"Lewis & Clark Grove" (Clark), September 19
A stray Indian horse had the misfortune to fall to the hungry hunters' guns early that morning on Hungery Creek. After "takeing a brackfast off for our Selves which we thought fine," Clark had the rest hung in a tree for Lewis and the rest of the famished party, who were a day's travel behind. The only compass bearing he wrote down for the day was "S 60 W," but he remarked that the actual distance was "double the direct distance on the Course." Evidently he was uncertain how to count the miles, 30, 22, or 12. The road that day was "wors than usial owing to the falling timber &c." That "&c." included the places where they were "obliged for Several yds. to pass on the Sides of rocks where one false Step of a horse would be certain destruction."
Furthermore, they didn't see a single animal track the whole day. All they could shoot was two "pheasants," which made a meager supper for the seven men. On reaching Cedar Creek they camped in a grove of majestic western redcedar and lofty western white pine. In one of the latter there is a faint old scar that once was said to have been Clark's name, but was only a hoax.
On the morning of the 20th the pack horse loaded with two trunks, containing Lewis's winter clothing and some other valuable items, was missing, so he ordered two of his best woodsmen to look for it, and catch up as soon as they could. The experiences of those two men were not mentioned by any of the journalists, but were related to Nicholas Biddle by either Clark or Shannon when they discussed the journals with him in 1810. In Biddle's words,
"They had set out about three o-clock in the afternoon of the 20th, with one horse between them; after crossing the mountain they came to the place where we [Lewis and his party] had eaten the horse. Here they encamped, and having no food made a fire and roasted the head of the horse, which even our appetites had spared, and supped on the ears, skin, lips, etc., of the animal. The next morning, 21st, they found the track of the horse, and pursuing it recovered the saddle-bags, and at length, about eleven o'clock, the horse himself. Being now both mounted, they set out to return and slept at a small stream. During the day they had nothing at all except two pheasants, which were so torn to pieces by the shot that the head and legs were the only parts fit for food. In this situation they found the next morning…that during the night their horses had run away from them or been stolen by the Indians. They searched for them until nine o'clock, when, seeing that they could not recover them, and fearful of starving if they remained where they were, they set out on foot to join us, carrying the saddle-bags alternately. They walked as fast as they could during the day, till they reached us in a deplorable state of weakness and inanition."
Clark and his six hunters encountered the first Nez Perce on September 20 at the place that has been known as Weippe (pronounced Wee-ipe) Prairie for more than 150 years. The Nez Perce knew it as the quawmash grounds, a place of summertime retreat from the oppressive heat of the deep Clearwater Canyon.
Clark spent the night of the twenty-first at Twisted Hair's camp on an island in the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River. The next morning the chief and his son accompanied him back up to the village on Weippe Prairie where he expected to rendezvous with Lewis. Clark rode a young horse which, "in fright threw himself & me 3 times on the side of a Steep hill & hurt my hip much." They arrived at sunset to find Captain Lewis and his party "much fatigues, & hungery, much rejoiced to find something to eate of which They appeared to partake plentifully." Well aware of the hazard of overtaxing a starved digestive system, noted Clark, "I cautioned them of the consequences of eateing too much &c." He admitted that he himself had overdone it: "I find myself verry unwell all the evening from eateing the fish & roots too freely." Venison was what they all needed, but the hunters, though they had signs of deer, returned empty-handed. "Those Indians Stole out of R. F. [Reubin Field] Shot pouch his knife[,] wipers1 Compas & Steel, which we Could not precure from them."
Getting the Picture, September 22
Another piece of the geographic puzzle of the Northwest fell into place, thanks to the Nez Perce chief's cordiality. On September 22, Clark wrote, "I got the Twisted hare [hair] to draw the river form his Camp down which he did with great cherfullness on a white Elk skin, from the 1s fork [North Fork Clearwater] which is…seven miles below, to the large fork [Snake River] on which the So So ne or Snake Indians fish, is South 2 sleeps; to a large river [Columbia] which falls in on the N W. Side and into which The Clarks river empties itself is 5 Sleeps." Clark's grasp increased. All he had seen since leaving the Shoshones at the end of August took on palpable shape. In today's terms, both the Salmon River and the Clearwater River empty into the Snake; the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers feed into the Columbia, and the two huge drainages, Snake and Columbia, join only seven or eight days' travel from where he stood.
Lewis's eyes were drawn up to the crowns of some awesome stands of "Arborvita"–western redcedar (Thuja plicata Donn.)—as he followed K'useyneiskit westward out of "Full Stomach" on September 21. He saw "several sticks…large enough to form eligant perogues of at least 45 feet in length."2 That night he and his party camped on the bank of today's Lolo Creek, planning to make a forced march the next day to reach open country. According to Lewis: "we killed a few Pheasants, and I killd a prarie woolf3 which together with the ballance of our horse beef and some crawfish which we obtained in the creek enabled us to make one more hearty meal," adding darkly, "not knowing where the next was to be found." Like most of his men, he was steadily growing weaker from lack of adequate nourishment. All of their bodies were "much reduced."
"Camp Chopunnish," May 14-June 10
On May 17 Lewis was pleased to find the river rising rapidly, which was a sure sign the spring thaw was under way in the Bitterroot Range, which he referred to in a spasm of homesickness as "that icy barier which seperates me from my friends and Country, from all which makes life esteemable." He suppressed his anxiety with characteristic forbearance—"patience, patience."
It would seem that this encampment, which the Corps occupied longer than any others except Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop, and where Lewis and Clark produced such a large body of new information about the Nez Perce people and natural history in their land, would have deserved its own name. However, none of the journalists mentioned one, perhaps because all thoughts were focused on the urgency of moving out and heading home on a moment's notice. At the end of the 19th century, Elliott Coues elected to give it the name Camp Chopunnish in his annotated edition of Biddle's 1814 paraphrase of the captains' journals.4
The captains recorded some celestial observations to be used in determing the location of Camp Chopunnish in terms of latitude and longitude. Robert N. Bergantino explains their procedures and evaluates their results.
