Ohio River

View northwest, downstream

Aerial view of modern Cincinnati

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Rest Stop

On 18 September 1803 Lewis and his little flotilla—the barge plus one or two canoes and a pirogue—passed Letart's Falls, which then was a major impediment to boats on the upper Ohio. Possibly relying on a recent edition of Zadok Cramer's handbook The Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, which the pilot he had hired at Pittsburgh may have carried, Lewis wrote, "The descent at Letart's falls"—actually more of a rapid—"is a little more than . . . four feet in two hundred fifty yards." Thus concluded Lewis's last journal entry for the next fifty-four days and seven hundred river-miles. No one has been able to explain his silence.

We know that Lewis arrived in Cincinnati on 28 September, from a letter he wrote to Jefferson on October 3, which opened with the information that it had been

necessary to take in a further supply of provisions here, and finding my men much fatiegued with the labour to which they have been subjected in descending the river, I determined to recruit [rest] them by giving them a short respite of a few days, having now obtained the distance of five hundred miles.

He didn't expect the going to get much easier. "The water still continues lower in the Ohio than it was ever known." Nevertheless, he covered the 235 miles from Letart's Falls to Cincinnati in ten days, compared with the twelve- to fifteen-mile daily average from Wheeling to Letart's Falls.

In the same letter he told Jefferson he had dispatched the barge on ahead to meet him 53 miles downdriver, and that he planned to proceed overland 17 miles to Big Bone Lick, to inspect the fossil bed there. He had already examined the specimens Dr. William Goforth of Cincinnati had recently uncovered there. Lewis's information so intrigued Jefferson that in 1807 he sent William Clark back to the Lick to supervise a special excavation on his behalf.

In that same letter Lewis inserted a request for Mr. Jefferson to send him some more smallpox vaccine, "as I have reason to believe from several experiments made with what I have, that it has lost it's virtue." Evidently Dr. Rush had tutored him well.

On the Kentucky side of the river (left), across from Cincinnati, Ohio, is the city of Covington, Kentucky, founded in 1815 and named in memory of General Leonard Covington, who was killed in the War of 1812.


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

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press