104. Pryor Creek

Pryor Creek near Billings, Montana

View southwest, upstream

Aerial photo showing the small Pryor Creek entering the Yellowstone river which is clogged with islands

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Ill-Fated Mission

On 23 July 1806, Captain Clark handed written orders to Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor for a mission that, had it succeeded, might have altered both the immediate and the long-term significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition. First, Pryor, with three enlisted men, was to ride ahead and take the expedition's remaining twenty-nine horses to the Mandan villages, where he would leave some for the main party to trade for food when they arrived there. Second, he was then to drive the rest of the horses 150 miles north to the North West Company trading post on the Assiniboine River. There he was to deliver a letter from the captains to trader Hugh Heney, a good friend they had met at Fort Mandan. The letter asked Heney, who had influence with the refractory Teton Sioux, to induce some of the chiefs to accompany Lewis and Clark east to meet President Jefferson. The horses would be partial payment on the contract.

The second night after Clark proceeded on in the two canoes, Indians—probably Crows again—stole all the horses in Pryor's charge, and the mission was ruined. After building boats of buffalo hides stretched over bowl-shaped willow-wand frames, the four men drifted down the Yellowstone, catching up with Clark and the rest early on 8 August.

In this photograph, the stream Clark named for Nathaniel Pryor meanders from its montane sources nearly a hundred miles away in the mountain range that now bears Pryor's name, to join the Yellowstone River a dozen miles northeast of Billings, Montana, which is out of the picture at upper right.


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

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press