Explorations into the World of Lewis and Clark 194 Essays from the Pages of We Proceeded On.

William Clark’s drawing of the Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus).

Explorations into the World of Lewis and Clark:
194 Essays from the pages of We Proceeded On
Edited with Introductions and Notes by Robert A. Saindon


of VOLUME TWO IV People, Places, Things, and Events Along the Trail
Introduction to Section IV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . In General 62. “In the Wake of the Red Pirogue: Lewis and Clark and the Exploration of the American West”.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .John Logan Allen 63. “A Most Perfect Harmony: Life at Fort Mandan”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . James P. Ronda 64. “The Summer of Decision: Lewis and Clark in Montana, 1805”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Logan Allen 65. “Imagining the West Through the Eyes of Lewis and Clark” . . . . James P. Ronda People (Non-Indian) —Joseph Graveline 66. “Joseph Gravelines and the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . Paul C. Graveline —Place Names 67. “All in Family—The In-house Honorifics of Lewis and Clark”. . . .Arlen J. Large Places —Spirit Mound 68. “Lewis and Clark and the Legend of the ‘Little People’”. . . . . Robert A. Saindon —Knife River Villages 69. “Knife River Indian Villages”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Gary E. Moulton 70. “The Sakakawea (Awatixa) Site”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..Erik Holland —Among the Mandans 71. “Fort Mandan: Wilderness Preparation Headquarters”. . . . . .Alan R. Woolworth —Lewis and Clark Graffiti 72. “They Left Their Mark: Tracing the Obscure Graffiti of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert A. Saindon 427

428 441 449 459

468 472

478 482 484 488



—Slaughter River Pishkun 73. “Slaughter River Pishkun or Float Basin?” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .W. Raymond Wood —Great Falls Portage 74. “The Great Portage—Lewis and Clark’s Overland Journey Around the Great Falls of the Missouri”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Larry Gill — Jefferson River 75. “‘Clark’s Lookout’: An Interpretation of an Age-Old Landmark” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert A. Saindon —Lolo Trail 76. “Along the Lolo Route”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Carol Lynn MacGregor —Fort Clatsop 77. “The Western End of the Lewis and Clark Trail” . . . . . . . . . . . . Eldon G. Chuinard —Horse Trading 78. “Captain Clark’s Plan to Enter into the Horse Trade Business”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert A. Saindon —Pompey’s Pillar 79. “Pompey’s Pillar: Should Mere Fragments of Facts Become a ‘General’ Conclusion?”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Arlen J. Large 80. “‘My Boy Pomp’: About the Name”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joseph A Mussulman Things: —Flags 81. “Symbol of Peace, Sign of Allegiance, Banner of Pride: The Flags of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert A. Saindon —Espontoons 82. “The Espontoon: Captain Lewis’s Magic Stick” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt 56183. “The Espontoons of Captains Lewis and Clark” . . . . . . . . . Howard Hoovestol —The Corn Mills 84. “The Mystery of the Third Corn Mill” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John H. Stofiel —Survey Instruments 85. “The Instruments of Lewis and Clark”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Martin Plamondon II Events: 86. “Luck or Providence—Narrow Escapes on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt 87. “Christmas Came Three Times to the Corps of Discovery” . . . . . Robert E. Lange 88. “The Leapfrogging Captains” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arlen J. Large 89. “The Brig Lydia Misses a Rendezvous with History”. . . . . . . . . Robert E. Lange 90. “The Empty Anchorage: Why No Ships Came for Lewis and Clark”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arlen J. Large 91. “Riled Up Blackfeet: Did Meriwether Lewis Do It?”. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Arlen J. Large 92. “Was it the Pawpaw?”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ann Rogers Transportation: —Boats 93. “The White Pirogue of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . Robert A. Saindon 94. “A Note on the White Pirogue” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Gary E. Moulton 95. “The Rocky Boat Ride of Lewis and Clark (All Boats of the Expedition)” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Arlen J. Large



517 522 528


540 547


569 572 575

581 591 597 601 607 614 624

627 636 638


96. “Captain Lewis’s Iron Boat: The Experiment”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Donald W. Rose —Horses 97. “Hoofbeats and Nightmares (A Horse Chronicle of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert R. Hunt Fishing: 98. “Incompleat Anglers on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt Foods and Drinks 99. “Gills and Drams of Consolidation: Ardent Spirits on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt 100. “Where’s the Salt”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Donald Nell 101. “The Making of a Myth: Did the Corps of Discovery Actually Eat Candles?”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert J. Moore, Jr. Military Life 102. “Crime and Punishment on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . Robert R. Hunt Clothing and Shelter 103. “Mockersons: An Unspoken Tongue”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert R. Hunt 104. “The Clothing of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . .Robert J. Moore, Jr. 105. “A Closer Look at the Uniform Coat of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert J. Moore, Jr. 106. “Tent Shreds and Pieces: Nomadic Shelter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert R. Hunt Fun and Games 107. “Fun and Games on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt 108. “Merry to the Fiddle Music: The Musical Amusement of the Lewis and Clark Party”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert R. Hunt 109. “Men in High Spirits—Humor on the Lewis and Clark Trail”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Joseph A Mussulman




680 700 710 716

733 742 754 761 773 784 796

V. Scientific Aspects of the Expedition
Introduction to Section V . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . General 110. “Soundscapes. . .The Sonic Dimensions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Joseph A. Mussulman Plants —General 111. “The Military Naturalists: Lewis and Clark Heritage”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Michael J. Brodhead 112. “Well-Traveled Plants of Lewis and Clark” . . . . . . . . . . . . .Paul Russell Cutright —Roots 113. “Lewis and Clark’s Wapato: Endangered Plant, Fight for Survival”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..Roy D. Craft 806


815 824



—Trees 114. “Meriwether Lewis and His Cedar Tree”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bob Holcomb —Flowers 115. “Cleome integrifolia the Third”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Paul Russell Cutright Animals —Prehistoric 116. “Lewis and Clark and Dinosaurs” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert J. Moore, Jr. —Mammals 117. “Lewis and Clark Meet the ‘American Incognitum’”. . . . . . . . . . . .Arlen J. Large 118. “Pronghorns as Documented by the 1804–1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ken Walcheck 119. “Lewis and Clark in Buffalo Country” . . . . . . . . . . .Raymond Darwin Burroughs —Birds 120. “Birds of the Lewis and Clark Journals”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Virginia C. Homgren 121. “A Summary of Birds Seen by Lewis and Clark”. . . . . . . . . . Virginia C. Homgren 122. “A Glossary of Bird Names Cited by Lewis and Clark.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Virginia C. Homgren 123. “A History of Lewis’s Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Paul Russell Cutright Reptiles and Amphibians 124. “Herpetology on the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804–1806”. . Keith R. Benson Astronomy 125. “Lewis and Clark: Part Time Astronomers”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arlen J. Large Geography/Cartography 126. “John Thomas Evans and William Clark: Two Early Western Explorers’ Maps”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W. Raymond Wood 127. “The Maps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Elizabeth Langhorn and Guy Benson 128. “Another Look at William Clark’s Map of 1805”. . . . . . . . . . . . . .Gary E. Moulton 129. “Fort Mandan’s Dancing Longitude”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arlen J. Large 130. “The Three Forks of the Missouri River: The Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert E. Lange 131. “The Mountain Passes”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert E. Lange Meteorology 132. “‘. . .it thundered and lightened,’ The Weather Observations of Lewis and Clark”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Arlen J. Large 133. “The Expedition and Inclement Weather of November-December, 1805”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Robert E. Lange

