Horse Lows

masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'

Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

A few of the many misfortunes, both westward and eastward, which drained the reserve of horses are recapped here below:

Accidents: Lost time and attrition of the stock

Picketed Horses

The gentle horse has a rope tied to its foot and the other has a rope tied around its neck

John C Ewers, "The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture," Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin (1955), No. 159.

Methods of picketing: a. Picketing a gentle horse; b. Picketing a lively horse


A chain connecting the two front legs of a horse

Reginald Sheriff Summerhays, ed., Summerhays' Encyclopedia for Horsemen (London: H. Warne 1952).

September 2, 1805: "Several horses fell, some turned over and other slipped down . . . . one horse crippeled & 2 gave out . . ."

September 9 1805: "Two of our horses gave out, pore and too much hurt to proceed;" one, carrying Clark's desk and trunk "turned over & roled down a mountain for 40 yards."

September 19, 1806: "one of our horses fell backward and roled about 100 feet down . . . & dashed against the rock in the creek, with a load of ammunition . . . did not get damaged . . ." Lewis added "this was the most wonderful escape I ever witnessed."

September 22, 1805: Clark's "young horse in fright threw himself & me 3 times on the side of a steep hill and hurt my hip much."

June 30, 1806: Lewis's horse "on the steep side of a high hill . . . sliped with both his hinder feet out of the road and fell, I also fell off backwards and slid near 40 feet down the hill . . ."

Other horse mishaps in June and July 1806 resulted in serious injuries for Colter, Thompson, Potts, Charbonneau and Gibson.

Stragglers and strays: Delays, fatigue and morale problems

The journals record at least 30 different dates when one or more of the men thrashed around in the wilderness, apart from the group for untold hours looking for missing mounts, lost, strayed or stolen—not infrequently separated for two or three nights at a time. Forward movement of the party was delayed while men and animals were unaccounted for, always a major concern for a military commander.

A maddening number of these delays resulted from carelessness and lack of discipline, and occurred when time was of the essence. Stuck in the mountains September 18, 1805 with little water and no food (except the last of a killed colt and the portable soup) the captains were intent on hurrying on "to the level country" where the hunters could find game. Lewis directed:

the horses to be gotten up early being determined to force my march as much as the abilities of our horses would permit.

But Private Willard had failed to attend to one of his mounts which could not be found. The early morning march had to be scratched while Willard was sent back in search of his loss. He did not rejoin the party until 4 p.m., still without the horse—hardly a morale boost for his weary companions, then encamped on the side of a steep mountain after a rugged 18-mile march, and one less horse to help.

Charbonneau caused a similar delay during the eastbound trip. In the bare plains of the upper Columbia, the captains were anxious to make a "timely stage" which was then all-important to get beyond the semi-desert. Lewis wrote on April 23, 1806:

at day light . . . we were informed that the two horses of our Interpreter Charbono were absent; on enquiry it apeared that he had neglected to confine them to picquts [i.e. tied by the leg(s) to stakes in the ground] as had been directed last evening . . . .

Searching for the missing animals, two men along with Charbonneau were diverted several hours; only one of the horses was found, and the party could not get moving until 11 a.m.—a misfire for Lewis's "timely stage."

Charbonneau caused a second such misfire four days later, April 27th. "This morning we were detained until 9 A.M." Lewis wrote, "in consequence of the absence of one of Charbono' s horses."

These derelictions in April 1806 were cruel punishment for the corps. "We had not a sufficiency of horses to transport our baggage," Clark wrote on April 19th—a biting comment on the same date when Willard became at least a two-time offender. He had "suffered . . . [his horse] to ramble off." This inattention was a last straw for Lewis. "I reprimanded him more severely for this peice of negligence than had been usual with me."

During spring time the horses were "extreemly wrestless." Lewis recorded that they:

required the attention of the whole guard through the night to retain them, notwithstanding they were hubbled and picquted. they frequently throwed themselves by the ropes by which they were confined. All except one were stone horses [i.e. uncastrated] for the people in this neighborhood do not understand the art of gelding them, and this is a season at which they are most vicious.

The hobbling and picketing didn't always work.2 On May 2nd the party could not start moving until 1 :30 p.m.—courtesy of a steed which had been obtained from a Chopunnish man along the route. This animal had just been separated from the other Chopunnish horses the previous day. To prevent escape to rejoin its fellow creatures the captains had it "securely hubbled both before and at the side" [i.e. the front legs were tied together by rope, with further lines tying the front to the hind feet]. The horse "broke the strings in the course of the night and absconded." Lewis sent out several men on a search party but had to resort to hiring a young Indian who found the animal 17 miles away headed for its former master.

To calm things down, the captains finally resolved to castrate these frenzied animals. Drouillard was given the job on May 14th, but botched it in part, at least when compared with Nez Perce methods. Lewis wrote on May 23rd that the horses "cut by the indians will get well much soonest and they do not swell nor appear to suffer as much as those cut in the common way."3 Lewis's own horse was a victim of this operation, "being much reduced and . . . in such an agoni of pain that there was not hope of recovery" and had to be shot on June 1st.

  • 1. Robert R. Hunt, "Hoofbeats & Nightmares: A Horse Chronicle of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Parts I and II," We Proceeded On, Volume 20, No. 4 (November 1994) and Volume 21, No 1 (February 1995), the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Editorial additions include page titles, side headings, and graphics to assist the web-based reader. The original printed format is provided at and
  • 2. See the Oxford English Dictionary for distinction between these terms: picket: to tether (i.e., by rope, cord or other fastening) a horse, etc. to a picket or peg fixed in the ground; hobble: to tie or fasten together the legs of (a horse or other beast) to prevent it from straying, kicking, etc. with cords or leathern straps. Cf. also Eijah Harry Criswell, "Lewis & Clark: Pioneering Linguistics," University of Missouri Studies, vol. XV, No. 2, (April, 1940), 47–8, 64.
  • 3. 1f the captains did indeed carry with them Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopedia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Science . . . with the supplement and modern improvements incorporated in one alphabet by Abraham Rees . . . (London, 1778-86 and later)—as Donald Jackson thought possible (see Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, vol. 36, No. 2, Oct. 1959–Jul. 1960, 3–13)—they and Drouillard would have had available a very specific set of instructions for accomplishing the operation. This may or may not have been "the common way" referred to by Lewis. See Volume II of Chambers Article on "Gelding" which further counsels that "the wane of the moon is preferred as the fittest time."