shore and some of the hunters pursued but returned only with a mule deer. Drouillard traveled with Lewis and killed two bighorn sheep. In addition, the men brought down two buffalo and an elk. The Corps camped at a beautiful bottom surrounded by cottonwood trees. 18 miles


June 1:

The Corps departed at dawn with the wind against them all day (forcing the men to, once again, use a tow rope). The morning was cloudy with sprinkles of rain. The country is becoming more level. They are about 8-10 miles south of the Bear Paw mountains in northeast Montana. In the southwest, they can see in the distance the Highwood mountains. Clark explored the shore and noted the “rich” and “extensive plains on both sides of the river.” He also saw roses, chokecherries and prickly pear cacti in vast quantities and blooming. The river current is “gentler” and growing clearer. However, the game was less abundant. Although they spotted buffalo in the distance, all the men could kill was a bighorn and mule deer. The Corps passed six small islands and halted to camp on the seventh (as there was timber). They also saw recently evacuated Indian lodges made of sticks. In the evening another sprinkle of rain moved through. 23 miles


June 2:

A violent wind blew all night, with some showers of rain but the fair morning allowed the Corps to depart early (9 a.m.). It’s now the norm, with a strong current and oppositional winds, to use a tow rope to move the boats upstream. The plains were leveling out and timber alongside the river was increasing. More game was in the area today, so Lewis and several hunters went ashore and killed six elk, two buffalo, a mule deer and a grizzly. Someone else shot a beaver. The hunters harvested as much meat as possible, but Lewis really needed elk skins to cover his experimental portable boat that he planned to use beyond the “great falls” of the Missouri. The grizzly proved a difficult kill. The wounded bear nearly chased down Drouillard and Charbonneau (who fired his gun in the air as he ran for some nearby bushes). Drouillard finally brought him down with a head shot. The Corps spent the night “in a handsome bottom of small cottonwood timber,” opposite the mouth of a large river (the Marias River near present-day Choteau, MT). 18 miles


June 3:

During the morning hours the Corps crossed the Missouri and camped on the point between two large rivers (the Missouri and Marias). Lewis faced a serious dilemma: which river was the Missouri? The captain knew if they mistook the stream at this point of the season, it could have serious repercussions, from “[disheartening] the party to “[defeating] the expedition altogether.” Ultimately the captains decided to be cautious and to investigate both rivers. So they dispatched two sergeants—Pryor (north fork) and Gass (south fork)—in two canoes with two additional men to explore both rivers, as well as several land parties to reconnoiter the area, as far as possible and still return by nightfall. The captains also explored the bluffs of both rivers on the fork. They saw countless herds of buffalo in every direction, as well as antelope, wolves, and elk. To the south they saw the Highwood mountains, still covered with some snow, and behind them the Belt and Little Belt mountains.

The captains measured and analyzed the two rivers. The northern river was “whitish brown” in color, less swift and behaved (and looked) similarly to the Missouri they had already traveled. The southern river had more transparent and rapid water, with stones “like most rivers issuing from a mountainous country.” The men had already decided the north fork was the true Missouri, but the captains remained undecided and impartial. They were also “astonished” the Indians who claimed to know this territory well, did not mention this “fork” in their road to the Pacific. The men who remained at camp spent the day dressing skins for clothing and healing their “mangled and bruised” feet from walking (and working) the Missouri shoreline. Their moccasins literally fell off their feet and yet “they still remain perfectly cheerful.”

By nightfall all the land and river parties returned to camp to report their findings. Both river parties went about 15 miles up each fork. The north fork isn’t as rapid and easy to navigate. It was also shallower than the south fork. The intelligence gained did little to settle the original question. Whitehouse wrote: “A council was held by our officers, and the opinion of our men were all taken; but they differed in their opinions, and were at a loss which river to take.” The hunters killed two buffalo, six elk and four deer. The captains distributed a “dram” of rum to the men and informed them of their intention to ascend the rivers, leaving most of the company behind, to explore the forks and make a final decision.


June 4:

The captains departed at dawn, Lewis headed up the north fork (with Drouillard, Pryor, Shields, Cruzatte, Lepage, Windsor) and Clark ascended the south fork (with Gass, Joseph and Reubin Fields, Shannon and York).

Lewis noted the north fork made a “considerable bend to the northwest.” The ground was covered with prickly pear cacti, with thorns that shredded moccasins and easily pierced a foot. They saw in the distance a butte the named the “Barn Mountain” (it’s actually a notable central Montana landmark known as “Square Butte” (south of Fort Benton, MT). Drouillard killed two mule bucks for breakfast. He later shot four more white-tailed deer, and just before nightfall, wounded a large grizzly (that got away). The squad of seven harvested as much meat as needed for their suppers and proceeded upriver. They camped several miles upriver “in a bend among the willow bushes” to protect them from the wind and rain. It was a cold night.

Clark’s day was less productive in finding meat, the terrain proved similar (particularly the prickly pear). The company spotted hundreds of prairie dogs and traveled over two dozen miles up the south fork before camping in an old Indian lodge made of sticks and bark. Near camp two grizzlies were spotted and one attacked Joseph Fields, who was separated from the rest of the party. He tried to fire his gun but the powder was too wet. Clark’s party fired at the grizzly and, fortunately, alarmed him enough to head for the river. The party also saw several herds of buffalo, mule deer, antelope and wolves. The river is rapid, with high bluffs on one or the other side.

Ordway commanded the rest of the men who stayed back at camp. Some of the hunters killed one elk and a deer. A couple others shot two young elk for their skins. It was a cloudy day, with a few sprinkles and a cold north wind.


June 5:

Lewis needed his “blanket coat” to stay comfortably warm and dry. It rained most of the night. His squad left at sunrise and continued eight more miles up the northern fork. In the distance he saw mountains, including a single “conic figure” that he called “Tower Mountain.” The plains continue to be level and beautiful, with countless buffalo, wolves, foxes and antelope. There’s also the largest prairie dog town they have seen to date. The men each killed a prairie dog for their supper. Lewis experimented with his dog and roasted it. He found it “well flavored and tender.”

Clark’s squad experienced rain and snow overnight. The mountains to the southeast were completely covered with snow. They watched eight buffalo try to cross a swift part of the Missouri but eventually gave up. That’s when three grizzlies wandered into their camp. The squad managed to kill all three bears. They ate part of one and ascended up the southern fork another eleven miles. On their return downriver they killed two bull elk (dining on their bone marrow) and later shot two fat deer near where they camped. His squad also saw numerous elk, white-tailed and mule deer, beaver, antelope and wolves. Clark inscribed his name on a tree on the north side of the river.

Back at the main camp on the point of the fork, Ordway’s squad suffered through a cold north wind. They trapped a beaver and Goodrich caught a “considerable quantity of fish.”  Whitehouse and the men continued to make moccasins and leggings.


June 6:

Lewis was “well convinced that this branch of the Missouri” swung too great to the north and decided to return to the main camp. He dispatched Pryor and Windsor to take some navigational observations further up the north fork while he and the other four corpsmen constructed rafts to return downriver to camp. However, Pryor and Windsor returned before they finished with the observations, so they ate dinner, loaded the meat and elk skins on the rafts and headed downriver. Unfortunately the rafts proved useless—too “small and slender”—causing baggage to get wet. So they abandoned the rafts, left the elk skins and returned as they had come (by land). A cold rain accompanied them downstream and late in the evening they finally called it a day, having traveled about 25 miles. With no shelter, they had a cold and miserable night.

Clark’s squad was equally cold and wet. They left at dawn and headed back downriver. They shot seven deer (for their skins) and stopped at noon to enjoy a “fat buck.” The fatigued squad “walked constantly as hard as [they] could march over a dry hard plain, descending and ascending the steep river hills and gullies (about 40 miles upriver).” They arrived back at the main camp around 5 p.m., expecting to see Lewis’ men. They were heartened to see the camp hunters had killed two buffalo, two antelope, a mule deer, a white-tailed deer and a fat elk. He “revived the party” with a shot of whiskey. Clark now agreed with Lewis that the south fork was the true “Missouri” river.