836 841

847 852 861 869 875 885 890 903 916


933 942 947 953 960 964

969 977

Ethnography, Ethnology, Philology 134. “The Names of Nations: Lewis and Clark as Ethnographers”. . .James P. Ronda 982 135. “Lewis as Ethnographer: The Clatsops and Shoshones”. . . . Stephen Ambrose 993 136. “Lewis as Ethnographer: The Clatsops and Chinooks”. . . . . .Stephen Ambrose 1000 137. “Games Sports and Amusements of Natives Encountered on the Lewis and Clark Expedition” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert R. Hunt 1006 138. “Frazers’s Razor: The Ethnology of a Common Object”. . . . . . . . James P. Ronda 1014


I. Medical: 139. “A Medical Mystery at Fort Clatsop”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E. G. Chuinard 1018 140. “The Blood Meal: Mosquitoes and Agues on the Lewis and Clark Expedition”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Robert R. Hunt 1022 Index to Volume Two. . . . . . . . . .following 1036


William Clark’s drawing of a Clatsop pressure board in operation on a child; also an old man, young man, and woman of the Clatsop tribe showing the results of early head flattening.



Along the Trail— People, Places, Things, and Events
With a preconceived idea of the land they were about to explore, the Lewis and Clark party set out on May 14, 1804, on an 8,000-mile journey that kept them from civilization for over twenty-eight months. Initially a band of crude Army recruits the officers eventually moulded them into what Captain Lewis would describe as a “most perfict harmony.” During their epic venture they would encounter many interesting people, places, and things, and experienced many fascinating events. They met resident fur traders at the Indian villages—characters to be reckoned with—such as Mr. Fairfong, the Oto interpreter, Pierre Dorion, the Sioux interpreter; Joseph Graveline, the Arikara interpreter (who was to play a significant role in the Expedition’s success); Rene Jessaume, the Mandan interpreter; and Toussaint Charbonneau, the Hidatsa interpreter (who was also a player in the success of the enterprise). And they met agents and traders of the North West Company, as well as the Hudson’s Bay Company. Among the many tribes Lewis and Clark encountered were chiefs, headmen, warriors, and Indian women, all of varying personalities and peculiarities—friendly, hostile, generous, thieving, helpful, deceitful, kind, cunning, submissive, and competitive. The explorers tabulated the names of “Remarkable places” along their route. There were certain curious sites; water falls; beautiful scenery; waste lands; mountain peaks and passes; hot springs; treacherous trails; until, at last they could write: “Ocian in view! O! the joy.” They carried medallions and flags, as symbols of peace, and for those Indians who wore the medallions and displayed the flags, they were signs of their allegiance to their new “White Father” in Washington. They carried pens, ink, and paper to record all the things the president wanted to know about the West. They carried tools to build boats and winter quarters. They carried reference books for their scientific investigations; survey instruments for charting their path through the vast wilderness. There were bundles of appropriate gifts for the Indians, there was camp equipage, tents, guns, espontoons, and even a limited supply of ardent spirits. They smoked the pipe and held council with the heads of the various Indian tribes. They celebrated Christmases. They made salt from ocean water. They triumphed over the strenuous challenge of an eighteen-mile portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River, but failed in their attempted to successfully reconstruct an iron-frame boat. They ate dogs and horses. And, most regrettably, they had a fatal encounter with a band of Indians on their return journey from the ocean. ■



In the Wake of the Red Pirogue :

Lewis and Clark and the Exploration of the American West, 1806-1845
By John Logan Allen* If the goal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation is to bring to the nation a better understanding of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, members need to answer questions about the impact that the Expedition had on further westward exploration; on people desiring to move west; on the fur trade; and on economics. According to John Allen, Foundation members should not merely examine the events of the Expedition itself but look also at its impact. In the following article, which was the banquet address at the Foundation’s seventeenth annual meeting in Cahokia, Illinois, August 1985, Allen addressed the impact issue, primarily in terms of Lewis and Clark topography—the maps and the description of the countryside laid out by Lewis and Clark. The article appeared in the November 1985 issue of We Proceeded On.

preeminent Western historians Bernard DeVoto, penned the following conclusion about the Lewis and Clark Expedition in his superbly edited Journals of Lewis and Clark: “It satisfied desire and it created desire of the westering nation.”2
1. EDITOR’S NOTE:When the Expedition set out it had three vessels, a fifty-five foot keelboat and two smaller boats they called “pirogues”—a white pirogue and a larger red pirogue. Although “pirogue” seems to refer to two dugouts fasten together, that was not the case with Lewis and Clark’s boats. These were large, framed boats. (See articles #93 and #95 of the present work.) At the outset the red pirogue was manned by French watermen who were hired to accompany the Expedition as far as the Mandan villages. (See article #51 of the present work.) Plans changed: The keelboat was sent back from the Mandan villages and the red pirogue went on as far as Marias River in present-day central Montana. *John Logan Allen is Professor of Geography at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He is a member of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and has contributed two articles to We Proceeded On—both annual meeting banquet addresses. He is a recipient of the Foundation’s Award of Meritorious Service for his outstanding contributions for bringing to this nation a greater awareness and understanding of the Lewis and Clark Expedition He is best known to Lewis and Clark enthusiasts for his book Passage Through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest. He is the author of several book and numerous articles on the American West.

I n 1953, one of the twentieth century’s


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

Subsequent scholarship should have taken that statement of DeVoto’s and enriched it, enlarged upon it, and explicated it. Such, alas, has not been the case. We have, it is true, some excellent scholarly works on the great Expedition that have appeared since DeVoto’s time. We know a great deal more than DeVoto knew of the captains’ contributions to natural history, to geography, to ethnology. We have massive compilations of documents and correspondence and maps about which he knew little if anything. We even know more than he did about the place of the Corps of Discovery in the American imagination.3 And each year, for the past seventeen years, we—the members of this marvelous organization—gather to teach and learn more about the Expedition: its inception, its organization, its leaders and their companions, its route, its consequences—and when we do we speak learnedly of the consequences of the Expedition for science, for knowledge of rivers and mountains and plants and animals and people. Here we stop. Or if we go any further, we do so briefly and generally: “Lewis and Clark paved the way west” or “The fur trade followed Lewis and Clark west” or “Migrants to the west coast used information from the Lewis and Clark journals.” I want to suggest to you this evening that in doing what we have been doing—as admirable as it has been—we have not been living up fully to our stated purpose as an organization. We have been doing only part of our job of “bringing to this nation a greater awareness and appreciation of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” We have not devoted enough of our energies to the investigation of the impact of the Expedition—to the role it played in satisfying and creating the desire of a westering people. How did the Expedition condition the nature of western migration and settlement? How did the Expedition shape subsequent exploration in the West? What was the real role of the Expedition in the development of the fur trade? What were the political and economic consequences of that epic trek to the Pacific? These questions relate to the impact of Lewis and Clark regional information on subsequent exploration—not just formal exploration but exploration in the broadest sense of coming to know a region. If we could but discover the answers to these and some other key questions, our mission of enlightening the public about the significance of Lewis and Clark would be more completely fulfilled. To answer these questions would take more time and space than is available here. Rather, what I would like to do is to take those questions and offer some avenues of approach that suggest themselves to me as fruitful ones for future study — to lay out a skeleton outline, if you will, of what kinds of things we might best be taking a look at as we turn our energies to an investigation of the impact of what was, without question, one of the most important events of the nineteenth century in America. To begin with, let me note that it seems self-evident to me that the paramount contributions of Lewis and Clark—particularly those which were relevant for the
2. DeVoto, Bernard (2), p. lii. For more insight on Bernard DeVoto, read article #194 of the present work—editor. 3. See, for example, the various published works of scholars such as Donald Jackson, Paul Russell Cutright, James P. Ronda, Gary Moulton, W. Raymond Wood, and the present author.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

