Lewis and Clark Montana

On the Trail of Lewis and Clark in the Rocky Mountains

The Beaver’s Head

A few miles below the mouth of Ruby River, Sacagawea recognized a prominent point of land known to her people as the Beaver’s Head. She informed the captains that they were not far from the summer retreat of her people, which, she said, was on a river beyond the mountains (Lcmhi River.)

On Aug. 9, Lewis, along with three men, again set out ahead of the main party in an attempt to find the Shoshones.

About 9 1/2 miles by water from the Beaver’s Head, the main party reached an island which they named 3000-Mile Island—a reference to their distance up the Missouri River.

Fourth Range Of Mountains

Lewis’s party, which was following an Indian road, passed through the fourth range of mountains on Aug. 10, and from the number of rattlesnakes about the cliffs called it “Rattlesnake Cliffs.” The main party entered this canyon four days later and both Clark and Sacagawea were in danger of being struck by these serpents.

Lewis continued on the Indian road and soon came to a fork at the head of the Jefferson River. He left a note here on a dry willow to inform Clark of his decision to follow the west fork. At about 15 miles from the forks, on Horse Prairie, Lewis finally saw a Shoshone on horseback—the first Indian the Expedition had seen in 1400 miles. The native, wary of the strangers, would not allow them to approach, and soon disappeared into the mountains.

Fifth Range Of Mountains

Lewis fixed a small U.S. flag onto a pole as a symbol of peace, which was carried along as they followed the horse’s tracks. They camped that night at the head of Horse Prairie. They were now about to enter the fifth range of mountains.

The following morning they came upon recently inhabited willow lodges and a place where the Indians had been digging roots. They continued on until they reached what Lewis described as “the most distant fountain of the waters of Mighty Missouri in search of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights. Thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for many years…” He then wrote that Private McNeal “exultingly stood with a foot on each side of the little rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri.”

Reprinted from U.S. Forest Service pamphlet “Lewis and Clark in the Rocky Mountains”