Back Through the Gorge

Clark's Map of the Cascades of the Columbia

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interactive map labeling Clark's map of the Cascades of the Columbia

Phillips Collection, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula

This map is from History of an Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, paraphrased by Nicholas Biddle, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814), volume 2, facing page 52. The size of the original engraving was 4 by 7 inches. Pertinent excerpts are quoted from Biddle's text.

Clark's "Great Shute [or Shoot]" is today's Cascades of the Columbia River.2 Returning on the snowmelt-swollen river in spring 1806, the men successfully pulled four of their five canoes up the falls with tow ropes, but the last one filled with water and pulled out of their grasp, to be carried away and lost downstream.

Unwanted Intruders

Homeward bound in April 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through the Columbia Gorge and pitched camps on its north side, today's Washington. Their passage was tense and unpleasant, with Indians taking small goods regularly, and also being unwilling to sell the needed horses for what goods the captains had left. The captains had planned to buy horses in the gorge to portage their baggage around the Cascades, The Dalles, and Celilo Falls—and pack their cargo after they left the Columbia River for future Idaho. Ideally, they would be buying a dozen animals. Near the Rocky Mountains, they would reclaim the horse herd the Nez Perce had cared for over the winter—horses purchased from the Shoshones and Nez Perces. The farther they were from the Nez Perce, though, the rarer horses were, and Indians did not want to part with them.

Paddling the Columbia in two large and three small canoes, the expedition reached the site of North Bonneville on April 10, then experienced rain all night. One of the small canoes got loose from the hunters who were using it, but Indian men found and returned it. The captains paid them with two knives.

At the "Great Shute," the Cascades, the captains estimated the water to be twenty feet higher than the previous fall, being fed by spring melt—even though the crest of the flood was still more than a month away—and the rapids "much worse than they were [in the] fall when we passed them." One Corps member, William Bratton, was still suffering the intense lower back pain that had plagued him since February, and was unable to assist in towing canoes or portaging luggage. He and three other men who were temporarily "lamed" stayed with the baggage to protect it from local Wah-clel-lah Indians, a branch of the Watlalas whom Lewis called "the greates theives and scoundrels we yet have met with."1

According to Sgt. John Ordway, the men managed to lift, with elk hide tow ropes, one small and one large canoe at a time up the Great Shute. That left one small canoe, which was held for the next day because the men were so tired, according to Lewis. While the soldiers were towing the canoes, some Watlalas on the bank threw stones down on them. John Shields, having paused to purchase a dog for food, was returning behind the others to camp when two Indian men approached him and tried to take the dog, and "pushed him out of the road." He drew his knife, and they fled. Then, at camp, three Watlala men stole Lewis's dog, Seaman; when Lewis sent three men in pursuit, the thieves left the dog and ran off. Pvt. John Thompson caught another Watlala in the act of taking an ax, and wrested it from him. Lewis, in fury, talked with the village chief, who blamed "two very bad men" and assured him that they did not represent the entire village.2 In return, the captains gave the chief a medal, and the Corps tucked in for the night under constant rain.

Baggage was portaged over the 2,800-yard-long trail by 5 p.m., and the next day was redistributed among the remaining four boats. As the canoes continued upstream, Lewis went ahead by land and purchased two small canoes, which he assigned to Sgt. Ordway's squad.

Two days later, after the Corps passed White Salmon River, they saw ten or twelve horses—the first they had seen on the return trip. They stopped and tried to buy some, but were unsuccessful. The horses' owners welcomed the Corps, but explained that these precious few were the fruits of a raid upon the feared Paiutes south on the Deschutes River, and were not for sale. Furthermore, the Indians wouldn't sell any salmon to eat, so the expedition settled for four fat dogs. The following day, on the 15th, the Corps stopped at two more villages for horses, but struck out both times. They encamped at Fort Rock that night, and decided that Clark would go ahead with a small party, just to buy horses. The next morning, however, before Clark's party left, the captains put out their stock of merchandise and tried to buy horses from the village where they had camped—to no avail.

Recognizing the "Great Mart"

Buying Horses (Slowly)
at the Great Mart

The captains desired to purchase 12 horses in the Columbia Gorge during their spring return in 1806.

April 17, Clark, at the Long Narrows
+2 bought from the village chief
-2 chief cancels sale
+2 bought from another man
+1 bought from a third man

April 17, Charbonneau, at the Long Narrows
+1 bought for ermine skins

subtotal: 4 horses

April 18, Clark, at the Long Narrows
+2 from the chief

April 18, Lewis, at the Long Narrows
+1 bought with "a large Kittle"

subtotal: 7 horses

April 19, in modern Columbia Hills State Park
+4 for the last two available kettles
-1 lost by Willard

subtotal: 10 horses

April 20, Lewis still at the base camp; Clark upstream among the Teninos
-1 One man who sold Lewis a horse for a kettle yesterday lost it to someone else in the stick game last night. Lewis took back the kettle.
0 Clark's purchases during a full day of trading

subtotal: 9 horses

April 21, Lewis and main party above the Long Narrows
-1 horse broke his picket overnight and wandered off, even though hobbled
+2 on loan from a Nez Perce man who is going to travel with the Corps to his country
+1 of such poor health that he can carry only a small load

subtotal: 11 horses

April 21, the Corps reunited at Celilo Falls
+1 for the previously traded and retrieved kettle

Total in five days of trading and borrowing: 12 horses

Clark's group3 traveled to the site of Dallesport, Washington, on April 16, then sent Drouillard and Goodrich ahead to a Watlala village and Frazer and Charbonneau to the Wishrams. Clark had no trading success before reaching the Long Narrows, where he saw a relatively large quantity of horses, which raised his hopes for the next day. At this time, he recognized the location's importance, and wrote that "This is the Great Mart of all this Country." He had learned that at least ten tribes from the Klickitat river (to the west) and the Yakima (to the east) came here to trade, along with Indians from the Columbia Plateau and the Snake River Valley, "quite to the Chopunnish [Nez Perce] Nation" in present Idaho. Further, Clark now understood that European goods initially traded from ships touching the coast arrived via natives, and not by whites—who hadn't yet traveled this far upriver.

Back at the Corps' Fort Rock camp that same day, Lewis sent out hunters for meat to be preserved for travel to Nez Perce country, and assigned other men to build packsaddles. After receiving a note from Clark about the first day's trading failure, Lewis sent Pvt. George Shannon to Clark with a note telling him to double the goods offered, and try to purchase five horses—the minimum needed for portaging their baggage through the Columbia Gorge. Lewis's command continued to work at Fort Rock, the next day, April 17, as well—hunting and building packsaddles.

The 17th saw Clark at the Long Narrows and making his first purchase—of two horses—ut afterward the seller, a village chief, cancelled the deal, which was totally acceptable in his culture for either seller or buyer to do. Later, two other men sold Clark a total of three steeds. When still others said they wanted to trade but needed to retrieve their horses from elsewhere, Clark decided to stay the night at the village, and accepted the chief's invitation to sleep in his lodge where there was "nothing to eat but dried fish, and no wood to burn. altho' the night was Cold they Could not rase as much wood as would make a fire." Clark bought dogs for his men to eat but, with his own distaste for dog meat, himself ate only cous (Lomatium cous). In putting away his trade goods, Clark overlooked some powder and shot—which a visiting Nez Perce would return the following day. Clark passed the time in watching the local version of the stick game, the sleight-of-hand betting game played by most North American Indians.

"Doctor" Clark also opened a new avenue to trading by treating sores his host chief suffered, and rubbing camphor on the aching back (and temples) of his wife, a "Sulky Bitch" until the camphor and warm flannels applied to her skin "nearly restored her." Clark then turned to the chief and achieved the purchase of two horses.

In the morning, Clark prepared to trade, while sending Frazer and Charbonneau with the four horses back down the Columbia to assist Lewis's canoe party. Indians visited Clark, but no one wanted to sell horses; he was told, however, that the promised horses would arrive by "evening"—anytime after midday, in Clark's southern terminology.

Lewis and the canoes set out on the morning of April 18 and traveled four miles before needing to portage baggage 70 yards around "the first rapids"4 of The Dalles. They pulled up the canoes with cords and setting poles. In mid-afternoon they joined Clark's group at the Watlala village. Lewis parted with a precious "large Kittle" to purchase one horse.

