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Lewis and Clark in southwest Montana
By Rick and Susie Graetz for the Montana Standard, 07/10/2002

On the morning of July 25, 1805, the advance party of the Corps of Discovery reached the last of the expected landmarks as described to them by the Hidatsa Indians at their winter camp of 1804-05 near present day Bismarck, N.D.

Captain Clark, in spite of feet painfully blistered and ravaged by prickly pear thorns, was traveling overland and a couple of days ahead of Lewis, when he arrived at "the three forks of the Missouri.''

Quickly choosing to explore the "north fork'' (soon to be named Jefferson's River), which in his estimation was the route to the Columbia, he left a note for Lewis and spent the next two days in search of the Shoshone Indians.

Contracting "a high fever & akeing in all my bones,'' and finding no sign of the Natives, he reluctantly turned back, crossed over to the middle fork and camped for the night explaining "... I continue to be verry unwell fever verry high.''

Clark spent the nights of July 25--26 at two separate camps on "Philosophy River (Willow Creek)'' near the present town of Willow Creek.

Arriving at the meeting of the rivers on July 27 Lewis stated, "the country opens suddonly to extensive and beatifull plains and meadows which appeared to be surrounded in every direction with distant and lofty mountains; supposing this to be the Three Forks of the Missouri I halted the party.''

Lewis then walked about one-half mile up the Gallatin and "ascended the point of a high limestone clift (Lewis's Rock) from whence I commanded a most perfect view of the neighbouring country.'' The explorer was beholding the Spanish Peaks and Madison Range to the south, the Gallatin range to the southeast and the Tobacco Root Mountains in his southwest view field. He could also see the Bridger Range directly to the east. In between was the lush, wide valley of the Gallatin River.

Take the I-90 exit at Three Forks and follow the signs to MT 286 and the Missouri Headwaters State Park. Here at the actual forks of the Missouri is a wonderful complex of picnic, interpretive, camping and fishing accesses. It is exciting to stand on the bridge over the Gallatin River and look across, or walk the path down to the point where the waters of the now combined Jefferson/Madison River come together with the Gallatin. And from there on down, it's the Missouri.

Lewis called for the canoes to be unloaded; several of the men went in search of fresh meat and the rest "are busily engaged in dressing their skins, making mockersons, lexing (leggings) to make them selves comfortable.''

Clark and his men stumbled into camp. Taking in to consideration the exhausted condition of the crew and Clark's battered feet "and indisposition, was a further inducement for my remaining here a couple of days ... we begin to feel considerable anxiety with rispect to the Snake Indians. if we do not find them or some other nation who have horses I fear the successfull issue of our voyage will be very doubtfull.''

Good news came as Indian guide Sacajawea recognized the area and informed them that this was the exact place her people were encamped when the Hidatsa raid occurred five years earlier. And where, after trying to escape, she had been captured some three to four miles away towards the town of Three Forks.

There was no question in the two leaders' minds that this was the headwaters of the Mighty Missouri. July 28, Lewis wrote, "Both Capt. C. and myself corrisponded in opinion, with rispect, to the impropriety of calling either of these streams the Missouri and accordingly agreed to name them ... we called the S.W. Fork, that which we meant to ascend, Jefferson's river in honor of Thomas Jefferson. the Middle fork we called Madison's River in honor of James Madison, and the S.E. Fork we called Gallitin's river in honor of Albert Gallitin.''

To continue following the trail, get back on Highway 287 from I-90 and follow the Jefferson River to the southwest.

On July 30, the party set out again, this time Clark, who was "still very languid and complains of a general soarness in all his limbs,'' traveled by water, while Lewis went ahead on land "in search of the Snake Indians.''

Following a trail over the mountains on the north side of the Jefferson, he trekked through the same high points that hold the Lewis and Clark Caverns. Both captains continually commented on the uncompromising heat, the "troublesome Musquetoes'' and the "emence number of beaver and orter in this little river.'' After a particularly arduous day, Clark and the party halted near "Philosophy River (Willow Creek),'' Lewis spent the night alone about two miles above them on an island awaiting the canoes.

July 31, 1805, Lewis summed up the day, "the mountains on both side of the river at no great distance are very lofty. we have a lame crew just now,'' and camped that night at the mouth of Antelope Creek several miles above the Sappington Bridge and downstream from the Lewis and Clark Caverns (which they did not come across). Subsequent entries mentioned how he was "determined to go in search of the Snake Indians.'' State Route 2 now takes over to LaHood through Whitehall, then State Route 55 to Silver Star.

Arriving at "a mountain through which a river passes,'' Lewis, doggedly fighting heat, thirst and "tremendous clifts of ragged and nearly perpendicular rocks,'' camped on the 1st of August above Cardwell. The same night, Clark, making slow progress with the canoes, stayed just downstream near La Hood, at the meeting of today's Boulder River and the Jefferson. The two waterways near here were labeled after members of the Expedition; the Boulder -- "Field's Creek'' after Reuben Field and the South Boulder Creek at Cardwell -- "Frazer's Creek'' after Robert Frazer.

Passing between the Tobacco Root Mountains on the east and the Highlands to the West on August 2nd, Lewis described, "the tops of these mountains were yet partially covered with snow while we in the valley. were suffocated nearly with the intense heat of the midday sun. the nights are so could that two blankets are not more than sufficient covering.'' This day they christened the present Whitetail Creek by the town of Whitehall -- "Birth Creek'' in honor of Clark's 35th birth day the day before. Lewis camped that night in the heart of the valley at Waterloo, just above Silver Star.

After "having traveled by estimate 23 miles,'' Lewis's August 3rd camp was near the mouth of the "Wisdom (Big Hole) river.'' Clark's men, two days in arrears and still struggling up the Jefferson with the canoes and supplies, "wer compelled to be a great proportion of their time in the water today; they have had a severe days labour and are much fortiegued.''

A missed communication caused Captain Clark to lose precious time and energy investigating the Big Hole River. On August 4th, Lewis left a note for Clark on a green willow pole "recommending his taking the middle fork (Jefferson).''

The next day, due to the possible intervention of an errant beaver, Clark failed to see the missive and turned up the Big Hole River only to be stopped about a mile in, by brush so thick "they were obliged to cut a passage through.'' They spent a miserable, wet night on a flooded island and were reunited with Lewis the next day, August 6th, camping across from the Big Hole's confluence. At this point, the Expedition was about to enter the waters of the Beaverhead River.

In exploring the Big Hole River area with Drouillard, Lewis confirmed his thought as to which fork to take, "I took the advantage of a high projecting spur of the mountain (Lewis's Lookout) which with some difficulty we ascended to it's summit in about half an hour. From this eminence I had a pleasing view of the valley through which I had passed many miles below and the continuation of the middle fork (Beaverhead River) through the valley '85 to the distance of about 20 miles '85 to enter the mountains '85 I did not hesitate in believing the middle fork the most proper for us to ascend.'' Locals refer to this rocky ridge as the Hogback.

In their writings, Lewis and Clark called the entire length of the Jefferson and Beaverhead rivers "Jefferson's River,'' but today's Jefferson begins where the Big Hole (Wisdom) and Beaverhead rivers mix their waters, north of Twin Bridges and downstream from the entrance of the Ruby (n'e9 "Philanthropy'' ) River.

The Beaverhead originates farther up at the joining of Red Rock River and Horse Prairie Creek.

You can follow this next segment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition route by driving south from Twin Bridges along the Beaverhead River on Highway 41. About 12 miles from Twin Bridges you'll see Beaverhead Rock on your right. At Dillon, there is a diorama at the Chamber of Commerce on South Montana Street, depicting the departure of Lewis and his three men from the main party after Sacajawea had identified the Beaver's Head. From Dillon take I-15 south. Ten miles out, across from where the highway comes close to the east side of the river, are the Rattlesnake Cliffs. Then take the Clark Canyon exit. Head west across the dam and look for the Camp Fortunate Interpretive site. From there continue west on Road 324 through the Horse Prairie Valley, past the small community of Grant until a road sign points to Lemhi Pass. A very scenic dirt road leads to a pleasant picnic area and a tremendous view.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

200 years to the day
Lewis & Clark 'expedition' arrives in area
By Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard, 07/31/2005

CARDWELL - Warren Keller never spent much time rowing boats before he joined a group reenacting the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Dugout canoes.
Dugout canoes fashioned from cottonwood tree trunks are exhibited alongside the re-enactors camp. Pat Trader of Paris, Ky., displays a replica of a 1792 flintlock contract rifle. Walter Hinick/The Montana Standard.