subsequent impact on exploration and settlement of the West—were in the form of geographical (or regional) knowledge. Prior to the Expedition, the West was a blank on maps and in minds—an area of rumor, guess, and fantasy. After the Expedition, it was reality—something upon which the mind could focus.4 Unfortunately, history simply is not so divisible to allow us to say exactly how important all this knowledge returned by Lewis and Clark was for the later development of the West. Nor can we state with any degree of certainty which bits of information may have been the most crucial. What we can say is that the knowledge with which they returned was selective in its impact. It was not until late in the nineteenth century, for example, that the scientific information obtained by the captains was received with much interest by the scientific community. But for other segments of the American public —the movers and shakers of western expansion, DeVoto’s “westering people”— Lewis And Clark lore had more immediate utility. And, in the utilitarian society of the American frontier, that utility quickly became application. I believe that there were, in the Lewis and Clark lore which began to be available to Americans upon the Expedition’s return, two primary types of regional data which had an early and lasting impact on western migration, settlement, economic development, and exploration. These two types were information on the western resource base and information on western topography and terrain. The first type, that on the western resource base, helped to produce, in the American mind, a vision of the western interior—the Great Plains in particular—which would last until the end of the nineteenth century and which would partially determine the nature of settlement in that region. In addition, variants on Lewis and Clark information on the resource base of the Pacific Northwest were significant for the great migrations of the pre-Civil War period. And finally, data on the resources of the Great Plains, Rockies, and Pacific Northwest played a major role in providing incentives for the fur trade. The second type, that on western topography and terrain, controlled the spatial decision-making for the West’s earliest economic activity—fur trading and trapping —and conditioned the nature of exploratory behavior at least up to the time of John Charles Fremont. Let us investigate these two types of lore and their impact, looking first at Lewis and Clark lore on the western resource base and the impact of that lore on western migration, settlement, and economic development. Here—in a thumbnail version—is the conventional, traditional historians’ view of the relationship between geographical information and western migration and settlement: During the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, most Americans believed that the Great Plains were a vast desert, without economic utility; this belief caused the westward migrations of the 1840s and 1850s to leapfrog over the Plains to get to the more favorably viewed Pacific coastal regions.5 Commonly, historians have asserted that the concept of the Great American Desert stretching
4. DeVoto, Bernard (2), p. lii. 5. The literature on the Great American Desert concept and its role in American history is extensive. Some of the most detailed accounts may be found in: Morris, Ralph C. pp. 190-200; Webb, Walter Prescott, pp. 152160; Smith, Henry Nash, pp. 174-183; Dillon, R.W., pp. 93-108; Alford, T.L., pp. 515-525; Lewis, G. Malcolm (1), pp. 1-11, and (2), 135-150; and Hollon, W. Eugene. For an excellent historiographical treatment of the idea of the Great American Desert, see Bowen, Martyn J.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

from the Missouri to the Rockies and the Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande stemmed from the exploratory accounts of Zebulon Pike6 and Stephen Long. Less frequently, some historians have tried to pin the rap for the creation of the myth of the Great American Desert on Lewis and Clark—largely on the strength of a chance remark in the journals referring to a 212-mile stretch of badlands on the upper Missouri. Now, I’m not going to argue with conventional historical wisdom on whether Americans believed in a Great Desert east of the Rockies—certainly some of them did. Nor am I going to argue that Pike and Long did not return from their respective explorations with descriptions of broiling sun and sand—and even with maps with the words “Great American Desert” emblazoned across what is now one of the world’s greatest grain producing regions—they assuredly did. I am, however, going to dismiss out-of-hand the notion that such an idea grew from Lewis and Clark information—it patently did not. But what I am really going to argue with is the idea that this myth of a Great American Desert determined the nature of western migration and settlement. It did not—and the reason it did not was, I believe, at least partially due to information contained within the reports from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In a paper to be published shortly as the lead article in the October issue of the Great Plains Quarterly,7 I have argued, that while some segments of the American public did believe in the existence of the Great American Desert during the years before the Civil War, for the most part the people who believed in the Desert were the least likely people to be migrating. The idea of the Desert was strong in the urban centers of the Northeast—it was much less strong—if, indeed, it existed at all —in the South and West and on the western frontier. There is very strong evidence to suggest that the prevailing view of the Great Plains among those segments of the American public who were the most likely to emigrate to the West was that of the Desert’s counterpoint—the Garden. Analysis of literature and correspondence, including the diaries of migrants on the Oregon and California Trail, shows that the common people describing the Great Plains used words like “prairie,” “meadow,” “savanna,” or “pasture”—and virtually never used the word “desert.” This in spite of at least one generation of schoolbooks—most of them printed in the northeast— which carried the caption “Great American Desert” sprawling across the Great Plains. Where the historians have gone wrong is in assuming that: (1) the Great American Desert concept was diffused evenly throughout the American population; and (2) that it was universally acceptable. If we look at newspapers, letters, diaries and journals—in other words, at vernacular literature—we find that few of the common folk believed in a desert in the western interior. Rather, they tended to believe that the Great Plains was a region of considerable benefit and agricultural potential. The common folk—those with the most powerful incentives to believe in the economic utility of the West—tended to disparage the negative comments of explorers like Pike and Long or the desert descriptions of the eastern geographers and to adopt the more positive appraisals of the Plains. Chief among the positive
6. For more information on Zebulon Pike see article #170 of the present work—editor. 7. Allen, John L. (2)


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

appraisers of the Plains (and almost alone among major explorers prior to Fremont in their favorable descriptions) were, of course, Lewis and Clark. Throughout their journals for that portion of their trek between the mouth of the Kansas River and the Great Falls of the Missouri, Lewis and Clark were enthused over the abundance of the Great Plains environment.8 And in his widely quoted and published letter to his mother, sent back from the Mandan villages, Lewis noted that “this immense river, so far as we have yet ascended, waters one of the fairest portions of the globe.”9 It was this kind of information that was more readily accepted by the migrating population than that of the desert proponents. As the common people shaped their own image of the western interior—an image that was independent of and frequently at odds with the elite image held by scholars and scientists in the Northeast—the highly favorable appraisal of the Great Plains represented by Lewis and Clark assumed a prominent position. Of all of the published descriptions of the Plains available in 1840, less than half mentioned the presence of deserts in the western interior and of this group describing deserts, none attributed the information on deserts to Lewis and Clark. Conversely, in those descriptions carrying nondesert connotations, nearly three-quarters refer to Lewis and Clark descriptions of the fertility and abundance of the plains east of the Rocky Mountains. And yet, if—as I believe the evidence suggests—the view of the Plains was so positive among the folk, why did the great migrations of the nineteen forties and fifties leap over the Plains to the Pacific? There are several answers to that question but none of the answers seem to have anything to do with a negative interpretation of the Plains in terms of climate or soil. One important set of reasons was technologically based: First, American agriculture of the mid-nineteenth century demanded considerable quantities of wood for construction and fuel and Meriwether Lewis himself noted that the only hindrance to Plains settlement was the “want of timber,”10 and second, cultivation of the Plains waited upon the development of agricultural implements—specifically a heavy iron moldboard plow capable of cutting and turning under heavy prairie sod. As an aside here it ought to be noted that American farmers generally avoided grasslands for settlement during the period between 1760 and 1840.11 But where the grasslands east of the Mississippi were avoided largely on perceptual grounds (early Kentucky settlers called the smiling meadowlands of the Bluegrass region by the negative appellation “Barrens”), avoidance of the grasslands west of the Mississippi did not seem to be a matter of perception or evaluation of land quality, but rather, as I have stated, one of appropriate technology. But there is another, and probably more important reason for the failure of the American folk migration to pause in the Plains on its way to the Pacific: I believe that the answer, once again, may be found in the form of Lewis and Clark
8. Thwaites, Reuben, G. (1), Vol. 7, 310-11. 9. Thwaites, Reuben G. (1), Vol. 7, 309.

10. Thwaites, Reuben, G. (1), Vol. 7, 310. The “want of timber,”Lewis noted, was due not to deficiencies of soil or moisture but to repeated burning of the plains by natives. 11. See Malin, James C.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

information on the western resource base—this time on the Pacific Northwest rather than the Great Plains—and in the impact of that information on prospective migrants. By the early 1840s the American frontier was bursting with what one Missouri newspaper editor called “perfect Oregon fever.” The propagandists—people like Hall Jackson Kelley and Thomas Hart Benton—who encouraged migration across the Plains and Rockies to the Pacific did not deny the agricultural potential of the Great Plains. They simply made Oregon—as a concept, not really as a geographical location—the logical and desirable culmination of the American drive to the Pacific which was finally articulated in 1845 as “Manifest Destiny.” First to the Western sea—the gaps could be filled in later. The propagandists had the faith of the folk and they spoke with the voice of the folk—a voice that those who wrote the geographies and drew the maps carrying “Great American Desert” captions seldom hear. The drive to the West must be carried all the way—not because what lay in between was worthless but because what lay at the end of the rainbow trail was so good. “The plains and prairies of the interior,” wrote one Oregon propagandist, “are extensive and are verdant with grass and shrubbery of luxuriant growth.” But the land beyond the Rockies was preferred because it was not as level as the Plains and “an undulating surface of territory or a surface chiefly broken into hills and mountains is, in almost every consideration, preferable to one that is level.”12 Another proponent of Oregon settlement deceived the climate of the Plains as “salubrious, little subject to extensive and flooding rains, more remote from the sea and sheltered by stupendous mountains.” But again, beyond the Rockies, to the West, was a climate even better—“remarkably mild. . .the most favored spot of Providence . . .a land of savanna.” It is apparent that the drive to Oregon went considerably beyond any simple rejection of the land which lay athwart the migrant’s path to the land of savanna. Interestingly, the highly favorable view of the Oregon country was, like the positive impression of the Great Plains, derived chiefly from Lewis and Clark lore. I say “interestingly” because, as we all know, the descriptions of the Pacific Northwest in the journals of Lewis and Clark are, unlike the descriptions of the Great Plains, not terribly enthusiastic. Indeed, their evaluations of the Columbia Basin come as close as any commentary in the journals to the desert concept. Nor did the country between the Cascades and the coast come off much better. In fact, of the country lying west of the crest of the Rockies, the only two areas the captains envisaged as being suitable for an American farming population were the Weippe Prairie country of Idaho, and the lower reaches of the Willamette and Cowlitz valleys.13 In spite of the unfavorable picture of the Oregon country painted by Lewis and Clark, advocates of American expansion and those who encouraged settlement of the Pacific coast, used extracts from their journals to support enthusiastic proposals. The best example of this process is to be found in the story of New Englander Hall Jackson Kelley—founder and “General Agent” of the American Society for En12. Kelley, Hall Jackson. 13. Coues, Elliott (2), Vol 2, pp. 224-25, 291.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

couraging the Settlement of Oregon. Kelley was one of those appealing madmen that one runs across from time to time in historical research. He was cut from the same cloth as John Ledyard who proposed to cross the continent of North America via Siberia, Kamchatka, and the Pacific Ocean; and William Symmes, founder of Cincinnati, who believed that the earth was a hollow sphere with the sun in the center, and that mankind lived on the concave inner surface. Kelley was born in New Hampshire in 1790 and received a B.A. degree form Middlebury College in Vermont in 1813. After schooling, he moved to Boston where he found employment as a land surveyor and public school teacher—he was seemingly destined for a life with nothing in it of the eventful. But in 1815, he read the Biddle History. . . of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the course of his life was changed. From the History. . ., Kelley developed a vision of the Oregon country. “The perusal of Lewis and Clark’s journals,” he wrote later, “satisfied me that this region must, at no remote period, become of vast importance to our nation and of deep and general interest.” Thus moved, Kelley began ignoring his profession and began to attempt to gather support for an Oregon settlement enterprise. He lost his job in 1823—primarily because of his failure to show up for classes—and the following year, through several New England newspapers and magazines, announced to the world his intention to settle in Oregon country. By this time, of course, other Americans had begun to derive the same meaning from the Lewis and Clark description of the Northwest as had Kelley. As early as 1814, Henry M. Brackenridge in his Views of Louisiana had mentioned American settlement on the lower Columbia as both necessary and probable and used as an authority the reports—as yet unpublished—of Lewis and Clark.14 Influenced by Brackenridge and, again, by Lewis and Clark, Thomas Hart Benton, in a series of articles in the St. Louis Enquirer in 1818-1819, proposed the establishment of American colonies in Oregon—“Nothing is waiting,” he declared, “but a second Daniel Boone to lead the way.” It is apparent that Kelley saw himself as this second Daniel Boone. When Benton went to the Senate from Missouri, Kelley began to communicate with him. In 1828, the New Englander went to Washington and, through a memorial sponsored by Benton and Floyd of Virginia, made his first bid for national support of his project of settling Oregon country. In this memorial, based chiefly upon Lewis and Clark information, Kelley called the Oregon country “the most valuable of all the unoccupied parts of the earth in its salubrity of climate; its fertility of soil; it was rich and abundant productions; its extensive forests of beautiful timber.”15 Well, Congress took no action on Kelley’s memorial—and although he went on to found his American Society for the Settlement of Oregon, Kelley never made the migration. But many other New Englanders did—indeed, the lure of Oregon was as strong in rural New England as in any part of the country—and we can say that, in large measure, the early settlement of Oregon was stimulated by the Lewis
14. The content of Views of Louisiana make it clear that its author had consulted at some length with Clark. 15 Kelley, Hall Jackson.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

