Trails to Pattee Creek

West Side of Lemhi Pass

To see labels, point to the image.

Interactive aerial photo with place name labels

© 2001 Airphoto, Jim Wark. All rights reserved.

This view is aimed nearly southeast (112° from true north) toward Lemhi1 Pass. The well-traveled Indian road that Clark followed down into the Lemhi Valley on August 19, 1805, is on public land now administered by the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Since the middle of the 20th century the challenge of "ground-truthing" the expedition's accounts of their march through the Lemhi and Salmon River Valleys has been met by a legion of energetic and dedicated students of the expedition, including John E. Rees, John J. Peebles, Robert Bergantino, J. Wilmer Rigby, David Ainsworth, Stephen Matz, Richard R. Smith, and many others. Each has sought to reconcile the explorers' journalistic inconsistencies and ambiguities, and to somehow make their descriptions fit the land as it was and still is. The focal points of these students' collective efforts have been the question of the explorers' actual routes of descent into the Lemhi Valley, and the puzzle of their exit over the Bitterroot Divide, 60 miles to the north.

The route shown here represents the interpretation of all available evidence by Steve F. Russell, of Iowa State University.

Having crested the divide in the afternoon of August 12, and "first tasted the water of the great Columbia river" from the stream eventually named Horseshoe Bend Creek, Lewis, Drouillard, Shields and McNeal followed the Indian road "over steep hills and deep hollows to a spring on the side of a mountain" where they camped for the night.

Setting out early the next morning, they soon saw the narrow, green floor of the Lemhi Valley and the pine-clad Lemhi Mountains, their tops trimmed with snow. "At the distance of five miles the road after leading us down a long decending valley . . . brought us to a large creek about 10 yds wide," now called Pattee Creek.2 They crossed it and ascended a hill (below the picture), then proceeded about four miles through a treeless, undulating plain of shallow gullies where they spied, at a distance of about a mile, "two women, a man and some dogs on an eminence," who fled back down the dusty road toward the river.

On the 19th, two days after arriving at the Forks of the Jefferson, Clark followed the same road across the divide and down to Pattee Creek as he began his reconnaissance of the Salmon River. En route, he was the beneficiary of the Shoshones' characteristic charity when a man loaned him "a mule & Spanish Saddle to ride." Clark rewarded the fellow with a colorful waistcoat as a gratuity.


1. In June of 1855 a group of Latter-day Saints settled at a site they called Fort Limhi, after a prominent figure in the Book of Mormon. Only three years later, hostilities with the natives forced the abandonment of Fort Limhi, but subsequent efforts were more successful, and the place-name, re-spelled Lemhi, was eventually applied to the valley and its river (a tributary of the Salmon), as well as a mountain range, a county, and a national forest.

2. Pattee Creek was named for Fred Benjamin Pattee, who arrived in the valley as a youth in 1867 and began ranching at the mouth of the creek five years later. He died in 1955. Merrill D. Beal & Merle H. Wells, History of Idaho (3 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1959) 3:199.