Nor had Keller, a 76-year-old retired electrical engineer for the U.S. Air Force, camped in a tent many nights.

But after weeks of helping paddle a dugout canoe upstream and sleeping on a cot, he's toughened up, Keller said Friday while eating lunch at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, east of Whitehall.

"The first night, I thought my arms were going to fall off," Keller said, wearing canvas pants, a linen shirt and a vest that match the standard U.S. Army uniform of the period. "But you get used to it and you get stronger." Keller and more than 30 other members of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., rolled into the park Friday morning with an entourage of support vehicles, including a pickup truck pulling two massive dugout canoes on a trailer and a 48-foot pirogue that matched the boat the historic explorers used. The group has been retracing the route of the Corps of Discovery for over a year, staying as close as possible to locations the famous explorers reached on the same date two centuries ago.

The re-enactment is comprised of more than 250 members from 38 different states, said Tom Ronk, a retired forester for the state of Missouri who is coordinating the leg through southwest Montana. Members embark on the journey for different lengths of time, with anywhere from 25 to more than 40 on the expedition at any one time.

It's made up of an amazing variety of people from all walks of life: a retired railroad worker, an artist and a young man still in high school among them. They also have several direct descendants of Corps members along.

But they all have one thing in common, said Jan Donelson, a 52-year-old architect from St. Louis who is portraying Meriwether Lewis.

"It's just the passion for the history that's kind of threaded us all together for this mission," Donelson said. "We try to tell the Lewis and Clark epic that I don't think has ever been told before - maybe in little vignettes, but not the complete story." They had camp set up within an hour after arriving, lining the canvas tents in a perfectly straight row, just as the captains would have demanded during the day. The men put out displays on the medicine, weaponry and other items that the Corps carried on the expedition.

Days in camp are spent resting and talking to the public. Evenings include talks on the expedition before the men break out guitars or fiddles, and tell stories.

Throughout the Montana leg of the journey, the re-enactors have endured stiff winds, a morning with four inches of snow and constant mosquitoes, Donelson said. Their tanned faces serve as witness to the hot sun that often beats down.

And they've had an amazing - sometimes eerie - series of events that parallel happenings that the Corps experienced, Ronk said.

A direct descendant of William Clark who is portraying his ancestor became horribly ill on the same day Clark did. They broke the rudder on their pirogue within a few days of when the Corps had the same problem. And they spotted bighorn sheep in the Missouri Breaks about the same date that the captains described that experience in the journals.

"It's just kind of uncanny how these things are unfolding," said Ronk, who portrays private William Bratton.

The re-enactors received a grant from the National Park Service as part of its commemoration of the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery voyage. The group has paddled or pulled their boats most of the way, but is using modern means more often as they continue upstream because the dugout canoes are nearly impossible to get out of the water at small boat ramps, Ronk said.

Despite the boats' size, they're easy to maneuver and hold a lot of cargo, Ronk said after growing accustomed to the dugout canoes. He understands why the Corps used them for the vast majority of the journey.

"It was the 18-wheeler of the fur trade and of Lewis and Clark's day, because they were cargo holders," he said. "These boats are extremely stable, we've tried to turn them over and we just couldn't." Despite the modern means of getting there and a few other luxuries, the re-enactors are staying as true to the original explorers as possible in terms of dress, equipment and the set up of their camp. The main goals of the group are to re-enact Lewis and Clark as accurately as possible, but just as important to educate the public about the historic expedition.

That means telling the story from the perspective of people other than white Americans, Ronk said.

When possible, the modern day expedition includes American Indian speakers to tell their side of the story, and has Joe Bradford, an African American man from Eugene, Ore., portraying William Clark's slave York.

"We don't call this a celebration, because not everybody is celebrating," Ronk said. "For a lot of people, 200 years later is kind of a chance to begin some healing." Coming to grips with the legacy of slavery and how York's story illustrated it were the reason Bradford joined the group, he said. A platoon leader in the Oregon Army National Guard, Bradford was offered to go on the expedition.

Growing up in Tacoma, Wash., Bradford said he had numerous American Indian friends who saw Lewis and Clark's journey as a dark day in history.

But York's story of being an equal and given the right to do so many things no other slave could at the time was inspiring, Bradford said.

"I try to do York justice and speak where he couldn't speak," Bradford said. "He was able to show us the epitome of being humble."

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

Dugout Diaries
Paddlers gather to answer some looming Lewis and Clark questions
By The Standard Staff, 06/29/2005

LENORE, Idaho - Something's missing in the Lewis and Clark journals.

The surfin'.

The wave riding.

The "woo-hoos." Thousands of handwritten pages, all manner of botanical, celestial and anthropological observations, and not once did Meriwether Lewis or William Clark talk about all the fun they were having on the river.

MTSTD paddling rapids in dugout canoe.
Alan Burgmuller, right, Juliette Crump and Chuck Anderson, left, crash through rapids in a dugout canoe on the Clearwater River recently near Lenore, Idaho. They were among a group of Montana paddlers testing the viability of dugouts for river travel by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Kurt Wilson / The Missoulian

Or how canoes carved of cottonwood and ponderosa pine responded when paddled upstream - or across the stream - at high water.

Those journal entries were left to the corps of middle-aged boaters who met recently on the banks of the Clearwater River, at the big eddy a quarter-mile below Lenore, Idaho.

"We are here to answer a couple of looming Lewis and Clark questions," said Bill Bevis, the Missoula writer who captained the modern-day expedition. "There is no mention in the journals of upstream ferries - of how they crossed the Missouri at flood stage." Nor did the explorers discuss in any detail the design of their dugout canoes. Were the hulls rounded? How thick were the bottoms? What about the gunnels?

"That's what we're going to find out today," said Bevis, motioning to the three crudely built canoes bobbing in the water at the boat ramp. "What can a dugout canoe do in big water?" The call came last summer from Joe Mussulman, proprietor of the Web site.

"As a scholar and a canoeist," he asked, "would you consider writing an article on the dugout canoes used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition?" The Corps of Discovery traveled in cottonwood canoes in the spring and summer of 1805, as they pushed up the Missouri River to the great falls, and beyond. Then, in October of that year, they built and boarded canoes of ponderosa pine for the trip downriver on the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia.

Mussulman wanted a Web story on the dugouts and the role they played in the expedition's push to the Pacific.

"At that point, we both believed it would be an overview of what other people had done," Bevis said. "There has been some good scholarship on the Lewis and Clark dugouts. There are people who have read every journal entry looking for every mention of the canoes." In all those thousands of pages, though, the diarists included less than a dozen useful mentions of what was going on with the canoes in the water, Bevis found.

"There were three or four mentions of wind and waves, and a couple of entries about hitting rocks and busting up a canoe, but I realized we really don't know what kind of canoes they had or how they acted in the river," he said.

Bevis needed a dugout canoe.

He needed Philip Johnston.

Eight years ago now, a promoter came to Orofino, Idaho, looking for woodsmen interested in "rediscovering" the lost art of dugout canoe construction as part of the bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806.

He'd buy the logs if the assembled sawyers would put their knowledge of wood to an unusual test by building a dugout canoe.

Johnston, a retired logger who lives in the woods eight miles outside Orofino, bought his own piece of ponderosa pine and went to work. Three hundred hours later, he had a 33-foot-long, 2,400-pound canoe.

"How do you make a dugout canoe?" Johnston said. "You get a piece of wood and carve off everything that doesn't look like a canoe." The bulk of the work is done with axes, he said, although he makes a few cuts with a chainsaw to get things started.

With 12 dugouts now to his credit, Johnston can turn a tree into a boat in about 80 hours. Every one of them looks different, the product of how the wood looks and feels to its carver.

Johnston's kept his original dugout - the big 33-footer, and has toted it to dozens of bicentennial events, including last Sunday's gathering on the Clearwater.

His latest canoe is a 20-footer - 33 inches wide and about 1,400 pounds. Before Bevis and company dropped it in the big eddy, it had spent about 10 minutes in the water. In a pond.

"It floats pretty good," Johnston said, "but I'm afraid these fellas are gonna be swimming when they hit those waves." The paddlers looked nervous as their commander gave his final instructions.

"I do not want people in the water below those big waves with a 2,000-pound log rolling over on them," Bevis said.

The paddlers looked out at the rapids, then at the three dugout canoes that were to be their transportation through the rapids, then back at Bevis.

"We can only have one boat in trouble at a time," he cautioned. "One boat at risk at a time." They'd begin with two dugouts and all 10 paddlers in the water - six in Johnston's 33-footer, three in an 18-foot cottonwood dugout, one in a kayak.

Bill Hudson, the kayaker, looked the most nervous of all.

"I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to pick up nine people at once," he said.

Dick Barrett, a University of Montana economist and longtime canoeist, had recruited most of the "old masters" on hand for the experiment - men who've regularly paddled canoes on Montana rivers over the past 30 years.

"We have a lot of experience and a lot of good paddlers here," Bevis said.

By comparison, the soldiers in Lewis and Clark's contingent were babes in the water, he said, "although they were big strong guys and they'd logged a lot of river miles by the time they got to the Clearwater." "And we could all be their fathers," added Barrett.

Bevis assigned Rod McIver to command the smallest boat, the 18-footer built by Columbus craftsman Walt Marten.

McIver took Barrett with him in the "little" 800-pound canoe, and also Mike Johnson, a retired Sentinel High School physical education teacher and former national champion flatwater canoeist.

They slowly paddled out, inspected the waves, selected their eddy line and shot through in a couple of seconds.

The crew of the big dugout was still in flat water, positioning and repositioning themselves, and calling to shore: "Are we trim?" "Are you sure we're trim?" Paddles dipped into the water; the canoe barely moved. Paddles dipped deeper into the water, and the canoe inched forward, as the modern-day corps realized what was needed to move 2,400 pounds of pine through still water.

Bevis shouted orders from the back of the boat, as this crew too found their line and pointed their dugout downriver. And shot through the waves like a rocket.

"Woo-hoo!" came the critique - the fun finally on record.

"It was so much fun being in the boat. The entire crew could simply handle whatever came up," said Bevis. "There was all this squirrely water, not just regular waves, but sudden boils - things you can't anticipate - and everybody just knew what to do." And the big dugout, Barrett said, "I was totally unprepared for its stability in that wave train. It was just amazing." "If you paddle a conventional canoe - which is much lighter and much smaller - when you go into a wave train, you expect it will get pitched around one way or another," he said. "You have to get used to letting the boat roll around under your body.

"But that thing was steady as a rock. It didn't respond to the waves at all." Johnston's big canoe has a 6-inch-thick floor. "So the center of gravity is down under the water," Bevis said. "It's not a canoe, it's a battleship." Still, the canoeists were worried when they took out the newest dugout - the 20-footer. It not only had a thick, flat floor, but also flat sides.

"Looking at it, we thought that boat would be terrible in a side current," Bevis said. "That flat bottom met the almost vertical side at a 50-degree angle, with a minimum of chine." "But wow, what a hot boat," he said. "It was just fabulous." Back onshore after their first few trips through the rapids, the paddlers were abuzz.

"We're oughta take these to the Gorge," said Bill Rossbach, a Missoula attorney. "We could clear out the kayakers pretty quick." "I want us to take these back out now and really challenge the water," Bevis said. "Let's see what they can do." Paddlers jumped eagerly into dugouts. Hudson abandoned the "rescue kayak." And Bitterroot canoeists Alan Burgmuller and Chuck Anderson even tried pushing the cottonwood dugout upstream with long poles.

"Those guys had a pretty out-there lifestyle," said Burgmuller, himself a whitewater canoe racer. "They had a lot more at stake than we do." Who among the Corps of Discovery donned helmets when they encountered rough water? Who wore a life vest? Or a wet suit? Who had knee pads?

And what wouldn't the soldiers have given for a bag of trail mix, with dried tropical fruits and nuts? Or for a Suburban and boat trailer to pull their mammoth dugouts out of the river?

"Modern-day risk takers," Burgmuller said, "have it easy." Sometimes, scholarly work is so much fun.

"We have knowledge that we didn't have four hours ago," Bevis proclaimed when his Corps of Rediscovery climbed out of the Clearwater for lunch.

"People who say Lewis and Clark couldn't have done this or couldn't have done that because they couldn't cross the river in dugout canoes are wrong," he said. "Now we know." "Lots of people assumed those were very crude boats, and that Lewis and Clark were very limited in what they could do in high water on a river," Bevis said. "We assumed they wouldn't have dared cross the Missouri at flood stage, that it was too dangerous and difficult, but we've proved that wrong." "We surfed that 20-foot canoe," Bevis said. "We buried the nose. We filled it two-thirds full of water, and it stayed upright." In fact, after lunch, the paddlers managed to accidentally crash Johnston's dugouts into each other - head-on smack in the middle of the rapids - and still stayed afloat.

"That big canoe just let us get away with murder," Barrett shouted when the paddlers returned, wet and laughing, to shore. "I was all the way bow under, but that boat was so long it just went right through the whirlpool." "I thought the airbags would deploy," said Eric Kress, a Missoula physician.

"Way to go, McIver," shouted Rossbach. "You've got the entire Clearwater River and you smash your boat right into mine." "I thought the big boat always has the right-of-way," said McIver.

"You mean, the downstream boat," Rossbach fired back. "That was just great." You've got to wonder, Bevis said, why Lewis and Clark never mentioned how well their dugouts performed in fast water.

They did, of course, tell of running the rapids at The Dalles, on the Columbia River. But those journal entries focused more on how the captains put all non-swimmers on shore with the expedition's most valuable possessions - and how the Natives lined the cliffs to watch the spectacle.

But there wasn't a single "woo-hoo" in that day's diary. No mention of high-fives. Or of surfin' the waves.

Of course, Bevis said, "they were writing for Thomas Jefferson and history, not for Outside magazine. They took for granted the daily adventure and river travel stuff, and focused pretty squarely on the accomplishments." When you think about it, he said, it's not that surprising. "If we wrote about a trip we took today, we wouldn't talk about putting the keys in the ignition or what make of car we drove - or how we drove it." We might just forget to say how much fun it was.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

William Clark heaped praise on Big Hole Valley two centuries ago
by Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard , 07/08/2006

Capt. William Clark was the first white man to order fondue near the Jackson Hot Springs 200 years ago.

He had two of his men stick chunks of meat in the warm spring creek just east of today's Jackson Hot Springs Lodge. Clark and his men had discovered a spring that "blubbers with heat for 20 paces below where it rises," a spectacle they'd seen only one other time during their cross-continental journey.

A person could only hold his hand in the water for three seconds, Clark wrote, so he thought of using it for cooking instead.

Horseback packing.
Bud Clark leads the way as members of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles, Mo., ride up to Hogan Cabin Thursday. About half of the group rode over the Continental Divide near Gibbon's Pass and came down Trail Creek, which was a popular route for American Indians for centuries. Photo by Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard.

"I directt Sergt. Pryor and John Shields to put each a peice of meat in the water of different Sises," Clark wrote on July 7, 1806. "the one about the Size of my 3 fingers Cooked dun in 25 minits the other much thicker was 32 minits before it became Sufficiently dun." Two centuries ago this week, Clark and his party became the first non-American Indians to lay eyes on the Big Hole Valley. Clark had split with fellow Capt. Meriwether Lewis at Traveler's Rest, the expedition's campsite on Lolo Creek south of Missoula, to travel through the Big Hole and eventually travel along the Yellowstone River to explore territory for fur trapping.

The captains agreed to rendezvous a month later at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. But by splitting the expedition of more than 30 men into smaller groups, they were risking the expedition's success at returning home, said Joe Mussulman, a former professor at the University of Montana and producer of the Internet site

"The most dramatic moment of the entire expedition was that morning on July 3 when they said goodbye, I'll see you in a month," Mussulman said.

