Archive for the ‘Science and technology’ Category

Location: 30 miles east of Portland, Oregon

Multnomah Falls

on our way to this village we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks which cloles the river on both sides nearly, except a small bottom on the South side in which our hunters were encamped. the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side.

it is a large creek, situated about 5 miles above our encampment of the last evening.    several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks. — Meriwether Lewis, April 9, 1806

Multnomah Falls, a magnificent two-tiered waterfall with a total height of 620 feet, is the top tourist attraction in Oregon, so it’s hard to get a sense of how it must have appeared to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they passed the falls on their way down the Columbia River in 1805 and again on their way back east in 1806. Lewis & Clark did not name the falls; “multnomah” is believed to be a Chinook Indian word meaning “downriver” and has been in use since before 1860.

Multnomah is only the largest and most spectacular of a series of waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. The falls are the results of one of the biggest geological cataclysms in the history of this planet: the Missoula floods sometimes called the “Bretz floods” after the geologist who uncovered them, J Harlen Bretz. In the 1920s, Bretz realized that the land in the Columbia River Basin was the product not of years of erosion, but of a cataclysmic event caused by the breaking of an ice dam near present-day Missoula. The dam’s failure unleashed floods of stupendous force, scouring out landforms in a matter of hours rather than millennia.

In the case of Multnomah Falls, the floods altered the Columbia Gorge so that the rock faces lining the river are sheer vertical drops rather than eroded cliff faces, allowing for the unique waterfalls that have delighted visitors to the area least as early as 1883, when a wooden pedestrian bridge was built, giving travelers on the newly completed railways a thrilling closeup view of the lush alcove and the falls therein.

The epic construction of the Columbia River Highway provided an opportunity to further enhance the visitor experience at Multnomah Falls. The engineer of the construction, Samuel Lancaster, wrote of Multnomah Falls, “the setting is ideal. It is pleasing to look upon; and in every mood, it charms like magic, it woos like an ardent lover; it refreshes the soul; and invites to loftier, purer things.” Logging magnate Simon Benson of Portland purchased the land around the falls and donated it to the city.

The cathedral-like expanse known as the “Benson Bridge” was built in 1914, and the adjacent lodge in 1925. These historic structures lend a warm and interesting human touch to nature’s handiwork at the falls. You reach the bridge by a slippery footpath — the falls are so mesmerizing that I almost went plunging to my death trying to walk and look at the same time, so be careful!

For more reading:

Lewis & Clark road trip: Palouse Falls (much more on the Bretz floods)
Lewis & Clark road trip: The Historic Columbia River Highway

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Among the things that Meriwether Lewis took west with him on his expedition to the Pacific Ocean was a special cipher designed by President Thomas Jefferson for encoding messages. The cipher consisted of a table of 26 rows and 26 columns of sequentially arranged letters, plus an example keyword (Jefferson actually provided Lewis with two examples, one with the keyword “artichokes” and another with the keyword “antipodes”).  Upon receipt of the coded message, presuming the recipient knew the agreed-upon keyword, he could use the cipher table to decode the message.  In one example, Jefferson showed Lewis how to encode the optimistic message, “I am at the head of the Missouri. All well and the Indians so far friendly.”

Jefferson's Cipher to Lewis (Library of Congress)

Jefferson's Cipher to Lewis (Library of Congress)

Although there is no evidence that Lewis ever used the cipher to code a message to Jefferson, clearly the president was concerned about the possibility of Lewis’s correspondence from the field being intercepted by agents of European powers who opposed American expansion to the West. Simple but ingenious, this cipher was one manifestation of Thomas Jefferson’s interest in cryptography, defined as “the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of adversaries.”  As in so many of his scientific pursuits, the president’s thinking in this area was decades ahead of his time.

Jefferson and Science, by Silvio Bedini

Jefferson and Science, by Silvio Bedini

As Silvio Bedini writes in his fascinating monograph Jefferson and Science, Jefferson first became interested in the security of the government’s official communications while serving as George Washington’s Secretary of State in the early 1790’s. With war threatening between England and France, and delicate negotiations ongoing with Spain over American trade and navigation on the Mississippi River, Jefferson knew that plain text letters to his overseas representatives could easily be intercepted and read by prying eyes, blowing his diplomatic efforts out of the water.  It was at that time that he began experimenting with different ways to put messages into secret code.

