79. Clearwater River Near Spalding, Idaho

Clearwater River

View west, downstream

To see labels, point to the image.

interactive aerial photo showing the camps on the Clearwater in early October, 1805

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

"Doleful Situation"

At 3 p.m. on 7 October 1805, the Corps loaded their five new dugout canoes–four large ones plus a small one "to look ahead"–and set out down the Clearwater River toward the Columbia and the Pacific beyond. The rest of the day's events didn't bode well for them. To begin with, Clark was feeling poorly, but he was "obliged to attend [to] everything," getting the damaged canoes put back in the water and loaded. Meanwhile, he discovered that his pipe tomahawk was missing. When they were all ready to proceed on, Tetoharsky and Twisted Hair, the two Nez Perce chiefs who had promised to go along, stood them up. In "the after part of the day" the canoe Clark was in struck a rock and sprung a leak at "a thin place in her Side." Somehow they managed to continue on for 20 miles through six more rapids.

The next day they navigated through 15 rapids without incident, but the sixteenth was the scene of what Joseph Whitehouse reported as a "Sad axident." It happened a short distance downriver from the mouth of a stream the captains named for John Colter—now the Potlatch River—near the bridge in the photo above. The canoe that Sergeant Gass was steering "Struck a rock in the middle of the rapid," Sergeant Ordway explained, "and Swang round and Struck another rock and cracked hir So that it filled with water." Several nonswimmers clung to the damaged canoe, and "their they Stayed in this doleful Situation" until other men, including two Indians, could get them and the baggage safely to shore. Everything was wet, "perticularly the greater part of our Small Stock of merchindize" for trading, according to Clark. The officers took the precaution of posting sentries to guard the drying items. The Indians, Clark observed, were "enclined to theave," but he admitted that they "appeared disposed to give us every assistance in their power dureing our distress."

The expedition passed several camps of Indian fishermen on the Islands and near the rapids that day. "At one of Those Camps," Clark noted, "we found our two Chiefs who had promised accompany us." It seems that somehow the two Nez Perce men had either passed up the Americans without noticing them, or had taken a few shortcuts to get ahead. "We took them on board after the Serimony of Smokeing," wrote Clark.

Upon examining the damaged canoe again on the morning of October 9 they found that by putting in knees1 and nailing strong cleats to her sides "She Could be made fit for Service . . . by the time the goods dried," so the captains put four men to work on her and sent others out to find enough pine pitch to caulk the seams. It was cloudy all day, which kept the wet articles from drying sufficiently for repacking before dark, so they had to lay over another day.

That night, Clark wrote,

we were informed that our old guide & his Son had left us and had been Seen running up the river Several miles above, we Could not account for the Cause of his leaveing us at this time, without receiving his pay for the Services he had rendered us, or letting us know anything of his intention.2     we requested the Chief [presumably one of the two Nez Perce chiefs] to Send a horseman after our old guide to come back and recive his pay &c. which he advised us not to do as his [the Chief's?] nation would take his [Toby's] things from him before he passed their camps.


The Corps of Discovery passed this way again on 5 May 1806, on horseback, and virtually destitute of trade goods. Fortunately, if reluctantly, they became itinerant health-care providers for the Nez Perce. "My friend Capt. C. is their favorite phisician," wrote Lewis, making do with the few medicaments they still had, diluted with comforting sincerity and a reassuring bedside manner. "In our present situation," Lewis said, "I think it pardonable to continue this deseption for they will not give us any provision without compensation."


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press

1. A "knee" is a piece of wood such as the joining of two tree-branches of a suitable size and angle, flattened on the inner and outer surfaces of the angle, which is nailed or screwed to the side and bottom of a boat to hold them together.

2. The Shoshone guide who accompanied Clark on his reconnaissance of the Salmon River, August 20-24, 1805, "apeared to be a very friendly intelligent old man," and he was willing to show them the way to the northern Nez Perce trail across the Bitterroot Mountains. Indeed, on 26 August 1805 Cameahwait had assured Lewis that the old man "was better informed of the country" than anyone else. What if he did lose his way on the Bitterroot Divide en route to the headwaters of Clark's River? What if he did take a wrong turn as they left the Hot Springs for Packer Meadows? And what if the old man did lead them down to the headwaters of the Lochsa River from which they were obliged to climb the treacherously steep Wendover Ridge to regain the altitude they had lost? Despite all that, journal editor Gary Moulton has declared that the old man and his son deserved considerable credit for the success of that crucial leg of the expedition's overall journey.

Lewis was the only journalist to refer to him by name as "our old guide Toby" (May 12, 1806). Idaho historian John E. Rees has described the name Tobe as an abbreviation of the Shoshone nickname Tosa-tive koo-be, or "furnished white white-man brains," which clarified his role as a guide to Lewis and Clark, and distinguished Clark's black slave York from the white men who constituted the rest of the company. His real name, according to Rees, was Pi-kee queen-ah, meaning "swooping eagle." John E. Rees, "The Shoshoni Contribution to Lewis and Clark." Idaho Yesterdays, Vol. 2 (Summer 1958): 2-13.