On March 23, 1806, the canoes were loaded and they began the journey eastward. The hunters of the party searched the shores diligently for game with some success. They obtained "wappatoo" (arrowhead roots) from the various Indians whom they met, some of whom, the Skilloots, were old acquaintances, and later, dogs were again necessary to help out their fare. On the return, Captain Clark discovered the Multnomah, now the Willamette River, which as we have seen they failed to notice on the descent. They describe Mt. Hood and Mt. Regnier (Rainier), St. Helens, and Mt. Jefferson, and they note the beautiful cascades along the rocky walls of the Columbia. among them the superb Multnomah Falls.
On April 9 they reached Beacon Rock on the north side of the river, which marks the head of tide water and the foot of the cascades of the Columbia. They had only one towrope, and it was therefore a long and tiresome task to drag the canoes one by one along the shore to the portage. Here they were obliged to unload the canoes and carry their effects around. The Indians, Wahclellahs, crowded about them and threatened violence. Some of them threw stones. Two attempted to take a dog from Shields, one of the men. "He had no weapon but a long knife, with which he immediately attacked both, hoping to put them to death before they had time to draw their arrows; but as soon as they saw his design they fled into the woods."
After much labor the company passed the cascades, and presently surmounted the "Long Narrows." These are now known as the Dalles of the Columbia, from a French word meaning flat stones. At the head is now Celilo City, and at the foot Dalles City, both in Oregon.
By April 16 the party reached the plains stretching away to the foot of the Rockies, and they found that the air was drier and more pure, and that they had emerged from the region of constant rains.
After various efforts a few horses were procured and some of the canoes were broken up, and from the 24th of April they traveled wholly by land. Their stock of goods was so low that it was hard to trade for horses, and on the 28th we find Captain Clark obliged to give his sword for a white horse in addition to some powder and ball.
The Skilloot Indians and others proved thievish and disobliging. One of them was kicked out of camp for stealing, but in spite of these troubles bloodshed was avoided by tact and patience. An agreeable contrast was afforded by the " Walla wollahs" (Walla Wallas), three of whom travelled a whole day to return a steel trap which the explorers had left behind. It is pleasant also to know that Lewis and Clark were enabled by their knowledge of medicine and surgery to help these Indians. They set a broken arm and put it into splints, and gave medicines to the sick. They entertained other Indians with their violins, which had been carefully preserved throughout their vicissitudes.
They were now crossing the plains where fuel and game were scarce. They passed along the Walla Walla River in Washington on their way toward the Kooskooskee River and their friends the Chopunnish Indians. Early in May they met an old acquaintance, Weahkoonut, who had guided them down the Snake in the previous autumn. The explorers had been living on scanty rations and were half famished, and they found that the Indians themselves were little better off. Dog flesh was their chief reliance until the hunters succeeded in killing some deer.
It will be remembered that they had left their horses with these Indians in the autumn and had hidden their saddles and some of their goods. But there had been quarrels among the Indians, the hiding place had been exposed, some of the saddles were gone, and it was only after much trouble that the horses were recovered.
On May 10 there was a heavy snowstorm, and as the mountains were covered the explorers made a camp on the river to await the melting of the snow. They were now on the Kooskooskee, in the Nez Percé County, Idaho, to the eastward of the city of Lewiston. Here they held a grand council with the Indians, explaining the sovereignty and beneficent intentions of the United States. It would be hard to say exactly what ideas reached the Indians. The explorers spoke in English to one of their men. He translated the message into French for Chaboneau. He interpreted it to his wife in the Minnetaree language. She put it into Shoshone, and a young Shoshone prisoner among the Indians explained it to the Chopunnish in their own dialect. Whatever they might have gathered from the talk, the Indians had no difficulty in understanding the presents which were made them.
The hunters encountered grizzly bears again, and some meat was given to the Indians, which they cooked in an odd way. "They immediately prepared a large fire of dried wood, on which was thrown a number of smooth stones from the river. As soon as the fire burned down and the stones were heated, they were laid next to each other in a level position and covered with a quantity of pine branches, on which were placed flitches of the meat, and then boughs and flesh alternately for several courses, leaving a thick layer of pine on the top. On this heap they then poured a small quantity of water and covered the whole with earth to the depth of four inches. After remaining in this state for about three hours, the meat was taken off, and was really more tender than that which we had boiled or roasted, though the strong flavor of the pine rendered it disagreeable to our palates."
Their stay in this country was made uncomfortable by a recurrence of the rains. They often slept in pools of rain water. About the middle of May they found that the stores of each man were reduced to one awl, a knitting needle, half an ounce of vermillion, two needles, a few skeins of thread, and a yard of ribbon. This represented their means of trading with the Indians. To increase their store they cut from their ragged uniforms the brass buttons which attracted the Indians, and bought fish, bread, and roots. They also exchanged some of their eyewater and ointment, and tin boxes in which they had kept phosphorus.
The medical practice of the explorers continued. They treated the Chopunnish (Nez Percés) for sore eyes and for rheumatism. There was much sickness among their own party. However much they suffered themselves, they gave the tenderest care to one pathetic little figure, — a strange comrade for such a journey, — the baby of Sacajawea.
It was not a cheerful time that they passed at this camp. They gathered all the food possible, nursed their sick, cared for their horses, and waited as patiently as possible for the deep snow to melt, so that they might cross the mountains.
Once, on June 10, they started, but snow fifteen feet deep forced them to return, after several accidents. It was essential that they should descend the Missouri before winter closed navigation. Salt had given out, they were unable to catch fish, and there was no game until they returned to Quamash (Camas) Flats, where some deer and bears were killed. The explorers recorded these facts in their journal without complaints or despondency.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman