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Archive for the ‘Native Americans’ Category

Location: Natchez,  Mississippi

View from Emerald Mound near Natchez, Mississippi

Our recent blog on Cahokia Mounds described the culture of the mound builders, whose handiwork all over the American landscape would have been part of everyday life for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Cahokia Mounds is a great stop for those in the St. Louis area. Today I want to talk about a couple of sites that are equally fascinating and easily accessible to those retracing the last journey of Meriwether Lewis along the Natchez Trace.

Emerald Mound was constructed about 1400. Second only to Monk’s Mound at Cahokia in size, it would have been the site of an enormous temple that served the ancestors of the Natchez Indians. It is believed to have continued to be used for about three centuries. Studying the residents and how they lived is frustrating because much of the site, including a number of additional mounds, was destroyed by farming before the National Park Service stepped into  preserve it  starting in the 1950s. Today, you can easily walk to the top of Emerald Mound.

These ancestors would have been among the Native Americans who violently repulsed the first Europeans to visit the area back in1542, when Hernando de Soto and the Spanish came calling. Unfortunately, the Spanish probably had the last laugh, as foreign diseases swept through the people of the area in the next decades. By the time the French ventured up the river 140 years later, the earlier civilization had been replaced by the Natchez, who lived not far from Emerald Mound in a city known as the “Grand Village.” Other smaller villages of Natchez Indians were scattered in the surrounding area.

The Grand Village was impressive to the French, though its ceremonial plaza and temple mound were much smaller than those found at Emerald Mound and Cahokia (it is believed to have been constructed back around 1200 and then resettled.) At first it seemed that the French and the Natchez might have a lot in common. The Natchez were ruled by a man known as the “Great Sun” (not unlike the French Sun King) and his brother, the Tattooed Serpent. A highly complex and stratified society still held proudly to its traditions on a spot with some of the richest farmland in America and a well-tended forest loaded with deer, walnuts, and peaches, plums, and figs.The French established reasonably decent relations with the Natchez and documented many of their beliefs, ceremonies, and customs, which included human sacrifice, ritual suicide, and infanticide.

In 1716, after four French traders were murdered by Natchez, the French set up a garrison known as Fort Rosalie. A handful of soldiers maintained the fort to protect French traders, those tobacco farmers crazy or desperate enough to seek their fortune in one of the most remote areas on the planet, their families, and their African slaves.

Mary with one of the reconstructed dwellings at the Grand Village of the Natchez

The Great Sun died in 1728, and his successor, the Young Sun, lost any control over his people, who were fed up with the French demanding more land for tobacco farming. In an incident reminiscent of today’s headlines, Natchez warriors strolled into Fort Rosalie and asked to borrow the garrison’s guns. To the surprise of the French, they proceeded to slaughter some 200 men and take hundreds of women, children, and slaves back to their village, where they were held hostage. (The slaves were given the option of becoming Natchez and many did.)

The incident proved to the last stand for the Natchez. In the war that followed, the French, along with Choctaw allies, hunted down the Natchez and took a terrible revenge. The Natchez were driven from the Grand Village and other towns. Those not killed were sold into slavery in the West Indies. A handful escaped to join the Cherokee and Creek, but their civilization disappeared forever. The region was completely destabilized, and war continued among area Indians for years, with lasting consequences. The French chose to arm their slaves, leading to a path to freedom and a free black society that had a huge impact on the history of Louisiana.

Archeological work began at the site of the Grand Village in the 1930s. Today you can visit the site, explore the mounds, and take in a small but very informative museum.

I know there are many other surviving Indian mound sites in the United States, including other smaller mounds along the Natchez Trace. I’d love to visit many more sites. If you have a site you recommend, please leave a comment.

For more reading:

Ancient Architects of the Mississippi

Indian Mounds of Mississippi

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On a cold, rainy Sunday in December 1805, William Clark was dealing with sick men, hard-bargaining Indians, and spoiled elk.  However, he was quick to note in his journal that a welcome bit of novelty had crept into the dreary routine at Fort Clatsop. “We were informed day before yesterday that a whale had foundered on the coast to the S. W. near the Kil a mox [Tillamook] N. and that the greater part of the Clat Sops were gorn for the oile & blubber,” Clark wrote. “The wind proves too high for us to proceed by water to See this monster, Capt Lewis has been in readiness Since we first heard of the whale to go and see it and collect Some of its Oil, the wind has proved too high as yet for him to proceed.”

Beached blue whale carcass

Beached blue whale carcass

The sight of a whale would indeed have been a novelty. In 1805, the ascent of the New England whaling industry was still 15 years away, and Lewis and Clark would have known whales mostly as a source for lamp oil and candle wax.

One week after first hearing about the whale, Lewis and Clark got their first taste of the big fish from a couple of their own men who were employed at the Salt Camp. On January 5, 1806, Clark noted, “At 5 p. m. Willard and Wiser returned, they had not been lost as we expected.    they informd us that it was not untill the 5th day after leaveing the fort, that they Could find a Convenient place for makeing Salt; that they had at length established themselves on the Sea Coast about 15 miles S. W. from this, near the houses of Some Clat Sop & Kil a mox families; that the Indians were very friendly and had given them a considerable quantity of the blubber of the whale which perished on the Coast Some distance S. E. of them.”

Willard and Wiser had brought some of the whale blubber to Fort Clatsop. Ever the epicurean, Lewis was anxious to sample the whale meat. “It was white & not unlike the fat of Poark, tho’ the texture was more spongey and somewhat coarser,” he wrote. “I had a part of it cooked and found it very pallitable and tender, it resembled the beaver or the dog in flavor.”

Sacagawea

“the Indian woman was very impotunate to be permited to go”

His curiosity piqued, Clark determined “to Set out early tomorrow with two canoes & 12 men in quest of the whale or at all events to purchase from the indians a parcel of the blubber.” The next day, he picked up one additional passenger. Sacagawea had heard about the whale and was not about to be left behind. Lewis recorded, “Capt Clark set out after an early breakfast with the party in two canoes as had been concerted the last evening; Charbono and his Indian woman were also of the party; the Indian woman was very impotunate to be permited to go, and was therefore indulged; she observed that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be seen, she thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either (she had never yet been to the Ocean).”

By Tuesday, January 7, Clark’s party had reached the sea coast, about 35 miles from Fort Clatsop. Clark hired an Indian guide to pilot them to the location of the beached whale. On the way, he noted that “we met 14 Indians loaded with blubber.” Unfortunately, the Corps of Discovery was a johnny-come-lately to the party. When they reached the Tillamook Nation on Wednesday the 8th, the Indians were busily boiling blubber and siphoning the whale oil into a canoe. The whale itself, called E cu-la by the natives, was lying on “a very large Rock” and had been dead for more than a week. It was “nothing but a Sceleton.”

