From the Verge of the Canyon

Page 8 of 11

"Great Falls of the Missouri"1

verge of the canyon

Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula

In the fall of 1888 the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, one of the leading literary magazines of the second half of the 19th century, sent a writer and an artist out west to make a trip down the Missouri from Helena, Montana, to the falls and Fort Benton. As a guidebook they evidently carried a reprint of Nicholas Biddle's paraphrase of the Lewis and Clark journals.2

Viewing the Great Fall from the heights on the south side, the writer observed:

We could only see the entire breadth of the fall from a single point on the extreme verge of a crag jutting over the cañon. There was no way of getting down into the gorge to the water's edge, which is about four hundred feet below the general level of the country. The deep crease in which the river runs is entirely lost to view a quarter of a mile away. Its lips seem to close up, and appear like the many modulations in the grassy plain, so that a traveler riding across country might come almost to the sheer verge of the cañon before he would suspect that he was approaching one of the great rivers of the world.


1. Eugene V. Smalley, "The Upper Missouri and the Great Falls," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. 35 (New Series 13), No. 3 (January 1888), 415.

2. Fewer than 1,500 copies of the original Biddle-Allen 1814 edition of the journals were printed. However, Harper and Brothers, of New York, republished the Dublin 1817 edition of Biddle's paraphrase twenty or more times between 1842 and 1901, mostly in runs of 250 copies. Abridged, with an introduction and linking commentary, by Archibald M'Vickar, it was featured in the popular Harper Family Library. Each included Clark's diagrams of the "Principal Cascade of the Missouri" and "The Falls and Portage," his map of the entire route, and Barralet's drawing of the "Principal Cascade of the Missouri." Stephen Dow Beckham, The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: A Bibliography and Essays (Portland: Lewis and Clark College, 2003), 160-61. Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 64.

Funded in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust