"Hungery Camp" (Clark), September 18
Dire circumstances demanded extreme measures. Clark wrote some time later—perhaps in 1810 for the information of Nicholas Biddle, the man he had then hired to edit the journals—that
The want of provisions together with the dificuely of passing those emence mountains dampened the spirits of the party which induced us to resort to Some plan of reviving ther Sperits. I deturmined to take a party of the hunters and proceed on in advance to Some leavel Country, where there was game, kill some meat & Send it back, &c.
Accompanied by six hunters chosen from the dozen or so the Corps normally relied on, he sprinted ahead for an estimated 32 miles this day, a forced march under the best of conditions, but for those men a grueling scramble through a labyrinth of fallen timber, with a pause of only an hour at a rare grassy spot to let the horses eat and rest. The hunters, who were most likely spread out a half-mile or more on either side of the trail, found some signs of deer—perhaps hoof-prints, droppings, or else brush trimmed or "hedged" by browsing—but saw nothing to shoot at. Toward the end of the day they arrived at "a bold running Creek passing to the left," which Clark named "Hungery Creek as at that place we had nothing to eate."
The stream they camped beside was called Obia Creek later in the 19th century, probably after a miner by that name. It was replaced with Clark's choice sometime after 1950 on the recommendation of Clearwater National Forest supervisor Ralph Space, and by authority of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The miner's name was transferred to a tributary that begins on the flank of Bowl Butte.1 Clark's name, including his logical but deviant spelling of the adjective—he also spelled it "hungary"; Lewis usually spelled it "hungry"—is one of the few remaining mementos of the Corps' journey through the Bitterroot Mountains.
The extreme rigor of the day's travel was relieved for Lewis only by the thrill of discovering, from a high point on the ridge—possibly today's Sherman Peak—"an emence Plain and leavel Countrey to the S W. & West at a great distance." The welcome glimpse of this country, "our only hope for subsistance," wrote Lewis, "greately revived the sperits of the party already reduced and much weakened for the want of food." He had seen the eastern margin of the vast, rich region that within a few more decades would begin to be known as the Great Columbia Plain.2
"Lewis & Clark Grove" (Clark), September 19
Luck was with Clark and his six hunters that morning. At six miles into the day's travel they found a stray Indian horse in a small glade, killed and butchered it, ate a little for breakfast, and hung the rest in a tree for Lewis and the main party. As usual, the going was slow, over several mountains, along winding ridges, and everywhere over and around much fallen timber "which caused our road of to day to be double the derect distance on the Course." In fact, Clark figured the course at south 60 degrees west, but was uncertain about whether to record a distance of 22 miles, or 12 miles. They camped on Cedar Creek in a grove of tall, straight western redcedar—"Arborvita"—and lofty western white pine, to which the label "Lewis & Clark Grove" was given it in the mid-1950s by Ralph Space, supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest. One of the giant pines shows the faint trace of a scar that once was said to be the remains of Clark's name, though that is now believed to have been only a playful hoax.
"Portable Soup Camp" (Lewis), September 19
After a march of only six miles "S. 20 W." from "Dry Camp," Lewis and his party of 25 arrived at the same summit early on the morning of the nineteenth. Resorting again to the language chain for communication with Old Toby, he was given to understand that "through that plain . . . the Columbia river, in which we were in surch[,] run." Lewis estimated the plain was about 60 miles away, which was more or less correct, but he also understood Toby to say they would reach its borders the next day. In fact, they were both probably looking at Camas Prairie and Nez Perce Prairie, which are west and south of the Clearwater River, which the Corps as a whole would not set foot on until their return trip eight months later. Furthermore, the Columbia River at its nearest is 175 straight-line miles west of Sherman Peak. Including the ten days it would take to carve six dugout canoes, the Columbia was four weeks away. Nonetheless, Lewis allowed himself some satisfaction, for "the appearance of this country, our only hope for subsistance greately revived the sperits of the party already reduced and much weakened for the want of food."
Quickly but laboriously they descended into the valley of Hungery Creek, where "the road was excessively dangerous . . . being a narrow rockey path generally on the side of steep precipice." Indeed, Frazer's pack horse lost his footing on it that afternoon, and took a hundred-yard tumble with his load roped to his back for "near a hundred yards into the Creek," over "large irregular and broken rocks." Miraculously, the horse survived, and so did the precious pack.
At the end of an 18-mile day, they "took a small quantity of portable soup, and retired to rest much fatiegued."
"Full Stomach Camp" (Lewis), September 20
Lewis and his party didn't get off the next morning until 10 o'clock because their horses had scattered during the night. The best surprise of the day was finding, only two miles from camp, "the greater part" of a stray Indian horse that Clark had killed and left for them. They "made a hearty meal on our horse beef much to the comfort of our hungry stomachs." Immediately after dinner came a major frustration: Private Lepage's packhorse was missing, along with some precious trade goods and all of Lewis's winter clothing. The whole outfit stood around until three o'clock, when Lepage finally returned from an unsuccessful search. Meanwhile, Lewis evidently made good use of the down-time, taking notes on snowberry and honeysuckle bushes, mountain ash and chokecherry trees, and the large, lofty western redcedar. He observed more closely two new shrubs, mountain huckleberry and Sitka alder; three new gallinaceous birds3—blue grouse, spruce or Franklin grouse, and ruffed grouse—plus three new passerine birds4—the gray jay, the Steller's jay, and the varied thrush.
