July 7: Lander's Fork

"handsom plain bottoms"

Aerial photo of the Landers Fork valley

© 2003 Airphoto, Jim Wark. All rights reserved.

The Indian road led up the east side of the "main creek,"which in 1854 was named for F. W. Lander, who was the next white person to explore it. Lander was a civil engineer with the RailroadSurvey expedition of 1853-55 that was commissioned by Congressand commanded by Isaac I. Stevens.1

Lewis considered this stream to be the mainstem of Cokhalah ishkit, partly because the main Indian road ran through its valley, but perhaps also because it was clearly a larger watercourse than what was left of the Big Blackfoot River beyond its confluence with Landers Fork. At that junction, it is approximately 30 miles to the sources of Landers Fork, but only about 16 miles to the head of the Blackfoot River.

In the middle background are the scars of two large forest fires that were started by lightning in 2000.


Lewis's Route up Lander's Fork

topographic map showing modern place names and Lewis's trail

TOPO!® © 2000 National Geographic

Patrick Gass has told us more details about the route up Landers Fork toward the Continental Divide. On the cloudy morning of July 7, following a rainy night, the party continued up the valley, "which is very beautiful, with a great deal of clover in its plains."

Having gone about five miles, we crossed the main branch of the river, which comes in from the north; and up which the road goes about five miles further and then takes over a hill towards the east. On the top of this hill there are two beautiful ponds, of about three acres in size. We passed over the ridge and struck a small stream, which we at first thought was of the head waters of the Missouri, but found it was not. Here we halted for dinner.

It has been suggested that today's Krohn Lake might have been one of the "ponds" Gass referred to. However, that lake may have been 15-20 acres in size, and probably would not have been visible from their route anyway. The Indian road most likely led them close to the two unnamed ponds on the "hill" or "ridge," which together might have equalled three acres. Today they are just marshy swales.


1. Narrative and Final Report of Explorations for a Route for a Pacific Railroad near the Forty-Seventh and Forty-ninth Parallels of North Latitude, from St. Paul to Puget Sound, by Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory. 1855. Volume 12, Book 1, 33. Lewis did not take time to make the observations necessary for calculating either latitude or longitude, but the Railroad Survey determined it to be 47°08'N and 112°24'W. The elevation is 6426 feet above mean sea level. Lewis could not have measured the elevation because portable barometers were not yet available when his expedition was outfitted, in 1803.

Funded in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust