108. Knobby Prairie

Blackfoot River Valley Near Ovando, Montana

View southeast

Aerial view of a bumpy prairie

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Prairie of the Knobs

On 6 July 1806, Clark and his contingent were, with Sacagawea's help, threading their way through a maze of Indian roads in the Big Hole Valley, en route back to Camp Fortunate. Meanwhile, 120 miles to the north, Lewis's eleven-man party had broken camp at the mouth of a Blackfoot River tributary they named Seamans Creek, after Lewis's dog, and headed on up the river along the "road" that Indians living in the Rocky Mountains called the Cokahlahrishkit—the Road to the Buffalo.

The road led Lewis and his men to the north of an "extensive high prarie rendered very uneven by a vast number of little hillucks and sinkholes." (The Blackfoot River is to the right of the scene above; the town of Ovando, Montana, is below the bottom of the photo. See map.) Lewis noted: "These plains I called the prarie of the knobs from a number of knobs being irregularly scattered through it." Those "knobs" are mounds of debris deposited by piedmont glaciers during the last ice age, which ended about ten thousand years ago. Interspersed among them are numerous ponds or glacial tarns of various sizes and shapes, many long since reduced to moist, grassy little depressions.

Now about halfway through their nine-day journey from Travelers' Rest back to the Great Falls of the Missouri, Lewis and his detachment seemed to be gaining on a large war party—possibly of Atsinas, Lewis figured—compelling them to be "much on our guard both day and night." On 7 July, Seaman was "much worried"—either by the proximity of unseen Indians, or else by the moose Reubin Field wounded near camp earlier that day.


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

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press