Lewis and Clark in Idaho
Fearless and self-reliant, they were the first Americans to cross the Rocky Mountains—to travel off the edge of the map.
The journey of Lewis and Clark Expedition through present-day Idaho was both difficult and memorable. The Corps of Discovery crossed Lemhi Pass on foot on August 12, 1805, and left the present-day borders of the state via dugout canoe in October. During those two months the expedition's hopes for an easy northwest passage were dashed; they met two Native American tribes (the Shoshonis and the Nez Perce); and their trek through the Bitterroot Mountains nearly put an end to the expedition.
Lewis and Clark in Idaho (Outdoor Idaho)
Cross the Bitterroot Mountains with modern explorers following Lewis and Clark's trail.
Echoes of a Bitter Crossing
Echoes of a Bitter Crossing
Retrace Lewis and Clark's difficult journey through present-day Idaho.
We invited Dr. Gary E. Moulton of the University of Nebraska to participate in our television program, "Echoes of a Bitter Crossing: Lewis & Clark in Idaho." Moulton has been engaged in the massive undertaking of editing the complete record of the Lewis & Clark expedition.
While there are many editions of the journals, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (University of Nebraska Press) by Moulton is considered the best. When completed, it will comprise thirteen volumes.
This interview was conducted in the summer of 1997 at Lost Trail Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border.
How would you characterize Lewis and Clark?
Lewis and Clark are usually stereotyped. Lewis is seen as this moody intellectual type who liked to get off the boat and go on some scientific excursion, try and discover a new plant species or whatever. Clark is seen as sort of a man of the people. He'd stay on the boat, liked to be with the men and worked with them more closely. He's sort of seen as a little bit rawer, more a frontiersmen type.
That probably isn't exactly true. The whole characterization may be off some. I think it's a way to characterize and have them complement each other on the expedition. They were both Virginia gentlemen. They were both slaveholders. They were both educated about as well as anyone could be during their generation. They both considered themselves a part of the nation's elite and they served in that capacity.
What about the other members of the expedition?
Well, for the most part they were enlisted men. They had to join the army to become a member of the expedition. They made a few exceptions. For instance, Drouillard who was the expert hunter, they wanted him and didn't insist that he enlist. The men were volunteers; in other words, they weren't ordered to come on the expedition. They volunteered for it out of a sense of adventure, maybe some rewards at the end, or whatever. The numbers are a bit vague because they brought along a bunch of French boatmen with them who'd help them pull and pole the boats up the river. The numbers are sort of loose on these hired men. They had around forty-five or so going at that point. They picked up a few and they lost a few along the way.
After they left Fort Mandan in North Dakota, their first winter encampment, they had thirty-three exactly in the party. That was the permanent party. By that time they'd picked up Charbonneau, the husband of Sacagawea, one of the most famous members of the party. She was carrying her baby with her and so that's counted. The one we don't count among that thirty-three is Lewis's dog, Seaman, who was also along. One other member of the party who's a little bit out of sync with everyone else is Clark's black slave, York, who was brought along. Of course, he wasn't a volunteer and he wasn't an enlisted man.
How did the captains form such a cohesive unit?
They called themselves the corps of Discovery. Clark for instance was supposed to get a captain's rank and he didn't. There was a snafu in the war department and he only got a lieutenant commission. So he assigned himself a captain of a corps of Discovery. So they thought of themselves as a corps, as a unit. I think there was a great deal of camaraderie and commonness of purpose among them. They all felt a sense of high adventure and a sense of being on an expedition for discovery to find new things. They were in the service of their country and I think they had a high esteem and a high opinion about what they were doing. They felt a commonness of purpose and they felt a oneness, a unity.
Now there's a break down in ranks, there are problems, especially at the first of the expedition. Men are getting drunk; problems here and there that common young soldiers have the world over and throughout time. This was taken care of pretty quickly. A hundred lashes on the bare back, fifty lashes on the bare back so Lewis and Clark didn't put up with that stuff. Moreover, one of the men deserted, a Frenchman, who in one sense didn't desert because he wasn't an enlisted man. Another man who was going to desert was caught and brought back. They put him on hard labor and then didn't allow him to go along with the rest of the expedition.
What part did Jefferson play in this journey?
President Jefferson had dreamed of an exploration to the Western part of America for many years. For twenty years he'd been talking about it, writing letters and trying to enlist people to do it. What happened with Lewis and Clark is that it came at the right time with the right people. The nation had just gone through purchasing its Louisiana territory so Jefferson had a good reason to send people out. He could get money from Congress to do it. He sent them on a scientific and exploratory venture. Not only for the Louisiana purchase but then to sort of plant the flag in the Northwest and get there first and let people know we had claims to the Columbia River region to present day Washington and Oregon.
What exactly did they think was out West?
Their conception of the West was very different from what we have today. It sounds a little strange to our modern ears, but Lewis and Clark and Jefferson and most of the educated people of the East thought of the Rocky Mountains as a single, low-lying ridge of hills. They had a view that on this point somewhere along this low ridge, they would find a point at which all the great rivers of the West converge. The idea was that Lewis and Clark would take canoes up to the headwaters of the Missouri River, and then they would carry their canoe a few hundred yards and find the headwaters of the Columbia, Platt or Red River, and then they could go any direction they wanted. Of course, Lewis and Clark came back to report this was not true. The Rocky Mountains were a series of high, difficult ridges and mountains to cross over.
What were the major challenges they faced?
They really had three great physical challenges on the trail. Coming up the Missouri River was arduous work, hard work. It was very laborious day in and day out. But it wasn't a physical challenge in a dangerous sense. They met a real, first physical challenge when they came to the Great Falls in Missouri and simply couldn't get the boats over it. They had to go into even greater labors to get all the boats and equipment around the Great Falls in Missouri.
When they reached the Rocky Mountains they met their second greatest, physical challenge. This may have been first in the efforts that they had to put into it. That is to get over the Rocky Mountains, to get over the Bitterroots, and to get along these ridges here, and then to get down the arduous Lolo trail. Then find some friendly groups to meet with and get some canoes built and get on to the coast.
The third physical challenge was the water-borne transport over rapids and rocky shoals on the Columbia River. Here again, they used a different tactic. Instead of going around they just plunged straight through.
How close were they to failure in the Bitterroot Mountains?
They experienced tremendous difficulties. The physical labor of just getting through these mountains was incredible. These were young men, for the most part, who were used to hard labor. So, that point of it wasn't so bad. It was just the terrain itself was so difficult. Up and down these rocky cliffs, through these deep forests, along these steep grades, just incredibly hard. What made it even more difficult was the fact that most of the game had disappeared. Even the best hunters like George Drouillard couldn't find the necessary food that they needed every day. The elk were gone, the deer were gone, and they needed at least two elk or four deer every day to feed a party of thirty-three people. So they were relying on a few grouse that they could find to shoot and eat. Then they went to this thing called "portable soup". Lewis had made up a concoction of dried materials back in Philadelphia. They'd pour water on it and stir it up; the men hated it, but at least it got them by.
They were down to starving rations by the time they were coming out of the mountains. They had absolutely nothing to eat. They resorted to eating the horseflesh they had with them. At different times they'd purchase horses from the Shoshone Indians and from the Flathead Indians where at one point they had almost forty horses and three colts. They ate the three colts. Another horse wandered into camp one night, and they killed it and ate it also. They fed on a lot of horsemeat, and some men really liked the horsemeat very much. It wasn't so much that they turned to it as a last recourse; it's just they needed the horses, but I guess there were some cultural things about eating horse.
And the dog Seaman never was looked on as a possible meal?
No. No one ever looked at Lewis's dog to eat him. Although later they would resort to dog meat. Now you talked about failure, and I think that's something we ought to address. They were in a very difficult straight, very difficult circumstance. I don't think failure was a part of their thinking at all. It was just push on through and get through. They knew there was a place they could get to. They had heard stories about the Indians being at certain places, and they had an Indian guide with them. It was just "how long can we put up with this difficult situation?" Their spirits were flagging but I think failure was not a part of it.
So the idea of just turning around and heading back to St. Louis never occurred to them?
No. Moreover, to turn around and go back would have been just as hard, and they knew they could get some help in short order. It might be a few days, and it might be in difficult circumstances, but they'd get there and they'd get out.
Discuss their relationships with the Indian tribes they encountered.
Lewis and Clark met a variety of Indian tribes, three great cultural groups: the Plains Indians of the great plains of North America, the Rocky Mountain Indians, and the Indians of the Northwest Coast. They were all different in their languages, in their cultural elements, in their attitudes towards white people, toward Lewis and Clark, and they had to deal with them differently.
For the most part, almost entirely their relations with the Indians were very friendly. They got help from the Indians time and again. When they came over the Bitterroot Mountains and down the Lolo trail, they might have done it on their own, but without the Indian help they would have been in difficult circumstances. Indian help was vital to Lewis and Clark. They drew the map, they provided food, and they gave them assistance of all sorts. Lewis and Clark knew this would be the case, and Jefferson knew this would be the case also.
Jefferson's instructions to Lewis are most detailed in point of his relationship with the Indians. He wanted it to be friendly and that's the way they carried it out. They had two encounters with Indians that were difficult. One was a tense encounter with Teton Sioux on the Missouri River. The Teton Sioux were sort of extracting tolls for people who came up the Missouri, and Lewis and Clark resisted paying the higher prices they kept demanding. So, bows were drawn and guns were readied, but everybody sort of calmed down and nothing happened.
Later, on the upper Missouri when they were at the Marias River, and Lewis was with a small party searching out some different terrain, he located a group of Blackfeet Indians and locked in with them. They spent the night together. Some of the Indians tried to steal horses and guns. They got into a fracas, and Lewis and his group killed two of the Indians. That's the only occurrence of any killing of Indians.
For the most part they didn't have to walk along looking over their shoulder, wondering if Indians were going to attack. That just wasn't the case. Part of the reason they didn't have bad relations with the Indians was because the Indians saw that they were a party that had women and children along. They had Sacagawea and her child. She was a great assistance in that she alerted the groups that they were not a war party.
Describe the difference between the Shoshone Indians and the Nez Perce.
When they came into the Rocky Mountains the first group of Indians they met were the Shoshones. When they met the Shoshones, they found them in very poor circumstances. They were in starving conditions. Now this has to do with two or three things. The Shoshones had gained horses, but they hadn't gained guns. The Blackfeet Indians had gained guns and were really beating up on the Shoshones and other Rocky Mountain Indians to the point that the Shoshones could not come down into the plains and hunt the buffalo like they usually did. So they lost a great source of food, and they were suffering because of it. So they were all in fear of being attacked by the Blackfeet. As a matter of fact, when Lewis and Clark came up to meet the Shoshone, they came racing down thinking that perhaps they were Blackfeet Indians who were out on some war party.
The Nez Perce were entirely different. They, too, crossed the Rocky Mountains and hunted on the plains, but they had better resources in their own neighborhood. They were a salmon culture, and they relied on the camas root and salmon for most of their sustenance. So they were quite a bit better off than the Shoshones because they hadn't been hit upon so much by the Blackfeet enemy.
How much of the time were they on an actual trail and how much of the time were they just bush whacking?
A lot of the trail was water borne -the Missouri River and the Columbia River- so that was a trail. When they were in the Bitterroot mountains, when they were in the Rocky mountains or when they were off the boats and going cross-land, then they did, many times, follow Indian trails, or they had Indian assistants guiding them along acknowledged Indian trails. We shouldn't think of that as a single line of march, a trail or road like a modern highway. It was an "avenue of opportunity". Where ever you could find the least resistance to forward movement. That was it. So there would be all sorts of roads or trails.
How did they keep the journals from getting destroyed? What precautions did they use?
One precaution particularly at this point is very important, across the Bitterroot mountains, across the Lolo trail. They had about eighteen notebooks. They were like stenographer's notebooks that open end to end and are about one hundred fifty pages unlined sheets in which they simply wrote the events of the day. When the weather was good and everything was fine they must have stuck them in their vest pocket or back pocket and moved along. But when things got a little bit treacherous they had tin cases, tin waterproof cases, that they kept them in. So they would pull them out maybe two or three days later. That's why there's some disagreement in the journals perhaps about what day a particular incident happened. Because you're bringing your journal up to date, you think "did it happen Monday or did it happen Tuesday?"
When they started on the Lolo trail, the very day they started on the Lolo trail, Clark packed his notebook away and made a little temporary field notebook we call the elk skin bound journal. He took loose sheets of paper and some elk skin and then some sinew and sewed it together and made himself a little field book, and he kept his notes in there. Then later, we don't know exactly when, he must have transferred those rough notes into a more finished diary.
Some people believe that this was their method throughout the expedition, that they had field books and finished books. I'm of the opinion that this was a special circumstance that was only done this one time. That says something again about the difficulties of the Lolo trail. They took extra precautions under those circumstances.