June 7:

The Lewis squad experienced a cold rain that led to a “disagreeable and restless night.” Consequently, they departed early. However the ground was slick and made traversing the bluffs difficult. Lewis slipped and fell down a “narrow pass” for 30 yards but saved his skin by sticking his walking spear (espontoon) into the clay to stop his fall (and life) “down a craggy precipice of about 90 feet.” He had barely reached standing ground when he heard Windsor crying for help. He had also slipped and fell down the side of the bluff and was now lying on his belly with only his left arm and foot holding him fast. Lewis “disguised his feelings” of fear and calmly instructed Windsor to use his free (right) hand to remove his knife and carve a step to hold him, pulling himself to higher ground. Windsor then scooched on all fours, holding his knife in one hand and his rifle in the other, until he was safe. Lewis told the rest of the men to avoid the area, so they returned to the river and walked in it (breast deep), which was safer than walking the plains.

They traveled 18 miles and until late in the evening before camping at an old Indian stick lodge. They dined heartily on the six deer they shot. Lewis: “I now laid myself down on some willow boughs to a comfortable night’s rest, and felt indeed as if I was fully repaid for the toil and pain of the day, so much will a good shelter, a dry bed, and comfortable supper revive the spirits of the wearied, wet and hungry traveler.”

Back at the main camp, the rain also fell, and temperatures hovered around 40 degrees. The hunters shot an elk and deer.


June 8:

The rain continued through the night and until around 10 a.m. Lewis’ squad departed at sunrise and continued to walk in the river (when compelled) and muddy banks. Lewis noted the various birds on the plains, including robins, turtle doves, gold finches, blackbirds, and wrens. Now that he knows this river isn’t the Missouri, Lewis named it Maria’s River (in honor of a relative named Maria) and journaled it would become “one of the most interesting branches of the Missouri in a commercial point of view.” Back at the main camp, Clark dispatched hunters and used the time to dry their storage.

The Lewis party returned to the main camp around 5 p.m. with much fatigue (they had traveled 77.5 miles up the Marias). The squad killed four deer and two antelope enroute to add to the meat they were already lugging. The men branded a tree where the Marias and Missouri meet. The Corps ended the day with a toast of “grog” (rum and water).


June 9:

The captains decided to deposit some of the unnecessary items and lighten the load. The French often used caches (buried supplies, tools, weapons, merchandise) to use upon return to an area. Lewis put Cruzatte in charge of digging and preparing a large and deep “kettle”-like hole. This hole, with a stick and hay floor, needed to be inconspicuous (so the Indians wouldn’t find it). If done right, a cache would keep their skins and merchandise “perfectly sound for several years.”

After examining their maps and the Indian intelligence, the captains firmly agreed the southern fork was the true Missouri. However, the men—particularly the experienced Missouri navigator Pierre Cruzatte—remained firm in their belief the Marias was the true Missouri. Nevertheless, Lewis wrote, the Corps “said very cheerfully that they were ready to follow us anywhere we thought proper to direct.” To alleviate their concerns, Lewis decided to take a small party of men to find the “great falls” reportedly nearby and upriver. Lewis was also feeling ill. He ingested some salts and planned to remain in place to recover, plus repair guns and the spring on his “air” cannon.

Two hunters killed the “fattest buffalo” so far. It took eight men to carry it back to camp. Other men made ropes. After supper and a shot of whiskey, Cruzatte broke out the fiddle and the men danced and sang late into the evening. They were “extremely cheerful.”


June 10:

It’s a nice day (with thunder and rain in the afternoon) and everything is now dry. Seven men secured and camouflaged the red pirogue (their largest vessel) to some trees (which they branded), then buried their heavy supplies and all baggage they could live without (salt, flour, pork, blacksmith bellows, axes, auger, planes, files, tin cups, bear and beaver skins/traps, extra clothing, a couple muskets, ammunition and powder).

Shields fixed the air cannon. Lewis noted his ability and ingenuity to work in either wood or metal. He’s also a “good hunter and excellent waterman.” Lewis is still fighting dysentery. Sacagawea is also very sick. The men caulked, repaired, and reloaded the canoes.


