Abominable Country

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On September 15 Larocque and his two companions arrived at the landmark Clark was to name Pompy's Tower. They pitched camp in the dark that night, "making no fire for fear of being discovered by horse thieves or enemies." At 8:00 p.m. on the sixteenth, having covered thirty-seven miles, they reached the mouth of the Bighorn River.

September 17 was one of the worst days in Larocque's four and one-half month tour of Crow Country.

We passed through a most abominable Country and often despaired of being able to get clear of this place enceting [beset?] with Rocks which it was impossible to ascend or to go round, so we were obliged often to go back on other road which presented us with the same difficulties. At last we ascended the hill but being on the top did not offer a more pleasing prospect. We were often obliged to unload the horses and carry baggage ourselves, and the horses being light we made jump over chasms in the Rock and climb precipices, but were near losing them.

At last, at 3 in the afternoon, we passed the whole of that bad road and arrived at the Border of Rocks where we could see a fine level country before us. But the sun was set before we could find a practiable road to come down to it, which we effected not without unloading the horses and carrying down their loads part of the way, while the horses slided down upon their rumps about 25 yards.

Link to map of Larocque's routeIt was dark before they reached the plain. Had they had an Indian guide, Larocque admitted, they could have avoided those badlands, but once they entered them it seemed as hard to return as to proceed. "We Kept no regular course," he lamented, "but went on as we could to all points of the compass in order to extricate ourselves." He estimated they covered only nine miles that day.

For fear of Indian attack, the three men usually walked until after dark, lit no evening campfires, and shared the nightwatch. There were days when grass was so scarce they fed their horses on cottonwood bark—when they could find any trees. They shod their footsore horses with raw deer hide, "as their hoofs are worn out to the flesh with continual walking since last Spring." On September 27th they had to take to the riverbank to get around some rocks, but three of their horses became stuck in the mud. The farther down the Yellowstone, the traveling became easier; some days Larocque estimated they made nearly 40 miles. Or maybe it just seemed like 40 miles.

On September 30 they arrived at the confluence of the Yellowstone with the Missouri, having covered about 280 miles in 14 days, thus averaging about 20 miles per day—not counting the ups and downs. That was pretty good by 1805 standards, but Clark, on the water, would cover the same distance in just nine days, averaging a little over 36 miles per day. It was another 245 miles to the mouth of the Knife and the Mandan villages. Larocque covered that stretch in nine days, arriving overland on October 9.