Lewis's Bad Slip on Bad Land

Bad Land on Lake Elwell

photo, bad lands

Dean Hellinger photo

Narrow Escape

On July 7, 1805, Meriwether Lewis and his six companions were returning to the expedition's main camp from their exploration of the lower Marias River. It was perhaps at a place such as this, though some miles downstream from here, that Lewis and one of the six nearly fell to their deaths. The slippery gumbo was supersaturated from three days and nights of rain, and they were shod in smooth-soled leather moccasins. The party was undoubtedly taking a shorcut across one of the deep, steep-sided ravines, or "breaks," rather than walk around it.

In passing along the face of one of these bluffs today 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 I should been precipitated into the river down a craggy precipice of about ninety feet. I had scarcely reached a place on which I could stand with tolerable safety even with the assistance of my espontoon before I heard a voice behind me cry out god god Capt. what shall I do.
On turning about I found it was Windsor who had sliped and fallen abut the center of this narrow pass and was lying prostrate on his belley, with his . . . right hand arm and leg over the precipice while he was holding on with the left arm and foot as well as he could which appeared to be with much difficulty. I discovered his danger and the trepedation which he was in gave me still further concern for I expected every instant to seem him loose his strength and slip off;
Altho' much allarmed at his situation I disguised my feelings and spoke very calmly to him and assured him that he was in no kind of danger, to take the knife out of his belt behind him with his wright hand and dig a hole with it in the face of the bank to receive his wright foot which he did and then raised himself to his knees; I then directed him to take off his mockersons and to come forward on his hands and knees holding the knife in one hand and the gun in the other
This he happily effected and escaped. 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 brest deep.
–Meriwether Lewis