Clark estimated the skeleton’s length to be 105 feet. According to Private Whitehouse, the head was shaped “like the bow of a Vessell nearly.” Based on that description, it could have been a blue whale, the largest mammal on the planet.

Makah Indians cutting up a whale, 1910

Makah Indians cutting up a whale, 1910

Finding no blubber left on the carcass, Clark’s next task was to try to strike a bargain. “We tok out a few bones and returned to the Cabins at the mouth of the Creek, and attempted to trade with thos people who I found Close and Capricious, would not trade the Smallest piece except they thought they got an advantage of the bargain,” Clark complained. Clark and the men were finally able to purchase about 300 pounds of blubber and a few gallons of whale oil. Clark wrote testily, “Finding they would not trade I Deturmined to return home with what we have.”

The next day, Clark divided the load among the men in his party and set out on the return trip to Fort Clatsop. They found it tough going until they chanced upon a party of Indians, also transporting a heavy load of blubber.  “On the Steep decent of the Mountain I overtook five men and Six womin with emence loads of the Oil and blubber of the Whale,” Clark recorded. “One of the women in the act of getting down a Steep part of the mountain her load by Some means had Sliped off her back, and She was holding the load by a Strap which was fastened to the mat bag in which it was in, in one hand and holding a bush by the other, as I was in front of my party, I endeavored to relieve this woman by takeing her load untill She Could get to a better place a little below, & to my estonishment found the load as much as I Could lift and must exceed 100 wt.” He added, “Estonishing what custom will do.”

Jonah and the whale

Jonah and the whale

Clark’s weary party returned home to Fort Clatsop on Friday, January 10 with their precious oil and whale meat. Clark reflected in his journal, “Small as this Stock is I prise it highly; and thank providence for directing the whale to us; and think him much more kind to us than he was to jonah, having Sent this monster to be Swallowed by us in Sted of Swallowing of us as jonah’s did.”

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Location: Across the river from St. Louis, between East St. Louis and Collinsville, Illinois

Liz at Cahokia Mounds. Once this was a metropolis.

That was an unplanned blogging break! Back now with regular blogging. This is the first of two posts I will do about sites of the early American culture known as the mound builders. I confess I never learned one particle of information about the mound builders in school, or in any documentary or book until we began our research into Lewis and Clark. I had no idea such an advanced civilization existed in North America. Cahokia Mounds is a gateway to an entirely different way of understanding the history of America before Europeans arrived on the scene.

The mound builders were the ancestors of the Indians that encountered Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and other European settles and explorers. They lived in sophisticated cities that centered around large temples and public buildings constructed as monumental earthen mounds. The earliest known mound city has been located near present-day Monroe, Louisiana and dates back to around 3400 B.C. For context, this was almost one thousand years earlier than the pyramids were built in Egypt.

The greatest surviving mound city can explored today at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It seems that about 500 hundred years ago, Cahokia was the site of one of the largest cities in the world — far larger than, say, London in the time of Shakespeare. At its peak, Cahokia was home to over 20,000 people. It would be centuries before another city of comparable size (Philadelphia) arose in North America.

But of all the people that lived in this powerful center of human industry and imagination, nothing remains today but about 80 mysterious mounds. The largest of them, called Monk’s Mound, is 100 feet high and would have been topped by an impressive temple. It is the largest such structure found north of Mexico. The mound is named after a community of Trappist monks who made their home there in Lewis & Clark’s day (in fact, one of the monks baptized little Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea). The mounds, their shapes, and their layout are believed to have been governed by an ancient cosmology that is still only dimly understood.

Artist’s rendition of Cahokia in all its glory. No one knows what the original inhabitants of the site called the city. Courtesy Cahokia Mounds Museum Society.

There is evidence that Cahokia was a walled city, and some of the stockade has been reconstructed. The inhabitants followed the sun calendar which they followed with a giant calendar, now reconstructed and called “Woodhenge.”

Cahokia is believed to gone into decline around 1300, and was abandoned before the first Spanish and French explorers arrived in the area. (The mound builders lived on elsewhere — a story that will be in the second post, coming soon.) In fact, the Indians seem to have suffered through some unknown catastrophe that left the region greatly depopulated from what it had once been. In any case, the locals really didn’t know much about their forebears who once lived in the great city, though they continued to venerate its remains.

Generations of white settlers found the mounds fascinating. Early St. Louis was nicknamed “Mound City” because there were so many Native American structures to explore. During his travels during the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark, William Clark’s older brother, viewed Cahokia Mounds and spoke with the Kaskaskia Indians about the complex. Clark wrote, “They say they were the work of their forefathers and that they were formerly as numerous as the trees in the woods.”

In fact, the entire eastern portion of the country hosted hundreds of mounds, which were explored by scientists and dedicated amateurs like future presidents Thomas Jefferson and William Henry Harrison. Unfortunately, the heyday of excavation and study of the mounds was short-lived. Most of them were destroyed by development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cahokia Mounds has only been systematically studied since the 1960s, when preservationists successfully stopped a plan to build an interstate highway through it. What has been discovered includes beautiful carvings, ceremonial graves, and evidence of human sacrifice similar to that practiced at corresponding sites in Mexico.

We spent an amazing, delightful day viewing and exploring the huge mounds and learning about the life of the people who lived around them.The visitor center has excellent exhibits and a good orientation movie, along with a tape that you can use to guide you on a walking/driving tour of the great city. I suggest bringing a picnic lunch which you can eat outside or inside in a spacious break area that also contains some vending machines.

Back in St. Louis after our day at the mounds, we walked in the park that surrounds the Gateway Arch. We watched ducks and bunnies playing in the park, people of all types enjoying the Arch and the river, and a stupendous pink sunset behind the Old Cathedral. The silvery Arch reflected the colors back at the sun. It was not unlike the mounds made by the mysterious Indians at Cahokia. Both are expressions of the highest aspirations of mankind.

More great reading:

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (State of Illinois)
Cahokia: America’s Forgotten City (National Geographic)

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Three Forks area, Montana

Three Forks area, Montana

It was August 11, 1805, and Meriwether Lewis was getting desperate. Since leaving Fort Mandan in April 1805, the Corps of Discovery had navigated the twists and turns of the Upper Missouri, run their canoes through the Missouri Breaks, and portaged their boats and equipment on a grueling 18-mile land route around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. As July wore on into August, the Corps pressed on into what is now western Montana, searching for the Shoshone Indians. The Shoshone’s formidable horse herds were critical to the success of Lewis and Clark’s plan for reaching the Pacific Ocean. If they could only barter for horses, they believed they could swap their increasingly grueling river travel for an easy horseback ride across the Continental Divide.