Proceeding Homeward, June 10-14
Typically, in springtime mountain streams run highest at night and during the early morning hours in their lower reaches, as the snowmelt in the high country reaches the bottoms. Overnight on May 31 the river at Camp Chopunnish rose eighteen inches, according to Sergeant Gass. Missing horses delayed the expedition's departure from Camp Chopunnish until nearly noon on June 10, 1806, with each man "well mounted and a light load on a second horse." Even at mid-afternoon Lolo (Collins) Creek was running high and fast, and the Corps' crossing was "extreemly difficult" tho' we passed without sustaining further injury than weting some of our roots and bread." After a twelve-mile march, including a 1,800-foot climb out of Clearwater Canyon, they settled down at the "Commass ground" where they had camped the previous September 22.
The captains had been alerted to the fact that they couldn't yet get over the mountains when on June 3 an Indian who had set out on a solo jaunt "found the road too bad and the snow too deep to cross," so he cancelled his trip and returned home on the fifth. Their knowledge that east of the Bitterroots the short travel season was already two months old made it all the harder to face further delay.
Nonetheless, here on Weippe Prairie Lewis took advantage of the enforced hiatus to write his famous long description of the camas plant, and explain how the Nez Perce prepared its bulb for use as a staple food.
Lewis put their situation in a serious perspective. "We have now been detained near five weeks in consequence of the snows," he lamented:
a serious loss of time at this delightfull season for traveling, I am still apprehensive that the snow and the want of food for our horses will prove a serious imbarrassment to us as at least four days journey of our rout in these mountains lies over hights and along a ledge of mountains never intirely destitute of snow. every body seems anxious to be in motion, convinced that we have not now any time to delay if the calculation is to reach the United States this season; this I am detirmined to accomplish if within the compass of human power.
There was also a new element to prove that summer was coming on. "The Musquetoes our old companions have become very troublesome."
With, as Clark expressed it, "Some mortification in being thus compelled to retrace our Setps through this tedious and difficuelt part of our rout," they left "Salmon Trout Camp" early on the twenty-first to return to "the flatts." Dense brush and fallen timber made travel diffitult for the men and dangerous for the horses. One of Cruzatte's horses "snagged himself so badly in the groin in jumping over a parsel of fallen timber that he will evidently be of no further service to us." At Collins's Creek they met two Nez Perces who had in tow three horses and a mule that had wandered off the night before and returned to the camas grounds. The Indians told them they had seen Drouillard and Shannon, whom the captains had sent back to hire guides. At a disadvantage without Drouillard's expertise in signing, the captains understood it would another two days before the two men could rejoin the party, but were at a loss as to why the delay.
The company's disappointment was somewhat alleviated the next morning when "all hands who could hunt were sent out," and returned with eight deer and three bear—fresh meat and plenty of bearfat! Encouraged by the rumor that the salmon were running, they sent Whitehouse down to the riverside villages to buy some fish with a few beads Clark had found in his waistcoat pocket.
On the twenty-third the hunters, by imitating the bleats of fawns, bagged four deer; as a bonus they brought in another bear. At last, late in the afternoon Drouillard, Shannon and Whitehouse appeared and introduced three Indians–"young men of good character and much respected by their nation"–who had consented to accompany them all the way to the Falls of the Missouri. After another day spent in gathering together the remnants of the party, including Frazer, Weiser, Gass, and the two Field brothers, the Corps of Discovery, reinforced with fresh meat, competent guides, and new hope, was at last prepared to "proceed on."
Near the top left edge of this map (Atlas, Map 70) Clark circled a note to himself, to draw his attention to it later. It reads: "from the Camp at the mouth of Travelers rest to the Indian Villages is too much West for the southing." He evidently realized that his map of the road across the Bitterroot Range was out of proportion, that the east-west distance was too great relative to the north-south dimension. Perhaps his error can be explained by the absence from these maps (Atlas maps 69, 70, and 71) of the one-inch grid on which he usually plotted his charts. In Clark's day the term southing meant "a course or distance south."5 It is not related to the terms "easting" or "northing," which are modern terms denoting x-y grid references in USGS rectangular map coordinates.
Moreover, Clark left no clue as to whether by "Indian Villages" he meant the two groups of summer lodges he had seen on Weippe Prairie, totalling about 30 double lodges, or the villages at the mouth of Collins (Lolo) Creek. However, inasmuch as those he first saw on the Clearwater at the mouth of Collins Creek represented the prime objective of the journey across the Bitterroots, and the resumption of the Corps' voyage toward the Pacific Ocean, it seems logical to conclude that he meant the latter.
1. Pieces of cloth to be attached to a ramrod and used to clean the interior of the barrel, essential for the proper maintenance of any firearm.
2. In this instance Lewis clearly used the word "perogue" as a synonym for "dugout canoe," not for a large rowboat like the expedition's own red and white pirogues.
3. The "pheasants" were either blue, ruffed, or Franklin grouse. The "prarie woolf" was a coyote, Canis latrans. Sergeant Gass simply said "wolf." The coyote, the grouse and the crawfish altogether would have made little more than a modest offering of hors d'oeuvres for Lewis and the other 25 adults in his party. A mature coyote weighs in at somewhere between 20 and 40 pounds, bones and all.
4. Elliott Coues, ed., History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and Clark. (1893. Reprint, 3 vols., New York: Dover, 1965), 3:1010.
5. Noah Webster, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (New Haven, Connecticut, 1806).
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.