The Continental Divide And The Shoshone Indians
The four men soon crossed the Continental Divide and began their descent on the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains along an Indian road. The next day, Aug. 13, they saw on an eminence, about a mile ahead, two women, a man, and some dogs. When they came within a half-mile of the Indians, Lewis set his accouterments on the ground, unfurled the flag, and advanced alone towards them. But the wary Indians disappeared behind a hill.
Continuing on about a mile, Lewis came upon three Shoshone females. One young woman began to run, but an elderly woman and a girl of about 12 years remained. Lewis laid down his gun and approached the two. He gave them beads, moccasin awls, mirrors, and some paint. At Lewis’s request, the elderly woman called back the young woman. The three agreed to lead the men to their village. After about two miles, they met 60 warriors mounted on excellent horses coming rapidly toward them. Convinced of Lewis’s peaceful mission, the Indians smoked the pipe with the white men.
They then went down Lemhi River four miles to the village. The lodges were all made of sticks because the Pahkees (the Indians who inhabited the area around the Great Falls of the Missouri) had raided them that spring. They took or killed 20 Shoshones, took all their skin lodges, and a great number of horses.
At the village, Lewis was told that he would not be able to reach the ocean by way of the Salmon River. Lewis hoped that the description of the river was exaggerated and that the Expedition could, in fact, navigate these waters.
Lewis told the Indians that another chief of the white men (Clark) was waiting at the forks of the Jefferson with baggage. He asked the Indians to come with him and bring 30 horses that would be used to transport the baggage over the Divide to their village. The Expedition would then trade with them for horses.
Many of the Indians still felt that the whites were in league with the Pahkees and were try- ing to lead them into an ambush. Nevertheless, 28 men and three women agreed to accompany Lewis back to the forks of the Jefferson. Sixteen of the Indians bravely camped with Lewis at the forks even though the promised “chief” and baggage were not to be seen. Clark’s party arrived at the forks the next day (Aug. 17). The band of Shoshones with Lewis just happened to be the band to which Sacagawea belonged. It also turned out, to the advantage of the Expedition, that Sacagawea’s brother, Cameahwait, was now chief of that band.
Searching For Navigable Waters And Bargaining For Horses
The camp of Aug. 17–23 was named Camp Fortunate in commemoration of the meeting with the Shoshones. Lewis and dark informed the Indians of their mission and told them that once they had portaged over the Divide to the Indians’ village, they would buy horses from them if horses were needed to Find a navigable river to the ocean.
On Aug. 18, Lewis bartered for two horses, which Clark and 11 men would need on their reconnaissance over the Divide to satisfy in their own minds whether the Salmon was a navigable route to the Columbia. Sacagawea and Charbonneau accompanied Clark’s party to the Shoshone village to encourage the Indians to bring horses to Camp Fortunate. In the meantime, Lewis purchased another horse for the hunters. His men also purchased a horse.
On Aug. 20, Lewis selected a site three-fourths of a mile below Camp Fortunate to cache more excess baggage. And while they awaited the return of the Indians who were to bring horses, they made harnesses and pack saddles for the portage.
On the same day, Clark reached the Shoshone village. He hired a Shoshone named Toby for a guide on his reconnaissance. Clark was informed of a route over the Bitterroots which the Nez Perce used to go to the Missouri. On this route game was scarce, and the Nez Perce suffered excessively from hunger. He learned that the mountains there were broken, rocky and so thickly covered with timber that the Indians could scarcely pass. Clark reasoned that should the Salmon prove unnavigable, the party would take the Nez Perce trail, for if those Indians could cross the mountains with their women and children, certainly the Expedition could do likewise.
On Aug. 22, Sacagawea, Charbonneau, Cameahwait, and about 50 men with a number of women and children arrived back at Camp Fortunate with the horses needed to cross the Divide. At this time Lewis purchased five more horses at a cost of about six dollars worth of merchandise for each.
Clark’s party reached the North Fork of the Salmon on the same day. They continued down the Salmon along a very steep and rocky mountain. As they went along they looked for trees suitable for making dugouts in case the river was navigable. They found only one such tree.
On Aug. 23, back at Camp Fortunate, Lewis had the canoes taken out of the river and sunk in a nearby pond so they wouldn’t be lost by high water or burned in one of the fires the natives made on the prairies. The Indians had sold Lewis all the horses they could spare until they returned to their village.
Clark’s party continued down the north side of Salmon River with great difficulty, traveling over large, sharp rocks. Still not totally convinced that the river was unnavigable, Clark had some of his party halt to hunt and fish while three men and Toby continued on with him to further examine the river. Clark finally conceded that the Indian information was accurate: the Salmon was not navigable. He marked his name on a tree at the mouth of Indian Creek.
Before Lewis’s party left Camp Fortunate, 50 men, women, and children came to the camp on their way to hunt buffalo. Lewis managed to purchase three more horses and a mule from these people. Then as much baggage as possible was packed on the horses for the portage. The Indian women carried the balance.
Clark sent a private on horseback with a note to Lewis stating three possible plans for their route to the ocean. The first was to pro- cure one horse for each man, hire Toby as a guide, and proceed by land to some navigable part of the Columbia. The second plan was to divide the men into two parties, make dugouts, and have one party attempt the treacherous Salmon with whatever provisions were on hand, and have the remaining party go by horseback procuring what food they could by use of their guns, and occasionally meeting up with the party on the river. A third possibility would be to divide into two parties, have one go over the mountains to the north while the other returned to the falls of the Missouri to collect provisions, go up to Sun River, and over the route used by the Hidatsas to get to the country of the Flatheads (near present Missoula). Both parties would meet there and continue on to the ocean.
On Aug. 26, Clark’s messenger arrived at the Shoshone village with the note about the same time Lewis arrived, Clark recommended that the first plan be used and that a horse be purchased for every member of the Expedition. The chief, however, informed Lewis that the Pahkees had stolen many of their horses that spring and that they could not spare that many.
Lewis sent word for Clark to come to the village and get the 22 horses he had been able to purchase. Clark managed to purchase another horse for his pistol, 100 balls, powder, and a knife. Another horse was bought for a musket.
The explorers set out with Toby as their guide, and soon began their ascent of the North Fork. Two days later they found the mountains close to the creek on both sides. They were forced to travel along the steep mountain walls. Several of the horses slipped and injured themselves quite badly. It was also at this place that they had the misfortune of breaking their last thermometer. It snowed about two inches, then began to rain, and then sleet. Shortly before reaching Lost Trail Pass, Toby, for some unknown reason, led the party in the wrong direction. They encamped that evening about three miles west of the pass, having taken a much more difficult route than necessary.
Text and drawings excerpted from U.S. Forest Service pamphlet “Lewis and Clark in the Rocky Mountains”