There was only one problem. The Shoshone were nowhere to be found. In many places along the Upper Missouri, Lewis and Clark saw signs of Indian camps, hunting expeditions, cook fires, and smoke signals. But they did not encounter any people. In any case, they could not be sure whether these deserted camps belonged to the Shoshone, or indicated the unwelcome presence of hostile Assiniboine or Blackfeet.

By late July the party had reached the Three Forks, and Sacagawea began to recognize landmarks from the area in which she lived prior to being kidnapped as a child. While Lewis wrangled the boats up the river, Clark led a party by land, suffering blistered feet and prickly pear punctures. But they still saw no Indians. The explorers simply did not realize that the Shoshone were still hunting and fishing west of the Divide and typically did not cross the mountains until early fall.

Beaverhead Rock

Beaverhead Rock (courtesy NPS)

By the first week of August, Lewis and Clark’s party was exhausted, demoralized, and hungry. The river was barely navigable, Clark was sick and his feet painful and infected. If they could not find horses, the expedition would have to attempt the Rocky Mountains on foot, carrying only a fraction of their supplies and relying on finding scarce game in the mountains in winter. It was a bleak prospect indeed. Then, a ray of hope: Sacagawea recognized Beaverhead Rock. She was certain that her people would be camped along the river nearby.

Clark still being too ill to lead a scouting party, Lewis set out with George Drouillard, John Shields, and Hugh McNeal. On the morning of August 11, he finally found the man he was looking for:

after having marched in this order for about five miles I discovered an Indian on horse back about two miles distance coming down the plain toward us.    with my glass I discovered from his dress that he was of a different nation from any that we had yet seen, and was satisfyed of his being a Sosone; his arms were a bow and quiver of arrows, and was mounted on an eligant horse without a saddle, and a small string which was attatched to the underjaw of the horse which answered as a bridle. I was overjoyed at the sight of this stranger and had no doubt of obtaining a friendly introduction to his nation provided I could get near enough to him to convince him of our being whitemen. I therefore proceeded towards him at my usual pace.    when I had arrived within about a mile he mad a halt which I did also and unloosing my blanket from my pack, I mad him the signal of friendship known to the Indians of the Rocky mountains and those of the Missouri, which is by holding the mantle or robe in your hands at two corners and then throwing up in the air higher than the head bringing it to the earth as if in the act of spreading it, thus repeating three times.    this signal of the robe has arrisen from a custom among all those nations of spreading a robe or skin for ther gests to set on when they are visited.    this signal had not the desired effect, he still kept his position and seemed to view Drewyer an Shields who were now comiming in sight on either hand with an air of suspicions, I wold willingly have made them halt but they were too far distant to hear me and I feared to make any signal to them least it should increase the suspicion in the mind of the Indian of our having some unfriendly design upon him. I therefore haistened to take out of my sack some b[e]ads a looking glas and a few trinketes which I had brought with me for this purpose and leaving my gun and pouch with McNeal advanced unarmed towards him.    he remained in the same stedfast poisture untill I arrived in about 200 paces of him when he turn his hose about and began to move off slowly from me; I now called to him in as loud a voice as I could command repeating the word tab-ba-bone, which in their language signifyes white man.

Shoshone on horseback

Shoshone on horseback

Lewis advanced slowly, repeatedly shouting the word “tab-ba-bone,” a word which he had undoubtedly gotten from Sacagawea as the best way to describe white men to her people. Seeing the Indian glancing nervously over his shoulder, Lewis frantically motioned for Drouillard and Shields to halt their advance so as not to spook the man, but Shields failed to see the signal and continued forward. Lewis continued in his journal: “whe I arrived within about 150 paces I again repepeated the word tab-ba-bone and held up the trinkits in my hands and striped up my shirt sleve to give him an opportunity of seeing the colour of my skin and advanced leasure towards him but he did not remain untill I got nearer than about 100 paces when he suddonly turned his hose about, gave him the whip leaped the creek and disapeared in the willow brush in an instant and with him vanished all my hopes of obtaining horses for the present.”

Lewis was mortified, disappointed, and furious at Shields and the other men. He confessed that he “could not forbare abraiding them a little for their want of attention and imprudence on this occasion.” In other words, Shields got a good old-fashioned army ass-chewing.

Still hoping to make contact, Lewis and his men tracked the Shoshone for two more days. On the morning of August 13, Lewis again had a close encounter:

we had proceeded about four miles through a wavy plain parallel to the valley or river bottom when at the distance of about a mile we saw two women, a man and some dogs on an eminence immediately before us.    they appeared to vew us with attention and two of them after a few minutes set down as if to wait our arrival we continued our usual pace towards them.    when we had arrived within half a mile of them I directed the party to halt and leaving my pack and rifle I took the flag which I unfurled and avanced singly towards them the women soon disappeared behind the hill, the man continued untill I arrived within a hundred yards of him and then likewise absconded.    tho’ I frequently repeated the word tab-ba-bone sufficiently loud for him to have heard it. I now haistened to the top of the hill where they had stood but could see nothing of them.

Shoshone women and children

Shoshone women and children

A short time later, however, Lewis finally hit paydirt:

we had not continued our rout more than a mile when we were so fortunate as to meet with three female savages.    the short and steep ravines which we passed concealed us from each other untill we arrived within 30 paces.    a young woman immediately took to flight, an Elderly woman and a girl of about 12 years old remained. I instantly laid by my gun and advanced towards them.    they appeared much allarmed but saw that we were to near for them to escape by flight they therefore seated themselves on the ground, holding down their heads as if reconciled to die which the expected no doubt would be their fate; I took the elderly woman by the hand and raised her up repeated the word tab-ba-bone and strip up my shirt sleve to sew her my skin; to prove to her the truth of the ascertion that I was a white man for my face and hads which have been constantly exposed to the sun were quite as dark as their own. they appeared instantly reconciled, and the men coming up I gave these women some beads a few mockerson awls some pewter looking-glasses and a little paint.

After calling back the young woman who had run away, Lewis “painted their tawny cheeks with some vermilion” as a sign of friendship and bestowed trinkets on the women to convince them of his good intentions. The women agreed to lead him to their camp. Lewis recorded in  his journal that after walking with the women another two miles, “we met a party of about 60 warriors mounted on excellent horses who came in nearly full speed,  when they arrived I advanced towards them with the flag leaving my gun with the party about 50 paces behid me.    the chief and two others who were a little in advance of the main body spoke to the women, and they informed them who we were and exultingly shewed the presents which had been given them    these men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way which is by puting their left arm over you wright sholder clasping your back, while they apply their left cheek to yours and frequently vociforate the word âh-hi’-e, âh-hi’-e  that is, I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced.    bothe parties now advanced and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.”