From this point, Lewis decided that the two large canoes could be taken no farther, and ordered them cut up for firewood to fight the spring chill. While the Indians were "chagrined" to see this apparent waste, none was interested in purchasing these boats. (Lewis, angry and frustrated from his dealings with some Indian people, also wanted no one to benefit from abandoned canoes.) In his journal, Lewis now observed that "many nations resort here for trade."

Into Wishram Country

On April 19, Lewis used the four horses to portage baggage around the Long Narrows, and the small canoes were "drawn up" by cords. The day was one of celebration for the native people, with the arrival of spring's first salmon. Following their custom, they gave thanks by preparing the fish and feeding a small portion to each child in the village; Lewis misunderstood this as a ritual to "hasten the arrival of the salmon." The entire expedition moved up the Columbia above the Long Narrows, camping among the Wishrams near where they had stayed the previous October 24, in modern Columbia Hills State Park. The captains now recorded the difference between the woven-mat-sided summer lodges, built on the ground surface, and the more substantial winter homes that were partially sunken into the earth for insulation.

They traded their last two available kettles for four horses, leaving the expedition with only "one small kettle to a mess [squad] of 8 men." They assigned each of the eleven animals to the special care of one man, and had them hobbled to graze. Pvt. Alexander Willard did the unthinkable: he "was negligent in his attention to his horse and suffered it to ramble off; it was not to be found" when Lewis ordered the horses brought near camp and picketed for the night. Lewis admitted to his journal that all the hassles together made him berate Willard more strongly than was warranted. He further noted that all but one of these horses were difficult-to-control stallions because local Indians "do not understand the art of gelding" and spring was the animals' "most vicious" season.

"Fishing Camp—Skokomish"

Two Coastal Indian women between their dugout canoe and house covered with woven mats

Special Collections, Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula

Edward S. Curtis (1912) Sepia-toned photogravure print from The North American Indian, Vol. 9, Plate 302. Original size, 36 x 44 cm (c. 14 x 17-1/8 in).

Curtis's description: "This picture shows a typical summer house at a picturesque spot on Skokomish River." That river, which drains the southeastern part of Olympic National Park, empties into Hood Canal, the main western branch of Puget Sound. It is named for the Indians who once lived there, whose name means "people of the river."5 Lewis and Clark never saw the Skokomish nor their river, of course, but along the Columbia River they saw many seasonal mat shelters much like this one.


Clark Goes Ahead To Trade

Clark left to travel ahead overland and try trading at Celilo Falls. He took Shannon, Sgt. Pryor, and privates Cruzatte and Labiche. In three hours on the evening of April 19, they hiked upstream to a village of Tenino Indians, the Sahaptian speakers who lived farthest down the Columbia River. Clark indeed noted that these people "Speak different from those below." His advance party had left behind the Chinookan peoples. That night, Clark accepted the Tenino chief's invitation to sleep in his lodge.

Back at the Long Narrows among the Wishrams, the Corps' main camp lost six tomahawks and one knife to pilfering overnight. Lewis complained on the 20th to their chief, who "appeared angry with his people and addressed them but the property was not restored." Then, Lewis learned that one of the horses he had bought yesterday "had been gambled away by the rascal who sold to me and had been taken away by a man of another nation. I therefore took the goods back from this fellow." The Teninos were willing to sell horses only for kettles, so no deals could be struck. Lewis could afford to buy only a little pounded fish at their "exorbitant price," so dogs and cous were again on the Corps' menu. He also "bart[er]ed my Elkskins old irons6 and 2 canoes for beads" to enhance his small supply of trade goods. During the day, two spoons disappeared from camp. On the evening of the 20th, Lewis ordered all the Indians out of camp and warned that anyone caught "attempting to perloin any article" would be severely beaten. After "they went off in reather a bad humour," Lewis ordered his men to check their guns and stay alert.

Clark spent April 20 among the Teninos, trying to buy horses by "every artifice decent and even false," but the people said their horses were far away and each one cost a kettle—that item now absent from the trade goods supply. Late in the day, three men promised to bring horses in at once, but instead went home "up the river to their tribe without any intention to find or Sell their horses." Clark spent a second night in the Tenino lodge, retiring after smoking two pipes with the Indian men. He and his four companions slept with their "merchendize under our heads and guns &c in our arms, as we always have in Similar Situations."

