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Candle Lantern


Cross-section of a Cache

at the mouth of the Marias River on June 9, 1805, the captains decided to store some of their heavier baggage, plus some excess provisions, and pick them up on their way back. They had learned from the French engages (hired hands) who had worked for them as far as the Mandan villages, about their method for hiding things in the woods. Pierre Cruzatte claimed to know the procedures, and was given the responsibility for directing the work, which Lewis described in detail:

A place being fixed on for a cache, a circle abut 20 inches in diameter is first described. The terf or sod of this circle is carefully removed, being taken out as entire as possible in order that it may be replaced in the same situation when the cash is filled and secured. This circular hole is then sunk perpendicularly to the depth of one foot; if the ground be not firm, somewhat deeper.

They then begin to work it out wider as they proceed downwards until they get it about six or seven feet deep, giving it nearly the shape of a kettle, or the lower part of a large still. It's bottom is also somewhat sunk in the center. The dementions of the cash is in proportion to the quantity of articles intended to be deposited.

As the earth is dug it is handed up in a vessel and carefully laid on a skin or cloth, and then carried to some place where it can be thrown in such manner as to conscal it, usually into some running stream whereit is washed away, and leaves no traces which might lead to the discovery of the cash.

Before the goods are deposited they must be well dryed. A parcel of small dry sticks are then collected and with them a floor is made, three or four inches thick, which is then covered with some dry hay or a raw hide well dried. On this the articles are deposited, taking care to keep them from touching the walls by putting other dry sticks between as you stow away the merchandise. When the cache is nearly full, the goods are covered with a skin and earth thrown in and well rammed untill, with the addition of the turf first removed, the whole is on a level with the surface of the ground. In this manner, dried skins or merchandize will keep perfectly sound for several years.

The men dug a number of caches there and at several other points on their itinerary. Unfortunately, the structures didn't all live up to the claims of the advertisement. The one at the mouth of the Marias River collapsed, damaging the contents. The one at the upper portage camp at the Great Falls was inundated by spring floodwaters that destroyed all of the plant specimens Lewis had collected between Fort Mandan and the Great Falls.

In those days, to open a cache was to "raise" it. A cache that was found to have been robbed was said to have been "lifted." Apparently none of the Corps' caches were lifted.

-- Joseph Mussulman, rev. 07/2011

Candle Lantern

From Discovering Lewis & Clark ®, http://www.lewis-clark.org © 1998-2014
by The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota.
Journal excerpts are from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary E. Moulton
13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001)