Charlie Russell's Captain Lewis Meeting the Shoshones

“Captain Lewis Meeting the Shoshones” by Charles Russell

Lewis might not have been a “huggy” person, but he was a most fortunate one. Having never encountered white people before, the Shoshone were friendly and eager to embrace their new “tab-ba-bone” friend. According to the notes in Moulton’s Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, sources disagree on the translation of this word. Some say it meant “alien” or “stranger,” which would not have reassured the Shoshone upon repeated shoutings. Some say that Lewis meant to say Ti-yo bo-nin, meaning “I’m a white man! See!” deriving from Ti-you, meaning “one originating from the sun” (i.e., the east). Having no experience with whites, it is quite possible that tab-ba-bone meant nothing to the Shoshone at all.  Perhaps they just saw Lewis as a tired and desperate human being, and took him in.

Lewis met the principal chief, Cameahwait, who regretfully told Lewis the Shoshone had nothing to eat but berries. Lewis accepted them gratefully, and he and his famished men “made a hearty meal.” Lewis wrote that later, “an indian called me in to his bower and gave me a small morsel of the flesh of an antelope boiled, and a peice of a fresh salmon roasted; both which I eat with a very good relish.”He added with evident satisfaction: “This was the first salmon I had seen and perfectly convinced me that we were on the waters of the Pacific Ocean.”

More interesting reading: Lewis and Clark Among the Shoshones

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Indians Playing a Ball Game, by George Catlin

Indians Playing a Ball Game, by George Catlin

Like most young men, the members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery were a sporting and competitive lot. This band of tough frontiersmen, almost all under the age of 35, liked to test their mettle against the people they met along the way. This included shooting, hunting, horsemanship, and footraces. It also includes games that have been all but forgotten.

In June 1806, the Corps was camped near the Chopunnish or Nez Perce Indians, waiting for the snows to melt enough to recross the Rocky Mountain, when a lively round of games took place. On June 8, 1806, Lewis wrote in his journal:

several foot rarces were run this evening between the indians and our men. the indians are very active; one of them proved as fleet as 〈our best runner〉 Drewer and R. Fields, our swiftest runners.    when the racing was over the men divided themselves into two parties and played prison base, by way of exercise which we wish the men to take previously to entering the mountain; in short those who are not hunters have had so little to do that they are geting reather lazy and slouthfull.—    after dark we had the violin played and danced for the amusement of ourselves and the indians.—

A Game of Prisoner's Base

A Game of Prisoner's Base, 19th century

Prison base (or prisoner’s base, as it is more commonly called) is an old game in which two teams are divided by a line drawn in the dirt between the two teams. About 20 or 30 feet in back of each team a large square (prison) is drawn on the ground. Each team picks one person to be the prisoner of the other team (usually the fastest runner). Then each team tries to free their prisoner by sending a team member to the prison through the opposing team to bring the prisoner back without getting captured by a member of the opposing team. If the person attempting to rescue their own prisoner makes it to the prison through the opposing team without being caught, he is safe while in the prison and can pick his own time to run with the prisoner back to their own side of the line. If the team member is caught by the opposing team, they also became a prisoner needing rescue. So each team is busy both trying to rescue their own prisoners and prevent the prisoners from the opposite side from getting rescued. At the end of the game, the team with the most prisoners wins.  Unfortunately, Lewis and Clark did not record whether the Corps of Discovery or the Nez Perce won the day.

The next day, June 9, Clark reported, “more our party exolted with the idea of once more proceeding on towards their friends and Country are elert in all their movements and amuse themselves by pitching quates, Prisoners bast running races &c—.”

quoits

Metal quoits

According to the U. S. Quoit Association, the game of pitching quoits (or “quates”) has existed in one form or another for so many centuries that a compilation of the complete history of the sport is not possible.  The quoit is a heavy, flat ring made of stone or metal, something like a horseshoe,  that was originally used as a weapon of war by the early Romans. A quoit was used in the early discus competitions in the ancient Olympic games, two centuries before Christ.   A few centuries A.D., the sport evolved to include a wooden stake or metal pin driven into the ground, which provided a target to throw at, changing the object of the competition from distance to accuracy.

As the Romans traveled throughout Europe on their conquests, the games spread to other cultures, and invading armies eventually brought the games to Britain around 1000 A.D.  It is here that Quoits developed into the form having two pins set into clay pits, which can still be found today in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

In England, Quoits became so popular that in 1361, King Edward III became worried that his subjects were using too much of their time to throw quoits rather than to practice shooting or using a bow to keep their skills of war honed.  He issued a decree that outlawed quoits and other “useless and time-wasting” games, but quoits continued to be played discreetly and never died out.  By the following century, quoits had again become legal and quite popular, enough so that it became a well-organized sport in the Taverns and Pubs in Britain.  Horseshoes was also played, but was considered a child’s game, while quoits was for men.

Pitching Quoits by Winslow Homer (1865)

Pitching Quoits by Winslow Homer (1865)

The English brought both the games of quoits and horseshoes with them when they settled in America in the 1600′s.  Quoit pitching was mainly centered in the New York area, and spread north into New England and south as far as Washington D.C., while horseshoes was more commonly played in the Midwest. As the Corps’ only New Englander, one wonders if Sergeant Ordway was the ringleader of the quoits games played by the Corps of Discovery.

Quoits remained a popular pastime in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. The complete eclipsing of quoits by horseshoes in the U.S. can be traced to a single incident. In 1920, an Akron, Ohio, fireman named George May entered the World Tournament for Horseshoe Pitchers in St. Petersburg, Florida. May had, through endless practice, acquired the skill of ringing the stake with startling frequency. An absolute unknown at the competition, May put on an astonishing horseshoes exhibition , tossing 430 ringers during the competition and winning 24 straight games, as well as the championship. The allure and satisfaction of ringer-throwing, much easier with open horseshoes than with quoits, instantly elevated horseshoes to the preferred sport. May’s knack for ringing the stake proved to be the death knell of quoits as a popular competitive sport in America.

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Fort Washington, 1791, by Major Jonathan Hart. The city of Cincinnati grew up around the fort, which was active from 1789-1808. It is a major setting for our novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe.

As detailed in our novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met and had their first experiences as leaders of men while serving in the U.S. Army on the Ohio frontier. Their world was essentially defined by log forts, which stood as bastions of American military power amidst a vast wilderness dominated by Indians. The more I’ve learned about the frontier forts of the Wayne’s Legion period, the more I’ve been impressed by just how much Lewis & Clark were influenced by Anthony Wayne and his “by the book” approach to surviving on an Indian frontier.

