CHAPTER XVII

ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS

A rough mountain road. Dividing the party. An adventure with a grizzly. Fighting with Indians. An accident to Captain Lewis His indomitable courage. Passing the Great Falls of the Missouri. Lewis overtakes Captain Clark.

On June 24, after securing some Indian guides, they set out on a second attempt to pass the mountains. This time, in spite of snow, dangerous precipices, and steep ascents, they succeeded in crossing the Bitter Root range. They traveled one hundred and fifty six miles in this rough journey from Idaho into Montana. On June 30 they reached their old camp on Clarkís River, Montana.

They decided that Lewis and nine men should hasten on to the falls of the Missouri and prepare for the portage of canoes and baggage. Clark was to go to the head of the Jefferson River, which Sergeant Ordway and nine men were to descend, while Clark and ten men were to descend the Yellowstone. This was in order to gain as much knowledge as possible of the country.

Lewisís journey to the falls was uneventful. There were plenty of elk and other game, and also, unfortunately, of mosquitoes. On opening their cache at the falls they found the bearskins and specimens of plants spoiled by water. Some of the horses disappeared, and Drewyer, the mightiest hunter of the party, went on a long and fruitless quest for them. Another man, MíNeal, " approached a thicket in which there was a white [grizzly] bear which he did not discover until he was within ten feet of him; his horse started, and wheeling suddenly round, threw MíNeal almost immediately under the bear. He started up instantly, and finding the bear raising himself on his hind feet to attack him, struck him on the head with the butt of his musket. The blow was so violent that it broke- the breech of the musket and knocked the bear to the ground, and before he recovered, MíNeal, seeing a willow tree close by, sprang up it and there stayed, while the bear closely guarded the foot of the tree until late in the afternoon. He then went off and MíNeal, being released, came down."

After preparing the carriages for the boats, Lewis started northward to explore Marias River. They were in a buffalo country, and there were signs of Indians. This was the land of the troublesome Blackfoot and Minnetaree Indians, and the signs were disturbing. Lewis followed up the north fork of Marias River, known as the Cut-bank River, in the northwest corner of Montana. He was anxious to find whether its source was in British America or the United States. But cloudy weather prevented them from taking observations, and the chronometer stopped for a time and they found themselves unable to determine the longitude. Without exact observations they could not fix the boundary line. Finally they turned back, after naming the place Camp Disappointment.

On the same day, July 26, they encountered a band of eight Minnetarees armed with two guns and bows and arrows. At first the meeting was peaceful, but the white men knew that these Indians were treacherous and great horse thieves. They camped together, but Lewis himself kept on watch until a late hour and then woke one of his men. It was fortunate that they were vigilant. Toward morning the Indians quietly rose and seized the rifles. "As soon as Fields [the sentinel, who had carelessly laid aside his rifle] turned round, he saw the Indian running off with the rifles, and instantly calling his brother they pursued him for fifty or sixty yards, and just as they overtook him, in the scuffle for the rifles, R. Fields stabbed him through the heart with his knife; the Indian ran about fifteen steps and fell dead."

Meantime there was another struggle at the camp. An Indian had seized Drewyerís rifle, but on the instant Drewyer leaped up and wrested it from him. Awakened by the noise Captain Lewis reached for his rifle only to Meriwether Lewis see an Indian running off with it. Drawing his pistol he rushed after the Indian, who finally threw the gun down. They had saved their rifles, but their horses were now in danger. Lewis ordered the men to pursue the main party, who were driving off most of the horses. He himself, bareheaded, ran after two Indians who were escaping with another horse. He shouted breathlessly that unless they returned it he would shoot, and shoot he did, wounding one of the Indians, who fired at him. "The shot had nearly been fatal, for Captain Lewis felt the wind of the ball very distinctly."

The result of this little battle was wholly favorable to the explorers. They lost one horse, but captured four Indian horses and some shields, bows, quivers, and one gun which the Indians left in the camp. The Indian killed by Fields was the one to whom they had presented a medal the day before, and this they left around his neck, "that they might be informed who we were." The patience and adroitness of the explorers had kept them almost wholly free from serious trouble with the Indians. In this case they were forced to act in self-defense.

Very naturally they lost no time in starting on, fearing immediate pursuit by a larger band, but they made the journey back to the falls of the Missouri in safety.

Lewis and his reunited party, who had been joined by Sergeant Ordway and his men, passed around the falls and hastened down the river. At the mouth of the Yellowstone they found a note from Captain Clark, who was waiting a few miles below. But before they overtook him their leader, Captain Lewis, narrowly escaped. death. Landing with the canoeman Cruzatte, to hunt some elk, they took different routes. "Just as Captain Lewis was taking aim at an elk, a ball struck him in the left thigh, about an inch below the joint of the hip, and, missing the bone, went through the left thigh, and grazed the right to the depth of the ball. It instantly occurred to him that Cruzatte must have shot him by mistake for an elk, as he was dressed in brown leather, and Cruzatte had not a very good eyesight."

He called to Cruzatte, but received no answer. Fearing an Indian ambush he pluckily made his way to the boat, shouting to Cruzatte to retreat. He reached the boat, and, wounded as he was, bravely led the men back to relieve Cruzatte. After a hundred steps his wound made it impossible for him to go on. Without thought of a guard for himself, he sent the men on, and "limping back to the boat, he prepared himself with his rifle, a pistol, and the air-gun, to sell his life dearly in case the men should be overcome."

After all, it was a false alarm as regarded the Indians. It was Cruzatte himself who bad shot Captain Lewis. He had seen the brown suit and had mistaken him for an elk.

The suffering of Captain Lewis was none the less real as he lay in the bottom of the pirogue while they went on to overtake Captain Clark. On August 12 they met two fur traders from Illinois, and on the same day they joined Captain Clark, near the mouth of Little Knife Creek, and the whole party were reunited.



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© 2001, Lynn Waterman