Lingering Questions

Page 10 of 10


We still do not know enough about the river dugout hull designs familiar to the party through Ohio and Mississippi traditions and voyageur traditions. I am hoping that by re-reading contemporary primary sources (such as Cramer's Ohio and Mississippi Navigator) in the light of our river trials, and looking more at Canadian traditions, I will find more clues to boat designs which might have been influential at Fort Mandan. For instance, some of the discharged French engagés who helped the expedition up the Missouri to the Mandan villages built a dugout to return to St. Louis. At this moment, within sight of the party, French knowledge of still-water bark designs, light enough to portage, as well as voyageur knowledge of dugouts, would have met Clark's knowledge of dugout river designs of the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the lower Missouri. Cruzatte, the experienced French river man, was given charge of one of the Corps of Discovery's two pirogues, but there is no mention of whether he helped the Lewis and Clark dugout party design the six Fort Mandan canoes in late February of 1805. Still, it was a long winter at the villages, with not much to talk about. You would think that Clark and Cruzatte, as river men, sometimes talked boats. What did they know?


How many paddlers were there? We know the big canoes carried four to nine men. What was meant by "paddles" vs. "oars" in Lewis's nomenclature; "seats" vs. thwarts (cross-braces); were they kneeling or sitting? Also, how was the cordelle attached?


How often did they cross the river and why? From Fort Mandan to the Falls of the Missouri, what were the differences between the dugouts and the two pirogues, in terms of handling in swift currents? (The pirogue replicas from St. Charles are wonderfully stable and efficient; I observed them in June 2005 for three days at the mouth of the Marias.) How much did Clark cross to (or near) his observation points? The "small" or "scout" canoe was used often for scouting and hunting, with two to four men. How much did the need to stick together and occasionally pool all labor to manhandle the pirogues affect their canoeing choices? That is, boat design is not the only variable in their choice of cordelling one bank vs. paddling across to a better bank.

I doubt very much that we will find "silver bullet" passages that answer these questions, but we may find a preponderance of hints that make new conjecture possible and plausible. After all, they spent their days walking, pulling, sailing, paddling through the water. Apart from the occasional mention of a crumbling bank, a rapid, wind and waves, we know very little about most of those days, about what canoeing choices they made, hour by hour, and why.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge-Cost Share Program.