Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

Article Index

 

RECROSSING THE DIVIDE

 

By the route made famous as Lewis and Clark's Pass, Captain Lewis's party on July 7th recrossed the Great Divide that separates the Atlantic from the Pacific, and upon the next day they again ate of the flesh of the buffalo. On the 16th they were at the Falls of the Missouri; and two days later they reached the mouth of Maria's River, which they were to explore.

Ten days were spent in this exploration, until further progress was stopped, on the 26th, by an encounter with a band of the dreaded Minnetarees of Fort de Prairie, who had wrought such havoc among the Shoshones,--a set of roving outlaws, who held a reign of terror over all the tribes of the northwestern plains.

Captain Lewis determined to meet these folk as he had met all others. He held a council with them, smoked the pipe of peace, and endeavored to explain to them his mission. When night came, whites and Indians camped together. Lewis knew that he must be on his guard, and had some of his men remain awake throughout the night; but in the early dawn the Minnetarees, catching the sentry unawares, stole the guns of the party and tried to make off with them. A hand-to-hand fight followed. One of the men, in struggling with an Indian and endeavoring to wrest a stolen gun from him, killed him by a knife-thrust. The savages then attempted to drive off the horses; but in this they were thwarted. Being hard pressed, and one of their number shot by Captain Lewis's pistol, they were forced to retreat, leaving twelve of their own horses behind. The whites were the gainers, for they took away four of the captured animals, while losing but one of their own. The Indians had also lost a gun, shields, bows and arrows. Most of this stuff was burned; but about the neck of the dead warrior, whose body remained upon the field, Captain Lewis left a medal, "so that the Indians might know who we were." The Minnetarees never forgot or forgave this meeting. For long years afterward they nursed the thought of revenge, doing what they could to obstruct settlement of the country.

This encounter made it necessary to stop further exploration of Maria's River, and to retreat with all speed toward the Missouri, before the Indians could recover, gather re-enforcements, and offer battle at greater odds. It was not to be supposed that they would pass by the shedding of their tribal blood without seeking immediate vengeance. The explorers had a fair start, however, and after hard riding reached the banks of the Missouri just in time to meet Sergeant Ordway's party descending the river with the canoes and baggage that had been recovered from the resting place on the Jefferson,--a fortunate occurrence indeed. Reunited, the two parties hurried down the river at a great rate, the rapid current aiding the oarsmen, and got out of the way before the Minnetarees appeared.

On August 7th, after a day's cruise of eighty-three miles, they reached the mouth of the Yellowstone, where they found a note that had been left by Captain Clark, saying that he would await them a few miles below. He waited for several days; but then, fearing that Lewis's party had already passed, he moved forward, and the two commands were not joined until the 12th.

In the mean time, after the separation at Traveler's Rest Creek, Captain Clark's party, too, had found a new pass over the Continental Divide,--a road 164 miles in length, suitable for wagon travel. July 8th they came to the spot upon Jefferson River where the canoes and merchandise had been buried the summer before. The boats were raised and loaded, and Sergeant Ordway and his men proceeded with them down the river, while Captain Clark's party set out overland, with the horses, to the Yellowstone. On this trip Captain Clark had an efficient guide in Sacajawea, the "Bird Woman," who brought him to the Yellowstone on the 15th, at the point where the river issues from the mountains through its lower cañon. After traveling for four days along the banks, they halted to build canoes, in which they made the passage to the Missouri, a distance of eight hundred miles, reaching the confluence on August 3d. Aside from the knowledge of the Yellowstone country which was acquired, the only important event of the journey was the loss of all the horses, which were stolen by prowling bands of Indians. This was a serious loss; for they were depending upon the horses for barter with the Mandans, in order to procure a supply of corn for the journey to St. Louis. But there was no time for mourning. The men went into camp at a short distance below the mouth of the Yellowstone, where they occupied themselves, while waiting for Lewis's party, in hunting and dressing skins, which they meant to offer to the Mandans in exchange for needed stores.

While they were thus engaged, on the 11th they hailed a canoe passing up stream, that contained two men who had come from the Illinois country to hunt upon the Yellowstone. These were the first whites seen since April 13, 1805, a period of sixteen months. As a matter of course Clark was famished for news from the United States; but what he got from the wanderers was not cheerful.

"These two men [who had left the Illinois in the summer of 1804] had met the boat which we had dispatched from Fort Mandan, on board of which, they were told, was a Ricara chief on his way to Washington; and also another party of Yankton chiefs, accompanying Mr. Dorion on a visit of the same kind. We were sorry to learn that the Mandans and Minnetarees were at war with the Ricaras, and had killed two of them. The Assiniboins too are at war with the Mandans. They have, in consequence, prohibited the Northwestern Company from trading to the Missouri, and even killed two of their traders near Mouse River; they are now lying in wait for Mr. McKenzie of the Northwestern Company, who had been for a long time among the Minnetarees. These appearances are rather unfavorable to our project of carrying some of the chiefs to the United States; but we still hope that, by effecting a peace between the Mandans, Minnetarees, and Ricaras, the views of our government may be accomplished."

This meant that the solemn treaties of peace concluded at Fort Mandan amongst the several Indian tribes, under the auspices of the expedition, had been broken. The news was displeasing, but probably not wholly unexpected.

August 14th, two days after the reunion of the two parties, they came again to the home of their acquaintances, the Mandans and the Minnetarees. They showed these people every consideration; and the swivel gun, which could not be used on the small boats, was presented to old Le Borgne, who bore it in state to his lodge, thinking his own thoughts. One of the Mandan chiefs joined them here for the journey down the river.

Then occurred another brief conference with the Ricaras, with a renewal of the old pledges of peace and good will toward all men--excepting the Sioux. Reckless as they were in making promises, they, like all their neighbors, weak or strong, would not commit themselves to attempting conciliation of the Sioux.