Lewis and Clark Montana

On the Trail of Lewis and Clark through the Missouri River Country

April 27, 1805: The Corps of Discovery left their campsite where Fort Union is now located and followed the Missouri River into what is now Montana. Besides the two captains, there were three sergeants, 23 enlisted men, Clark’s black slave, York, two interpreters, Drouillard and Charbonneau, Charbonneau’s wife, Sacajawea, and her 2-month-old son, Baptiste (nicknamed Pomp) and Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog. They came in six canoes and two round boats called pirogues. They camped that night across the river from what is now the community of Nohly in Richland County.

April 28, Sunday: They covered 24 miles. Lewis: “the beaver have cut great quantities of timber; saw a tree nearly 3 feet in diameter that had been felled by them.” Camped on the south side of the river near Otis Creek.

April 29, Monday: Lewis saw and shot his first Grizzly bear which pursued him 70 or 80 yards before the second shot killed him. He wrote: “…this anamal appeared to me to differ from the black bear; it is a much more furious and formidable anamal, and will frequently pursue the hunter when wounded.” Camped just above Big Muddy Creek in Roosevelt County.

April 30, Tuesday: Clark, Charbonneau, and Sacajawea walked along the shore most of the day. Lewis shot a bull elk which measured 5 feet 3 inches from hoof to top of the shoulder. Camped on the north side near the present Brockton.

May 1, Wednesday: Lewis wrote: “…the wind being favorable—we used our sales which carried us on a good pace untill about 12 OCk. when the wind became so high that the small canoes were unable to proceed.” Spent the rest of the day and night on the south side in the vicinity of the later Elkhorn Point.

May 2, Thursday: “…at daylight it began tosnow…ground was covered with an inch deep, forming a striking contrast with the vegetation, which is considerably advanced, putting flowers forth…” Camped 15 miles below Porcupine River (now Poplar River) on the north side.

May 3, Friday: Went several miles up Porcupine River and named a “bold running stream” 2000 Mile Creek, (Redwater now) because that is how far they figured they had come. They camped three or four miles above the present town of Poplar. This site is not certain.

May 4, Saturday: “We were detained this morning untill about 9 OCk. in order to repare the rudder irons…which were broken last evening in landing;… passed several old Indian hunting camps…” Traveled 18 miles and camped on the north shore (Roosevelt County).

May 5, Sunday: “saw the carcases of many Buffaloe lying dead along the shore partially devoured by the wolves and bear.”Clark found a den of young wolves, possibly coyotes. “my dog caught a goat (antelope) which he overtook by superior fleetness, the goat it must be understood was with young and extreemly poor.” They camped southeast of the present town of Wolf Point. Due to shifts in the river, the campsite is now on the opposite side and a mile or two from the river.

May 6, Monday: Lewis: “a fine morning … passed two Creeks and a River today on the Lard … the countrey on both sides butifull.” Camped on a point on the south side of the river (now McCone County), a few miles southwest of the present town of Oswego.

May 7, Tuesday: “the country we passed today on the North side of the river is one of the most beautifull plains we have yet seen, it rises gradual-ly … then becoming level as a bowling green…. as far as the eye can reach;” Camped on the south bank, a few miles southwest of the present town of Frazer.

May 8, Wednesday: Lewis wrote: “We saw a great number of buffaloe, elk, common and blacktailed deer, goats, beaver and wolves.” Camped on south side (of old river bed) about 7.5 river miles below Fort Peck Dam. Site is now in Valley County.

May 9, Thursday: Passed Big Dry on the south side. Lewis wrote: “today we passed the bed of the most extraordinary river that I ever beheld, it is as wide as the Missouri is at this place or 1/2 a mile wide and not containing a single drop of runing water;” They traveled 24 1/2 miles (9 1/2 past the Big Dry) and camped on the north side near what is now Duck Creek.

May 10, Friday: Set out at sunrise but only traveled 4 1/2 miles when a violent storm came up and they had to seek shelter on the south side. A dog wandered into their shelter, and they watched for Indians but saw none. Group is bothered with boils and sore eyes.

May 11, Saturday: Woke to frost. River very crooked, banks caving in and strong winds. Bratton was chased by bear he had shot. Hunters went back and killed the bear. It took two men to carry the hide. They rendered the bear’s oil—about eight gallons. Traveled 17 miles and camped on the south shore, close to where “The Pines” is today.

May 12, Sunday: Lewis describes choke cherries in “blume.” Strong winds. Traveled 18 3/4 miles and camped early on the south side.

May 13, Monday: Did not start until afternoon because of strong winds. “… courant weather stronger than usual and the water continues to become reather clearer, from both which I anticipate a change of country shortly.” wrote Lewis. They started saving skins to make a leather boat to use above the falls. Traveled seven miles and camped on the south side about one or two miles above the former entrance of today’s Crooked Creek.

The Return

In the 1930’s the largest hydraulically tilled earth dam in the world was built on the Missouri River, backing water up for about 134 miles and forming Fort Peck Lake. Fifteen Lewis and Clark campsites along this section of the river are now under lake water. The lake has many bays and inlets, giving it 1,520 miles of shoreline (Elev. 2234). It is surrounded by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

On the return trip in 1806 Lewis and Clark separated July 3, 1806. Clark would explore the Yellowstone River, Lewis would explore the Marias and retrace their route along the Missouri and pick up their cached materials.

August 3: Lewis, in a hurry to meet Clark, did not stop for lunch and set out the next morning, August 4, at 4 a.m. That day they passed the mouths of the Big Dry (which had water this time) and the Milk River.

August 5: The group waited, in vain, until noon for Colter and Collins, who had gone hunting, to catch up with them. That night, a violent storm arose and lasted through the next day, August 6, hampering their progress.

August 7: Lewis: “..at 8 A.M. we passed the entrance of Marthy’s river (Big Muddy Creek) which has changed it’s entrance since we passed it last year,…” They arrived at the mouth of the Yellowstone at 4 P.M., and found a note that Clark had left August 4, saying: “Musquetors excessively troublesom So much So that the men complained that they could not work at their Skins for those troublesom insects, and I find it entirely impossible to hunt in the bottoms,…. The torments of those Missquetors ….induce me to deturmine to proceed on to a more eliagiable Spot…” Both men (Clark on the 4th and Lewis on the 7th) left Montana worried about each other and bothered by mosquitoes.

On August 12: Colter and Collins caught up with Lewis along the Missouri River at a point which is now under Garrison Reservoir. The same day he wrote: “…at 1 P.M. I overtook Capt. Clark and party and had the pleasure of finding them all well.”

Excerpted from Missouri River Country brochure, “Montana’s Lewis and Clark Trail Through Missouri River Country.”