and Clark Expedition and the interpretation of its results by Hall Jackson Kelley and people like him. There is, of course, one other major area in which resource evaluations by Lewis and Clark played a part in the economic development of the West—this was in their commentary on the wealth of fur-bearing animal populations in the Plains, Rockies, and lower Columbia valley. And here, their resource evaluations were combined with their lore on topography and terrain to stimulate the early development of the American fur trade. But a word of caution here—it would not be well to place undue emphasis—as I think is too often done—on the role of Lewis and Clark in stimulating the fur trade. Many of the directional and locational incentives for the development of the fur trade were well in place in the years preceding the Expedition. (Jefferson, for example, had a pretty clear picture of the benefits to be obtained via a Missouri-Columbia connection which would tie the United States to the triangular trade, involving Northwestern sea otter pelts, with China.) And one of the earliest fur trading ventures—that of Astoria—might well have gone forth without any kind of information or evidence from Lewis and Clark. (This is not to suggest that the links between the Expedition and the Astoria venture were nonexistent or weak—only to say that their importance has probably been over-emphasized.)16 I don’t intend on diminishing the significance of the Expedition in the early fur trade— but I do want to be realistic. In spite of this niggling and hedging, there was an important set of links between the development of the fur trade and Lewis and Clark—and they are links that have not yet been properly investigated by scholarship. First, of course, was the importance of their information on the resource base. Jefferson and others had long assumed that the primary resource area for fur was the Canadian Northwest and, of course, the lower Columbia sea otter region. Few had anticipated the abundance of fur-bearing animals that the captains had reported on the Missouri drainage system. Their reports of the numerous beaver populations of the streams of the Plains and Rockies could not have helped but serve as a powerful lure to those interested in the fur trade—men who had heretofore tended to focus on regions farther north and more remote than the Missouri River. And their commentary on the huge bison herds of the Plains also were critical in the development of that portion of the fur trade involving buffalo robes rather than beaver. (The buffalo robe trade is frequently ignored in treatments of the American fur trade—but a recent study by David Wishart of the University of Nebraska suggests that the buffalo trade— financially at least—may have been more important than the trade in beaver pelts.)17 Coupled with the captains’ resource evaluations in conditioning the fur trade was, of course, their topographic/terrain data—the second major type of regional information which had far reaching consequences for the subsequent development of the West. The Expedition had, as we know, failed in its central mission: the location of Jefferson’s “desideratum”—the water communication across the conti16. Ronda, James P. (1). 17. Wishart, David, chapters two and three.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

nent for the purposes of commerce. Nevertheless, until something better came along, the route they had pioneered to the Columbia was the one that was known, Lewis himself noted of this northern route via the Missouri River that, while it was not what they had hoped it would be prior to their journey, it was a route which would allow the transport of “articles not bulky brittle nor of a very perishable nature.” The report from which this statement came was widely published in western newspapers beginning late in 1806 and shortly thereafter, John Jacob Astor began his plans to utilize the Missouri River route of Lewis and Clark to link the United States with a trading terminus on the Pacific—at the mouth of the Columbia. As stated earlier, Astor’s plans were not a direct result of the Lewis and Clark Expedition—but certainly, as Jim Ronda has pointed out,18 Lewis and Clark served as a catalyst for the development of Astor’s Pacific Fur Company. There were, of course, other fur trading ventures more significant and successful than Astor’s; like his, they tended to focus on the Missouri River route—in spite of the Indian difficulties which barred the way to open Missouri trade for years after the Expedition, the westward trail blazed by Lewis and Clark would be the common route to the farther West until the 1830s. Our old friend Hall Jackson Kelley enthused about that route with its terminus at the mouth of the Columbia: “[it will] open up new channels through which the products of America and the eastern world, will pass in mutual exchange, saving in every voyage, a distance of ten thousand miles; new channels, which opening across the bosom of a widespread ocean and intersecting islands, where health fills the breeze and comforts spread the shores, would conduct the full tide of a golden traffic, into the reservoir of our national finance.” The words are more flowery than those of Meriwether Lewis—but the thought is the same. We come now, finally you may say, to the last area of impact I want to discuss: that of the role of Lewis and Clark topographic information on subsequent exploration in the West. It is my contention that western exploration—up to and including the first two expeditions of Fremont—was heavily conditioned by the regional information contributed by Lewis and Clark. Part of that conditioning was based on the very positive results of the Expedition. Lewis and Clark had made known—in a very real and accurate sense—the physical geography of the upper Missouri River basin and the southern half of the Columbian drainage system. They had done their job as Enlightenment explorers so well and so thoroughly that there was little point in later explorations retracing their steps. But an equal measure of the conditioning grew out of the negative results of the Expedition. I’m speaking, of course of the captains’ inability to locate—via the Missouri and Columbia drainages—the short portage to the Pacific that had been the dream and goal of geographical theorists from Columbus to Jefferson. The conclusions worked out by William Clark during the winter at Fort Clatsop were definite as to the impracticability of a true, commercially-feasible short portage by way of the Missouri and Columbia (Lewis’s comments cited above notwithstanding). But Clark had also worked out a new version
18. Ronda, James P. (1).


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

of the short portage upon which later seekers after an easy route across the mountains could focus their attentions. Clark’s new set of conclusions showed an interlocking drainage area to the south of the Lewis and Clark crossing. This newlyenvisioned pyramidal height-of-land19—a core drainage region containing the headwaters of the Yellowstone, Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, Snake, and Multnomah (an imaginary stream necessary to drain the still unimaginable Great Basin)—was, in the words of Henry Nash Smith, “the enactment of a myth that embodied the future.”20 The core drainage area would become, according to Thomas Hart Benton, “what the Euphrates, the Oxus, the Phasis, and the Cyrus were to the ancient Romans, lines of communication with eastern Asia, and channels for that rich commerce which, for forty centuries, has created so much wealth and power wherever it has flowed.”21 The concept would dominate western cartography and exploration until the 1840s and John Charles Fremont. Upon the Expedition’s return in 1806, Clark began increasing the sophistication of his view of the core drainage area as he began preparing the master map of the West which would be published in the forthcoming Biddle History. . . Clark used data primarily from the Expedition, but supplemented it with information from the travels of Zebulon Pike into the upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins in 1805– 1807, the wandering of George Drouillard and John Colter about the headwaters of the Big Horn and Yellowstone in 1807-1808, and a manuscript copy of a Humboldt map of New Spain, obtained from Jefferson. Pike’s accounts of his travels indicated basic agreement with Clark’s Fort Clatsop conclusion on the core drainage area: “I have no hesitation in asserting,” wrote Pike, “that I can take a position in the mountains from whence I can visit the sources of any of those rivers in one day.” He was referring, of course, to those rivers noted by Clark as heading in a common source region, a region through which might be established “the best communication on this side of the Isthmus of Darien between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.”22 The information from Colter and Drouillard also pointed the way to a new transcontinental crossing by way of the common core region south of the Lewis and Clark trail. From the Colter-Drouillard maps and notes, Clark learned that from the upper reaches of the Shoshone River (a part of the southern Yellowstone drainage system) the “Spanish settlements” could be reached in a short overland journey.23 The information from the Humboldt map reinforce all of these conclusions and when Clark’s master map was published with the History. . ., the course of future exploratory objectives was fixed. For example, when—after an unsatisfactory scientific exploration in the Mis19. For further details on this concept, see Allen, John L. (3), pp. 395-396; Allen, John L. (4), pp. 357-70. 20. Smith, Henry Nash, p. 18. 21. Selections of Editorial Articles from the St. Louis Enquirer. . .written by the Hon. Thomas H. Benton (St. Louis, 1844), p. 7. 22. Jackson, Donald (6), p. 379. 23. Allen, J. L. (4), pp. 360-361: (for details on the belief in the proximity of Spanish settlements)


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

souri region in 1819—U.S. Army Major Stephen Long wrote to his superiors in Washington proposing a course of exploration for 1820, he suggested as a penultimate objective the source of the Platte, Arkansas, and Red rivers.24 Then, if Secretary Calhoun would approve, wrote Long, a side trip to the Pacific via westward flowing streams from the common source region might be undertaken as well. It is known that Long carried with him, on his 1819 expedition, a copy of the Lewis and Clark narrative. It is also known that his proposal was given serious consideration by the War Department and although a more modest plan to reconnoiter the source region itself was finally approved, it is clear that the government was more than a little intrigued by the possibilities outlined on William Clark’s map. Long never did achieve a satisfactory reconnaissance of the source region (although he did provide the first reasonably detailed exploration of the central Great Plains)—but the point here is that his exploratory goals had been shaped by Lewis and Clark data. In addition to formal exploration by the U.S. government, there were informal or privately-sponsored expeditions during the period following Lewis and Clark which also derived at least part of their objectives from information in the Biddle History. . .or other sources on the Expedition. Chief among these, naturally, were the far-flung explorations undertaken by representatives of the American fur trade between 1810 and 1840. The overland crossing of the Astorians in 1811–1812 was specifically designed to test the core drainage theory of Clark’s map—to “explore a line of communication across the continent.” The Astorians’ overland experience seemed to confirm the existence of a core drainage area such as that postulated by Lewis and Clark as well as reawakening an older myth—one that predated Lewis and Clark as far back as Marquette. According to a contemporary newspaper account, the overland party had learned “that a journey across the continent of N. America, might be performed with a waggon, there being no obstruction in the whole route that any person would dare call a mountain.”25 In the composite geography made from a combination of Lewis and Clark data and the reports of the Astorians on a still-fuzzy South Pass, the Yellowstone, Snake, Green, Rio Grande, and Arkansas still headed in the common source region—a region which might be an open, upland plateau rather than a complex series of mountain ranges. And added to those real rivers was the geographically-necessary Buenaventura—a river that existed, like Lewis and Clark’s mythical Multnomah (which it replaced), to drain the region between the common source region and the Pacific. For more than twenty years after the Astorians’ additions to Lewis and Clark data, the fur trade would seek to answer the riddle posed by this composite geographical pattern. Led by explorers like Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the great American trapper/trader/explorer Jedediah Strong Smith, the American fur trade succeeded—during the years before 1840—in making known virtually all of the West. At least they made the West known in the special context of their own operations: the mountain men of the fur trade drew few maps, preferred
24. Nichols, Roger and Patrick Halley, 108-109. 25. The Missouri Gazette, May 15, 1813.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

to keep much of their gathered lore inside their heads, and utilized their geography as part of their immediate response to their environment. Quite probably, several members of the fur trade had developed geographical conceptions of the drainage system of the central Rockies which were both more accurate and more advanced than those of Lewis and Clark. Certainly this was true of Jed Smith whose great explorations of 1826-28 were undertaken specifically to gratify the “great desire” of General William Ashley for the discovery of the connection between the eastward and westward-flowing streams of the common source region.26 But although Smith’s probable understanding of the western drainage divide—along with the understanding of many other mountain men—was much closer to reality than that of Lewis and Clark, the fact remains that in 1843, on the eve of John C. Fremont’s second and greatest western exploration, most maps and geographical source materials on the West still indicated the common source region for western rivers that was a direct derivative of Lewis and Clark geographical lore. Fremont’s first expedition, surveying the Oregon Trail as far as the South Pass region, had been largely symbolic. But his second expedition was based in nearly forty years’ worth of interpretation of Lewis and Clark lore. Taken at the behest of Thomas Hart Benton, this second expedition had as its objective, that object “of great geographical interest,” the division of the waters—the common source area described so long ago by Lewis and Clark. Fremont was specifically instructed to locate, if possible, the headwaters region of the Rio Grande, Platte, and Arkansas rivers and to determine if there were any connections between those streams and the waters of “an important river and the country it drained” west of the Rockies.27 Like Lewis and Clark four decades earlier, Fremont had exploratory objectives that were based, at least in part, on the hope for a water passageway to the Pacific. And it might be that that passageway would lay through the common source region of Lewis and Clark lore. During the years 1842–1843 Fremont saw more of the American West than any one before him—with the probable exception of Jedediah Smith. His expedition was, in geographical terms, a remarkable success: He eliminated the mythical Buenaventura/Multnomah from American maps; he established the fact of the Great Basin; and he cleared up the problem of the common source region of Lewis and Clark by proving that the northern source region of the Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado (in the form of the Green River) was a completely different area than that region of the Colorado Rockies which gave rise to the water of the Platte, Grand or Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the Arkansas. In other words, he articulated the concept of a Continental Divide. Finally, by the end of his expedition in 1843, Fremont had come full circle with Lewis and Clark—both literally and figuratively—by determining that their route via the Missouri and Columbia was still the only feasible water connection between the Mississippi and the Pacific. This conclusion opened the way for Fremont’s most important exploratory contribution: the Passage to India was no longer a water route but one by land. It had taken two generations of explor26 Dale, H.C., pp. 152-55. 27. Jackson, Donald and Mary Spence, Vol. 1, p. 429.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

ers responding to Lewis and Clark to demonstrate the fact finally and completely. The Passage of Jefferson and Lewis and Clark was replaced by the Passage of Benton and Fremont. But it is important to note that the Passage still existed. Fremont’s father-in-law, Benton, described it:
An American road to India through the heart of our country will revive upon its line all the wonders of which we have read—and eclipse them. The western wilderness, from the Pacific to the Mississippi, will start to life under its touch. . .the channel of Asiatic commerce which has been shifting in its bed from the time of Solomon. . .[has] become fixed upon the shortest, safest, best, and quickest route through the heart of our America.28

It is, I think, more than coincidental that Benton’s summation of the results of Fremont’s exploratory endeavor sound remarkably like words written forty years earlier by Meriwether Lewis, distilling what he saw as the essential value of his and Clark’s own epic undertaking. And so we come to an ending of sorts. An ending of this preliminary and sketchy view of the role of Lewis and Clark in those critical events that took place in the West between their return and mid-century. But let this ending, serve also as a beginning. We will come, in less than twenty years, to begin the celebration of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial years. As a preparation for that celebration, let us, as an organization, dedicate ourselves as much to the investigation of the great Expedition’s real contributions to western development as to the investigation of the events of the Expedition itself. Surely, we can do no less.

28. Smith, Henry Nash, pp. 31-35: From the speech of Thomas Hart Benton on the floor of the Senate, Feb. 16, 1849.



A Most Perfect Harmony: Life at Fort Mandan
By James P. Ronda The first leg of the Expedition was a rather rugged and unruly experience. Drills, parades, inspections, and courts-martial—all these were efforts to impose a sense of unity from above. But it was more than those disciplinary acts that brought this rusty band of rascals into a “most perfict harmony,” as James Ronda explains in the following article that appeared in the November 1988 issue of We Proceeded On.

comes in unremarkable and unex pected ways. A casual phrase, a quick word, a hasty “hot damn” can often reveal more than a carefully constructed sentence or paragraph. So it was in early August, 1805. Thrashing about in the brush, Sgt. Patrick Gass lost Meriwether Lewis’s favorite tomahawk. It might have prompted an angry word or a cold glare. Lewis was surely capable of such fury. But instead, the captain put the following lines in his journal: “Accedents will happen in the best families.’’1 He was right on both counts. Accidents do happen and the members of the Expedition had become the best of families. Lewis had acknowledged that fact some months before. On April 7, the day the Corps of Northwestern Discovery pulled out of Fort Mandan, Lewis described his men as enjoying a “most perfict harmony.”2
1. Thwaites, Reuben G., ed. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 299-300. 2. Moulton, Gary E., ed. (1), Vol. 4, p. 10.

T he truth about ourselves often

*James P. Ronda, is a member and former director of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. He also served on the Foundation’s editorial board, and is a recipient of the Foundation’s Award of Meritorious Achievement. Ronda is probably best known among Lewis and Clark scholars and enthusiasts for his book Lewis and Clark Among the Indians (1984). He also wrote Astoria and Empire (1990). He is a sought after speaker on matters of the early West, and has written numerous scholarly papers and essays as well as book reviews. A collection of his essays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Westering Captains, is available from the Foundation. Recent books by Ronda include America: Image and Imagination in the Exploration of North America (1996), Jefferson and the Changing West (1997), and Voyages of Discovery: Essays on the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1998). Ronda received his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He served as professor of history at Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, for many years. In 1990 he accepted the Barnard Chair in Western American History at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

But it had not always been so. The members of the Expedition began their journey as a wild bunch of hard drinking, brawling, and insubordinate rowdies. It is easy for us to forget that at their beginnings the explorers were not clean-shaven, keen-eyed eagle scouts. They did not leave Wood River with the “right stuff.” They were not the John Glenns and Neil Armstrongs of their day. But somehow this passel of rough and tumble galoots became the best of families willing to share the risks and hazards of a common life in pursuit of an important goal. How did all that happen? What were the experiences that, at least for a time, transformed ordinary men into an extraordinary band of brothers? To see what they became we must understand who they were. What we know about the lives of those who ventured up the Missouri “Under a Jentle Brease” makes for thin reading. There are just hints and scraps about men like John Thompson, Moses Reed, and Silas Goodrich. They have their moments in time and then, for the most part, they are lost to us. Because we know so little, we fall back on convenient stereotypes. Here is Drouillard the hunter, Gass the carpenter, Shields the blacksmith, and Shannon the forever lost. But none of these cardboard cutouts satisfies, and we long to know these men as flesh and blood. We might get to know them better by dividing them into three distinct groups. First, there were the soldiers. In the years after the American Revolution soldiering in the ranks was not an especially honorable profession. The young American republic promised opportunity in the civilian world. Soldiers were viewed with suspicion. In the Jefferson years the small frontier army was a refuge for failures, misfits, and trouble-makers. Officers often found their men to be raucous, bad-smelling, foul-mouthed troopers. For every John Ordway—a man of superior ability—there were dozens ready to drink and brawl at a moments notice. Zebulon Montgomery Pike recognized as much when he described the soldiers of his Mississippi Expedition as a “Dam’d set of Rascels.”3 William Clark, always an astute judge of character, knew as much about the troops that came to him from several frontier companies. He had enough military experience to guess that officers might easily be tempted to “volunteer” their most troublesome men for a distant mission. Clark said as much when he noted that the men detailed from Capt. John Campbell’s company of the Second Infantry Regiment were not quite the quality he had hoped for.4 Campbell had pawned off on the Expedition some of his outfit’s notorious drinkers, including Privates Thomas Howard and Hugh Hall. Soldiers like John Boley, John Newman, and John Potts were a rough lot. Clark once called boozer and hog thief John Collins a “blackgard.”5 Perhaps their officers and home companies breathed a sigh of relief to see such men off post and headed west. The fabled young men from Kentucky, toting their long rifles, were not much better when it came to orders and discipline. Their world, the dark and bloody ground
3. Jackson, Donald, (7), Vol. 2, p. 114. 5. Moulton, Gary E. Vol. 2, p. 148. 4. Moulton, Gary E. (1) Vol. 2, p. 139.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

of Kentucky and Tennessee, put the highest premium on individualism and personal survival. No man worth his powder and shot would stoop to take orders from others. That individualism was matched by a history of terrible violence between native people and their new white neighbors. The border world of John Colter and George Drouillard had as its fundamental code—me and mine first, and the Devil take the hindmost. French boatmen, the engages, made up the third of the Expedition’s social groups. In the mythology of the West, French Canadian voyageurs represent all that is daring, bold and colorful. Singing “A La Claire Fontaine” at the top of their voices, the voyageurs paddled the lakes and rivers in relentless pursuit of beaver. But the jaunty, devil-may-care voyageurs of Montreal and the Great Lakes were not the same as those Lewis and Clark hired at Laclede’s Landing. The French boatmen of St. Louis, known as the men of the southern trade, were quite a different breed. Alexander Henry the Younger, an experienced fur trader and Lewis and Clark contemporary, described the southern men in quite unflattering terms. They were, he wrote, “insolent and intriguing fellows” driven by greed. Henry blasted them as “undisciplined, impertinent, ill-behaved vagabonds.”6 The Expedition got a taste of such behavior when the boatmen bitterly complained about hard work and short rations.7 La Liberte’s decision to leave the Expedition was just a visible statement of what some of his comrades may have been thinking. Hard-bitten soldiers, scrappy frontiersmen, and unpredictable boatmen—this was hardly a crew to inspire confidence. Lewis and Clark expected trouble, but they hoped that a winter at Wood River Camp might iron out the difficulties. On at least one score the captains were right. Life at Wood River was an endless round of drinking, fighting, and short-term desertion. Insubordination was everywhere. One corporal was busted to buck private for fighting and another man was sent packing for theft. There were surreptitious trips to taverns and probably some womanizing. Clark and top sergeant John Ordway did their best, but those efforts were often in vain. Two incidents reveal just how deep the troubles ran in Expedition life. On the frontier, Christmas and New Year’s were important holidays. They were times to break out of the winter doldrums. Feasting, dancing, and drinking were at the center of those festivals. Christmas 1803 at Wood River Camp showed the rank and file at their worst. The day began at dawn with a traditional gunfire salute. From then on it was all downhill. Too much whiskey and too much frolic led to swinging fists.8 In the modern vocabulary of MTV, these men were determined to “fight for the right to party.” A year later Sgt. Ordway would describe Fort Mandan’s Christmas as all “peace and tranquillity” but at Wood River it was anything but peace and quiet. But no single event more fully reveals the Expedition’s early tensions than the near-mutiny in February 1804. Late in that month both captains were away from camp on business in St. Louis. Sgt. Ordway, an experienced professional soldier,
6. Elliott Coues, (1), Vol. 2, pp. 889-890. 8. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, p. 141. 7. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, p. 306.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