Why should we care about the journey of Lewis and Clark?
I think it's important because it's sort of our Western epic. It's our epic of exploration. It's the thing that most people look to as saying, how did we gain this vast continent that the United States has today? People would date it from Lewis and Clark. We were an Eastern or seaboard nation at that point, and the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark's exploration and claims to the Northwest helped fulfill the destiny of the nation. So I think people take pride in that.
They also take pride in the fact that Lewis and Clark could accomplish this without a great deal of rancor, or without a great deal of problems on the expedition. It was a success in almost every way. As I mentioned two Indians were killed. Only one member of the party died on the whole trip. He died of a ruptured appendix near the start of the expedition. Had he been in Philadelphia or New York or Boston he would have as surely died there,, and he would have had about the same treatment as Lewis and Clark gave him.
So the success of the expedition, the camaraderie, the commonness of purpose, the epic dimensions of the expedition all come together to make it such a popular story for the American people.
The Lewis & Clark Expedition met two Indian tribes in what is now Idaho. One was the Lemhi-Shoshoni, of which Sacagawea was a member. The other was the Nez Perce, which provided the starving party with food.
Both tribes befriended the Corps of Discovery by providing horses, information, and friendship; and both played a key role in the success of the Expedition.Sandi McFarland
Sandi McFarland is a Clearwater National Forest Interpretive Specialist. She grew up learning the cultural ways of the Nez Perce. In her teenage years she lost interest in the Nez Perce ways. But as she grew older, and as she watched the elders of her tribe passing away, she rekindled her interest in the Nez Perce tradition.What's the biggest misconception about the Lewis and Clark Expedition?
I think the biggest misconception we read in history or see on television is the idea that Lewis and Clark discovered this area. Of course, the Nez Perce had been here since time immemorial. They knew this country quite well.
Lewis and Clark...saw this as a formidable country, with rugged terrain. They were half starving to death when they arrived at the Weippe prairie. The Nez Perce took them in and fed them and took care of their horses.
The Nez Perce point of view is that this is their homeland. Just in this setting alone there are probably 75 to 100 different plants and trees that the Nez Perce used as food supplements, as medicinal plants, what we call hardware plants. Anything that we have available today was available then in what could be called Nature's supermarket...
They knew what was available, what time of year to access the areas, what time of year to harvest the various plants and trees, and how to use them. So they had a very good working knowledge of their backyard... that is what sustained them.Why did the Nez Perce befriend Lewis and Clark?
The Nez Perce, from the beginning of time, were created to be a noble people, with good heart and to be a friendly people. And part of them taking them in had to do with that.
Of course, the confrontation at Weippe was that the Nez Perce there were hesitant to take them under their wing, so to speak, and if it wasn't for the one woman who encouraged them to not kill them on the spot, that might very well have taken place.
But overall, their willingness to take them in and care for them in the manner that they did, in saving their very lives, shows the characteristic of the Nez Perce people as being an honorable people and a peace loving people.What Role did the Nez Perce play in the success of the Expedition?
I believe if it wouldn't have been for the Nez Perce, the Lewis and Clark expedition probably would have failed.... They not only fed them and cared for their horses, but they also administered medicine to them, and they were able to create a map for them to show them an easier way to get them to the Columbia River...What would you like to see happen with the Bi-Centennial of the Expedition?
With the upcoming Lewis and Clark Bi-Centennial, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on how the history has been presented in the past. As we go along the trail today and view the auto tour route, we see the signs of Lewis and Clark pointing the way, when in actuality, Lewis and Clark didn't know the way.
They were lost, and were near starving. It was the Nez Perce who took them in, saved the Expedition and made it a success by showing them a way, drawing them a map so that they could get to the Columbia river and finish the Expedition in a successful manner.
Maybe the time is now that we revisit those signs and we have, not Lewis and Clark pointing the way, but the Nez Perce guides... who drew them the map showing them the way to the Columbia river.
Merle Wells was one of the West’s prominent historians. For many years he served as Idaho’s State Historian. Before his death, Mr. Wells penned these comments about the role of the Lemhi-Shoshoni Indian guide who took the Expedition from present-day Salmon, Idaho, through the Bitterroot Valley, and over the Lolo Trail.
By Merle Wells
In their remarkable effort to find their way past Idaho’s notable mountain ranges, Lewis and Clark concluded that they would have to rely entirely upon Toby, a highly competent Lemhi-Shoshoni explorer and guide.
Like Sacajawea, Toby belonged to Idaho’s Lemhi-Shoshoni band, which had gained horses for transportation and hunting, and which traveled over a wide western area. Along with his own country, Toby also had essential experience in travel across North Idaho’s Lolo Trail through Nez Perce mountain lands and ranges.
He knew that Lewis and Clark would be unable to take canoes down Idaho’s impassable Salmon River canyon, but that he could show them a Bitterroot valley and Lolo Trail route to a Clearwater River canoe route to lower Snake and Columbia navigable waters.
When William Clark wanted to go from Lemhi valley to examine Salmon River canyon obstacles, he employed Toby as his guide to demonstrate Toby’s assurance that any such Salmon River route was impossible. But Toby explained that he could take Lewis and Clark to an acceptable Lolo Trail route to canoe waters farther north; and they decided that they had no realistic alternative to Toby’s suggestion.
No regular well-traveled trail was available for Lewis and Clark to use on their way from Salmon River’s North Fork to Bitterroot Valley, so Toby had to escort them along a high, difficult climb over Saddle Mountain. (This is called “Lost Trail Pass,” when perhaps it should be called “No Trail Pass”!) Then they picked up a trail from Gibbon’s Pass north toward a Lolo Trail connection only a few mils above present-day Missoula. Then Toby took them up Lolo Creek past Lolo Hot Springs and had them ascend to Lolo summit and cross to an Idaho camping area at Glade Creek.
Rather than utilize some exceptionally difficult Lolo Trail grades to Rocky Point (where he might well have thought they never could have succeeded in climbing that otherwise ordinary route), he had them descend to Powell and Whitehouse Pond. They did not catch enough edible salmon to solve their food problem, but that route variation provided them an easier Lolo Trail access via Wendover Ridge.
From there on, Toby took them along their Lolo Trail route until he could show them how to reach their Clearwater destination. At that point, he decided that he had better return home before deep snows (already about to descend) blocked his trip back.
By then, he had accomplished a feat that no one else could manage. Lewis and Clark clearly understood how important he had been to them. Meriwether Lewis, in a brief summary of his expedition’s success, 26 September, 1806, after his return to St. Louis, gave Toby a great deal of credit for that accomplishment. He reported that Toby “informed us he would in 15 days take us to a large River in an open level country, west of these Mountains by a Route some distance to the north of the River on which they lived & that by which the Natives west of the Mountains visited the Plains of the Missouri for the purpose of hunting the Buffalo, pleased with this Information, after doubting from our observations as well as the corroborating testimony of many Indians that a passage was practicable thro’ those Mountains to the west, we hastened the preparations for our departure & set forward with our Guide” Toby.
Holding to Toby’s schedule for reaching a navigable Clearwater campsite by September 14 proved to be impossible for Lewis and Clark, but Toby’s plan worked, and he deserved full credit for that success considering that without him, Lewis and Clark had not been able to figure out a practical way to complete their journey.
In October of 1805, the Corps of Discovery launched five dugout canoes onto the Clearwater River near present-day Orofino, Idaho, and began their water bound journey to the Pacific Ocean. Almost immediately, according to the Journals, the Expedition experienced difficulties with their canoes.
On July 26, 1997, residents of Orofino, Lewiston, and surrounding Idaho towns launched about 20 hand-made canoes, as part of a celebration called The Lewis & Clark Experience.
The two-day event took the canoeists from Orofino, Idaho to Clarkston, Washington, over the same stretch of river that - almost 200 years earlier - Lewis and Clark had navigated.
Jack McKey was the man in charge of making sure the boats were "river-worthy." "These boats were developed for fresh water; they were developed for rivers with rapids, and so they have to be maneuverable. They have the weight to carry the vessel through almost anything you'll encounter. The only thing they don't go through too well is rock, so you try to stay away from that, of course. "You ship a little water and then you bail a little water, but you keep right on going and the boat handles it very well, due to their length. There's a lot of stability in length. This is one of the features that makes the dug out canoe quite a stable boat."
McKey says the Nez Perce method of building dugout canoes involved fire, which helped to season and fire-harden the vessels as the mass of wood was removed from the log. "The technique of building a boat was a little different after Lewis and Clark showed up. They had steel tools, they had smiths with them for shaping metal tools. They no doubt made them available to the Indians, although they did build their boats with fire."
Virgil Wilmarth was one of a handful of men and women who helped build the dugout canoes. "Hope the sucker floats. It's gotta float; it's made out of wood. The idea is to float with this side up; and if it doesn't float, it will make a real good hog trough when we get done." They used a more modern method to create The Pride of Orofino, using colored wooden pegs, placed in the log at various intervals, to know just how deep to cut into the wood.
The fate of "The Pride of Orofino" rested in the hands of men and women with no experience paddling dugout canoes.
Ever wonder what would have happened if the Corps of Discovery had attempted to canoe the famed "River of No Return," Idaho's Salmon River? Idaho author and Salmon River guide Cort Conley thinks he knows.
For our television program on Lewis and Clark in Idaho, we gathered five experts around a campfire in the Bitterroot Mountains, to discuss the epic journey of The Corps of Discovery.
The section of trail through the Bitterroots, known as the Lolo Trail, is considered by many to have been the most difficult part of their entire journey.
Joining us were Steve Russell, a professor of Electrical Engineering at Iowa State University, who grew up in the Bitterroots, and who is the co-author of Across the Snowy Ranges: The Lewis and Clark Expedition in Idaho and Western Montana… Chuck Raddon, a Forest Service recreation specialist whose job it has been to interpret the Lewis and Clark experience... Norm Steadman, mayor of Weippe, where the Expedition first met the Nez Perce people... Cort Conley, author of several books on Idaho... and Alan Pinkham, a Nez Perce tribal leader.
We asked them three general questions.
What Do You Think Is The Biggest Misconception About The Lewis & Clark Trail Through Idaho?
Chuck Raddon, Recreation Specialist, Clearwater National Forest
My perception of the biggest misconception is the name itself, the Lewis and Clark "Trail." Most people think of a trail as a route, usually a couple feet wide that's dug across an area. What Lewis and Clark followed definitely was not a trail. Yet this misconception pops up in all kinds of things, where people say I want to follow the Lewis and Clark trail. What they followed really isn't available anymore. We have trails that are pretty close to the same location, but not the Trail.
Steve Russell, Professor of Electrical Engineering
I think the big misconception is that Lewis and Clark "made" a trail, that there was an actual trail that they made through the forest when they were traveling. Of course that wasn't true; at least in this area they were following the Nez Perce trail. So it was a definite route, well traveled by horses that they were following, but they by no means pioneered a trail or invented the trail themselves.
Norm Steadman, Mayor of Weippe, Idaho
I think they followed the route of least resistance at the time, and the most definite one particular trail of the day. Perhaps the Nez Perce had come back across from a buffalo hunt or something, and that was the most definite route of the day.
Alan Pinkham, Nez Perce Tribal leader
It sounds like this trail came into existence when these two guys by the name of Lewis and Clark came over... the trail is actually the northern trail of the Nez Perce. They would travel from here to the plains states. That's the route we took. That's the northern route. We also had a southern route... so there's two trails. There's two ways we went to get to the plains. Sometimes the trail varied; it wasn't always exactly in the same spot and the same tread, even though it did come up the sharp ridge line; that was the only place you could walk or ride horses ... so there was specific tread, but sometimes the trail itself varied a bit.
There were many different ways to get to the same place, and the Nez Perce used them all. And it's all part of the system, so there's no real definitive answer. Lewis and Clark were one little moment of time over a large system.
In my perspective they were lost. They were wandering around here... Another thing, they call it the Corps of Discovery. What did they discover? We were here first, so what could they discover?
Cort Conley, author
They discovered you.
Well, we discovered Lewis and Clark.
No, you recovered them.
Well, yes. But that kind of bothers me. Looking back at it, I'd rather see some of the Nez Perce side of the story told. Part of that is 50% of our history as well.
And to me, that's the big opportunity with the Bi-Centennial. When you look at what the Lewis and Clark Expedition was about, they knew where the mouth of the Columbia was. What they didn't know is what is present day Idaho, western Montana and the Columbia Basin. And so, they were coming to this area, and so essentially what they discovered was you, the Nez Perce. And to me that's a story that's really important and needs to be told during the Bi-Centennial.
If the Nez Perce hadn't been so inclined to be friendly to them and provide them with food, they were probably at the weakest point they ever were when they hit the Weippe prairie. They were basically dead. It would have been nothing to go in there and wipe that band out. They were a pretty formidable group whenever they were healthy - they had 33 guns - but once they got there, they were lucky to stagger into those villages and beg for food.
The other thing that supports that they would never have survived without the help of the Nez Perce, is that the Nez Perce is closely related to all the Columbia River tribes. So the word went before us that these new people were coming down the river, and we went down with them to Celilo Falls, so without that assistance I'm sure they would have had more difficulty.
The story of Lewis and Clark in Idaho is the story of Lewis and Clark and the Nez Perce, because they're following the Nez Perce trail and getting their bacon saved by the Nez Perce when they get over here.
But I think the reason they call them the Corps of Discovery is because they were adding to the knowledge of a nation of people who lived on the east coast, and that knowledge was supposed to be a knowledge of geography, a knowledge of the flora and fauna and the knowledge of the people. I look upon it as adding to the knowledge, rather than the more traditional interpretation of discovery.
That's a good point.
My greatest concern for this trail is that right now, it's in a condition that is as close to the condition it was in when Lewis and Clark passed as we can hope for or imagine. My concern is that things will happen that will change the historic character of the trail so that we would no longer recognize it as an historic trail and no longer recognize this route and this land as what Lewis and Clark might recognize if they came through day.
If Lewis and Clark came through today, particularly Smoking Place, Willow Ridge, Bold Butte, down into Hungry Creek, except for some vegetation changes, I think they would really see essentially the same country they saw when they passed. But I'm real concerned about what I would call development, in the sense that development would occur to where this route would become an established trail of campsites, and lose that historic wild character.
I have to challenge you a little bit, Steve. My guesstimate is that the number of people living in these mountains was greater in 1805 than it is today. Today, we have people who go up and come out, and they don't stay very long. We've got a campfire here tonight, we'll be gone tomorrow, but in 1800 folks might have lived here for a week or two at a time. There were established campsites all across the mountains, at the meadows and streams and places where there was food.
I'm talking about modern campsites with outhouses, and hardened campsites, and constructed trail with signs. Not the Nez Perce way, but the modern way. It's my concern that the modern way will result in a trail that's not recognizable as an historic trail.
Modern management doesn't address the historic trail. I don't think there's anything in the trail or the management guidelines that will address an historic trail, and that's why I think those guidelines need to be changed so that slopes that were adequate for the Nez Perce to travel 300 or more years are still adequate today for people who want that same experience to travel the same route.
But then we have a lot of people who want to get four wheelers or motor cycles and tear up the trail, and that bothers me... That's my greatest fear. I don't want to see the trail commercialized. If someone wants to go up and enjoy the experience and not impact the trail, that's great. But when we devastate what we're trying to see, that's unacceptable to me.
I have three concerns for the trail. Number one, Plum Creek logging. Somebody from Plum Creek put orange rings around trees within ten feet of where the Expedition slept. Number two, would be an apathetic Clearwater National Forest management, which I'm not saying we have. I think we're fortunate in the supervisor we have now. And number three is Senator Craig's so-called forest health bill, that could turn over to state management parts of the Clearwater National Forest that impact on the trail. And I think that would be a tragedy.
I really feel that nationally this trail is very significant. The portion through Idaho is the most natural and pristine portion Lewis and Clark traveled. This whole Lolo trail corridor is nationally significant. We're not talking just about locally; we're talking about a heritage that this country currently has that can't be recovered if there are major changes to this trail. I feel it's that significant of a resource.
I'd like to ask Captain Lewis, did your death have to do with a woman, or was it just terminal writer's block?
It think it would be interesting to ask Lewis, since he probably secured most of the provisions, what he would do differently, what other provisions he would bring.
I think about the mental attitude of the various folks on the trip. What were they thinking? What was in their mind as they came stumbling through here, for example, looking for something to eat and not finding much? Were they thinking about when are we going to turn around or were they fully optimistic that things were going to turn up, and was that what it took to survive in those days?
I'd ask a couple of things. I would intercept the party at Dillon, Montana, and I would have a discussion with Clark, and I would say, please make more accurate maps, because two hundred years later, a bunch of us crazy people are going to try to figure out where you went, and we need good maps to figure that out.
But the specific question I'd like to ask is, when I was a kid, I used to have to rub bear grease on the saddles to keep the beaver and critters from chewing on em. I would like to ask them, what did that bear oil and roots taste like?
I'd like to have asked Clark if, thinking back on it years and years later, he remembers seeing any country prettier than Idaho or meeting any Indians finer than the Nez Perce.
And I'd like to ask them, what do you mean, Great White Father?
Cort Conley, laughing
and what are we supposed to do with this medal?
Alan Pinkham, laughing
And what do you mean, which way to the ocean?
Friday, August 23, 1805. The river. . . is almost one continued rapid. . .the passage. . .with canoes is entirely impossible. . . my guide and many other Indians tell me that the. . .water runs with great violence. . .foaming and roaring through rocks in every direction, so as to render the passage of anything impossible. Those rapids which I had seen he said was small and trifling in comparison to the rocks and rapids below. . .and the hills or mountains were not like those I had seen but like the side of a tree straight up. Captain William Clark
It’s fun to play “what if” with historical events. So here’s one. What if Lewis & Clark and the Expedition had launched dugout canoes down the Salmon River?
Interesting question. Of course, no one knows the answer, since the Expedition chose to take horses north through the Bitterroot valley, then west on the Lolo Trail. But some people have theories, and others are willing to experiment!
Geographers of the day had convinced their fellow Americans that on the other side of the Continental Divide would be a big river that ran to the ocean.
But the nation’s dream of an easy Northwest Passage, connecting East with West, died on August 12, 1805, the day Meriwether Lewis peered westward over the top of Lemhi Pass. Instead of rolling hills and a mellow river, Lewis saw towering mountain ranges covered with snow. Later, William Clark would describe the river as “almost one continued rapid… foaming and roaring through rocks in every direction, so as to render the passage of anything impossible.”
In late August of 2001, a group of buckskin clad men decided to take dugout canoes down the Salmon River. The group is part of an Idaho muzzle loader club specializing in the history of the American fur trade. One of their objectives has been to trace the path of Lewis & Clark through Idaho.
The men launched their two canoes a few miles upriver of North Fork and proceeded down the Salmon for several miles, with little difficulty.
It was further downriver, near the town of Shoup, at a rapid known as Pine Creek, that the men realized what they were in for! This class IV rapid is what convinced William Clark that the Salmon River was too dangerous to canoe.
The modern day buck skinners were willing to give it a try, but even before they got into the heart of the rapid, their canoes tipped over, sending one through the rapid by itself. Given the tremendous power of a log filled with water, it’s probably a good thing no one was on-board!
Afterwards, the men discussed their canoe experience. “I could see a 500 lb boat trying to crush somebody who fell out of it,” said Vern Illi. “The rapids are moving so fast that your reaction time has to be right on in order to negotiate. A 500 lb log doesn’t negotiate real quick.”
“Dugouts are still logs, no matter how pretty you make them,” said Tom Fleming. “When they fill up with water, they just become dead.”
“If they had tried it, they’d been lucky if any of them got out alive,” commented former outfitter Dave Benson.
“It would have been like Roanoke,” commented Jim Baillargeon. “The whole expedition would have disappeared and no one back in Washington would have known what happened.”
Idaho author and Salmon River guide Cort Conley believes the Lewis & Clark Expedition would have had great difficulties on the Salmon River.
“I think that the best evidence is that in 1832 four Hudson Bay trappers went down the river in two canoes. They wrecked both canoes, and two of them drowned. The two who survived were once again rescued by the Nez Perce because they were starving and naked.”
Here’s another “What If…” What if the crew had happened upon the Salmon River after they had canoed the Columbia River?
According to Conley, “They would have said, Let’s do it! Let’s go for it! On the Columbia they were running huge water. They ran rapids that the Indians wouldn't even run, and they did it without turning over and without lining the boats. Lewis remarked that the Clatsop and Chinook Indians were the finest river navigators he had ever seen. So Lewis and Clark were no slouches. I take my hat off to them.
“Had they run the rapids of the Columbia before they encountered the Salmon, I think, without question, they would have said, Let’s go for it. We can handle this. This is nothing.”
Nearly two hundred years later, hundreds of modern Americans love to re-enact the life and times of the 19th century mountain men.
One such group is the Hog Heaven Muzzleloaders, from Moscow, Idaho. (Moscow was once called Hog Heaven.) They dress up in period costume and pride themselves on their precise knowledge of that by-gone era. Idaho Public Television used the Hog Heaven Muzzleloaders to help re-create scenes for the program, "Echoes of a Bitter Crossing: Lewis & Clark in Idaho."
Even though Lewis and Clark did not find a continuous water route to the west, they did find a wealth of fur bearing animals. This discovery was the information needed to jump-start the fur trade era from 1810 to 1840. General William H. Ashley, an early fur trader advertised in the Missouri Gazette, "Wanted 100 enterprising young men to ascend the Missouri River to its source and there to be engaged in trapping and to stay in the mountains from one to three years.”
During the winter months when the snow was heavy and the streams froze over, the men either went into a friendly Indian village or established a brigade winter camp. Some of the men stayed in the lower levels of the mountains in makeshift lean-tos, much like this one. Dave Benson, Mike McCoy, and Vern Illi all members of the Hogheaven Muzzleloading Club have reenacted the camp.
The lean-tos were constructed with lodge poles, pine boughs and buffalo hides. The snow covered the setup, turning it into a temporary, man-made cave. They did not build a fire in the lean-to, because the heat would rise and melt the snow, getting everything inside wet.
Belt Creek flows north into the Missouri River above the Great Falls in Montana. This is the creek the Corps of Discovery dragged their dugouts up until they were able to break out into the plain. They constructed trucks (axles and wheels out of Cottonwood trees) and hauled the dugouts overland to the lower Missouri River below the Great Falls.
October 7, 1805.
"Proceeded on passed 10 rapids which wer dangerous...the Canoe in which I was Struck a rock and Sprung a leak in the 3rd rapid.... Had the Canoes unloaded examined and mended a Small leake which we discovered in a thin place in her Side..." William Clark.
October 8, 1805.
"Passed 15 rapids four Islands and a Creek on the Stard. Side at 16 miles just below which one canoe in which Sergt. Gass was Stearing and was nearle turning over, she Sprung a leak or Split open on one side and Bottom filled with water & Sunk on the rapid, the men, Several of which Could not Swim hung on to the Canoe, I had one of the other Canoes unloaded & with the assistance of our Small Canoe and one Indian Canoe took out every thing & toed the empty Canoe on shore..." William Clark
"We arrived at the heade of a verry bad riffle at which place we landed near 8 lodges of Indians on the Lard Side to view the riffle, having passed two islands & Six rapids Several of them verry bad. After viewing this riffle two Canoes were taken over verry well; the third struck on a rock which took us an hour to get her off which was effected without her receiving a greater injurey than a Small Split in her Side which was repaired in a Short time, we purchased fish & dogs of those people, dined and proceeded on." William Clark
"The technique they used in those days involved a lot of fire," says Jack McKey. "Fire building requires several things. You've got to have a supply of clay. That's how you control the fire, with wet clay and a wood that burns hot. Most boats were built with green wood, which is harder to burn than dry wood. You've got a lot of mass to remove. Alder in its green, fresh cut form, with oxygen applied to it with fans, can burn hot enough to weld steel.
"Clays are placed along areas you are going to leave, so the fires don't burn those areas. As you fan the heat, flames come up. The deeper the boat, the less oxygen is available, so you have to stand there and fan the different flames, so you don't end up with an uneven bottom."
"In spreading the canoes, they would use a mixture of urine and water, usually fermented urine. The ratio is about a gallon urine to two gallons of water. You pour it in the boats, the wood absorbs the ammonia, the ammonia softens the wood. This enables them to put hot rocks in the boat, steam the boat and spread the sides out, to create a flared-sided vessel. If done well, you can create a load-bearing vessel that can carry at least a third more."
"We've always considered Plymouth Rock as the discovery of America, but America wasn't discovered until Lewis and Clark got to Orofino, Idaho," says Jack McKey. "That's when they realized we've got a whole country behind us and we've made it to the ocean. They knew then they had it in the bag. It also gave us California. It gave us everything to the south of us. It clinched Texas. They made it, they did it, and when they got to virtually Weippe, where they met the Nez Perce for the first time, that was the discovery of America. That was America. That clinched it. We did it."
"You can bet one thing. This is gonna be the prettiest boat on the river," said ex-logger Virgil Wilmarth . "No doubt about that. Hopefully, it will be the best. I like to work with wood and I like to play on the river, and I'm real interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I figured it would be fun to re-enact it. I knew it would be a lot of work in the hot weather, but work never hurt anybody. But we don't kill ourselves. We work until we get tired, and then we go home."