On the morning of the 21st, while Pvt. Richard Windsor and others hunted a horse that had broken its picket, Lewis sent four unnamed men in two canoes up the Columbia toward Clark. He then ordered "all the spare poles, paddles, and the balance of our canoe put on the fire as the morning was cold and also that not a particle should be left for the benefit" of the Wishrams. When one Indian man tried to take an iron socket from a canoe pole, Lewis "gave him several severe blows" and the told the others that he "would shoot the first of them that attempted to steal an article from us." He warned that it was in his power "to kill them all and set fire to their houses," although he hoped not to, while "the chiefs [who] were present hung their heads and said nothing." As soon as Windsor returned with the missing horse and the other searchers arrived, the men and Sacagawea and her child had breakfast. They loaded baggage on packsaddles on nine of the horses, and allowed Bratton to ride the tenth one, since his back pain prevented him from "being able as yet to march."

Reunited for More "Villany"

Lewis and the main party caught up with Clark's command at noon on April 21. Clark was well ready to move on, having awakened to a cold morning and "unfriendly people who only Crouded about me to view and make their remarks and Smoke, the latter I did not indulge them with to day." The reunited Corps traveled to slightly below the mouth of the Deschutes River. Lewis was able to buy one more horse during the day, the first one apparently priced right: "His back is in such a horid state that we can put but little on him; we obtained him for a trifle, . . . articles which might be procured in the U' States for 10 shillings" in Virginia currency.

As they left the Columbia Gorge on April 22, 1806, the Corps faced one more confrontation over theft. Charbonneau's loaded pack horse threw its packsaddle, then ran in fright from the saddle and saddle blanket dangling from its own back. The stallion ran back toward the Tenino village, where the saddle and blanket fell off and an Indian promptly pulled it into his lodge. Labiche found it there, hidden behind other belongings, obviously feeling entitled to enter the lodges in search. Lewis lost but then controlled his temper: "they have vexed me in such a manner by such repeated acts of villany that I am quite disposed to treat them with every severity, [but] their defenseless state pleads forgivness so far as respects their lives." On that unhappy note, the Corps of Discovery moved up the Columbia River into "an open plain country."

1. The expedition had met Watlalas downstream from the Columbia Gorge in the fall of 1805, and some had visited Fort Clatsop during the winter. The first Watalas they met stole Clark's pipe-tomahawk, which they had been smoking.

2. For fifty years after Lewis and Clark passed through the Gorge, relations between Indian residents and white travelers and settlers became increasingly strained. In 1855, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens consummated a treaty between the U.S. and the Yakamas, Klickitats, Wishhams, Wascos, and other Cascades tribes, which required them all to move to a reservation within one year, but allowed white citizens to claim thereafter any land on the reservation that the Indians had not placed under cultivation. The Indians, however, were allowed to retain their traditional fishing, hunting, and gathering rights. In March, 1856, the tribes banded together under Yakama Chief Kamiakin, who had conceived a plan to retake control of the portage at the Cascades. Kamiakin and his forces attacked two American steamers above the rapids, burned some buildings near Fort Rains on the Middle Cascades, and attacked the fort's blockhouse where some 40 men, women, and children had taken refuge. On the next day, March 27, 40 mounted infantrymen arrived from the Dalles, followed by a larger force under Lieutenant Steptoe. The Yakamas fled, leaving the Cascade bands, who surrendered. The whites, having suffered six fatalities, called the incident "The Cascade Massacre." In retribution, Steptoe hanged nine of the captured Indians. Stevens left the governorship in 1857 after being elected as the territory's delegate to Congress.

3. Lewis counted twelve people, including Sacagawea and the interpreters Charbonneau and Drouillard; the others included Cruzatte, Frazer, Goodrich, McNeal, Weiser, and possibly Werner. Moulton, Journals, 7:129.

4. Gary Moulton suggests this may be today's Threemile Rapids below The Dalles Dam. Moulton, Journals, 7:141n1.

5. The Skokomish Tribal Nation's web site is at

6. Broken metal fittings that could be fashioned into weapons and tools. Moulton notes that it was in this area that Lewis's branding iron later was found. Moulton, Journals, 7:151n5.

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