Questions and Answers

Sergeant Ordway filled in more details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition's visit with the Salish on September 5, 1805:

our officers took down Some of their language found it verry troublesome Speaking to them as all they Say to them has to go through Six languages, and hard to make them understand.

The captains' questions were translated into French by Drouillard or Labiche, directed to Charbonneau, who conveyed them to Sacagawea in Hidatsa, who rephrased them in her native language to a young Shoshone who was with the tribe and could speak Salishan—"a gugling kind of languaje," noticed Clark, "Spoken much thro the Throught." Answers followed the same route in reverse. And what did they speak of?

The Americans:

we informed them who we were, where we Came from, where bound and for what purpose &c. &c. and requsted to purchase & exchange a few horses with them, in the Course of the day I purchased 11 horses & exchanged 7. . . . these people possess ellegant horses.

The Salish offered encouraging words: "They tell us," wrote Private Joseph Whitehouse:

that we can go in 6 days to where white traders come and that they had Seen bearded men who came a river to the North of us 6 days march but we have 4 mountains to cross before we come on that River.

At two o'clock on the afternoon of the 6th, the Salish set out to meet their friends, the Shoshones, at theThree Forks of the Missouri, to hunt buffalo together. The Americans headed for the Columbia River via the Indian "road" over today's Lolo Pass.

As to those "4 mountains" and that "6 days march": Was it that the intricate chain of communication had broken down, or that the Indians were merely describing familiar topograpy in concepts that were foreign to the Americans? More than likely it was the latter. In either case, the expedition was to spend the next 15 days walking down the Bitterroot Valley and climbing over the Bitterroot Range—"those tremendious mountanes," Clark later called them—until they met some Nez Perce Indians on September 20.