"We shaped the outside the way we wanted it; then we drilled 1/4 holes through the bottom and the sides. We wanted 3 inches of wood left in the bottom and 1 1/2 inches on the sides. So we colored these little 1/4 dowels, blue on the end and drove them through, so when I start chipping here, when I get to the blue top, I know I'm at the right depth. That way when we're all done, it will be pretty. The prettiest boat on the river. It's like blue topping a highway. You scrape her off to the blue top and it's the same thing we're doing here."
"We built the back up high, so the captain can sit up here and look down the river. He's got to tell all the guys which way to paddle, so he's up here shouting orders. He'll be about 2 feet higher than the other guys going down the river.
"Nobody knows how they're going to handle. I use a drift boat fishing, but that's a lot different than this. This is 27 feet long. When we get heading down the river, we're going to have to have it going in the right direction when we get in the current or we're in trouble. Everybody will have a life jacket on. We'll make sure of that."
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in present-day Idaho, they could have traveled down what is called "The River of No Return." But Lewis decided not to attempt Idaho's Salmon River, after William Clark scouted the river and reported back. Instead, Lewis chose a land route which forced the Expedition to travel north more than 100 miles, back into Montana, before once again turning West, on the Lolo Trail.
"My take is that these guys were really boatmen at this point," says Idaho author and river guide Cort Conley. "They had covered 3000 miles of water, but all of it except the Ohio had been upstream against the current. So when they looked at the Salmon, they probably were a little nervous about it. There were cottonwood trees there to make the canoes and the river was not high, it was mid August, but it was different.
"If they had attempted the river, I suspect they would have had great difficulties. They would have had more game than they had going the way of the Bitterroots, but when they made those canoes to go down the Clearwater -- probably out of red cedar or white pine -- they wrecked promptly one of the canoes and they turned over twice on the Snake. And those stretches of both rivers are not nearly as technical as the main salmon is and would have been.
"On the Columbia they were running huge water, at the Dalles and the Cascades. They ran rapids that the Indians wouldn't even run, and they did it without turning over, without lining the boats.
"Lewis remarked that the Clatsop and Chinook Indians were the finest river navigators he had ever seen. So Lewis and Clark were no slouches. I take my hat off to them.
"Had they run the rapids of the Columbia before they encountered the Salmon, I think without question they would have said, let's go for it, we can handle this, it's nothing."
The Journey of Sacagawea
Journey of Sacagawea
This program explores the life of Sacagawea through the rich oral history of the Augadika Shoshoni, Mandan Hidatsa and Nez Perce tribes, as well as from the historical accounts in Lewis and Clark Expedition journals.
The journals fall short in the telling of who she was. To the Lemhi Shoshoni, she was one of them, kidnapped by a Hidatsa raiding party. However, some Mandan/Hidatsa claim her, since she lived among them when she passed through a Hidatsa rite of passage marking her entry into womanhood.
Rod Ariwite is a teacher currently working for the Bureau of Land Management and is close to receiving his PH.D.
Who was Sacagawea?
Like all of us, Sacagawea was molded by her family, her tribal members, and her experiences. To us she represents all that is good about our people, the Lemhi Shoshoni. Some native people criticize Sacagawea for helping the majority culture travel through our lands and eventually dominate us completely. However, we realize Sacagawea was only eleven years old when she was captured. She was a teenager when Lewis and Clark enlisted her and her husband to help them travel to and from the Pacific Ocean. We know from all the words written about her that she was an outstanding human being. Thus we honor Sacagawea for who she was, we know she was a good woman and a fine mother. For these things we proudly want the world to know Sacagawea is Lemhi Shoshoni.
Taken with permission from his message in the book by Ken Thomasma, "The Truth about Sacajawea".
Rose Ann Abrahamson, is a descendent of Cameawait. Rose Ann is a teacher and faithful attendant of the traditions of the Lemhi Shoshoni.
What does Sacagawea mean to the Lemhi Shoshoni?
"We are very proud. We realize that everyone has a destiny and that going on the expedition was her path. She was willing to take the risk to go on this rigorous journey and this speaks of her courage. The Shoshoni people take a holistic worldview and Sacagawea stayed true to those traditions. This gives our people hope and encouragement to embrace those traditions. Her family is grateful to have the opportunity to share the stories and awaken people to Sacagawea and the Shoshoni people. We have a very unique experience and the telling of Sacagawea's path experience will help open the hidden stories from the Native American perspective".
Rose Ann Abrahamson
Keith Bear, Mandan/Hidatsa Musician and Storyteller
How significant is Sacagawea to the Hidatsa people?
"She is a very important part of our culture, because when most people think about Sacagawea they associate her here first, then they argue about where she came from but they always put her right here first. This is where she made her home, she made her name here, this is where she was loved and she was raised here. So when we talk about her it's not like talking about someone foreign. We speak of her in the most highly decorative ways because this was a young woman who helped open a whole nation".
Keith Bear, Hidatsa
Marilyn Hudson, Ft. Bethal Tribal Member. Member of the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council.
Different controversies surround Sacagawea's lineage. Do you believe she was Hidatsa?
"I think it's very difficult and we're not out to prove any particular legend or any particular point. I think that she's probably bigger than that now in terms of an American folk hero. And I think that's what she is, a Folk Hero. Like George Washington, did he really cut down the cherry tree? It's the principle of the thought rather than the fact; did he really do this? I think some of the things about Sacagawea have reached that historic proportion".Marilyn Hudson, Hidatsa
Amy Mossett is a Mandan/Hidatsa Tribal Historian. She is a member of the Ft. Bethal Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council and a Storyteller of Sacagawea.
What values did she take with her from the Hidatsa people?
"She grew into womanhood in the Hidatsa culture. She came here as a young Shoshoni girl and when she lived among the Shoshoni I am sure she learned all the things that young Shoshoni girls learned. And when she came here and lived among the Mandan/Hidatsa she would have learned all the things that young women would learn. And when she grew into womanhood here at these Knife River Villages she would have learned all the same things that young Hidatsa girls learned here. I believe that is what she took with her, that nurturing, that care giving, that calm, quiet ability to cope with crisis. Those are the things that she learned as she grew into womanhood".
Amy Mossett, Hidatsa
There are three different spellings and pronunciations for the name of this most honored heroine in American history. To the Lemhi Shoshoni, her people, she is known as Sacajawea (boat launcher). To the Hidatsa she is Sakakawea (bird woman).
"Scholars generally agree that from the journals her name must have been pronounced Sacagawea. However in popular cultures and through generations of Idahoans have always called her Sacajawea".
- Carol Lynn MacGregor, Historian
"Lewis and Clark and the other men wrote her name exactly the way they thought it sounded. We have to remember that a Frenchman was pronouncing her name, so they wrote her name phonically in the journals. If you look at the name you can see the g spelling, Sah cah gah we a".
- Amy Mossett, Hidatsa
Captain Clark created the nickname "Janey" for Sacagawea. It is thought that Clark's use of "Janey" derived from "jane", colloquial army slang for girl.
Check out Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation for more information on her name.
Sacagawea was influenced by two cultures. Born in Salmon, Idaho the land of the Augadika Shoshoni (know as the Lemhi Shoshoni) nestled in a beautiful valley in the Rocky Mountains. At age 12 she was taken from her family by the Mandan/Hidatsa. They traveled to the wind swept grass lands of N. Dakota and the Knife River Indian Villages, home to the Hidatsa.
"You have a 12 year old girl who was raised in one culture and she is taken into another culture. A different language, different foods, different customs, different ways of behaving & acting. There was no orientation for her, no training, she was just moved into another culture".
- Barbara Kubik, Historian
"You can imagine the tremendous loss, the tremendous sadness, the tremendous heartache".
- Rose Ann Abrahamsom, Lemhi Shoshoni
"Right around 1800 Sakakawea arrived her in these villages along with another Shoshoni girl. She was given to a Hidatsa family who had lost a daughter about that same age. Back in those days it wasn't uncommon to bring children back when people went out on these hunting parties and excisions. They were a hunting party and they just went out to hunt buffalo like everyone else does in the Fall".
- Amy Mossett, Mandan/Hidatsa
Carol Lynn MacGregor, Historian
No American woman has more statues in her honor than Sacagawea. Soon, it appears, she will grace a more successful dollar coin: gold, not to be confused with quarters. That she is from Idaho and an American Indian makes this fact projection happy ones.
However, her service to the Corps of Discovery from the Mandan villages and back deserves merit for other reasons than "guide."
Yes, she recognized the Beaver Point and knew it was near her people. And she could testify that a moccasin found on the Upper Missouri did not belong to her people. She knew what was edible along the route and often helped by gathering greens, berries and the like to eat.
She rescued lost articles from the perogue, something greatly appreciated by William Clark, whom she presented with ermine skins and Christmas of 1806 at Fort Clatsop, which she had caught and fashioned in a garment for him. Clearly, Clark had been kind to her and her child; a treatment to which she was not accustomed. (He mentioned "checking" their interpreter, Charbonneau for "striking his woman" on one occasion.)
Sacagawea became a member of the "Corps of Discovery" when Lewis learned at the Mandan village that it was 800 miles to the Great Falls, another 100 miles to the Stony Mountains, and that they would need horses to cross those mountains, something the Snakes (Lemhi Shoshone) of Sacagawea's tribe possessed.
Lewis wrote those facts to Jefferson in the letter returned by keelboat. Those projections he had learned during the winter undoubtedly prompted him to consider inclusion of her with Charbonneau to complete an interpreter's circle: English (Lewis) to French (Labiche) to Hidatsa (Charbonneau) to Shoshone (Sacagawea). Little did it concern him that she had a child to carry; yet when the child became ill, it became a concern to all. That's because the most important service that Sacagawea rendered came with her presence: a woman with child announced to the Indians that the Corps of Discovery did not constitute a war party.
Amy Mossett is a Mandan/Hidatsa Tribal Historian. She is member of the Ft. Bethal Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee and a Storyteller of Sacagawea.
"One of the roles that she played that a whole lot of people don't talk about is the presence of her and a child reminded all of those men, those rugged frontiers men, those adventurers, explorers why they were really on the expedition. They were out there trying to carry out a vision. A vision not just for the President or Congress, it was for this entire country. Having this woman and her baby along on the expedition really reminded these men why we go out and do the things we do. Why we go out and work so hard at what we do to accomplish things to make life better for everybody. Definitely not for ourselves and not just for our children and our grandchildren but for everybody's children.
Was Sacagawea hired as a guide?
"Lewis and Clark were very happy to learn that Charbonneau could understand the Hidatsa language. He wasn't an English speaker but he did understand Hidatsa and he understood Mandan. The information that they wanted from the Hidatsa and the Mandan was very important so I think they were very pleased to hire him and to find him but I think they were even more pleased when they found out that he had a Shoshoni speaking wife. The reason for that of course, is they knew that eventually they were going to encounter the Shoshoni and they needed horses to cross the mountains and they needed to negotiate with the Shoshoni for those horses. And what better way to negotiate than to bring back their daughter".
Keith Bear, Mandan/Hidatsa Musician and Storyteller
"While she was here, she learned a lot of medicine from the earth, from the ground. And I'm sure she did from her people up there in the mountains too so as they traveled along wherever they went, if they needed medicine for the cramps or the boils and the things that they had, this young woman would find those things. When they were hungry, very, very hungry, she would find nuts, and she would find roots, and she would find berries, and she would set traps and fish things and get those things and feed those men. She made a lot of clothing for them and showed them how to make their own clothing. This was a very ingenious young woman and it was serendipitous, I guess, for them to take her along. She ended up being so valuable by the contributions she made along the way".
David Borlaug, President of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation and the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council in Ft. Bethal, North Dakota.
"She saved the journals (May 14 &16, 1805) from floating down the Missouri River when nobody else would jump into the water. With a baby on her back she waded into the river and retrieved medical instruments, other instruments and the journals themselves. She saved them from near starvation on more than one occasion just with her skills, her native skills of digging roots and other plant specimens to feed them".
"She simply was a great presence. An Indian woman with a child on her back for all these other Indian Tribes to take note of. This could not be a war party, it had to be a party of peace".
Gary Moulton, Historian
"Sacagawea was of great assistance to the expedition. She was part of the reason they had good relations with other native tribes because they were a party with women and children. They obtained horses from the Shoshoni- The Shoshoni didn't feel like they had that many horses to give so they had to do some hard bargaining.
One of the things that really helped them was that Sacagawea turned out to be the sister of the Lemhi Chief Cameahwait, so that really gave them an on tray to the tribe that under normal circumstances they wouldn't have had so they were able to do better in terms of gaining horses".
"It was manifest destiny that Sacagawea meet her brother Cameahwait. Her greatest contribution to the expedition accrued on August 25. Sacagawea overheard the Shoshoni's plans to leave for the buffalo hunting grounds. She immediately tells her husband Charbonneau. After an inexcusable delay, Charbonneau tells Captian Lewis. The news shocks Lewis as it would mean that the expedition would be left stranded without horses. A devastating disaster is narrowly averted. Lewis credits Sacagawea with saving the expedition because of her ability to speak and understand the Shoshoni language".
"Sacagawea's story is a great human drama. She was a teenager with a baby and she had three strikes against her. She was a woman, an Indian and a slave".
These are some of the dates that Sacagawea is mentioned in the journals.
Sunday, November 4, 1804
A French-Canadain Tossaint Charbonneau, visits with the two explorers. He wants to hire on as an interpreter and guide. Although he has two Shoshoni Indian wives, the explorers engage Charbonneau and one of his wives who would be needed to interpret the Shoshoni language when the explorers entered that territory.
Monday, February 11,1805
About 5:00 P.M. Sacagawea, one of the wives of Charbonneau gives birth to her first born, a fine boy. It was a tedious labor, marked with violent pain.
Tuesday, April 1, 1805
Preparations begin to break camp and head up the Missouri River. Charbonneau will take his two wives with him. Charbonneau speaks to his wives in Hidatsa. That means Sacagawea will speak to the Shoshoni people in their language, Translate it into French for Labiche, and Labiche will translate it into English for the captains.
Tuesday, April 9, 1805
When they pull over for supper, Sacagawea immediately searches for food. She takes a sharp stick and begins digging in the ground near small piles of driftwood. She knows mice hide large quantities of roots in these locations. Soon Sacagawea gathers a good supply of what Lewis calls edible wild artichoke roots.
Wednesday May 8, 1805
As Clark and the Charbonneau family walk along the shore, Sacagawea stops and begins gathering roots along the hillside. One root is wild licorice. The captains taste a second specimen-a white appleroot, a kind of breadroot.
Tuesday, May 14,1805
During this life and death struggle, Sacagawea remains in the back of the sinking vessel grabbing valuable articles as they float from the boat. She catches nearly everything.
Thursday, May 16, 1805.
The day is fair and warm. By 4 P.M. almost everything is dry, repacked, and ready to go. Medical supplies suffered the most damage. Other losses include seed, a small amount of gunpowder, and other culinary items. Sacagawea demonstrated fortitude and resolution equal to that of any man on board the stricken craft. She saved most of the bundles, which had been washed overboard.
Monday, May 20, 1805
A beautiful stream about fifty yards wide is given the name Sacagawea or Bird Woman's River.
Thursday, August 8, 1805
In the evening Sacagawea points to a high formation jutting out of the valley floor. Her people called this formation the Beaver's Head because it is shaped like the animals head. Her people came this way every summer on their way to hunt buffalo. Soon, she say's, they will find her people here or just west on another river. The need to find the Shoshoni is becoming increasingly critical.
Wednesday, August 14, 1805
Charbonneau strikes Sacagawea while the family is eating the evening meal. Clark reprimands him.
Saturday, August 17,1805
As Sacagawea begins to interpret, suddenly she recognizes her brother Cameahwait. She runs to him. They embrace. Sacagawea is in tears and throws a blanket over their heads. It is sometime later before she is composed enough to continue. Once again the Shoshoni are told of the expedition and the need for horses and a guide.
Sunday, October 13, 1805
The presence of Sacagawea with the expedition convinces all Indian People of the peaceful intentions of their party. Having a woman with the expedition is a sure sign the expedition is not a war party.
Sunday, November 24,1805
The decision on where to camp for the winter is put to a vote. Captain Clark records the votes. In the list are written the votes of the black servant York and Sacagawea. Sacagawea's vote to camp near the best supply of edible roots is recorded under her nickname, Janey.
Used by permission from the book "The Truth about Sacajawea" by Ken Thomasma
"The challenges she was willing to face will show young women of today that we are capable of facing hardships. We've come along way from that time period but in many ways we are faced with similar challenges. The men of the Lewis and Clark expedition spoke highly of Sacagawea characteristics. Her most important value to me as a woman, as a Native American teacher, is that she stayed true to her traditions".
Rose Ann Abrahamson, Lemhi Shoshoni
"She was a teenager and as a teenager she was so courageous. I think that the young people across this country need to know how young she was. I think they need to know that they have someone they can look up to because she stands for a lot of things that they don't believe in as they look at themselves as teenagers. Just let them know that they have a role model especially the young girls, they need to know that they can do great things to".
Amy Mossett, Hidatsa
"Among the Mandan/Hidatsa people our women owned these lodges, our women owned the gardens and they owned the horses. So this young woman was defiantly a leader and she was well before her time. Sacagawea was pretty bird woman and I think she holds a very beautiful place in all our hearts. I hope that people realize that women are much stronger than men give them credit for and this young woman was defiantly more than a pioneer, she was a leader in so many ways, so yes I think our people are very proud to know her and to honor her".
Keith Bear, Hidatsa
The fascination with Sacagawea continues to grow and a commemorative coin was released in 1999 with her image on it to celebrate the new millennium.
The US Mint called the new dollar coin "A Tribute to Native American Women and the American Spirit".
The coin is golden in color and has a distinctive edge. After the mint received designs from 23 invited artists, it narrowed the field to six obverse and seven reverse designs. In Addition to consulting with numerous Native American leaders and the numismatic community the mint selected the final design. Glenna Goodacrev designed the obverse, (Sacagawea), and Thomas D. Rogers Sr. designed the reverse, (eagle).
"All Americans, especially young women, need an actual person - not a symbol -to serve as a positive role model. Sacagawea should be respected and honored for what she is, a true-life heroine. Shoshoni women have their own, unique inner strength and beauty, which should be celebrated".
Lydia Justice Edwards
Former, Idaho State Treasurer
Crossing the Centuries
Lewis and Clark: Crossing The Centuries
Follow the Lewis and Clark Expedition's route from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Oregon coast.
Who exactly are the Lemhi Shoshone?
The Lemhi Shoshone is one of the many tribes of the Shoshone nation. Historically the Shoshone people encompassed twelve states. Today they encompass seven states. But the Lemhi Shoshone is the most northern of the Shoshone nation. They consider themselves unique. They were isolated from other tribes.
Historians and anthropologists such as Krober put Native Americans into cultural regions and he put the Lemhi into a group called the Great Basin. That’s obviously a problem, because they are not only Great Basin but are also Plateau and Plains. The only thing they share is a linguistic tie. They have different heroines, different mythologies, different leaders, different perspectives on life, and they are very much influenced by their environments and their alliances.
How important were the salmon
to your people?
Here in this area we were also people of the river and received our health and strength and life source from the salmon, and this is the furthest the salmon would come inland in the western United States. So the Lemhi Shoshone developed their concepts or symbols of life after the salmon.
We are the Agaidikas. That is our traditional name for ourselves, and that translates into “salmon eaters.”
about that first meeting in 1805 with the Shoshone and Meriwether Lewis.
Although these people [Lewis & Clark] were strangers, and we had never seen a white man, it is interesting to note that we were still apprehensive because we didn’t know about their alliances.
Lewis and Clark were our first white men. Lewis was taught by Sacagawea to say tivo boin [white man]; and to this day I can’t believe that he left her behind with Clark when he was seeking out the Shoshone. It just totally amazes me!
He must have asked her, “What should I do when I approach your people?” And she knew he must have worn long sleeves all of the time, because she told him, “pull up your sleeves, point to your white skin and say tivo boin.”
And of course he probably had just a quick lesson and in his effort to quickly obtain horses, took off with his men and approached my people pointing to his white skin saying ta^hve vee boin ta^hve vee boin. He was saying, “Look at the sun. Look at the sun.” Our people must have been somewhat amused, but not too sure about him, and it was interesting in that context.
Is it Sacajawea or Sacagawea,
and why does it matter to you?
There’s a big controversy about her name throughout the country. Among our people we give our children their names when they are about three years of age. Before that they are just called “small child.” The elders would observe what they were doing. They would be named either by the maternal grandparent or the paternal grandparent. Even to this day the name giving is practiced.
They say the name is prophetic and comes back and serves you in adulthood. I was always told what her name was and it was “Sacajawea.”
A “wea” is a conical basket, and it was used by the women for gathering and storing. And “sacaj” – you are saying, “that is her burden,” and so that is what she was named, and she must have had her ears pierced. It was just a great, fun time when you get your name.
We believe when she was captured by the Hidatsa, they gave her a name that was similar to the one she already had. We supposed that they had asked her name. They changed it to their own way of understanding. For example, we did the same thing here with our own captives. We believe that her name was changed by the Hidatsa.
Different tribes have different ways of speaking, and for the Shoshone there are no ‘L’s or certain letters, and so when we would capture people, we would change the name to fit our language.
Recently a young non-Indian girl was captured, and her name was Elizabeth, and when she was captured, her name was changed to Augustine. So are you going to call her Elizabeth or Augustine? Are you going to call her Sacajawea or are you going to call her the other names?
It is interesting to note the man who cared most about her on this expedition, who helped raise her children, who looked out for her welfare, who cared about her, was William Clark. It must have been very poignant for him to write about this in his cache book. This cache book was found in 1925 and it said, “Sacajawea dead.” And he wrote her name with a ‘j.’
The white historians continue to insist on dealing with Sacagawea or Sakagawea, but yet here Clark wrote “Sacajawea dead.” And these historians are using the time period of when she died but giving no credibility to the way he spelled her name.
did Sacajawea do for the Expedition?
People ask how do we know what she contributed? I know that these white men wouldn’t write, because men did not value the identity of women during that time period. I think Stephen Ambrose dug research as to Lewis’ perspective. Lewis was all business, a bureaucrat; documentation, “lets get the job done, this is for the country.” I don’t think he would be the type of man to write, “she helped us today with food, she did this for us…” He was all business and his efforts needed to be documented.
I believe it wasn’t really documented. When she started out with this expedition and she started to move toward her homeland, she became, once again, led by the strength of her cultural heritage which is Agaidikas. She returned back to her nomadic ways.
As you know, she was living with a sedentary people. They had different ways of living. The white man had become accustomed to eating their [Hidatsa] vegetables and their garden food. It wasn’t very much different from their own food. But now they come to a land that was untouched, pristine, and she knew how to survive in that land, and that’s when who she was and what she was came out.
She knew where to find berries, to find roots. She probably tanned and showed them how to procure and tan hides.
Throughout the journals she pointed out critical points, land markers. There was so much that she did. The most powerful moment.was when she and her husband were in that boat, and it could have turned over, and she could have lost her life and that of her baby, and she must have seen Lewis just frantic. In fact from what I understand they had to hold Lewis back from jumping in the river to save the people and the boat and his documents. And she immediately started to save the documents, calmly gathering what they needed.
There are many things in her life that occurred that were not by choice for her but she faced those challenges and moved forward. She never complained about fatigue, she never complained about the insects, and the journal is full of the men’s complaints. She persevered.
How remarkable was it that Sacajawea
was re-united with her brother?
When they ran out of river and Lewis stood on that Lemhi pass and saw ranges of mountains – not a range of mountains, ranges – as far as the eye could see, he knew that he had to have those horses.
My people had 700 horses at that time. Their first sighting was the Shoshone on what Lewis described as “the elegant horse”.
Was it destiny? She didn’t know if her people had survived. She met her friend so she knew her friend survived and made it back home.
And then when she saw her brother, that’s a very powerful moment. There has been some controversy whether he was her cousin or her brother, but he was her brother. You don’t go in and disrupt a very important meeting. I lost my brother in 1994 and regardless of an important meeting, I would jump up and grab my brother, and I would cry, too.
She must have thought all of her family was dead when they were attacked. Four men and four women were killed, little boys were killed. All that blood shed, she must have thought the worst. Then to actually find that one member of her family. It must have been an incredible experience.
Was it fate? Was it meant to happen that the chief was her brother? And again, she was utilized. If those men could not have gotten those horses, they would have had to turn back. But their expedition was able to continue.
In the state of Idaho they collected over 25% of the specimens, both plant and animal, sent back to President Jefferson. And it was here among the Lemhi Shoshone people – Idaho’s first Idahoans – that the greatest moment of that expedition happened. If anything, it allowed that expedition to move forward.
Why is the Lemhi valley so important to you?
I believe in about 1850 the Mormons came into the valley and named one of the rivers after King Lemhi in the Book of Mormon. It was just easier for the white man to pronounce Lemhi than to pronounce Agaidikas.
There are two rivers that we consider to be our life source, the Salmon River and the Lemhi River. And as you can see here, we are surrounded by our sacred mountains. We believe that our site is very powerful as it is the site of the Continental Divide where the flows of the rivers break off into two directions. We believe this is the heart of our lives and our people.