The forts of the Ohio frontier varied in size, but were all built along the same general model, as log stockades that rose at least 12 feet high with four- and six-pound cannons protruding from the bastions, ready to blast grapeshot at any Indians attempting to scale the walls. Inside the fort’s walls lay the barracks and storerooms of the garrison. The roof sloped inwards so that the fort could capture rainwater in the event of a siege. When peaceful conditions prevailed, the men (and often their wives) planted vegetables and raised livestock outside the forts.

The first forts erected in the Ohio territory, such as Fort Harmar in 1785, allowed the army to establish a presence to repel the advance of settlers into the Ohio territory. Thanks to the efforts of George Rogers Clark, Ohio was part of the United States under the treaty that ended the American Revolution. However, the territory was considered indefensible with the small army of the fledgling republic. But nothing, not the Army and not even repeated massacres, seemed to deter the pioneers from venturing into Ohio’s cold, rough, rich terrain.

St. Clair's Defeat. From Stories of Ohio, by William Dean Howells, 1897.

Eventually, the conflict developed into a brutal quagmire, with British-backed Indians essentially carrying on the war of the British against American independence by other means. In 1791, President Washington decided to do something about it, sending out virtually the entire United States Army — some 1400 men — under the leadership of Arthur St. Clair to punish and defeat the Indians. The result, as we detailed in a previous post, was complete disaster for the United States.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers, Part 1

Over 600 of St. Clair’s men were killed by the forces of Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, and another 258 wounded—an astounding 62% casualty rate. (For comparison, about 200 died at Custer’s Last Stand in 1876 out of 2400 assigned to the campaign.) In essence, the United States Army was wiped out, a defeat comparable in magnitude to the Navy’s losses at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Anthony Wayne, a retired hero of the American Revolution, was called in to rebuild the Army (which he designated the Legion of the United States) practically from scratch. It was at this time that 22-year-old William Clark joined up and was commissioned an infantry lieutenant as Wayne worked to rebuild his officer corps.

Clark had a ringside seat as Wayne methodically trained his army, then moved them to Fort Washington at present-day Cincinnati to prepare for his mission, which was to avenge St. Clair’s Defeat and make Ohio safe for Americans once and for all. Clark kept a journal which is now one of the most important primary sources on the campaign. (It also exposes young Clark’s naive infatuation with none other than our old friend General James Wilkinson, whose machinations against Clark’s brother George Roger Clark helped lead to his final ruin, and who much later may have played a role in the death of Meriwether Lewis).

“William Clark’s Journal of General Wayne’s Campaign” was published in 1915 by the Mississippi Valley Historical Review and can be read on Google Books. One thing the journal documents is that Clark really didn’t like Anthony Wayne very much. Unbeknownst to Clark or anyone else in the officer corps, Wayne had sweeping authorization to wage total war against the Indians, even if it meant reigniting war with the British, who had built Fort Miamis in American territory near present-day Toledo in clear violation of the Treaty of Paris.

View of Fort Greeneville, active 1793-1814

With that kind of responsibility under his belt, and with an understanding of his opponent (namely, Little Turtle, one of the greatest military geniuses the American continent ever produced), Wayne proceeded with extreme deliberation. A primary reason for St. Clair’s defeat was poor preparation, and Wayne built a new fort, Greeneville (present-day Greenville, Ohio). Wayne promptly took the Legion into winter camp here and spent the cold months of 1793-94 drilling his army.

Provisioning the fort (as well as others built by previous generals) was always a challenge on the frontier. Though still young, William Clark was an experienced leader, woodsman, and river man, and was tasked with a great deal of responsibility during this period, leading large groups of troops and traders on long missions to and from centers of civilization like Louisville and Vincennes. With his usual flair for bluntness and creative spelling, Clark described his duties as “corn halling,” but it was dangerous work by any standard. In March 1794, Clark was in command of a pack train of 700 horses, 70 soldiers and 20 dragoons when it was attacked by Indians. Clark’s quick thinking and self-possession saved the day and the Indians were driven away after a battle lasting just 15 minutes.

According to his journal, Clark didn’t get the attaboys he expected from General Wayne after this incident, leading him to believe the general was playing favorites. “Kissing goes by favor,” he noted bitterly. In fact, Wayne was paying more attention than Clark realized, and within weeks he had named Clark as quartermaster for the entire Fourth Sublegion, in charge of seeing to the supply needs of some 500 men.

Coming soon: Wayne’s forts of the Fallen Timbers campaign

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Nootka woman wearing typical Pacific Coast headgear

Nootka woman wearing typical Pacific Coast headgear

On March 15, 1806, Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal: “we were visited this afternoon by Delashshelwilt  a Chinnook Chief his wife and six women of his nation which the old baud his wife had brought for market.” No stranger to white traders on the Pacific Coast, the Chinook women had come to Fort Clatsop hoping to profit from the presence of the Corps of Discovery by selling what the men wanted most: sex.

As Lewis and Clark well knew, the men of the Corps of Discovery were not above resorting to the “good officies” of prostitutes to meet their sexual needs. On November 21, 1805, Clark wrote from their camp along the Columbia that

Several Indians and Squars came this evening I beleave for the purpose of gratifying the passions of our men, Those people appear to View 〈horedom〉 Sensuality as a necessary evile, and do not appear to abhore this as Crime in the unmarried females. The young women Sport openly with our men, and appear to receive the approbation of their friends & relations for So doing    maney of the women are handsom. They are all low both men and women.

Clark noted the presence of venereal disease among the natives, a drawback that didn’t seem to discourage the men from enjoying the women’s favors. Clark noted, “we divided Some ribin between the men of our party to bestow on their favourite Lasses, this plan to Save the knives & more valuable articles.”

Chinook woman and child

Chinook woman and child

While Lewis and Clark obviously accepted sexual relations between their men and the natives – and perhaps participated in it themselves – they seemed to balk at out-and-out prostitution. On Christmas Eve 1805, Clark recorded the visit to Fort Clatsop of a Indian named Cuscalah ” who had treated me So politely when I was at the Clâtsops village.” Cuscalah arrived in a canoe with his young brother and two “Squars” and gave the Captains each a gift of a mat and a parcel of roots. When Cuscalah later demanded two files in exchange for the presents, Clark wrote, “as we had no files to part with, we each rturned the present which we had received, which displeased Cuscalah a little.    he then offered a woman to each of us which we also declined axcepting of, which displeased the whole party verry much—    the female part appeared to be highly disgusted at our refuseing to axcept of their favours &c.” Lewis wrote of the Chinooks a few days later, “they do not hold the virtue of their women in high estimation, and will even prostitute their wives and daughters for a fishinghook or a stran of beads.”

