On July 31, the Expedition reached the third range of mountains which forms another close canyon. They were out of fresh meat. No game was killed on this day; indeed, no buffalo had been seen since entering the mountains. Lewis wrote: “When we have plenty of fresh meat I find it impossible to make the men take any care of it or use it with the least frugality. Tho’ I expect that necessity will probably teach them this art,”
On Aug. 1, Lewis, and three men, went ahead in search of Indians. Near his camp on the morning of Aug. 3, Clark discovered Indian tracks which he followed to an elevation where the Indians had apparently spied on his camp. But Clark found no Indians.
By now, the arduous task of pulling the eight heavily laden dugouts was taking its toll. At one place a tow line broke, at another, they were dragging the vessels over rocks, Clark wrote: “The men were so much fatigued today that they wished much that navigation was at an end that they might go by land.”
Lewis reached Big Hole River on Aug. 4, and after some investigation decided this was not the route the Expedition should follow. He left a note on a green willow for Clark, telling him not to go that way, but to wait there. By the time Clark’s party arrived at the Big Hole River, a beaver had gnawed down the green willow upon which Lewis had left the note, and had taken off with it. Consequently, Clark’s party began the difficult task of ascending the swift waters of that treacherous river. One boat turned over and two others filled with water before Lewis’ party arrived and told them they would have to return to the Jefferson.
It had been 21 days since they left the Great Falls of the Missouri. The 33 travelers had used up enough provisions to warrant leaving one canoe onshore to be retrieved on my return journey.