And it is very important to us because generations upon generations of Lemhi Shoshone have lived here and we believe that the top-most layers of the earth are the dust of our ancestors. As you know, they are buried in particular places; but for us, just to walk where they have walked is very powerful and sacred to us.
We are the furthest, most northern tribe. We are the people of Sacajawea. We are a very proud people.
What is the importance of the
Sacajawea Interpretive Center to your people?
Our people smoked the pipe with your people, the most sacred ceremony you can do, and a promise was made. I know that this Center is the beginning of that promise.
Our people were led from this valley, crying in 1907. Maybe you can allow us to come home and take care of her dreams and hopes for her people, to take care of our homeland, to take care of the bones of her mother, her brother, her father and her sister. This is where we belong. Maybe that is what the legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition is all about.
Today we are planting the seeds. This is just the beginning. And when we planted that seed in that dedication ground breaking ceremony, a little bud has burst from that seed; and that is the lodge we see. It takes all of us working together to see the vision and see that dream. This site can be our legacy, Idaho’s legacy for the next 100 years. Maybe life will be better for them too. We plant the seed, set the pace for future generations to come.
We want to remind the world that we are still here, that she has a people. We are her people and there were promises made to her people. This center here is the beginning of that.
Were the Nez Perce surprised to see white men in September of 1805?
We knew they existed way to the east before Lewis and Clark even came here. So we understood a lot of things about this whole continent we called an island, because it was surrounded by water.
And we knew of these strange people. We didn’t even know if they were human beings because they didn’t look like us, but we knew they were coming. It just surprised us that Lewis and Clark showed up one day in Sept of 1805. We had a lot of questions about them. They had a peculiarity about them. And they had an ability we didn’t have that is writing. The elders said we needed to understand how they do that. Actually it was how do they do business? Well, they do it by writing.
We finally determined they were human beings. How then do we deal with them? Well, we need to get what they have and we need to learn to write like they do. And they sent out a bunch of missionaries, thinking that what we wanted was the Bible. Well it wasn’t the Bible. Writing was part of it. We understood who the earth was, Mother Earth, Father Sun. We asked that question of Lewis and Clark but they didn’t understand that. We never got a good answer, and they didn’t even want to write about that because there’s nothing in the journals.
kept the Nez Perce from killing Lewis & Clark?
It was a difficult choice with Lewis and Clark. We had to make a trade off. We knew what Lewis and Clark possessed. We knew Lewis and Clark possessed powder and lead and firearms. They would make our lives easier and protect us as well, and we didn’t know how to make those things. We needed to understand how these things were made, so we needed to understand how they did this writing.
People don’t give us the credit for being progressive and inquisitive but we were. We had a 2000-mile radius that we traveled because we wanted to know what was going on; but we were not given that credit.
When Lewis and Clark came out here. We picked their brains. Red Bear said when he heard they were here, “I’ve got to smoke with these people”. When you smoke with them, you pick their brains.
We could have been more hostile. We could have wiped them out. But they had resources we didn’t have – so we had better treat these guys well. Feed them, take care of the horses, help them make canoes, guide them down the river. We thought we were going to get something back. But we never got anything back. All they wanted was more so we gave up more. But we were still treated lousy. We were still dispossessed.
What do you think when you hear the phrase the “Lewis & Clark trail”?
Lewis and Clark were following our trails. They were following what we call the buffalo trail to Yellowstone and Missouri country. It’s probably the least untouched area in Idaho and probably the northwest. It has an esthetic value to us. We have a sense that this is where we were created. We still have a sense of belonging here because this is where we were created. We’re not going to move anywhere.
We didn’t have to go some place else to find what we needed. Everything is provided right here, the salmon the birds insects, all here. We had it all from the river system to the top of the mountain.
We had a good life here until somebody came along and told us we were poor and wretched. My father said, “ we had a good life until somebody came along and told us we didn’t.”
What has been the impact of Lewis & Clark’s visit?
It has had quite an impact. This is one of the last areas that has been relatively untouched in Idaho. Environmental protection right now is a top priority for the Nez Perce tribe because we’ve seen what’s happened over the last 200 years. The decimation of the buffalo, wolves are nearly extinct. You could count them on one hand 15 years ago in Idaho and now there are over 200 wolves; and the Nez Perce tribe has been instrumental in that. And we’re doing that with the salmon, too, establishing our own hatcheries.
We have to get involved in the management of our own environment because we consider ourselves part of it. We are not separate. Christianity tried to separate us from it and that was wrong. I do not call myself a Christian because I do not want to be associated with them to that degree. They have been telling so many falsehoods over the years. Why should I believe that if they can’t practice what they preach?
There’s a whole mindset that we’ve had to change over the last 150 years and we’re still doing it. Many of the Christian Nez Perce still apply themselves to the traditional ways and have not renounced their culture.
We still carry the message. We need to protect mother earth. We need to protect all the resources. It is no easy task. The mindset of the Euro-American is to conquer, control, possess. That’s what it has been for the last 500 years and we want to turn it around. Share and protect Mother Earth rather than exploit it. It’s a very hard message to sell. Many people are listening. We have done things right. At the same time there are those who have got to go cut a tree down or go dig up more gold and minerals because that’s what they need to maintain their lifestyle. That’s the justification for the exploitation of resources. The battle was going on 200 years ago and it’s going on today.
Why are the Nez Perce involved in the Bi-Centennial celebrations?
We want to educate the people, tell another opinion about Lewis and Clark. It’s our story of the last 200 years of history. We want to have input rather than go to a high school or college and hear about Manifest Destiny and conquering and possession of territory. That’s not our story.
We have a story to tell and that story is based on sharing and friendship and being a good neighbor. You share with your neighbor – your knowledge and story telling and history so that when you look back over 200 years your neighbor begins to understand, and mistakes made over the course of 200 years aren’t repeated.
Jefferson thought it would take 200 years even for the white people to get west of the Mississippi but it only took 30 or 40 years. The development was very rapid, probably because a lot of Indian tribes accepted what was happening because they wanted some of the things white society had. How to get them? By treating those guys good. The society in return did not treat us good. Dispossession still occurred.
It is with a lot of mixed feelings that I state some of these things because I know the history of my people and I know what happened and I know why it happened. I cannot go back and change anything. The law said this is the way it was going to happen and did happen. Changing the law is very remote. It is white society’s law, not our law.
For the last 200 hundred years we somehow survived all of this violence and genocide and pox and measles and the onslaught of the missionaries. We’re still here after 200 years. That’s the message we would like to convey and we’ll probably be here another 200 years at the minimum.
I’m working on a book with Dr. Steve Evans, a retired historian. What is written in journals people accept as the truth. It’s true through the angle of American eyes. Looking through Nez Perce eyes, they are missing at least 50% of the story we should be telling.
It’s not this intrepid duo of Lewis and Clark conquering the great unknown. We were already here. We accepted THEM into our neighborhood, into our country and let them go through our country. We were the good guys. Why don’t we get that in return?
How would you assess the importance of Lewis & Clark?
What’s really important about Lewis and Clark is that they were beginning to establish American power in the west. This whole region was really an Indian country in 1805. Indians controlled it. European powers recognized that the Indians controlled it. On maps it said this was part of the United States of America, but in fact it was an Indian country. Lewis and Clark were really here to begin asserting American control over this territory.
The reality of this country is that it was controlled by Indian people. Lewis and Clark had big ideas when they left, had flags to hand out…but they learned early on that they were going to have to trade with Indians and talk with Indians to find their way west. They could not order Indians to do anything for them.
One of the problems with remembering the Bi-centennial and remembering Lewis and Clark is how tight a lens are we going to have? Looking only at Lewis and Clark, it’s a story of a small group getting to the Pacific. We need to open the lens. Then we see them traveling – not through a wilderness but through another country – and interacting with other people and the reverberating impact of that.
That larger, more complex history is really what we are experiencing today, and what we need to remember.
important was Indian assistance to the Expedition?
Without Indian assistance they would have died. It is not an overstatement to say that they simply would not have made it without Indian guidance and food.
How were the Indians treated by the Expedition?
In the Indian country that Lewis and Clark entered, there were Indian protocols, values, of friendship and alliance. They expected in return for their generosity that Americans would be loyal to them.
But something happened to the Americans when they got to the Pacific. Things changed there. They suddenly knew the way and they thought they didn’t need the Indians any longer.
There’s a very tiny event that happens when they get to the Pacific. They start to come back, and they need a canoe. The Indians won’t sell them a canoe, and so they stole it. That violated all the values of the Indian country and the promises they had made to the Indians. It marked the direction they were going to go on their way back.
Lewis and Clark had an opportunity to forge a permanent alliance, but they didn’t do that. They stole the canoe. The United States continued to launch its imperial project in this part of the country.
Lewis and Clark were also men of the revolutionary generation. People who were part of what Jefferson called the Empire of Liberty. For the revolutionary generation, democracy did not include American Indians. Even the Declaration of Independence has one of its charges against the King – that he unloosed the savages upon the colonies. These were people who defined Indians out of the Democracy. By definition it was going to be a nation that did not include Indians.
Looking back, we can see many of the opportunities Lewis and Clark took advantage of – the friendship of the Indians – but they didn’t work together to become partners. That’s something we can do today. Indians and non-Indians becoming partners in the commemoration. Remembering together.
should we think of Lewis & Clark?
Think about them as young army officers. That means that they lived in a world of command and control and discipline and military tradition. In 1802 and 1803, when Jefferson was imagining this journey and imagining the expedition, he had an important choice. How was this expedition going to be organized? He could have simply hired a number of fur traders out of St. Louis and said, ‘go and do this.’ But instead, based on his wide reading, Jefferson looked to a particular exploration tradition, he looked to what the British were doing, to what the Spanish were doing… So Jefferson picked up on this British tradition, he used military officers who understand questions about organization, command, discipline and tradition. When we want to think about Lewis and Clark, think about them as men from an Army world. A world of order, organization, tradition and authority.
Also, I think it’s important to remember that these are young men. William Clark was born in 1770, Meriwether Lewis in 1774. They are children of the American Revolution, and they came of age in a time immediately after the American Revolution, a time of growth and of expansion, but also an uncertain time. The American republic was no sure thing… there was no guarantee that American independence was going to work. So they grew up in a world filled with excitement and exuberance, but also an uncertain world.
What we are seeing with Lewis and Clark is the beginning of what you could call the war for the west. A war that will consume much of the rest of the 19th century. A war that will have many victims, many casualties and eventually a winner, but a winner that is a surprise to many.
What was Jefferson’s
perception of the West?
Jefferson saw the west as a land of renewal. Jefferson once said that if God had a chosen people, they would be the farmers; and in the west there would be enough land to keep Americans forever young and free and independent. That’s what the Northwest Passage is all about, to get those agricultural goods into global markets.
Jefferson really believed that in the west you could outrun your past. You could start again; you could have a clean slate. This is his great dream, but it is also his great delusion.
The west was going to be the garden of the world. And it was an image that would remain strong for much of the rest of the 19th and into the 20th century. We never thought that the west was the great American desert. Most American settlers always thought of the west as the garden of the world. The 18th century Enlightenment geographers all argued that the earth was about balance. So what Jefferson saw in the east, he certainly believed he would find in the west. Western mountains would be like eastern mountains. Those mountains would be narrow, thin ridges, easily pierced. That a series of rivers would go up to the very foothills of the stony mountains, there would be an easy passage and then on the other side there would be rivers that would take you to the great river of the west. This was the great dream, the most powerful geographic illusion of the age. That had come out of the world of Columbus and was still very much alive in the age of Jefferson, the notion of a Northwest Passage. Nothing would endure more strongly in Jefferson’s mind than the image of the garden, and then of the passage through the garden. It was a dream that would not die.
How do you see the interaction
between the Expedition and the Native Americans?
We need to think about Lewis and Clark, not as an adventure story, because that always leads us wrong. We need to think about them as part of the American encounter. Think about Lewis and Clark as part of the great American conversation, in which Lewis and Clark explored native people and native people explored Lewis and Clark. This is mutual encounter, mutual discovery. This is the coming together of people across a cultural divide, struggling to understand each other.
We need to think about the expedition as a diverse human community, it is one of the most important things that can help us understand this journey, because this is an emblematic American journey. It’s important because it’s our first great road story.
were Meriwether Lewis’ strengths?
Meriwether Lewis is in some ways elusive, mercurial, remote, troubled…we are drawn to him but at the same time, somehow, he seems so distant from us. A man of few friends and even fewer acquaintances. A man who eventually had many enemies and a man who would take his own life in a moment of terrible despair. He certainly knew no Indian languages. He had not traveled widely on the American Frontier. Jefferson admitted as much.
What were his strengths? He was at heart a skilled naturalist with a wonderful eye for the natural world. Jefferson said in his instructions to Lewis and later to Clark, to pay attention to the face of the country. What a wonderful phrase: the face of the country; as if there was a human face there with all its contour and shadows and changes.
Meriweither Lewis was to draw in words the face of the country. Lewis was a skilled naturalist with a wonderful ability to describe plants and animals, the face of the country. His great strength was looking at the natural world and beginning to describe it, the face of the country. And so in many ways, Meriwether Lewis reminds us about the scientific nature of this journey.
What about William Clark’s
If Meriwether Lewis was supposed to write in words about plants and animals, and about human cultures and societies, then William Clark’s great skill was his gift as a cartographer. Cartography lives at the intersection between art and science. Good cartographers are both artists and scientists. William Clark had considerable previous experience in surveying and measuring, in knowing the leaps and bounds of land. He grew up in a world that said land is the most important thing, and the Clark family was always concerned about its land holdings.
William Clark was an intuitive cartographer; he had this remarkable natural ability that came from somewhere to look at the three dimensions of terrain and then reduce those three dimensions to the flat world of ink and paper.
So what we have with William Clark is this extraordinary set of maps that utterly transforms our understanding of the geography of the American West.
How important were Native American
maps to the Expedition?
I think perhaps the most important contribution that Cameahwait’s people made, in addition to horses and carrying the baggage, is really the matter of geographic information. Imagine now that the expedition has reached a critical point. Their knowledge, their expectations, their conjectures about the nature of the country on the other side of the divide, those expectations haven’t proven up. What they expected was one thing; what they found was something else. And what Lewis and Clark really needed now was reliable information. Because what they thought they were going to find wasn’t there. So in many ways what Cameahwait provided was reliable information.
If you think about what Cameahwait knew, he knew about a sweep of land, hundreds and hundreds of miles in dimension. That is extraordinary. We talk about Jefferson as a geographer; we should talk about Cameahwait as a geographer. We talk about William Clark as a cartographer. We should talk about Cameahwait as a cartographer. The real struggle for Lewis and Clark, especially for Clark, was to integrate Indian information into his own cartographic and geographic universe. How do you blend together Native American information with Euro American maps. That’s very difficult to do.
This is one of the most important stories about the exploration of the American West. Over and over again, American explorers relied on Indian maps and on Indian guides. Without those maps, without those guides, the American exploration of the west would have been a very different enterprise. And certainly not a successful enterprise in the way that we know it now.
Without Native American geographic information, Lewis and Clark simply would not have been able to make this journey and to understand what the country was all about.
What was the gamble that the
Lemhi Shoshone leader Cameahwait made?
The Lemhi’s had a long set of experiences of being raided by their enemies; they had recently been raided by their enemies. They had lost their teepees, they had lost horses, they had people killed and wounded and now more outsiders are coming? And certainly you would expect, given past experiences, that Cameahwait and others in his band would be deeply suspicious of outsiders. And yet, there is a welcome. A welcome first to Meriwether Lewis and then to the much larger party.
Cameahwait took the great chance here, he made the great gamble, he took the chance that here was the opportunity to gain the one thing he needed, and he would say so over and over again. He needed guns. In a world that was heavily armed, the Lemhi Shoshone’s only had two or three guns. His enemies, the Blackfeet, the Atsinas, the Hidatsas all had guns; he didn’t. And in a powerful moment, when he talked with Lewis and Clark, he said to them, we want guns, and then we will not have to live like bears, knawing on berries deep in the mountains.
Cameahwait took a chance, a chance that here was an opportunity to get the guns. And in return he would offer the strangers horses and food, and geographic information. This would be a balanced, reciprocal relationship: give me the guns, and I will give you what you need. Cameahwait took the great chance.
And this is a real gamble. Even the Nez Perce chiefs like Twisted Hair and Broken Arm, they had at least heard about these strangers.
We forget how heavily armed the west was. By 1804, 1805, this is a west that is just in an arms race. The Blackfeet had so many guns. They had so much powder and shot that they hardly knew what to do with it. So, Cameahwait is a man on the outside; he needs to get on the inside very quickly. It’s a real gamble. He took a tremendous chance and it’s a chance that in the end is not going to pay out for him. They don’t come back, they don’t give him the guns, he doesn’t get what he wants. He rolls the dice and in many ways, he loses. He loses.
Certainly the Lolo Trail must
have been a bitter trial for the Expedition.
Think of the crossing of the Lolo Trail as a bitter odyssey in the snow. September, early snow, a tangle of underbrush, freezing cold and little to eat and being easily lost, snow blind almost. What they had hoped they were going to find was the easy passage through the garden; and now what they really found was terrible suffering and struggle. And anguish.
So many of the dreams that they had cherished now faced harsh reality. This is really the story of hope versus reality. And so on one hand, it’s the physical struggle of getting up every day and not having enough to eat and cold and snow and tangled underbrush and sliding down steep hillsides and losing equipment and wrapping your socks around your hands and gnawing on candles and eating portable soup and killing a colt. It’s all of those physical challenges, challenges they had really not had since the days of portaging around the Great Falls.
Added to that is the mental anguish; this is not what we expected; this is not what we hoped for; this is not what we dreamed. I don’t think that either Lewis or Clark would have readily surrendered. Although on the other hand, when they attempted the return, they got trapped in those snows and were forced to make what Meriwether Lewis politely called a retrograde march. Another word simply for retreat. They had to then be saved by the Nez Perce people. This was a dicey moment. They could have died in those snows. There could have been tragic accidents. Once again the stars danced for Lewis and Clark, and they would be saved by the generosity and the hospitality of Nez Perce people. But this was a close moment, a tense moment and I want to emphasize again that there are these double challenges – the challenge of the physical crossing, but also the mental challenges. This is not what we expected. This is not the passage through the garden.
I think the first challenge is simply to find the trail. I think it was difficult often to find the trail. And second, these are very confusing mountains. They were then, they are now. They are visually confusing, and for men whose only mountain experiences were eastern mountains, with fairly even, regular, symmetrical ridges -- to see mountains that were a tangle, a twisted tangle of ridges and peaks – it was visually confusing. And then add to that the cold, the snow, and then those empty hungry bellies. And then the overlay of that was the growing apprehension: what we thought we were going to find, we have not found. So it’s not just one problem, but a multiplicity of problems that nip at the heels of this travelling infantry company.
It seems that the Nez Perce
could easily have ended the Expedition.
Most of the time Lewis and Clark and their men shaved because they were soldiers and they were expected to shave, but now surely in those terrible days on the trail they did not shave and so they were bearded perhaps. Who are these frightening strangers?
Boys and girls and old men and women must have looked at them as beings from another planet. Clark’s effort was to reassure them by showing them gifts and by showing them as much friendship as possible that these strangers were not enemies, but potential friends. That is as important an encounter as the encounter with the Lemhi Shoshone’s. Yet again, Lewis and Clark benefit by the hospitality of strangers.
There was, among the Nez Perce a woman who had been kidnapped as a younger woman by perhaps the Blackfeet or the Atsinas. She ended up in the hands of Canadian traders. She was well treated. And eventually she was able to make her way home. She saw the strangers now, she saw Clark and then Lewis and others and she was reminded about the decent treatment she was given by Canadian traders; and she is reported to have said, ‘do them no harm. Do them no harm.’
Once again it is a woman who provides for this journey a way to make this journey possible. That story needs to be given full faith and credit. But there are lots of other reasons why Lewis and Clark are treated well by the Nez Perce. And those reasons have everything to do with guns. Once again, we are back in the world of guns and power and of influence. And of the arms race.
What is the legacy of Lewis
This is our first great road story. Lewis and Clark place us on the road, they put us in the middle of a human community, a community as diverse and complex as any in America today. And then they put that community in motion because we are a people in motion.
We find ourselves in that story, whether we place ourselves in that community or we stand alongside and watch that community as it goes by. This is a very large story. It’s not just the story of Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, a dog and Thomas Jefferson. This is a story that has hundreds and hundreds of actors in it. It’s a story of continental sweep and eventually of global significance. We know who we are by the stories we tell. This is one of the emblematic American stories.
Someone once said that the Civil War was our American Iliad. This is our American Odyssey.
Lewis and Clark offer us an extraordinary gift; they give us that sense of awe and wonder and then they let us encounter strangeness. We do not learn by only encountering people like us. We do not learn by shaking hands with ourselves, we only learn by encountering and conversing with others who are not like us. Whether you are Cameahwait or Coboway or Black Moccasin, you would only learn by meeting with strangers. Whether you are Lewis or Clark or John Ordway or Patrick Gass or George Druillard, you would learn only by meeting and conversing with strangers.
If you were Sacagawea, you would learn and grow and expand only by meeting with others. This is the great gift that Lewis and Clark offer to us and we cherish that.
Our past is confused, contradictory and ambiguous. We need to understand that. We need to know that Lewis and Clark are not a simple story of good guys and bad guys, of ten foot tall heroes. Once we do that, we will begin to grow up as a culture, as individuals in our private lives and in our communal lives.
What are some key decisions that Lewis and Clark made?
One of the key decisions, if not the key decision was to take an Indian woman, Sacagawea, from the Mandan villages into the West. She was far more important than her husband.
A decision of equal importance involves another Indian person, Old Toby, a Shoshone Indian. They put the whole fate of the expedition into the hands of one old Indian man who showed them the route that everybody else said he didn’t know what he was talking about. They are willing to roll the dice, and Toby showed them the Lolo pass and route over the Bitterroot Mountains.
is the importance of the Rocky Mountains to the Lewis & Clark story?
In actuality the river travel is the least significant portion of the journey. Crossing the Rocky Mountains is the heart and soul of the expedition. It is the key of the trip. They believed the Rockies resembled the Appalachians in the eastern half, a single chain of mountains.
They had no idea the Rockies are not a single chain of mountains, more than a hundred named mountain ranges in Montana and northern Idaho alone. Two hundred fifty to 300 miles wide. The key is getting through the Rockies.
They are literally lost in the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroot Mountains three different times. Their journey was not a straightforward expedition.
Present-day Montana presented the Expedition with some interesting problems, also. I start their travail at the Marius River, while they are still on the plains. The Marius was one river the Native Americans had given them no advance information about. They hit it at spring run-off. They took eight days to make a decision regarding which river to take.
They made the right decision. They are trying to get to the Pacific coast by the first of September, and they are spending eight days in June in one spot.
The Great Falls was five separate falls. It ran 18 ½ miles over rugged terrain. It was probably the most arduous physical labor, portaging the heavy dug out canoes across this terrain.
Incredibly, Meriwether Lewis had brought the framework for a 30 ft canoe all the way from Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to Great Falls, Montana. Some people calculate that this skeleton must have weighed 200 lbs. He was covering this framework with buffalo skins but he couldn’t sew the skins together in a waterproof fashion, so it filled up and sank, so there is another ten days.
>They spent one solid month in Great Falls, Montana, from the middle of June to the middle of July. Then once you leave Great Falls, on the Marius River you are not traveling west; you are traveling south. You are getting further away from the Pacific Coast as you go. Three Forks, Montana, in late July, the Beaverhead river… they are getting further and further out of their way to find the Columbia.
Most people thought the expedition had been lost in the West. Lewis told Jefferson that when he got to the Great Falls, he was going to send back four men in a boat. When he got there he figured he needed every man, so he did not send men back in a boat. Jefferson was expecting a messenger, but none came.
How important was this Expedition?
Lewis and Clark are important historically. They provided the first written accounts of this entirely new territory, the entire Pacific Northwest.
Their immediate impact was not as great as we might think, because their journals were not published for about eight years after they got back; and that was only about 20 to 25% of what they had written down. It comes off as purely a geographic expedition.
Omitted was the scientific information. Those weren’t even published until the twentieth century. Ironically, the reputation of Lewis and Clark is higher today than it has ever been. Lewis and Clark have a reputation as natural scientists and ethnologists that they never enjoyed in the nineteenth century.
It’s a sense among Americans that part of our past is gone beyond redemption. We have lost our natural leaders and early American heroes. Meriwether Lewis stands tall as a man who organized and equipped the most successful exploratory mission in all of American history, not excluding the moon shots in the 20th century.
That excitement is still present. It draws Americans back in time to what they believe was a better era, when giants still strode the land and determined the course of American history.
Lewis and Clark have been described as the “writingest” explorers in American history. When Americans get beyond the videos and movies and biographies and encounter their writings, they can’t help but fall in love with William Clark, who was a terrible speller and who spelled the word ‘Sioux’ twenty seven different ways, twenty seven incorrect ways. But you can make out what he says.
Andrew Jackson once said he didn’t have much respect for a man who could think of only one way to spell a word. He loved William Clark.
How do Native Americans view the Expedition?
Native Americans cannot deal with Lewis and Clark in a vacuum, as a single historical event. For many it is the beginning of two centuries of a long decline of their status and culture and place in the world.
They can’t overlook the expedition. It’s safe to say they are not celebrating the expedition. They are not even commemorating it. They are observing it – because it is part of their history. Lewis and Clark visited them in 1804 and 1806.
I think the brightest and most positive aspect of Lewis and Clark scholarship in the Bi-centennial era and over the next generations will be the contributions of Native American scholars and Native American storytellers to what we know about Lewis and Clark.
"I was privileged to narrate it," he said. "Programs like these show that television isn't just a monumental wasteland."
Kennedy says that his granddaughter, who is studying Lewis and Clark in grade school, thinks he's cool. "I'm her hero now. I can pronounce Sacajawea all 4,000 ways."
Kennedy began acting at the age of two, in a touring company of “Bringing up Father.” By the age of seven, he was spinning records on a New York radio station. Kennedy first made it big as a military advisor on the “Sergeant Bilko” television show. He later went on to star in movies like “Charade” and “Shenandoah.”
It was his role as Dragline in “Cool Hand Luke” which netted him an Academy Award for Supporting Actor. Young folks will likely remember Kennedy in the “Airport” and “Naked Gun” films. Kennedy is an Idaho resident.
Among the Tribes
Lewis and Clark Among the Tribes
They called themselves the Corps of Discovery, as though they were going where no one had gone before. Native Americans say it's time to set the record straight and tell the rest of the story.
Roseann Abrahamson and Leo Ariwite are Lemhi Shoshone. Lewis and Clark met the Shoshone in present-day Idaho in August of 1805. The Shoshone traded them horses for their journey over the mountains. Sacajawea was from this tribe. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
If these men (Lewis & Clark) did not get horses, they would have to turn back. But their expedition was able to continue. And it was here, among the Lemhi Shoshone people, that the greatest moment of that expedition happened. It allowed that expedition to move forward.
There are two rivers that we consider to be our life source: the Salmon River and the Lemhi River. As you can see here, we are surrounded by our sacred mountains. We believe that our site is very powerful, as it is the site of the Continental Divide where the flows of the rivers break off into two directions. We believe this is the heart of our lives and our people.
And it is very important to us because generations upon generations of Lemhi Shoshone have lived here; and we believe that the top-most layers of the earth are the dust of our ancestors... for us just to walk where they have walked is very powerful and sacred to us.
We are the furthest, most northern tribe. We are the people of Sacajawea. We are a very proud people.
My people smoked the pipe with your people, the most sacred ceremony you can do; and a promise was made. I know that this Center (the Sacajawea Interpretive Center) is the beginning of that promise.
Our people were led from this valley, crying, in 1907. Maybe you can allow us to come home and take care of her dreams and hopes for her people, to take care of our homeland, to take care of the bones of her mother, her brother, her father and her sister. This is where we belong. Maybe that is what the legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition is all about.
Lewis and Clark had some place to go and we helped them get there. Now we have some place to go, and we are asking help to get there. We want to go home.
I think we've sat silent long enough. It's our time to say, wait a minute, we're Sacajawea's people. We still exist, and don't take that away from us.
Darrell Kipp is a member of the Blackfoot tribe and director of the Piegan Institute. Lewis and Clark met members of this tribe on their return journey in 1806. The Expedition killed two young Blackfoot men who had entered their camp. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
They avoided coming in contact with the Blackfoot. There is speculation that they knew they might have trouble with the Blackfoot on the western trek. During their eastern trek home, under specific orders, they had to come into the Blackfoot area to verify some geographic locations. During that time the only fatality happened when Lewis and his fellow travelers were in a skirmish and two teenage Blackfoot boys were killed.
The celebration of any American nation-building . . . could be classified as marking the demise of Native American communities . . . It's time for America to grow up and start to develop a viable history of America, what really happened.
I use the term, let's "renegotiate" reality. Let's use this commemoration of Lewis and Clark to have everybody say what is the reality of today, and what type of reality are we going to create for the future.
Native American people are in a giant healing process right now . . . Generosity, the value of the extended family, the respect for the land, protecting the land you live on. These are becoming important now. We've made a pretty good job of polluting a lot of things in this country. And we can't just simply go on polluting at will and hoping technology will take care of it down the road. It's about time to kind of get on the right track and get back to a true relationship with Mother Earth.
One of the major facets of American society today is that technology is on a rampage . . . this results in a high rate of consumption of natural resources. Some day we are going to have to say, that's it. We can't consume everything. We have to share with the world and leave some for future generations.
In this great quest for happiness we just gobble up everything we come in contact with... that is an extension of the mentality behind Lewis and Clak. He was sent to find things to harvest and get rid of anything in the way.
We talk about . . . "discovery." How can we discover something that is already there? We sent people to the moon in a spaceship. Did they discover the moon? Absolutely not.
Otis Half Moon is a Nez Perce tribal elder. The Nez Perce assisted the Lewis & Clark expedition in the fall of 1805 and again in the spring of 1806. These excerpts are taken from an interview conducted in 2002.
It is mentioned in a publication that when Lewis and Clark entered the Weippe area that they saw one of the hatchets they had left in one of the Mandan villages, and the hatchet made it over here faster than they did. So they knew about this race of people.
When the Nez Perce saw these people, they weren't quite sure. Some of them wanted to kill them because they were strange creatures to them. They saw these wonderful objects they had, the gunpowder, the rifles, and they wanted to liberate them of those items.
It took a lot of encouragement but the Nez Perce helped them out a lot. I think a lot of that was shown in 1806 on the return journey, when they camped at Long Camp at present-day Kamiah. The Nez Perce really helped them out a lot and in fact guided them back to Montana. When they got to Lolo, they actually had a ceremony and they traded names. It's a very old ceremony you don't see any more, it's about like you and I were brothers, good friends but not by blood. I will give you my name and I will take your name. This is the ceremony they did with Clark once they got to Montana. That's how close they became in that short period.
It goes further than that. They talk about a child that was left by Clark by a Nez Perce woman conceived in 1806, who was left in Kamiah. The Nez Perce knew where Clark was. That is one of the things that prompted them to go to St. Louis in 1829 or 1830 to see Clark. History says they were seeking the Book of Heaven, but they told Clark about his son, and so he was very much aware of the child he left behind.
A lot of entities today use the word "reconciliation." I don't use "reconciliation." If you decipher that word, it means "the books are balanced." The books will never be balanced as far as the tribes are concerned. Never be balanced. Will we get back all of our land? I don't think so. But we must heal. What has happened has happened. Let's move forward.
We must heal. Healing is a very simple word, but it is a very powerful word. Perhaps now here in the 21st century we need a healing connection for this country of ours.
I am angry about some things, and I debated the idea of whether we should even acknowledge Lewis and Clark, but another concept . . . is protection of the resources. Back in 1855, one of our chiefs said, "Who is going to speak for the land?" We now must all speak for the land, no matter what color we are. We are human beings here walking on the earth. We must protect those resources. We all must speak for that.
Bobby Connor is a member of the Confederated Umatilla tribe. The tribe met Lewis & Clark in the fall of 1805, as the expedition traveled along the Columbia. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
One of the most notable changes from then to now is that we had a lot more people. Estimates for then are about 8,000 people. (Lewis and Clark) had not seen that kind of density. Our tribe now has 2,377 tribal members.
We have a lot of challenges today. There's a high incidence of diabetes and heart disease today. Our diet was better then than it is now. When we have salmon that are radio-active and living in polluted waters, our people won't be well. For our people to be well, we need the water to be well.
Celilo Falls was the Wall Street of the west; it made it possible to obtain goods that were near us and goods that were far away. But most importantly, it was the richest salmon fishery in the pacific northwest for thousands of years. It was a place where we exchanged cultures, people got married, gambled, goods were exchanged. The loss of it cost us not only that rich fishery, but that cultural exchange.
When Lewis and Clark made it into this area, they were the first white men who had come into our country. They were curious to us . . . They had a fondness for dog meat. We didn't eat dogs. They preferred eating horsemeat . . . it was not our habit to eat horsemeat. Our people preferred to eat fish over meat.
They were unaware how to have firewood in a treeless plain. They were ill-equipped. They did not know how to function here . . . They didn't know when and how to travel. They did things over rapids that they were not skillful at. I suspect it was kind of fun to watch...
We hope that people will recognize that this was not a wilderness. This was a home. Lewis and Clark were not naming things, they were re-naming things. We hope that people will appreciate how long we've lived here, and how much we love this place. We are very proud to be American.
It's a surprise to a lot of people that we are still here. Two hundred years later, we are still here. We have had many opportunities to be completely wiped out, and our people have made sacrifices so we might continue to be here.
Tony Johnson is the cultural committee chairman of the Chinook tribe. Lewis and Clark met the Chinook as they got closer to the Pacific Ocean, and they lived among the Chinook at Fort Clatsop in the winter of 1805-1806. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
Our image is a lot different than America has. To us, short of their rifles, they were not very impressive. A five year old Chinook could make a finer rig. They were not suited for our country. Real pitiful looking. The clothes they were wearing, their condition when they got to us. Even the winter they spent here and they talk about how miserable they were at Fort Clatsop. Had they asked to live with our local people, they would have had a perfectly good winter there.
They stole a canoe on their way out of town here. The implication was that it was payback for the elk that we took from them. That's a funny concept to us, since that elk was ours. This is our country. People didn't just come into your country and steal your resources randomly.
Lewis and Clark clearly lived here at our community decision. We all had muskets and sabers. They lived here by our kind-heartedness. That's the frustration at this point, obviously. We helped folks settle this country and they in turn end up with everything that at one time was ours.
It's important that people see our situation; everything we want and have had taken away from us. And we've been in a fight for 100 years trying to get our status back. We need to have land to call our own, and places to fish, and hunting country. Even our religion requires places that are undisturbed, and they don't exist in the way we would like them to.
We need a reservation. With that comes an infrastructure. We are consistently losing people to neighboring communities where there is fishing and hunting and work and the few things that are available to tribal people. How can you be a Chinook if you can't fish for sturgeon or salmon?
Alan Pinkham is a Nez Perce tribal elder. The Nez Perce assisted Lewis & Clark in the fall of 1805, as the expedition stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce also allowed the expedition into their camp for several weeks in the spring of 1806 and guided them over the snowy Bitterroots. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
We talked about the coming of the white man. We knew that they existed. It just surprised us that Lewis and Clark showed up one day in September of 1805. We had a lot of questions about them. They had a peculiarity about them. And they had an ability we didn't have, that is writing. The elders said we needed to understand how they do that.
People don't give us the credit for being progressive and inquisitive, but we were. We had a 2,000 mile radius that we traveled because we wanted to know what was going on.
When Lewis and Clark came out here we picked their brains. Red Bear said when he heard they were here, "I've got to smoke with these people." When you smoke with them, you pick their brains.
We could have been more hostile. We could have wiped them out. But they had some resources that we don't have, so we better treat these guys good. Feed them, take care of the horses, help them make canoes, guide them down the river. We thought we were going to get something back. All they wanted was more, so we gave up more. But we were still treated lousy. We were still dispossessed.
We weren't even considered citizens until 1924. A Nez Perce served in the Spanish American War. One served in the Civil War. We had about fifteen in World War One. My father was one of them . . . The Nez Perce have served in all the wars since the Civil War, and that is because we have a sense of place.
For the last 200 years we somehow survived all of this violence and genocide and pox and measles and the onslaught of the missionaries. We're still here after 200 years. That's the message we would like to convey. And we'll probably be here another 200 years, at the minimum.
What's written in the journals, people accept that as, oh this must be true. It's true to a certain extent, through the angle of American eyes. Looking through Nez Perce eyes, they're missing at least 50% of the story we should be telling.
It's not this intrepid duo of Lewis and Clark conquering the great unknown. We were already here. We accepted them into our neighborhood, into our country, and let them go through our country. That's the way we look at it. We treated these guys good. Why don't we get that in return?
Louis Adams is a Salish tribal elder. The Salish met Lewis & Clark in the Bitterroot valley, in Montana, in 1805 and gave the expedition horses. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
At the time Lewis and Clark came around, the majority of our people had never seen a white man, and none of them had ever seen a black man. It was pretty open then. There were no roads, just trails. I wish I had lived at that time.
There was no communication except by sign language, so they kept pointing at him so Lewis and Clark knew that their main concern was their black man (York). Lewis and Clark had them rub his face, and so they found out that was his true color. To this day (rubbing the face) that is how you describe a black man in sign language.
The only way they helped them was with horses and food. Our people said later they should have hired a middle-aged man to help them through the Lolo trail. They would have made it in a matter of days.
At the time they felt sorry for them because they were a pitiful looking lot . . . (without natives' help) they wouldn't have gone anywhere. There were too many people that weren't like the Salish. They'd have gotten wiped out.
The deception, that's what hurt our people later on. Why couldn't they be truthful? Why couldn't they say, "Yeah, we are here exploring to take this all away from you?"