Meeting the Salish
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ince arriving at the headwaters of the Missouri River, and reaching the Continental Divide at today's Lemhi Pass on August 12, 1805, the men of the expedition had met Sacagawea's people, the Shoshone Indians, confirmed the Indians' experience that the Salmon River canyon was impassable, and purchased 29 undernourished, sore-backed, ill-mannered horses to carry their baggage across the Bitterroot Mountains to the navigable reaches of the Columbia River basin.
On the 30th, bidding farewell to Sacagawea's people, and accompanied by a Shoshone guide, Old Toby, and his sons, they set out northward from the Lemhi River country, heading for the Indian road that they had been told would lead them across the Bitterroot Mountains.
Seeking the shortest way over the Bitterroot Divide, they labored up the head of the North Fork of the Salmon River, instead of following the more circuitous Indian road that wound back over the Continental Divide to the east. Wild game was scarce, so they were on short rations.
The slopes were heavily timbered, and in many places the underbrush was so dense they had to hack their way through it. Elsewhere the mountainside was so rocky and steep that the horses frequently fell. An early-season snowstorm, followed by rain and sleet, made things worse. No one knows for certain which way they went on September third. There are no obvious natural routes; the journal description is vague and details may be erroneous.
On the morning of the fourth, their fingers aching from the cold and their moccasins frozen on their feet, they made their way down the steep north slope of the Bitterroot Divide through ankle-deep snow.
Toward evening they arrived at a small, flat, grassy valley ringed by mountains — a rond or "hole"as trappers would call it — and encountered there a large encampmentof Salish Indians. Sergeant Ordway noted in his journal that there were about 400 people, 40 lodges, and four or five hundred horses.
Clark summarized the occasion:
|those people recved us friendly, threw white robes over our Sholders & Smoked in the pipes of peace, we Encamped with them & found them friendly but nothing but berries to eate a part of which they gave us, those Indians are well dressed with Skin ShirtS & robes, they Stout & light complected more So than Common for Indians, The Chiefs harangued untill late at night, Smoked our pipe and appeared Satisfied. I was the first white man whoever wer on the waters of this river.|
The Americans took a genuine liking to the Salish, who responded in kind. "They are the likelyest and honestest we have seen and are verry friendly to us," wrote Ordway, "and appeared to wish to help us as much as lay in their power."