Lewis and Clark had good reason to be cautious. Lewis noted on January 27, 1806 that “Goodrich has recovered from the Louis veneri which he contracted from an amorous contact with a Chinnook damsel. I cured him as I did Gibson last winter by the uce of murcury.” Since mercury was not in fact an effective cure for the Louis veneri or “pox” (syphilis), it must be concluded that Lewis and Clark’s men did more than their fair share to spread venereal disease among the native populations of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers.  The presence of other whites on trading ships along the Pacific Coast added to the problem. By the time the “old baud” showed up with her six girls, Lewis would have none of it. He dryly observed, “this was the same party that had communicated the venerial to so many of our party in November last, and of which they have finally recovered. I therefore gave the men a particular charge with rispect to them which they promised me to observe.” To prevent further outbreaks of venereal disease, Lewis ordered his men not to sport with the “tawny damsels.”

Clark's journal drawing of flattened heads of Pacific Coast Indians

Clark's journal drawing showing flattened heads of Pacific Coast Indians

For his own part, Lewis seems to have found it easy to resist the Chinook women. His journal entries reveal that he found the natives of the Pacific Coast singularly unattractive. On March 19, 1806, a few days after the “old baud’s” visit, Lewis wrote clinically about the natives’ appearance:

they are low in statue reather diminutive, and illy shapen; possessing thick broad flat feet, thick ankles, crooked legs wide mouths thick lips, nose moderately large, fleshey, wide at the extremity with large nostrils, black eyes and black coarse hair.    their eyes are sometimes of a dark yellowish brown the puple black. I have observed some high acqualine noses among them but they are extreemly rare.    the nose is generally low between the eyes.—    the most remarkable trait in their physiognomy is the peculiar flatness and width of forehead which they artificially obtain by compressing the head between two boards while in a state of infancy and from which it never afterwards perfectly recovers.

Lewis also noted the swollen legs of the natives: “the large or apparently swolen legs particularly observable in the women are obtained in a great measure by tying a cord tight around the ankle.    their method of squating or resting themselves on their hams which they seem from habit to prefer to siting,  no doubt contributes much to this deformity of the legs by preventing free circulation of the blood.”

Chinook woman and child, by Paul Kane

Chinook woman and child, by Paul Kane

Finally, Lewis couldn’t resist a swipe at the women’s abbreviated clothing, sagging breasts, and exposed private parts:

The dress of the women consists of a robe, tissue, and sometimes when the weather is uncomonly cold, a vest.    their robe is much smaller than that of the men, never reaching lower than the waist nor extending in front sufficiently far to cover the body…  when this vest is woarn the breast of the woman is concealed, but without it which is almost always the case, they are exposed, and from the habit of remaining loose and unsuspended grow to great length particularly in aged women in many of whom I have seen the bubby reach as low as the waist. The garment which occupys the waist, and from thence as low as nearly to the knee before and the ham, behind, cannot properly be denominated a peticoat, in the common acceptation of that term; it is a tissue of white cedar bark, bruised or broken into small shreds, which are interwoven in the middle by means of several cords of the same materials, which serve as well for a girdle as to hold in place the shreds of bark which form the tissue, and which shreds confined in the middle hand with their ends pendulous from the waist, the whole being of sufficient thickness when the female stands erect to conceal those parts usually covered from familiar view, but when she stoops or places herself in many other attitudes, this battery of Venus is not altogether impervious to the inquisitive and penetrating eye of the amorite.

In other words, he couldn’t help looking, but he didn’t like what he saw. Lewis temporarily dropped his scientific tone to offer this scathing judgment: “I think the most disgusting sight I have ever beheld is these dirty naked wenches.” Unfortunately, there is no record of what the Chinook women thought about him.

More interesting reading:

Love in the Afternoon: Syphilis and the Lewis & Clark Expedition

Lewis and Clark Among the Clatsops

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Jefferson's Instructions to Meriwether Lewis, 1803

Jefferson's Instructions to Meriwether Lewis, 1803

On your arrival on that coast endeavor to learn if there be any port within your reach frequented by the sea-vessels of any nation, and to send two of your trusty people back by sea, in such way as shall appear practicable, with a copy of your notes. and should you be of opinion that the return of your party by the way they went will be eminently dangerous, then ship the whole, & return by sea by way of Cape Horn or the Cape of good Hope, as you shall be able. as you will be without money, clothes or provisions, you must endeavor to use the credit of the U. S. to obtain them…

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in his instructions to Meriwether Lewis at the outset of the Lewis and Clark expedition. If Lewis and his party were successful in reaching the Pacific Ocean, Jefferson instructed, he was hopeful that Lewis could hitch a ride home on a friendly ship, or at least send back a couple of trusted members of his party and his precious journals by sea, if returning by land seemed too dangerous.

Captain Robert Gray

Captain Robert Gray

How practical a plan was this? The Pacific Coast or “Northwest Coast,” as it was called back in the early 19th century, was well known to ship captains engaged in the fur trade. The first American trading vessels recorded as having been in the area were the Columbia Rediviva and the Lady Washington of Boston, which arrived on the Pacific Coast in September 1788. Under Captain Robert Gray, the Columbia Rediviva made a second voyage from Boston to the Northwest in September 1790, spending the winter of 1791-92 at an encampment just north of Nootka Sound (on present day Vancouver Island). While there, Gray and his fifty crew members explored the area and collected sea-otter furs for sale in China.

Also in the area at that time was British Captain George Vancouver, in the British sloop Discovery. When Gray and Vancouver met, Gray showed Vancouver his map pin-pointing the location of the then-unnamed Columbia River. Although Vancouver had noted “river-colored water” in the sea as the Discovery had passed a spot off the coast just two days earlier, he dismissed Gray’s discovery as the outflow of a few minor streams.

On May 11, 1792, Gray navigated the Columbia Rediviva across the treacherous sand bar at the mouth of the Columbia River and became the first western trading vessel to actually enter the Columbia waterway. Gray and Vancouver are both credited with the “discovery” of the Columbia River, though Vancouver deemed it “not suitable for major commerce.”

George Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia

George Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia

The next decade saw an increase in trading ships along the Columbia, with several ships a year visiting the coast to engage in fur trading with the coastal Indians. By the time Lewis and Clark reached the coast in 1805, there was a thriving trade in furs centered at Nootka Sound. Ships sometimes encountered in Pacific Northwest waters included Boston traders, French expeditions, British, Russian, and Spanish explorers and merchantmen, New England whalers, and even an occasional Japanese junk.