June 11:

Lewis awoke feeling better but “weakened.” At 8 a.m. he took a squad (Drouillard, Joseph Fields, Goodrich and Gibson) left Clark to explore ahead (by foot) and find the great falls of the Missouri. They immediately discovered a herd of elk (and killed four, hanging the meat and skins for Clark to pick up later). During lunch Lewis was struck with a terrible stomachache and a high fever. Unable to walk, his squad set up camp and stayed the night. Lewis had no medicine on hand, so he experimented with a hot chokecherry tea. By 10 p.m. his fever and stomach pains were gone. The captain enjoyed a comfortable night’s rest. Goodrich—a great fisherman—caught several dozen fish (sauger and goldeye).

Back at the main camp, Clark and the men spent the day digging a second cache and burying additional powder and lead. Sacagawea continues to be quite sick. Clark has bled her twice, which seems to help her. The men catch several flat-sided fish (goldeye).


June 12:

Lewis woke up feeling much better, and after another dose of chokecherry tea, he departed at sunrise. By 9 a.m. his squad had walked twelve miles on the plain above the river, but the sun proved too hot and thirst forced him back to Missouri for breakfast and to “allay [his] thirst.” They killed a large grizzly for breakfast, then left the meat and skin (hung high in a tree) for Clark’s party to retrieve later. Back above the river and on the plain, Lewis spotted great numbers of prairie dogs, wolves, mule deer and buffalo. In the distance were the Rocky Mountains, still covered in snow (and their highest peaks in the clouds). By late afternoon (and 27 miles), the squad stopped to camp. They killed a buffalo, antelope and three mule deer and “ate heartily.” Lewis spent the evening catching golden eye using a deer spleen as bait.

Meanwhile Clark’s party left at 8 a.m. from the Marias-Missouri fork. Sacagawea remained very sick (worse than she’s ever been), and the captain moved her into the white pirogue so its covering could keep her cool. Whitehouse noted her importance to the voyage as their interpreter for the Shoshone Indians. It was a general clear day with some light showers. The company saw elk, antelope, geese and numerous swallows in the cliffs. They ran into rattlesnakes too (one of the men, walking the tow line on shore, caught a large sleeping rattler by its head). A corpsman had a serious blister. Another suffered from a toothache. Three of the canoes had trouble on the river. One took on water and another nearly capsized. Clark killed a bull elk and deer. The party camped in the bottoms on the north side. 18 miles


June 13:

The Lewis squad departed at dawn following a breakfast of venison and fish. Once again, they left the river bottoms and walked the level plains. Their course is now to the southwest, following the Missouri. At one point Lewis looked over a plain of 50-60 miles and saw “infinitely more buffalo” than he had seen before. Around noon they arrived at the “great falls” of the Missouri, which had a tremendous roar and spray. The waterfalls were “the grandest sight I ever beheld,” claimed Lewis. He tried to pen his thoughts and first impressions but struggled (“disgusted with the imperfect idea,” he wished for the ability to paint like Salvator Rosa or write like the romantic poet James Thomson). The best he could do was trace the pleasing and astonishing features of the falls in pencil. His men stopped and set camp. The hunters returned with prime buffalo meat. Goodrich caught a dozen cutthroat trout. Lewis inspected the river for the best way to move the canoes past the falls (and he discovered there were a series of falls and rapids).

Clark also departed at dawn. The river is rapid with many sholes. Sacagawea remained quite ill (Clark now medicated her with salts). Whitehouse is also sick (“violent headache”). They witnessed a lot of geese and goslings. The chokecherries, buffalo currants, and gooseberries abound. The party killed an antelope and two buffalo. They camped that evening on the south side of the river. 13 miles


June 14:

Lewis dispatched Joseph Fields to return to Clark with the news they found the “great falls.” The other men recovered the balance of the buffalo meat (unfortunately the wolves ate most of it) and began to dry it. Lewis explored the river and discovered there were several more waterfalls and rapids ahead, including a second “great” falls that was “pleasingly beautiful” and “sublimely grand.” traveled as far as the mouth of the Medicine River on the western side of Great Falls, MT. That’s when he saw a herd of at least a thousand buffalo.

Lewis shot one of the buffalo (in the lungs) and while the captain waited for it to die, a large grizzly stalked him from behind. The bear was within 20 feet when Lewis saw him. His gun wasn’t reloaded, and he was on the open plain with no trees. There was nowhere to hide. First, Lewis tried slowly walking away but when he did the grizzly growled and ran full speed toward him. The captain ran 80 yards, with the bear gaining fast, and ran into the river. Waist-deep in the water he faced the grizzly with his walking spear (espontoon), only 20 feet away. That’s when the bear suddenly turned and retreated as fast as he had chased Lewis. Lewis quickly reloaded his gun (which he had carried into the river) and watched the grizzly on a dead run for about three miles, disappearing into the woods. Lewis vowed that day to never leave his gun empty.

After he spent the afternoon exploring the Medicine River, Lewis headed back to camp. That’s when he ran into a “tiger cat” that burrowed (likely a wolverine) and later was chased by three bull buffalo. Lewis concluded that it “seemed to [him] that all the beasts of the neighborhood had made a league to destroy [him],” or that some fortune was disposed to amuse herself at [his] expense].” It was a long 12 mile hike back to camp and the prickly pear cacti didn’t help, but he finally returned to a very nervous party. They were worried about him, even speculating he had died. Lewis ate a “hearty supper” and went to bed on a warm early summer night.

As for Clark and the boat party, it’s a difficult day. Sacagawea complained all night and continued to get worse. There were two men with toothaches who also suffered with “tumors” (blisters) on their hands. Whitehouse remained sick. Another had a fever. They had buffalo for breakfast and got back on the river (which had a strong current). It’s very difficult to move the pirogue and canoes upriver safely (and without taking on water). Around 4 p.m., Joseph Fields met the party with the news of the “great falls” and a letter from Lewis. It’s now certain they are on the Missouri. 10 miles


June 15:

The Lewis squad continued to dry meat from animals they’ve killed. Lewis went fishing and got in a few naps. He also caught several trout, as did Goodrich (who also caught some channel catfish). Lewis awoke from one nap with a large rattler coiled about 10 feet away. Lewis killed the rattlesnake (which had 17 buttons in its tail). That night Joseph Fields returned to camp and said the boat party was about five miles below. Unfortunately the rapidity of river meant they’d need to portage from that spot. Lewis knew a portage from the north side would be very difficult (several deep ravines) and that a south side portage might even be shorter with how the river was turning south.

The Clark boat party set out at dawn to a warm and fair morning. They can now hear the falls. Sacagawea remained sick and depressed. Clark gave her some bark to rub on a sore region of her body, and that seemed to relieve her. The current remained rapid and difficult, creating much fatigue among the men, who must work in the water and along the shore pulling the boats forward with ropes. Between slippery stones and sharp rocks, the men continually hurt their feet walking in the water. Throw in the rattlesnakes on land (which are numerable) and it’s a challenging work. Nevertheless the men “go with great cheerfulness.” During the evening, Sacagawea’s health worsened. She can’t ingest any medicine and Charbonneau wanted to return to Mandan. The Corps saw a lot of geese, ducks and other birds. What they don’t see is firewood. They finally stopped below a “bad rapid.” They simply can’t go any further. 13 miles


June 16:

Lewis dispatched Joseph Fields to return to the Clark camp, while he and the rest of the squad follow shortly. They dried 600 pounds of meat and several dozen trout. Clark’s boat party departed to a cloudy morning, but they don’t get far. The rapids are too much for their boats. Clark dispatched a couple men to explore the south side of the river for best path to portage. They later report that a portage on the south side is “impossible” (Clark), but there is no other option.


Around 2 p.m. Lewis reunited with Clark and found Sacagawea “extremely ill.” She refused to take medicine. Charbonneau is little help. Clark wrote: “If she dies it will be the fault of her husband.” No one knows what ailed her. Speculations range from a urinary tract infection to effects from gonorrhea. Lewis is concerned about her, not just for his sake, but for the infant “Pomp.” He needs her interpretative help to negotiate for horses among her Shoshone tribe. Lewis informed Clark that south side of the Missouri river was the best path to portage. Clark moved the camp across the river to prepare for that work. Lewis kept one small canoe available for crossing the river. There’s a sulfur spring on the north side that the men all enjoyed freely. Lewis experimented by giving Sacagawea this sulfur water as medication. Lewis also continued to medicate her with barks and opium. She had a weak and irregular heartbeat and twitching in her fingers and arms. By nightfall, her pulse was better and she’s feeling some improvement.