Lewis and Clark Montana

On the Trail of Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot Valley


The Bitterroot Valley
And The Flathead Indians

On the morning of Sept. 4, everything was wet and frozen, and the ground covered with snow. They went over the crest and down the other side of the mountain range, a distance of about twelve miles, where they met a village of the Flathead nation consisting of 33 lodges, some 440 people, and 500 horses.

Lewis and Clark were able to purchase 13 more horses from the Flatheads. On Sept. 6, they set out down the Bitterroot River and reached the wide valley of that river on Sept. 7. They passed down the valley with no peculiar incident until they reached Lolo Creek. They named their camp Travellers Rest.

Toby informed the captains that they were only four days from the Missouri if they should continue down the Bitterroot about nine miles to the Clark’s Fork; go up that river to the Blackfoot River, and then on to the
Great Falls. He also told them that they were now to leave the Bitterroot River and turn west up Lolo Creek on the Nez Perce Trail.

One of the hunters met three Flatheads up Lolo Creek and brought them back to Travellers Rest. One of them agreed to accompany the Expedition as a guide over the Bitterroots, and introduce them to his people who lived on the other side at a place where they could build dugouts and sail to the ocean.

To The Ocean

On Sept. 11, the explorers set out again, and two days later reached Lolo Pass. On the 14th they began what was to be the most difficult part of their entire journey. Horses fell on the steep trail, one nearly 100 yards down the mountainside. There was no game and they were forced to eat candles, horses, and their insipid “portable soup.” There were times when they had no water. At other times there was nothing at all to eat. Poor diet caused the men to weaken and sores developed on their bodies. In spite of these hardships, they eventually reached the Nez Perce on the Clearwater River. They left their horses with these people, made another cache, built five dugouts, and navigated the
Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia rivers until finally, in November, they reached the Ocean.

They built a winter fort near the coast and christened it “Fort Clatsop” in honor of their neighbors, the Clatsop Indians.

On March 26, 1806, the Expedition began its return up the Columbia on a tile homeward journey. They collected their horses from the Nez Perce, and on June 30 arrived back at Travellers Rest.

The Return Journey

At Travellers Rest, on July 3, the party separated. Clark with 50 horses, 20 men, Sacagawea and her baby, headed up the Bitterroot River to the place they had met the Flatheads the year before. They then crossed the Continental Divide at Gibbon’s Pass; crossed the head of the Big Hole valley, in a southeasterly direction, passing a place where the Indians had recently been digging roots; stopped at hot springs; and then crossed Big Hole Pass; and arrived at Camp Fortunate on July 8. Here they recovered their dugouts and the supplies which had been cached the year before.

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