Jefferson first devised a system of 26 paper strips, each containing a scrambled version of the alphabet, which he could arrange and rearrange in different ways to form a flexible cipher system. More than one correspondent could use the system, with each person having an individually assigned keyword for coding and decoding messages. However, with 26 moving parts to keep track of, the system proved too cumbersome and impractical for most of his correspondents.

Undaunted, Jefferson came up with the idea of having a wheel-style cipher, that could more easily be used in the field. He took as his inspiration the cipher padlock, typically used to secure diplomatic dispatch boxes. Like our modern combination lock, the cipher lock unlocked when lettered disks were arranged to spell a certain keyword.

Reproduction of Jefferson's wheel cipher (courtesy Monticello)

Reproduction of Jefferson's wheel cipher (courtesy Monticello)

Jefferson took the 26 strips of paper and had the scrambled alphabets punched onto a wooden cylinder, which was then segmented into disks and mounted on a spindle. It is known that Jefferson had two of these devices made while he was Secretary of State. He apparently tested the device with Robert Patterson, a professor of mathematics, chemistry and natural philosophy and a member of the American Philosophical Society. The two exchanged a series of coded messages, but the wheel cipher was never put into diplomatic service. At some point, for some reason, Jefferson set the wheel cipher aside and forgot about it. The two wheel ciphers used by Jefferson and Patterson have been lost, though a detailed description of how to make it was saved among Jefferson’s papers.

It was another hundred years before the science of cryptography caught up with Jefferson’s mind. In 1890, Commandant Etienne Bazeries, chief of the cryptographic bureau of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, invented a “cylindrical cryptograph” that was almost identical to Jefferson’s design. During World War I, a U.S. infantry captain named Parker Hitt refined Bazeries’ design, using a methodology very similar to Jefferson’s.  After extensive testing by Assistant Commandant Joseph Mauborgne of the Army Signal Corps, the device was approved for military use in 1918. It was not until 1922 that the device was actually manufactured for military use, becoming known as “Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army.”

Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army

Cipher Device M-94 of the U.S. Army, partially disassembled

Ironically, that same year, Jefferson’s original description of the device was discovered among his papers in the Library of Congress, astonishing the military community. Army cryptographers were stunned that President Jefferson had already envisioned a device that had taken them 100 years to develop, and that his description had been available to the public all this time.

Jefferson would have been pleased to know that Cipher Device M-94 proved to be a robust security device, especially practical for tactical communications from the field. It saw two decades of military service before finally being phased out during World War II.

More great reading:

Discovering Lewis & Clark: Cryptography

Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s Wheel Cipher

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Our recent post on Meriwether Lewis’s Amazing Air Gun got some interesting traffic, coming as it did a couple of days before the shootings in Arizona. I was surprised when some commenters seemed ready to draw a link between weaponry in the hands of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark — both highly trained and responsible army officers on an official U.S. government mission — and homicidal maniacs with untreated mental illness.

In any case, today I discovered a very well-done video demonstrating the use of the Girandoni air rifle. Enjoy!

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Location: In Oregon between Troutdale and The Dalles

Liz & Mary at the Columbia River Gorge

One of the most fun mornings we have ever spent on the Lewis & Clark trail was hiking a restored portion of the old Columbia Gorge Highway. This is a wonderful way to take in one of the most visually stunning sections to be found on the entire trail — or anyplace else, for that matter.

Throughout the 19th century, the Columbia River and its famous, spectacular gorge (an 85-mile-long stretch of rapids and wild sheer cliffs) posed a mighty challenge to explorers and pioneers heading for the Oregon country. Fur trappers and missionaries who following the wake of Lewis & Clark could travel pretty lightly, braving the current and the treacherous Cascades. But settlers bringing all the accoutrements of civilization on heavy, awkward Conestoga wagons faced a desperate challenge. Until railroad engineers overcame the incredible technological challenges of the land, settlers were forced to leave the Oregon Trail, disassemble their wagons, and take to the roaring waters in an expensive and perilous ordeal. (Beginning in 1846, the other–and almost equally harrowing– choice was to take the Barlow Road blazed around the south side of Mount Hood.)

By the early 20th century, a new technology called the automobile was causing engineers to take another look at road building in the Columbia Gorge. The pioneer in this arena was Sam Hill, a wealthy retired railroad attorney who had become the most prominent advocate of “Good Roads” in both Washington and Oregon. Hill had traveled extensively in Europe and seen the amazing scenic highways that were being constructed through the Alps and the Rhine River Valle. In 1913, Hill managed to persuade the state of Oregon to create a state highway department and undertake a project to build a state-of-the-art road that would rival any scenic highway in the world.