So, it was not unreasonable for Jefferson, Lewis and Clark to hope that a ship might happen by to carry the explorers home. In fact several ships were in the area that year. Most notably, the American ship Lydia of Boston, under Captain Samuel Hill, entered the Columbia River in 1805 to acquire timber for spars. The Lydia entered the lore of coastal legend not because it picked up Lewis and Clark, but because it picked up another famous, unlucky passenger. In his book The Way to the Western Sea, historian David Lavender sums up the story:

In the spring of 1803, a trading ship hunting for sea-otter pelts sailed into Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Resentful of several years of mistreatment by white traders, the Indians massacred all the crew except the ship’s twenty-year-old, English-born armorer (blacksmith) John Jewitt, and the sailmaker, John Thompson. Those two languished as prisoners until rescued on July 19, 1805, by Captain Samuel Hill of the brig Lydia, out of Boston. The salvation was effected without bloodshed, and on departing for further trading operations along the Northwest Coast, Captain Hill said he would return to Nootka within a few months to pick up whatever pelts the Indians gathered during his absence.

The Columbia Rediviva

The Columbia Rediviva

The Lydia traded along the Pacific Coast until August 1806 before heading for China, so it could have, in theory, been within hailing distance during Lewis and Clark’s time on the coast. On November 6, 1805, Clark reported, “we over took two Canoes of Indians going down to trade one of the Indians Spoke a fiew words of english and Said that the principal man who traded with them was Mr. Haley,and that he had a woman in his Canoe who Mr. Haley was fond of &c.    he Showed us a Bow of Iron and Several other things which he Said Mr. Haley gave him.” The “Mr. Haley” the Indians were speaking of was, presumably, Captain Samuel Hill.

As it turned out, “Mr. Haley” was a popular figure along the coast. On November 11, 1805, Clark reports talking with a Cathlama Indian dressed in a “Salors Jacket and Pantiloons,” who reported trading with white people. Sergeant John Ordway wrote balefully, “they tell us that they have Seen vessels in the mouth of this River and one man by the name of Mr. Haily  who tradeed among them, but they are all gone.”

On January 1, 1806, Clark made a list of “the names of Sundery persons, who visit this part of the Coast for the purpose of trade &c. &c. in large Vestles; all of which Speake the English language &c.—as the Indians inform us.” He again mentioned Mr. Haley, recording that the Indians said that he “Visits them in a Ship & they expect him back to trade with them in 3 moons to trade — he is the favourite of the Indians (from the number of Presents he givs) and has the trade principaly with all the tribes.”

Lewis and Clark at Celilo Falls, Columbia River (Mural from the Oregon State Capitol)

Lewis and Clark at Celilo Falls, Columbia River (Mural from the Oregon State Capitol)

Captain Hill/Mr. Haley’s well-supplied ship certainly would have been a welcome sight, but unfortunately for Lewis and Clark, he proved to be elusive. But was the Lydia really anywhere near Fort Clatsop? In 1815, when the Lydia‘s rescued sailor John Jewitt’s secret diary of his captivity was published – under the potboiler title Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt – the narrative contained a surprising factoid not in Jewitt’s original diary. According to David Lavender, Jewitt related that “the Lydia had crept about ten miles into the Columbia estuary in search of a convenient stand of timber from which to cut a new mast and spars. While the traders were there, visiting Indians showed the mariners medals given them by Lewis and Clark, who, they said had arrived by land with a small party and then, only a fortnight earlier, had started home, again by land.”

This would seem to have been a heartbreaking miss of an easy ride home. But, the historical record and common sense shows that Jewitt’s recollection of the timeframe, especially almost ten years out, is suspect. Given the talkative nature of the coastal Indians. it is highly unlikely that any ship in the area would have gone unreported by the Indians and unnoticed by Lewis and Clark. Besides, according to Mary Malloy, author of Devil On The Deep Blue Sea: The Notorious Career of Captain Samuel Hill of Boston, Hill’s reputation as a sea captain was decidedly mixed, with murder, rape, kidnapping, and madness among his rumored capabilities. So even if Hill had shown up, it might not have been an easy ride home after all.

In the end, no trading ship appeared during the entire long winter of 1805-1806, captained by “Mr. Haley” or anybody else. There was no way to communicate with anyone back home, no safe passage for the journals, and no new supplies for the Corps of Discovery. Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson had considered just such an eventuality. His instructions provided Lewis with a Plan B:

Should you find it safe to return by the way you go, after sending two of your party round by sea, or with your whole party, if no conveyance by sea can be found, do so; making such observations on your return as may serve to supply, correct or confirm those made on your outward journey.

On March 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery began the long walk home.

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William Clark's drawing of the manitou spirit, a Missouri River petroglyph, June 5, 1804. Courtesy American Philosophical Society.

passed a Projecting Rock called the Manitou a Painting   from this Deavel to the Pt. on the Lbd Side N 23° W 7½ Ms. — William Clark, June 5, 1804

With this casual notation very early in the Lewis & Clark Expedition, somewhere in present-day Moniteau County, Missouri, William Clark made note of a rock painting which he termed a “deavel” (devil) or manitou, a French version of an Algonquian Indian word meaning “spirit.” Undoubtedly, it was only the first of many encounters the Corps of Discovery would have with Indian rock art; in fact, it seems likely that rock art was so common in the regions traversed by Meriwether Lewis and and William Clark that it was seldom thought worthy of special note.

There are actually two types of rock art: petroglyphs, or carvings made in rock; and pictographs, or paintings made on rock. Over the years, erosion has weathered away many of the rock art images that Lewis and Clark would have seen, but remarkably sites survive in Kansas, Montana, and the Columbia River Basin.

Kansas petroglyph on the Lewis & Clark trail. Courtesy Kansas History Society.

Kansas is rich in petroglyphs, especially on the sandstone bluffs and cliffs in the central part of the state. Examples can still be found depicting men on horseback and people wearing headdresses and carrying spears and shields. Animal tracks are another common theme. More rare is a monster, spirit, or “deavel” such as the one Clark described. Very little is known about the cultures that made these images, and many of them have never been documented or studied, making them a mysterious and intriguing subject for hikers and modern-day explorers.

An Elk pictograph near The Dalles. Courtesy Marysville Pictograph Project.

On the other end of the trail, the Columbia River Gorge is the site of hundreds and hundreds of ancient petroglyphs, made by tribes like the Warm Springs, Yakima, Umatilla, and Nez Perce and their ancestors. One area with thousands of drawings was named Petroglyph Canyon. Unfortunately, Lewis and Clark did very little ethnographic work while in this region (they were racing the calendar to make it to the Pacific Coast before winter set in.) And unlike in Kansas, these ancient expressions are obscured today by more than erosion. Though some can still be seen high on the cliff faces, most of them were buried under millions of gallons of water when the area was flooded by the construction of massive dams in the 1950s.

She Who Watches

A few drawings were hacked out of the rock before the floodings and stored near the fish ladder of the John Day Dam until 2004, when an amazing outdoor trail display was built for them at Columbia Hills State Park in Oregon. In addition to the 43 petroglyphs on the trail, the park is home to Tsagaglalal, “She Who Watches,” one of the most famous rock images in North America.

Further down river at The Dalles, both petroglyphs and pictographs were made by the Chinook, Clackamas, Watlala, Multnomah, Wasco, and Wishram peoples and their ancestors. A number of these rock art pieces were rescued and can be seen at The Dalles Visitor Center, the Maryhill Museum, and Roosevelt Petroglyph State Park in Washington. In addition, rubbings of many petroglyphs can be seen at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington.

Image found in Pictograph Cave State Park, Montana

Finally, a site rich in rock art is also one of the few sites remaining that has incontrovertible evidence that the Corps of Discovery passed that way. And all because William Clark decided to make some rock art of his own. At Pompey’s Pillar near present-day Billings, Montana, and nearby Pictograph Cave State Park, hundreds of red, white, and black pictographs exist from cultures dating back some 10,000 years. In his own matter-of-fact way, Clark gives a clue as to the inspiration for a petroglyph of his own:

the wind Contined high untill 2 P M. I proceeded on after the [rain] lay a little and at 4 P M arived at a remarkable rock Situated in an extensive bottom on the Stard. Side of the river & 250 paces from it.    this rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction. This rock which I shall Call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumphrance and only axcessable on one Side which is from the N. E the other parts of it being a perpendicular Clift of lightish Coloured gritty rock on the top there is a tolerable Soil of about 5 or 6 feet thick Covered with Short grass. The Indians have made 2 piles of Stone on the top of this Tower. The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year. — William Clark, July 25, 1806

Clark's signature carved on Pompey's Pillar near Billings, Montana

I have not visited any of these sites except Pompey’s Pillar, and that was back in 1996 before I was into Lewis & Clark. I look forward to another trip to Lewis & Clark country to see these interesting and mysterious messages from the past.

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Location: Montana Highway 200, between Missoula and Rogers Pass

Mary at the Continental Divide

This incredibly scenic and varied route across Montana allows for a leisurely and fascinating day along the trail. This area is called “The Blackfoot Challenge” by the cooperative of local communities that have organized to protect the Blackfoot Valley watershed. The drive parallels the Blackfoot River and cuts through the heart of the territory once ruled by the Blackfoot Indians (who call the river Cokahlah-ishkit). For Lewis and Clark buffs, its significance is that it also parallels Meriwether Lewis’s return journey through Montana in 1806.

On July 3, 1806, while at Travelers’ Rest, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark decided to separate the Corps of Discovery in order to make up for some lost opportunities and get a little more exploration under their belts before heading home. Specifically, Lewis planned to take a party of nine men northeast to search for the source of the Marias River. This side mission was highly dangerous, for it took Lewis’s small party into the territory of the Blackfoot Indians, a tough and uncompromising band that was closely allied with the British. A number of historians have speculated that Lewis was feeling pressured by the Expedition’s “failure” to discover a water route to the Pacific Ocean (none existed). If he could prove the Marias River extended past the 49th Parallel, he could help Thomas Jefferson make a case that the Louisiana Purchase extended well into the boundaries of modern-day Canada. For Lewis, it seemed worth taking a chance, though his journal revealed his anxiety as well:

I took leave of my worthy friend and companion Capt. Clark and the party that accompanyed him. I could not avoid feeling much concern on this occasion although I hoped this seperation was only momentary. – Meriwether Lewis, July 3, 1806

For modern-day travelers, a delightful and leisurely drive in Lewis’s footsteps begins with mountains and pines near Missoula. This is the Montana of “A River Runs Through It.” Lewis and his party followed an old Indian road known to the Blackfoot as “the road to the buffalo.” Eventually, it led to the Great Falls and the yellow, rolling hills where the Indians converged for hunting season. Montana 200 closely follows this old route.

The Prairie of the Knobs. Photo by Bitterroot.

Three days out of Traveler’s Rest, Lewis came upon one of the most interesting landscapes on the entire Lewis & Clark trail, a place he named “the prairie of the knobs.” Here Lewis described a barren landscape studded with lumpy glacial mounds. The surrounding landscape contained a wide variety of birds and many animals, from antelope and deer to “burrowing squirrels” (known to us as Columbian ground squirrels). On our trip, we didn’t see any of those, but at a dusty rest stop, we did see a hobo spider. More to the point, Mary saw it drop on my back from above and make tracks for my neck. She acted quickly to save me from what would have been a scary bite! It made me wonder what instances of extreme screaming Lewis & Clark failed to record in their journals.

A very pleasant stop on “the road to the buffalo” is the small, bustling town of Lincoln. Lincoln had its day in the media spotlight back in 1996, when the pathetic figure of Ted Kaczynski, the murderous “Unabomber,” was hauled out of a cabin where he was living as a hermit. Lincoln has a lot to offer a tourist loafing along Highway 200, including a big souvenir trading post (where Mary found one of her best all-time Lewis & Clark t-shirts) and a lunch spot called Ponde Roses’s where we got great BLTs.

From Lincoln, you head towards the Continental Divide through incredible timbered mountains. We climbed and climbed into the spectacular and beautiful heights with hardly another car or person in sight. It was easy to imagine the Blackfoot still roaming this land and wish that somehow we all could have found a way to live together.

Funny sign near the Continental Divide

On July 7, 1806, Lewis and his party crossed the Continental Divide at a rugged spot now called Lewis & Clark Pass (though Clark never saw it). From the pass, Lewis had a spectacular view all the way to the Great Falls area and the landmark Square Butte. Even today, the faint marks of Indian travois poles can be seen etched in the prairie soil, and back then it must have been a sight to both thrill and slightly terrify the explorers.

Lewis & Clark Pass is just one pass along the “Great Divide” which separates the waters that drain into the Pacific from those that drain into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It can be reached via a three-mile hike/climb, which we were not equipped to undertake. Highway 200 crosses the Divide at another spectacular spot known as Rogers Pass, chosen as the highway route because it is 800 feet lower than Lewis & Clark Pass. Haze and the smell of woodsmoke from nearby wildfires was obvious here and off and on for the rest of the day.

Rogers Pass made history on January 20, 1954, when its weather station recorded a temperature of -70 degrees — the coldest temperature ever recorded in the continental United States. Rogers Pass is in a wilderness area noted as one of the last strongholds of the grizzly bear.

Here’s a joke is so old Lewis himself probably dreamed it up, but it’s still good:

When you go hiking in an area with grizzly bears, be sure to make noise by attaching tiny bells to your clothing, and watch out for grizzly bear poop.

How do you recognize grizzly bear poop?

It’s full of tiny bells.

More great reading:
Lewis & Clark Among the Blackfeet
Knobby Prairie (from the Discovering Lewis & Clark site)
Hobo Spiders

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