A Sobering Reflection

masthead saying 'We Proceeded On'

Reprinted from We Proceeded On1

Lewis Enters Grinder's Stand

A solitary man leads a horse to a log cabin

Courtesy of the Lewis County Museum of Natural History & Hohenwald Discovery Center.

Re-enactment of Lewis entering Grinder's Stand at the Annual Meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Hertitage Foundation.

Acquiring horses and adapting to threats against them was a constant challenge. High and low points in the morale of the expedition had been linked with horses—joy and revival on finding them at the Shoshones in August of 1804, but pain and humiliation on losing them in the plains in the summer of 1806. The expedition's experience echoes a saying attributed to the Omaha Indians: "A horse you may possess but never own."2

It was a saying which Chief Blackbird of the Omaha must have known. And indeed it was the figure of Blackbird which had earlier dramatized to Lewis and Clark the intimate bond between man and horse in the West, a bond expressed in burial customs observed among numerous nations along the route. On Blackbird's death in 1800, his followers had "buried him according to his wishes, sitting erect on a horse on top of a high hill overlooking the Missouri so that he might 'watch' the river traffic below.3 Lewis and Clark had visited this site (near present day Macy, Nebraska) on August 11, 1804 and decorated it with flags.

Returning there on their homeward journey in 1806, as they swept downstream below that bluff, might they have recollected their own vivid ties with horses, back in the "turrible mountains"—how horses had made the difference between success and failure, life and death? . . . .  A sobering reflection—which inevitably brings to mind once again the Tennessee wilderness of October 1809 when Meriwether Lewis rode alone on the Trace, while his companion stayed behind searching for two missing horses.