"Retreat Camp," June 10-14, 21-23
On the ninth of June Lewis noted that his men "seem much elated with the idea of moving on towards their friends and country." They all "seem allirt in their movements today; they have every thing in readiness for a move." Even though they had consumed the last of their meat the night before and had only roots left to eat, they devoted much of the day to running footraces, pitching quoits, and playing prisoner's base.5 There seemed to be good reason to celebrate; the river had fallen six feet in just a few days, which seemed to be "strong evidence that the great body of snow has left the mountains." In a few more days, Lewis predicted, the roads would be dry and the grass would be greening up. The next day they climbed out of the Clearwater Canyon toward the "quawmash flatts," and camped near the spot where they had first met the Nez Perce on the previous September 20.
During the next four days, while the hunters worked the area for miles around, spring had arrived at the western edge of the mountains. "The quawmash is now in blume," Lewis wrote, "and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water." So convincing was that "deseption that on first sight I could have swoarn it was water." This was the right time and the ideal place for him to paint his crisply detailed word-picture of Camassia quamash and to record the Nez Perces' method of cultivating and cooking the root.
"Small Prairie Camp," June 15
Strayed horses combined with the inconvenience of a heavy rain delayed their departure from camp until 10 o'clock this morning. At Crane Meadows they came upon two deer that Reubin Field and Alex Willard had killed and hung in a tree for them. A few miles farther up the slippery road they reached Collins (Lolo) Creek, where they found the two hunters and a third deer. They managed to cover an estimated 22 miles this dreary day, camping "near a small prarie in the bottom land" near Eldorado Creek.
"Horse Steak Meadow," June 16
At six o'clock this morning the Corps "proceeded up the creek about 2 miles through some handsom meadows of fine grass abounding with quawmash, here we passed the creek & ascended a ridge which led us to the N. E. about seve miles when we arrived at a small branch of hungry creek. the difficulty we met with from the fallen timber detained us untill 11 oC before we reached this place." As they climbed up over the ridge separating Eldorado Creek from Hungery Creek they found deep snowbanks that were firm enough to walk on without sinking in. Springtime vegetation was "proportionably backward" there, compared with conditions at Weippe Prairie; the dogs-tooth-violet was "just in blume."
It was still relatively early in the evening, and they had covered only fifteen miles since morning, when they stopped at the camp where Clark had killed and left the flesh of a horse for Lewis and his starving contingent the previous September 19. There was scarcely enough grass here for the horses yet this spring, but the captains thought it prudent to stay here, because there would be even less grass higher up.
"Cache Mountain Camp," June 17
On the seventeenth of June conditions grew more daunting by the mile. The Corps started down Hungery Creek, having to cross it several times, and finding it "difficult and dangerous to pass . . . in consequence of its debth and rapidity." They "avoided two other passes of the creek by ascending a very steep rock and difficult hill," and eventually climbed the mountain "to the hight of the main leading ridges which divides the Waters of the Chopunnish and Kooskooske rivers." A few miles farther on they found themselves "invellped in snow from 12 to 15 feet deep even on the south sides of the hills with the fairest exposure to the sun." Here, declared Lewis, was "winter with all it's rigors."
They knew it would take five days to reach their campsite of September 14, 1805, even if they were able to stay on the right ridges, and of that their chief woodsman and guide, George Drouillard, was "entirely doubtfull." Besides, until they reached that point there would be no grass for the horses nor firewood for the people because of the deep snow. "If we proceeded and should get bewildered in these mountains," they all agreed, "the certainty was that we should loose all our horses and consequently our baggage instruments perhaps our papers and thus eminently wrisk the loss of the discoveries which we had already made if we should be so fortunate as to escape with life." In other words, the key factor was the welfare of the horses. Yet, if they waited for the snow to melt enough for them to follow the Indian road with assurance, they might not get home before the end of the travel season. The choice was obvious but painful to admit. They would have to retreat to a place where they could keep the horses well fed until they could procure a reliable Nez Perce guide.
"Having come to this resolution," wrote Lewis, "we ordered the party to make a deposit for all the baggage which we had not immediate use for, and also all the roots and bread of cows [cous] which they had except an allowance for a few days to enable them to return to some place wt which [they] could subsist by hunting untill we procured a guide." The daptains left their instruments papers &c," believing them to be safer there than to risk them on horseback over the roads and creeks they had had to retrace and re-cross. "Our baggage being laid on scaffoalds and well covered we began our retrograde march at 1 P. M. having remained about 3 hours on this snowy mountain."
