"The chapter of knowledge is very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one."
– Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773)
View southwest of the vicinity of Clark's campsite on the Yellowstone River, July 18, 1806.
Detail from a panoramic photo by Brent Phelps. The Montana RailLink freight train
is speeding toward Seattle, Washington.
Clark's journal for July 18, 1806, was another "chapter of accidents." To begin with,
It could have been much worse, for, as Clark pointed out, the country was rugged and stony, and covered with prickly pear cactus. But then, perhaps in the direction of the upper left of Brent Phelps's photograph, something appeared that must have raised the general stress level considerably.
They had already seen ample evidence of Indians, and Clark would again see distant smoke on July 19. And then, on the 24thÖbut that's another story.
A decent meal would have helped, but as luck would have it,
Private George Gibson climaxed the day's misadventures by impaling himself on the stub of a branch on a dead and downed tree, suffering injuries to a knee, hip and thigh that was serious enough to put him out of commission for the next twelve days.1
Clark must have been wakeful much of that night, worrying about the implications of Gibson's misfortune for their timely return to the "U States" before the onset of winter.
There were more sleepless nights to come. The Crow Indians were watching them.
1. The accident was commemorated by Clark on his 1814 map with the naming of "Thy snag'd Creek," today's Upper Deer Creek, which he and his contingent actually passed on the 17th, the day before the accident occurred.