58. Narrow Escape

Marias River

View northwest, upstream

Small river winding through barren hills

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Dreadful Situation

On the morning of 4 June 1805, while Clark and a detail of five men set out on foot to reconnoiter the south "fork" (the Missouri River), Lewis and six men marched up the north one (the Marias). On their way back three days later, Lewis and his detail camped somewhere in this vicinity. The next morning, headed downriver along the brink of the bluffs on the right, they had another of the numerous hairsbreadth escapes from disaster that were almost routine throughout the journey.

"In passing along the face of one of these bluffs today," Lewis wrote, "I sliped at a narrow pass of about 30 yards in length and but for a quick and fortunate recovery by means of my espontoon [six-foot-long lance] I should have been precipitated into the river down a craggy pricipice of about ninety feet." He had just reached a safe place when the man behind him cried out in terror. He turned to find that Pvt. Richard Windsor had fallen in the slippery gumbo about halfway across the narrow ridge and was hanging by his left hand, arm, and leg.

Stifling his own alarm, Lewis coached Windsor in rescuing himself from the "dreadful situation" by carving a niche for his right foot with his knife to raise himself to comparative safety, then crawling on his hands and knees to a more secure spot. Lewis continued, "those who were some little distance behind returned by my orders and waded the river at the foot of the bluff where the water was breast deep."

On the eighth of June, ending a five-day round trip of 120 miles, Lewis and his men rejoined the main party at the mouth of the Marias. After further deliberations the Corps struck camp on the eleventh and moved up the clearer of the two rivers toward the Rocky Mountains.


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

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press