The Columbia River Highway under construction, 1915

Hired to oversee the project was Samuel Lancaster, one of the engineers of Seattle’s beautiful system of streets that linked naturalistic boulevards with parks and playgrounds throughout the city. Together Hill and Lancaster conceived a utopian vision of a highway that would provide not merely a means to jump in the Model T and zip from point A to point B. They aimed for nothing less than a poetic uplift of the soul.

Lancaster began surveying and designing the highway in 1913. Using wide, graceful curves, he was able to engineer a highway with a maximum grade of 5% (compared with grades as steep as 20% in the dirt roads that ran through the area). Beautiful bridges and tunnels would not merely cross rivers and allow passage through the mountains: they would inspire as works of art. Construction began in 1915, and the first sections opened the following year in a ceremony that coincided with the famous Portland Rose Festival. President Woodrow Wilson raised the flag over the new highway by pushing a button from the White House. The early reviews were international, and ecstatic. The Illustrated London News dubbed Hill and Lancaster’s vision “The King of Roads.”

The "Rowena Loops" on the old Columbia River Highway

Construction was completed in 1922, a true marvel of beauty and engineeering. It was also obsolete. Hill and Lancaster had not anticipated the explosive growth in the number of automobiles on the road. From 48,000 cars in the United States in 1905, the numbers had grown to 2.4 million by 1915 and 7.5 million by 1920. And these motorists were not out for a pleasure drive, or to have their souls uplifted. As it turned out, they really did just want to get from point A to point B, and they didn’t want to tool along a curvy, scenic, artistic, two-lane highway with no passing to do it.

Automobile in Mitchell Point Tunnel, old Columbia Gorge Highway. Courtesy Oregon Historical Society.

Hill and Lancaster also did not forsee changes in the automobile itself. Under ideal conditions, a Model T Ford traveled at a maxium speed of 45 miles per hour, and usually much less. The Model A, introduced in 1927, could travel up to 65 miles per hour, and was larger, wider, and heavier than the Model T. Travel on the Columbia Gorge Highway became a time-consuming hassle for drivers, and by the 1930s the highway had already begun to fall into disuse. In addition, many of the most breathtaking scenic features were lost when Bonneville Dam submerged the famous river rapids. By the 1960s, much of the Columbia River Highway had been paved over, abandoned, forgotten, or destroyed.

View of the Columbia Gorge from the old highway. Courtesy Oregon Parks and Recreation.

But the world turns. In the 1980s, the state of Oregon began restoration of several surviving sections of the highway as a hike and bike trail into what is still one of nature’s most thrilling marvels. Since the 1990s, this work has resulted in the opening of two large sections of the highway for pedestrian and bike traffic and the restoration of many of Hill and Lancaster’s classic features. More work is planned to open more sections of the trail for recreation, to restore more features, and to maintain the highway in good condition for its centennial in 1916.

I would love to return here and spend more time!

More reading: The Historic Columbia River Highway (good maps, photos, and history)
Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway (great pictures and information)

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In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. – Henry David Thoreau 

Wilderness Surveyor, by C.W. Jeffreys

For most of us, who grew up with Rand McNally road atlases, DeLorme Gazetteers, and now GPS, it’s pretty hard to imagine being launched into completely unknown territory without a map. How in the world would you know where to go? It’s even harder to imagine being the one asked to make the map from scratch. How did Lewis & Clark do it? Where would you even start? 

William Clark was the expedition’s cartographer. It’s fun to laugh about Clark’s spelling; it really is hilarious. But it also sometimes makes it easy to forget just how smart Clark was. His maps of the American West are one of the great achievements in the history of cartography, and one of the most enduring legacies of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. 

A 1990 UK stamp commemorates 18th century advances in navigation, including the chronometer (right)

Meriwether Lewis was given virtually a blank check to outfit the Expedition, and he used a fair chunk of it in preparation for the mission’s mapmaking. He researched and bought the finest scientific navigational instruments available in Philadelphia, including sextants and octants that could help measure angles to the sun and determine latitude; high-end compasses to assist with measuring angles to various stars; and a fancy watch called a chronometer to help determine longitude . (In fact, at $250, the chronometer was the single most expensive piece of equipment taken on the Expedition). He also bought surveyor’s chains, pocket compasses, artificial horizons (for use in the mountains), and the latest almanacs and mathematical tables. Morever, Lewis underwent a crash course in how to use the instruments, knowledge that he later passed on to Clark. 

The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology has a wonderful overview of the navigational instruments of Lewis and Clark . The entire article Lewis & Clark: A Geologic Perspective is well worth your time. 

Though the instruments were break-through technology in their day, and would eventually evolve into the kinds of amazing navigational devices we have today, at the time they were cranky, difficult to use, error-prone, and required time, patience, and big-time math skills to operate. Though Lewis and Clark faithfully tried to use them, in practice Clark, who soon took over almost all responsibility for mapping and navigation, relied heavily on a traditional process called dead reckoning. 

Dead reckoning is simple in concept, but requires a disciplined mathematical mind and the ability to grasp both details and the big picture.  The basics are these: to make a map of unknown territory, you first start with the last known point. Then you use a calculation to track your progress. In short, if you know your rate of speed and how long you have traveled, you can calculate distance. 

William Clark's original compass and case

Clark knew how to employ dead reckoning both on foot and from the river. Since the Expedition usually needed to be on the move, most of Clark’s work was done from a boat, though he did use the surveyor’s chains on land when he wanted to calculate the width of the river from various points. From the boat, Clark used a compass, a watch, and a log line. When he sighted a handy landmark, such as a creek mouth or an island, Clark would note the exact time, take a compass reading to find the landmark’s direction, and then throw a weighted piece of wood over the side. The weight is on a rope marked with knots and loops, and as the boat travels, you can count the number of knots that pass by in thirty seconds. This is how you determine how fast the boat is moving in nautical miles or knots

Clark repeated this process for each landmark, noting the section measured, the direction traveled, and the time elapsed. Here is an example, from Clark’s journal of June 6, 1804:

N. 28° W   3 ½ ms. to a Hill on S. S.    pd. N. Bilg: of Isd.
N 49° W   1 ½ Ms. to a Creek Split rock
West—   1 ½ Ms. to a pt. on S. S. opsd. a Clift
N 31° W   4 ½ ms. to a pt. on L. S.    psd. Saline C. L. S.
N. 51° W   3 ms. to a bilg of an Isd. to left    pd. Sm. Isd.


Lewis & Clark Trail Maps, by Martin Plamondon. The late author wrote and drew maps for three remarkable volumes overlaying his own modern maps with Clark's.

It’s fun to contrast this with Clark’s journal of the same day and see what details he recorded that might have helped him later with his map: 

Mended our Mast this morning and Set out at 7 oClock, under a Jentle Braise from the S, E by S   N 28° W 3½ miles to a hill on St Sd. pass:g the N: belge of the Island Called Split rock Island, the river rose last night a foot    the Countrey about this Isd. is delightfull    large rush bottom of rushes below on the St. Side    N 49° W, 1½ Ms. to the mouth of Split rock River blank yds. wide on the Starboard Side opod. the pt. of a Isd: passed a place in the projecting rock Called the hole thro’ the rock, a round Cave pass thro the Pt. of rock’s   

West1½ ms. to a pt. on Std. Sd. opposit a Clift of rocks abt 200 foot    N 31° W. 4 ms ½ to a pt. on L: Side    passed Saline Creek  on the L. Side    a large Salt Lick & Spring 9 me. up the Creek, one bushel of water will make 7 lb. of good Salt 

 (Information)    Took Meridian altitude of Sun Limb. 37° 6′ 0″ equat to blank of Lattidude.
on this Creek [Saline], So great a no of Salt Springs are on it that the water is brackish    N 51° W to a Belge of an Isd on the S. Sd. at 3 ms. Passed a Willow Isd. in Middle, Some wind in the after part of to day from the S E, (the Banks are falling in greatly in this part of the river) as also is one Side or the other in all the Course, we assended on the North Side of the Isd. and finding that the perogues Could not Keep up Camped 2 hs. by Sun. on the Sd Sd

the land below this is good.

Every few days, Clark reconstructed his notes into a grid map of the river to scale. Historians believe that Clark probably kicked around his observations with Lewis and some of the other men, especially the sergeants who were specially assigned to act as lookouts and observers along the river. 

Map by William Clark

It seems like magic to me, and as you might expect, whether a map produced this way was accurate depended entirely on the skill and good judgement of the observer. Fortunately for Lewis & Clark’s historic legacy, it turned out that William Clark was a dead reckoning genius. 

A disadvantage of dead reckoning is that since new positions are calculated solely from previous positions, the errors of the process are cumulative, so the error in the position fix grows with time. So how did Captain Clark fare? When the Corps of Discovery arrived at the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805, Clark estimated that they had traveled 4162 miles since leaving Camp Wood some 18 months earlier. He was off by a mere 40 miles. 

More great reading: 

The History of the Sextant (and other Navigational Devices)  

The Spatial Legacy of Lewis and Clark (Clark’s maps compared with satellite photos from space)

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Joseph Perkins and Meriwether Lewis inspecting the iron boat frame. Courtesy Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

Because of the changes in technology over the last 200 years, it is easy to forget that Lewis & Clark’s Voyage of Discovery was the equivalent in its day of the Apollo missions of the 1960s. Meriwether Lewis had what amounted to a blank check to outfit the expedition, and he used it to acquire the best in men, weapons, and equipment.    

In March 1803, Lewis arrived at the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today’s West Virginia) and began working with superintendent Joseph Perkins on the guns, powder horns, bullet molds, tomahawks, knives, and other weapons the Expedition would need to make it across the continent. He also had a special project for the armory, one of his own invention. Lewis realized that if the Corps of Discovery succeeded in its mission of reaching the source of the Missouri River, that eventually the river would become too shallow for navigation by heavy wooden boats. His solution? A collapsible iron boat.    

According to Lewis’s design, the boat frame would be stored in sections, ready to be brought out at the opportune moment and covered in hides. With a seal of tar pitch or resin, it would be water-tight. But the first job was getting the thing fabricated. Lewis had originally planned on staying at Harpers Ferry for only a week, but he ended up spending over a month on what he called “my favorite boat.” On completion, the boat weighed just 176 pounds (a tiny fraction of the total 3500 pounds of gear the Expedition took), but would be capable of transporting over 8000 pounds of men and equipment if everything went according to plan.    

The iron boat rode quietly along in with the rest of the baggage until June of 1805, when Lewis’s big moment finally arrived — or so it seemed. The Expedition had discovered a series of enormous waterfalls in the vicinity of present-day Great Falls, Montana. The falls were beautiful, but they also meant that the Expedition would have to portage every single thing they had around them in order to get back on the river. Hauling everything 18 miles through rough unbroken country, under human power using makeshift wagons, was a month-long ordeal. And it was easy to see that past the falls, the river grew rocky and shallow. Lewis and Clark set up camps on either end of the portage. It largely fell to Clark to supervise the daily grind of the grueling portage. In the meantime, Lewis found hiding places to sink their heavy pirogues and began work on the iron boat.   

The hardships of the portage are vividly depicted in this exhibit at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center at Great Falls.

You have to feel sorry for Lewis over what happened next. How could a frontiersman from the East have ever anticipated the wide-open plains of Montana? Beautiful, and without a pine tree in sight. Without a means to make resin, the project seemed doomed, but Lewis was determined to find a way.   

For those who hold to the theory that Lewis might have been manic-depressive, the iron boat episode could be Exhibit A for a manic phase. In any case, his journal entries give something of the flavor of excitement, anxiety, and mounting desperation that accompanied the boat project:   

June 28: Set Drewyer to shaving the Elk skins, Fields to make the cross stays for the boat, Frazier and Whitehouse continue their operation with the skins, Shields and Gass finish the horizontal bars of the sections; after which I sent them in surch of willow bark, a sufficient supply of which they now obtained to bind the boat.    expecting the party this evening I prepared a supper for them but they did not arrive.    not having quite Elk skins enough I employed three buffaloe hides to cover one section.    not being able to shave these skins I had them singed pretty closely with a blazeing torch; I think they will answer tolerable well.   

June 30: Fraizer and Whitehouse still continue their opperation of sewing the skins together. I set Shields and gass to shaving bark and Fields continued to make the cross brases. Drewyer and myself rendered a considerable quantity of tallow and cooked. I begin to be extremely impatient to be off as the season is now waisting a pace    nearly three months have now elapsed since we left Fort Mandan and not yet reached the Rocky Mountains   

July 1 by evening the skins were all attatched to their sections and I returned them again to the water.    all matters were now in readiness to commence the opperation of puting the parts of the boat together in the morning.    the way strips are not yet ready but will be done in time as I have obtained the necessary timber.    the difficulty in obtaining the necessary materials has retarded my operations in forming this boat extreemly tedious and troublesome; and as it was a novel peice of machinism to all who were employed my constant attention was necessary to every part of the work; this together with the duties of cheif cook has kept me pretty well employed.    