The captains, however, had a vital reason beyond exploring new territory for sending a party back south through the Bitterroot Valley and what is today Dillon. They had stashed several canoes and important equipment at Camp Fortunate, the spot where the Red River and Horse Prairie Creek join to form what the captains called the Jefferson River that is now inundated by Clark Canyon Reservoir.

"Somebody had to come back to Camp Fortunate and get the canoes and the supplies that they had cached there," Mussulman said.

And after learning there was no water route over the Rockies, the captains were looking for something they could bring back that would save Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Mussulman said the captains were hoping to find an easy wagon route or discover something profound that would make a mark. Clark rode on horseback up the Bitterroot, retracing the expedition's route from the previous fall. He was traveling with 18 men, his slave York, Toussaint Charbonneau, his Shoshone wife Sacagawea and their infant son Pomp.

The party turned east on July 6 near today's Sula to take a different route on from the previous summer's trek over Lemhi Pass to the south.

It was a shortcut that Clark wrote would save him two days of travel over taking Lost Trail and Lemhi passes, the route they'd followed the previous summer. The trail took them up near Gibbon's Pass on the Continental Divide along a well-traveled Indian road through burned forests, Clark noted.

It had also been a popular route for animals more associated with the plains and mountain valleys than an alpine environment.

"I observe the appearance of old buffalow roads and some heads on this part of the mountain," he wrote.

Clark was seeing the signs of mountain buffalo that had likely been wiped out by the Shoshone once they got horses, Mussulman said.

That evening Clark and his party descended into the valley down Trail Creek, near today's Big Hole National Battlefield. He noted in his journal the stunning beauty of the Big Hole Valley.

"we assended a Small rise and beheld an open boutifull Leavel Vally or plain of about 20 Miles wide and near 60 long extending N&S. in every direction around which I could see the high points of Mountains Covered with Snow," Clark said in his journal. It's a view that today, except for a few ranch houses, fences and livestock, is remarkably similar, and one that people viewing the Big Hole Valley for the first time find breathtaking. Clark was no different.

"We think of these guys as hearty explorers with no aesthetic sense - rough-and-tumble guys," said Joe Mussulman, "He's really struck by this view." The party also experienced something that today's Big Hole residents know can happen anytime - an intense storm that forced them to hunker down for an hour and a half. They started a fire that evening to dry out. Clark also wrote that Sacagawea had pointed out in the distance to the southeast a low pass they would pass over to get back to the Jefferson River; she was pointing out Big Hole Pass.

She also gave a perfect description of the country the party would pass through in the next two days before it reached Camp Fortunate.

The party awoke the next morning, July 7, to find its horses scattered and spent the morning rounding them up. Nine of the horses could not be found and Clark wrote he suspected some Shoshones had stolen them.

He left some men behind and moved on toward today's Jackson, where he had the experience at the hot springs. The party rode on, crossing several creeks along the east side of the Big Hole River before coming to the divide.

Clark noted that he was on a tributary of what they had named the previous summer "Willards Creek," today's Grasshopper Creek. The comment illustrates how superb Clark's sense of direction was, Mussulman said.

"He has this genius for assimilating topographical impressions and putting them together in a map in his mind," he said. "Here he is a year later and he looks back at it from a different angle and says that's Willard's Creek." The fact that Clark did not mention seeing flakes of gold in the creek is somewhat surprising, said Harry Fritz, chair of the history department at the University of Montana. The creek that flows through Bannack would help spur Montana's gold rush six decades later.

That evening, Clark made another note about the beauty of the Big Hole. "I now take my leave of this butifull extensive vally which I call the hot spring Vally," he wrote.

The party rode into Camp Fortunate the next day. The first thing on the men's minds wasn't being back in familiar territory, but rather getting a fix for something they'd sorely missed.

"most of the Party with me being Chewers of Tobacco become So impatient to be chewing it that they Scercely gave themselves time to take their Saddles off their horses before they were off to the deposit," Clark wrote.

Clark's final comments about the Big Hole Valley were that the Indian road from Traveler's Rest to Camp Fortunate was in great shape, and with only cutting a few trees would make an "excellent" wagon road. It wasn't the water route they'd hoped for, but Clark said that absent that, the Big Hole Valley and route over the Continental Divide would be the easiest route for fur traders.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

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