Clark's Map, September 17-18, 1805
From Moulton, Atlas, Map 70.
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— 1805 —
September 17, "Sinque Hole Camp"
"Our horses much Scattered," Clark complained on September 17, "which detained us untill one oClock P. M." On the previous day the hunters killed only a few grouse, "which was not Sufficient for our Supper which compelled us to kill something. a coalt being the most useless part of our Stock he fell a Prey to our appetites." That night, Private Whitehouse explained, the mare whose colt they had eaten went looking for her offspring all the way back at the previous day's "lonesome cove" camp, and four of the geldings (males) tagged along. A heavy wet snow fell the greater part of the day, and between that and the accumulated snow falling from the trees, they were soaking wet all afternoon. As if that weren't enough, Joe Whitehouse related that "the Snow melted So that the water Stood in the trail over our mockasons in Some places."
September 18, 1805, Lewis's "Dry Camp"
By the evening of the 17th, their seventh sleep west of Travelers' Rest, it was obvious to the captains that the Indians' assurance that they could cross the mountains in six days was false, whereas the prediction that they would find no game there was all too true. After they breakfasted on leftover colt meat the next morning, therefore, Clark took six hunters and pushed on ahead toward the "leavel country" where they hoped to be able to shoot some game. Lewis followed with the main party making 18 difficult, thirsty miles for the day, and camping on a steep ridge somewhere west of Bald Mountain, with the only water to be found was "in a steep raviene about 1/2 mile from . . . camp." Their noon and evening fare consisted of "a skant proportion of portable soupe" which, except for some rendered bearfat and about 20 pounds of tallow candles, was all they had left in their larder, their best recourse being, as Lewis insinuated, to shoot a packhorse. Otherwise, their guns were "but a poor dependance in our present situation where there is othing upon earth exept ourselves and a few small pheasants, small grey Squirrels, and a blue bird of the vulter kind about the size of a turtle dove or jay bird"—the last being a Stellar's jay, perhaps.
The Corps of Discovery had been on short rations ever since leaving the Falls of the Missouri. Back on July 13, 1805, as he prepared to strike camp on White Bear Island and headed toward the Rocky Mountains, Lewis remarked that the company normally consumed "an emensity of meat." It required, he said, "4 deer, an Elk and a deer, or one buffaloe, to supply us plentifully 24 hours." In modern nutritional terms, each man probably was burning up to 7,000 calories per day, two or three times as many as an average active person today, and even more than a collegiate tackle's 5,000-calorie daily requirement during football season. In ordinary 21st-century terms, every day each of the party could have eaten two Monster Thickburgers with medium fries and a large pop, for a total of 2,340 calories per meal, and still not gained any weight.
Back at Fort Mandan, Sheheke of the Hidatsas had warned them that game would be scarce in the mountains. His prediction came true within days after leaving White Bear Islands on July 15. By the last day of July they were out of fresh meat. They had counted on their remaining flour, parched meal, and corn to sustain them until they got across the Rockies, but all that was gone by the first week in September, back in Shoshone country on the Salmon River. Naturally, the men took to the usual soldierly complaint about the food. Clark observed sympathetically on August 27, 1805: "my party hourly Complaining of their retched Situation and [contemplating?] doubts of Starveing in a Countrey where no game of any kind except a fiew fish can be found." The reality of K'useyneiskit, which would be practically meatless and altogether fishless, was still ahead of them.
Once they entered the mountains, the demands of their daily labors on their bodies increased while the food supply declined. By the old standards, in the 72 days between the day they left White Bear Islands on the upper Missouri until October 7, when they left Canoe Camp on the Clearwater River, they had appetites equal to 288 deer, or 72 deer plus 72 elk (there were no bison at all west of the Falls of the Missouri). But the only red meat the 33 souls plus one dog tasted in those ten weeks came from 80 deer, 12 elk, eight antelope, two colts and two horses, a total of 104 four-legged animals, plus assorted waterfowl and grouse—a little over one-third of their normal needs. And what of Sacagawea and her seven-month-old baby? Which of those young men might have offered to share their meager provender with a teen-age mother who was eating for two?
Worst of all, between the day they left camp at Travelers' Rest on the Bitterroot River and the day they reached Weippe Prairie, a total of 12 days during which the work load rose and temperatures dropped, they barely survived on two colts and a horse and some portable soup They were beyond the futility of mere complaining. Full rations would have amounted to 48 deer, but they saw only four—on the sixteenth. Near camp that morning Clark snapped the lock of his rifle seven times at a large mule deer buck before he realized the flint was too loose to ignite the powder in the pan. Think of the crescendo of frustration and disappointment among the hungry witnesses as that deer remained within shooting range long enough for seven tries.
Spring was coming late to the ridges and north-facing slopes along K'useyneiskit, it seemed, but there were encouraging signs of its inevitable approach. Leaving "Jerusalem Artichoke Camp" at 6:00 a.m. on June twenty-sixth, they soon reached the cache of supplies they had left on a ridge on September 17. There they found that the snow depth had diminished nearly four feet in the intervening nine days. Near "the border of the snowey region" they shot three "pheasants." After a two-hour stop to rearrange the loads on their pack horses, they proceeded on along the high, dry ridge under the urging ot their Nez Perce guides, who warned that the next suitable campsite was a considerable distance away. Lewis was relieved when,
To eastern landowners like Lewis and Clark, a "greensward" was a pleasant, naturally grassy turf or meadow. Lewis continued,
there is a great abundance of a speceis of bear-grass which grows on every part of these mountains its growth is luxouriant and continues green all winter but the horses will not eat it.
Soon after camp was pitched another Nez Perce man appeared in the firelight. He had been pursuing the party under the desire to accompany them to the Falls of the Missouri.
Map callouts reviewed by Norm Steadman.
Aerial photographs by Jim Wark, using waypoints
supplied by Steve L. Russell.
Funded in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's
Lewis and Clark Trail Committee.