Joseph Field, Meriwether Lewis, Patrick Gass, and John Shields work on covering the boat frame with hides. Courtesy Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

Lewis and a number of the men worked hard on hunting, tanning hides, and sewing the hides together. Eventually they made a cover of 28 elk hides and 4 buffalo hides. They assembled the boat frame and fitted it with the hides. (As Lewis notes, he was also acting as the expedition cook at this time, a noteworthy duty for an officer of his rank. This way, the exhausted men could return to camp for a hot fresh meal without having to set up their usual messes.)    

July 3 – our tar-kiln which ought to have began to run this morning has yealded no tar as yet and I am much affraid will not yeald any, if so I fear the whole opperation of my boat will be useless. I fear I have committed another blunder also in sewing the skins with a nedle which has sharp edges these have cut the skin and as it drys I discover that the throng dose not fill the holes as I expected tho’ I made them sew with a large throng for that purpose. … The current of the river looks so gentle and inviting that the men all seem anxious to be moving upward as well as ourselves.    we have got the boat prety well forward today and think we shall be able to complete her tomorrow … she has assumed her shape and looks extreemly well. She will be very light, more so than any vessel of her size that I ever saw.

July 4 – no appearance of tar yet and I am now confident that we shall not be able to obtain any; a serious misfortune. I employed a number of hands on the boat today and by 4 P. M. in the evening completed her except the most difficult part of the work that of making her seams secure.    

Clark, who had an amazing knack for being cryptic and expressive at the same time, also wrote on July 4: our Tar kill like to turn out nothing from the following cause. Lewis continues: 

July 5 – This morning I had the boat removed to an open situation, scaffold her off the ground, turned her keel to the sun and kindled fires under her to dry her more expediciously. I then set a couple of men to pounding of charcoal to form a composition with some beeswax which we have and buffaloe tallow now my only hope and resource for paying my boat; I sincerely hope it may answer yet I fear it will not.    …  the stitches begin to gape very much since she has began to dry; I am now convinced this would not have been the case had the skins been sewed with a sharp point only and the leather not cut by the edges of a sharp nedle.      

July 7 – The weather warm and cloudy therefore unfavourable for many operations; I keep small fires under the boat; the blowing flies are innumerable about it; the moisture retained by the bark prevents it from drying as fast as it otherwise would.     

They coated the hides with a thick mixture of charcoal, beeswax, and buffalo tallow, a substitute for pitch that Lewis concocted after agonizing experimentation. After it dried, they launched the boat and Lewis was able to write like a proud father: She lay like a perfect cork on the water.  They would leave the next day! But then: 

July 9: the wind continued violent untill late in the evening, by which time we discovered that a greater part of the composition had seperated from the skins and left the seams of the boat exposed to the water and she leaked in such manner that she would not answer. I need not add that this circumstance mortifyed me not a little; and to prevent her leaking without pich was impossible with us, and to obtain this article was equally impossible, therefore the evil was irraparable … To make any further experiments in our present situation seemed to me madness; the buffaloe had principally dserted us, and the season was now advancing fast. I therefore relinquished all further hope of my favorite boat and ordered her to be sunk …  it was now too late to introduce a remidy and I bid a dieu to my boat, and her expected services.—

Clark was quite terse about the boat construction in his journal, leading some historians to speculate that he may have been mad at Lewis for spending almost two weeks on his miracle project that was supposed to have taken only a few hours. But I find a world of sympathy in his final word on the matter, which memorializes the boat using Lewis’s own phrase: this falire of our favourate boat was a great disapointment to us.

The Missouri River just above the Great Falls today

Obviously, Lewis felt like a flop. He had visualized himself as an inventor and innovator, a worthy heir to Thomas Jefferson (who, it is worth noting, never turned his hand to a paddle in his life). He and the men buried the frame of the boat. Fortunately, Lewis and Clark still had six dugout canoes, in which they had been traveling since Fort Mandan. To replace the iron boat, Clark located some cottonwood trees and he and the men spent five days building two new canoes. Lewis writes:

July 15 – At 10 A. M. we once more saw ourselves fairly under way much to my joy and I beleive that of every individual who compose the party.

On the return trip on 1806, Lewis dug up the cache and found the boat had “not suffered materially.” The boat then disappears from history, its fate unknown.

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