Clark on the Yellowstone
“The chapter of knowledge is very short, but the chapter of accidents is a very long one.”
— Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773)
View southwest of the vicinity of Clark's campsite on the Yellowstone River, July 18, 1806.
Detail from a panoramic photo by Brent Phelps. The Montana RailLink freight train
is speeding toward Seattle, Washington.
Clark's journal for July 18, 1806, was another “chapter of accidents.” To begin with,
| Shabono was thrown from his horse to day in pursute of a Buffaloe, the ho[r]se unfortunately Steping into a Braroe [badger] hole, fell and threw him over his head. He is a good deel brused on his hip Sholder & face.|
It could have been much worse, for, as Clark pointed out, the country was rugged and stony, and covered with prickly pear cactus. But then, perhaps in the direction of the upper left of Brent Phelps's photograph, something appeared that must have raised the general stress level considerably.
|At 11 A. M. I observed a Smoke rise to the s. S. E in the plains towards the termonation of the rocky mountains in that direction.…This smoke must be raisd. by the Crow Indians in that direction as a Signal for us, or other bands. I think it most probable that they have discovered our trail and takeing us to be Shoshone &c. in Serch of them the Crow Indians to trade as is their Custom have made this Smoke to Shew where they are — or otherwise takeing us to be their enemy made this Signal for other bands to be on their guard.|
They had already seen ample evidence of Indians, and Clark would again see distant smoke on July 19. And then, on the 24th…but that's another story.
A decent meal would have helped, but as luck would have it,
|Shields killed a Buffalow this evening which Caused me to halt sooner than Common to Save Some of the flesh which was So rank and Strong that we took but very little.|
Private George Gibson climaxed the day's misadventures by impaling himself on the stub of a branch on a dead and downed tree, suffering injuries to a knee, hip and thigh that was serious enough to put him out of commission for the next twelve days.1
|Gibson in attempting to mount his horse after Shooting a deer this evening fell on a Snag and sent it nearly [two] inches into the Muskeler part of his thy. He informs me this Snag was about 1 inch in diamuter burnt at the end. This is a very bad wound and pains him exceedingly. I dressed the wound.|
Clark must have been wakeful much of that night, worrying about the implications of Gibson's misfortune for their timely return to the "U States" before the onset of winter.
There were more sleepless nights to come. The Crow Indians were watching them.
--Joseph Mussulman, 11/99
1. The accident was commemorated by Clark on his 1814 map with the naming of "Thy snag'd Creek," today's Upper Deer Creek, which he and his contingent actually passed on the 17th, the day before the accident occurred.