On the day before he left Camp Fortunate for the last time, Lewis described, with typical attention to detail, the usual caparison1 of the Shoshone Horse"–halter, saddle, and all other trappings. He had not only made some thorough and methodical observations, but also had discussed and clarified related matters with the Shoshones.
A halter . . .
consists either of a round plated or twisted cord of six or seven strands of buffaloe's hair, or a throng [thong] of raw hide made pliant by pounding and rubing. these cords of bufaloe's hair are about the size of a man's finger and remarkably strong. this is the kind of halter which is prefered by them.
the halter of whatever it may be composed is always of great length and is never taken from the neck of the horse which they commonly use at any time. it is first attached at one end about the neck of the horse with a knot that will not slip, it is then brought down to his under jaw and being passed through the mouth imb[r]aces the under jaw and tongue in a simple noose formed by crossing the rope inderneath the haw of the horse. this when mounted he draws up on the near side [left side, facing forward] of the horse's neck and holds in the left hand, suffering it to trail at a great distance behind him
sometimes the halter is attatched so far from the end that while the shorter end serves him to govern his horse, the other trails on the grond as before mentioned. they put their horses to their full speed with those cords trailing on the ground. when they turn out the horse to graze the noose is mearly loosed from his mouth.
A saddle . . .
An Indian Saddle
Montana Historical Society, Helena
This saddle was owned by Chief Three Plumes (d. 1855), of the Blackfeet Nation. Indian saddles were sturdily constructed with great care, according to traditional craftsmanship. The saddles the Corps of Discovery made were necessarily cobbled together in great haste, and probably were not as sturdy as this.
is made of wood and covered with raw hide which holds the parts very firmly together. it is made like the pack saddles in uce among the French and Spaniards. it consists of two flat thin boards which fit the sides of the horses back, and are held firm by two peices which are united to them behind and before on the outer side and which rise to a considerable hight terminating sometimes in flat horizontal points extending outwards, and alwas in an accute angle or short bend underneath the upper part of these peices. a peice of buffaloe's skin with the hair on, is usually put underneath the saddle; and very seldom any covering on the saddle.2
stirrups when used are made of wood and covered with leather.3 these are generally used by the elderly men and women; the young men scarcely ever use anything more than a small pad of dressed leather stuffed with hair, which is confirmed with a leather thong passing arond the body of the horse in the manner of a girth.
they frequently paint their favorite horses, and cut their ears in various shapes. they also decorate their mains and tails, which they never draw or trim, with the feathers of birds, and sometimes suspend at the breast of the horse the finest ornaments they possess.
the Spanish bridle is prefered by them when they can obtain them, but they never dispence with the cord about the neck of the horse, which serves them to take him with more east when he is runing at large. They are excellent horsemen and extreemly expert in casting the cord about the neck of a horse.4
the horses that have been habituated to be taken with the cord in this way, however wild they may appear at first, surrender the moment they feel the cord about their necks.—
There are no horses in this quarter which can with propriety be termed wild. there are some few which have been left by the indians at large for so great length of time that they have become shye, but they all shew marks of having been in possession of man.
On September 5 the captains bought 11 horses and 10 or 12 packsaddles from the Salish Indians they met at the headwaters of the Bitterroot ("Clark's") River. While the Corps waited out the spring thaw the following May at Camp Chopunnish, Sergeant Gass (on May 20) described the Nez Perces' saddles: "The frames . . . are made of wood nicely jointed, and then covered with raw skins, which when they become dry, bind every part tight, and keep the joints in their places. The saddles rise very high before and behind, in the manner of the saddles of the Spaniards, from whom they no doubt received the form." Like the Shoshones, the Nez Perce, Gass observed, "throw their buffalow robes over the saddles and ride on them, as the saddles would otherwise be too hard."
1. Caparison is, as Lewis makes clear, a collective noun for the saddle and harness of a horse. A more modern synonym is tack, short for tackle, meaning the equipment used in an occupation such as fishing, boating—or horseback riding and packing. In his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language of 1806, Noah Webster defined caparison as "a fine or pompous dress for a horse." The word originated in a Medieval expression for "cape."
2. During one of his many conversations Nicholas Biddle had with Clark in the spring of 1810, he inserted into the manuscript journal here, "but when they ride they throw on a piece of Skin."
3. Stirrups serve to aid the rider to maintain balance at various gaits and over various types of terrain, as well as to lift the weight of the rider's body for comfort at any gait faster than a walk. Lewis had an uncomfortable ride without stirrups on 16 August in the vicinity of Camp Fortunate. He was riding double with an Indian who was in a hurry to get to a deer that one of Lewis's hunters had bagged: "as I was without [s]tirrups and an Indian behind me the jostling was disagreeable I therefore reigned up my horse and forbid the indian to whip him who had given him the lash at every jum[p] for a mile fearing he should loose a part of the feast."
4. Biddle inserted a paraphrase of a comment of Clark's: "make a noose & catch him running &c."