"The party were a good deel dejected tho' not so as I had apprehended they would have been," Lewis wrote. "This is the first time since we have been on this long tour that we have ever been compelled to retreat or make a retrograde march."
"Salmon Trout Camp, "June 18-20, 24"
Tour men worked ahead of the main party o start with, on the morning of the eighteenth, Potts "cut his leg very badly with one of the large knives." Lewis staunched the veinous bleeding with "a little cushon of wood and and tow."6 Next, Colter's horse fell while trying to ford torrential Hungery Creek. Horse and rider "were driven down the creek a considerable distance rolling over each other among the rocks." Both survived without injury, but Colter lost his blanket; we are not told whether their meager supplies held any replacements, but probably not. They made their way back to Collins Creek, expecting to find deer to sustain them while they waited for Nez Perce guides to arrive.
From this camp the captains sent Drouillard and Shannon all the way back to the Nez Perce villages "in the plains beyond the Kooskooske" to find guides who would escort them all the way to the Falls of the Missouri, for the price of two guns plus a ten-horse bonus when they reached the Falls. While they waited the captains ruminated about alternatives.
On the nineteenth the hunters saw no game all day, but finally shot at some "salmon trout"—called steelhead now. That night their three Nez Perce guides set fire to some trees—probably subalpine fir, judging from Lewis's comment that "they have a great number of dry lims dear their bodies which when set on fire creates a very suddon and immence blaze from bottom to top of those tall trees." The result was "a beautifull object in this situation at night," he continued. "This exhibition reminded me of a display of fireworks." The Indians explained that their purpose was to summon fair weather for their journey. Obviously it worked. Except for a few showers and occasional clouds, twenty-eight of the next thirty days were brightened by fair skies.
"Jerusalem Artichoke Camp," June 25
A minor crisis marred this morning when one of the Nez Perce guides "complained of being unwell, a symptom which I did not much like as such complaints with an indian is generally the prelude to his abandoning any enterprize with which he is not well pleased." As an officer, Lewis was not accustomed to tolerating any such excuses from the men under his command, but he reluctantly proceeded on after the guides promised to catch up later. His fears proved unfounded in this instance. "The indians continued with us," he later reported with relief, "and I beleive are disposed to be faithfull to their engagement." In fact, at the end of the day he responded with sympathetic understanding. "I gave the sik indian a buffaloe robe he having no other covering except his mockersons and a dressed Elkskin without the hair."
Meanwhile, at about midday, Sacagawea had brought him "a small knob root a good deel in flavor an consistency like the Jerusalem Artichoke." He recognized it as a species not previously known to botanists, but which was soon to gain a name befitting its simple makeup and delicate flower—western spring beauty.
1. The person responsible for the restoration of the name and spelling, "Hungery Creek," was Ralph S. Space, who was supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest from 1954 to 1963. Beginning in 1924, when it was still suitable only for foot or horse traffic, Space spent more than 50 years of his life traveling and studying K'useyneiskit and its history. The road that now parallels the main Indian road, the Lolo Motorway, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1934. Ralph S. Space, The Lolo Trail: A History and a Guide to the Trail of Lewis and Clark (2nd ed., Missoula: Historic Montana Publishing, 2001). The Clearwater Story: A History of the Clearwater National Forest (Orofino, Idaho: USDA Forest Service and the Clearwater Historical Society, 1979), 61-69, 230.
2. Donald W. Meinig, The Great Columbia Plain: A Historical Geography, 1805-1910 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968), 45-47.
3. Gallinaceous birds belong to the order Galliformes. In the heirarchy of plant and animal classifications, order is the next category above family. Galliformes (gal-ih-FOR-meez) combines the Latin gallus, meaning cock or rooster, with forma, meaning form or shape. The order Galliformes consists of seven families worldwide, of which four are found in the United States. The three most familiar in northern latitudes are the Grouse Family, Pheasant Family, and Turkey Family, all of which more or less resemble domestic chickens.
4. Passerines are birds of the order Passeriformes, which is a compound Latin word meaning "sparrow-shaped," and signifying that all members of the families belonging to that order share broad skeletal resemblances which were established early in their evolutionary histories. The passerines consist of 59 families and about 8,750 species of perching birds and song birds, comprising some three-fifths of all living birds.
5. Quoits is a team-game that the New Englanders in the Corps would likely have taught the others. It consists in tossing metal rings at pins driven into the ground. The players in the Corps might have improvised rings from rope or willow branches. The long and fascinating history of this ancient pastime is summarized in the Web site of the U.S. Quoits Association at http://www.quoits.info. Prisoner's base is a simple, formalized game of tag. Now considered a children's sport, its age-old rules and procedures are explained at http://www.gameskidsplay.net/games/chasing_games/prisoners_base.htm.
6. Ordway reported that Lewis stitched the wound. "Tow" is a Southern word denoting a heavy, loosely-woven fabric made of "the coarse and broken parts of flax and hemp" (Webster, 1806). It was used to make large containers called tow sacks, or gunnysacks, to carry farm and plantation produce.
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.