was left in command. Once Lewis and Clark were gone all hell broke loose. Reuben Field refused to pull guard duty. His insubordination was aided and abetted by John Shields. Shields “excited disorder and faction among the party.” But it was more than just backtalk. When Ordway attempted to quiet an ugly situation, Shields threatened to kill the sergeant. Others joined the rebellion, including Colter, Wiser, Boley, and the recently-demoted John Robertson. These men had been secretly visiting a local tavern while claiming to be out hunting.9 When the captains announced sentences for some of those involved, they kept loaded pistols nearby. Perhaps it was a measure of how little had been resolved.10 On May 14, 1804, Sgt. Ordway recorded the Expedition’s departure from Wood River, saying that the party had thirty-eight “good hands.”11 He must have been kidding! The Wood River troubles snapped at the Expedition’s heels. No sooner had the Corps reached St. Charles than the lure of town and tavern proved as powerful as ever. Privates Werner and Hall took off without permission for a night on the town. John Collins went further. He attended a St. Charles dance, behaved in “an unbecoming manner,” and then spoke with considerable scorn about orders not to leave camp.12 And the troubles did not slacken as the Expedition moved upriver. Clark boasted that his men were “ever ready to inconture any fatigue for the promotion of the enterprise.”13 It was an idle claim and just two weeks later Collins and Hall were again before a court martial, once more accused of drinking on duty.14 The current of discontent kept rolling, and on July 12 Alexander Willard was sentenced to one hundred lashes “on his bear back” for sleeping on guard duty.15 Trouble reached flood stage in late summer and early fall. The stories of Moses Reed’s desertion and John Newman’s “mutinous expression” are familiar ones.16 The tales are worth remembering if only to recall that they were both the severest and last personnel troubles the Expedition experienced. We know they were the last. Lewis and Clark, not blessed with the fortune-teller’s art, probably thought the worst was yet to come. Heading into a winter at close quarters, the captains had every reason to worry about cabin fever and sudden outbursts of uncontrolled fury. For every reliable Drouillard or Ordway there were others as unpredictable as the northern plains weather. Had Lewis and Clark looked at the post journals of the Hudson’s Bay Company, they would have found a disturbing record of violence bred by isolation, boredom, and just plain cussedness. Was Fort Mandan going to be a Wood River Camp made worse by harsh weather and possibly unpleasant neighbors? Those nagging fears were not realized. At Fort Mandan the Expedition settled in and settled down. With the minor exception of Thomas Howard’s brush with post rules, there were no more angry eruptions. During the Mandan winter the Corps of
9. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 178-179 (?), 194. 11. Milo M. Quaife, (2), p. 79. 13. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, p. 300. 14. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 329-330. 15. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 369-370. 16. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 488-489; Vol. 3, p. 169. 10. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, p. 183. 12. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 234-237.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

Northwestern Discovery found its self and became a family. It was a family that could grouse and complain—as every family must—but it was a community now willing to submerge individual desires for the good of the whole. How did that happen? How did these prickly characters create and then enjoy a “perfict harmony?” At least part of the explanation rests with the actions of Lewis and Clark themselves. Their years of military service had taught them the value of order and discipline. From the beginning they envisioned the Expedition not as some wandering band of trappers but as an infantry company with all the regulations dictated by the Articles of War. Drills, parades, inspections, and courts-martial—all these were efforts to impose a sense of unity from above. That effort had some success. Young adventurers like John Colter and George Shannon were no longer about to leave camp without permission. But discipline from above could not build a sense of common purpose and shared destiny. Lewis and Clark wanted men who were reliable, not resentful. The journey called for men willing to take responsibility for their own lives as well as the lives of others. The Articles of War, no matter how scrupulously enforced, could not produce that kind of man and that sort of community. Military regulations might make for proper mess organization. Those rules could not foster a sense of mutual trust. That would demand a set of shared experiences. The captains seemed to understand that. As much as possible, sergeants and enlisted men were brought into the active chain of command. Disciplinary proceedings that involved sentences short of death were administered by the soldiers themselves. When the Expedition needed a new sergeant to replace the deceased Charles Floyd, the captains did not make the choice themselves. Instead they fell back on the militia tradition and held an election for the post.17 That precedent continued and at important places throughout the journey Lewis and Clark took time to involve their men in the decision-making process. But shared experiences meant more than voting for a new NCO or selecting a site for Fort Clatsop. What really mattered were those moments when all had to pull together for the common good. It was the feeling of community that came out of surviving a terrible storm, pushing over a treacherous place on the Missouri, and just squeaking through a confrontation with the Teton Sioux. By the time the Expedition reached the Mandans, it had its own supply of stories to draw upon. The stories we tell about each other remind us who we are. Now in firelight and shadow there were stories to share—stories about prairie dogs, buffalo, and the charms of Arikara women. You can almost hear the voices. Remember that sudden July storm that nearly capsized the keelboat, remember Sgt. Floyd’s death, and remember how good that Arikara corn tasted. Military discipline and the Expedition’s own folklore were beginning to tame rowdy spirits. But it was really the winter at Fort Mandan that made the difference. What happened that winter is a testimony to the power of routine, to the way shared
17. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 500-501.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

work binds people one to the other. There was a rhythm of life at the fort that gave all who were there a sense of common identity. Building the fort demanded cooperative effort. Men who had once snarled at each other now put arms and shoulders together lifting and setting heavy sixteen-foot eave beams. Soldiers and hunters who never gave a thought to the comfort of someone else now dug latrines to preserve the health of all. Clark recognized how hard all were laboring, noting that on one cold night the men worked until one in the morning.18 Toil—the joining of hands in the common task—bonded the explorers together. Cooking, cleaning, and rough fun were equally important in fostering that sense of harmony. What holds any day together are its predictable rituals of eating, washing, and household chores. Fort Mandan had those rituals and they gave the post a feeling of home. And just how much at home men of the Expedition felt can be judged in a telling line from John Ordway. He described the Fort Mandan rooms as “warm and comfortable.”19 The fort was a home and its inhabitants were becoming a family. What a family does for fun says much about that family. Life at Fort Mandan was not all hard work and daily chores. There was plenty of time for good times. We should remember that the fort’s walls rang with the sounds of light-hearted music. Pierre Cruzatte’s fiddle scratched out ancient French airs. Perhaps the walls also heard a Shoshone lullaby or an English ballad. A brass sounding horn and a tambourine rounded out Mandan’s ensemble. Dancing was a common frontier pleasure. Francois Rivet danced on his hands while his comrades pranced and whirled many a fancy set and reel. In a feat not generally recognized, the Expedition became the first federally-funded transcontinental dance troupe. And there were games. Quick fingers and nimble minds enjoyed backgammon. Lewis called it “the good old game.”20 There were also games played by native neighbors. On a cold December evening John Ordway and two friends watched as some Mandan men played the popular hoop and pole game. The sport basically involved throwing a short spear or shooting an arrow at a hoop or ring. Scoring depended on the accuracy of the strike toward the ring. Because the throwing sticks looked like billiard cues, later white observers insisted that the earthlodge people played pool. Shades of Minnesota Fats! Ordway was interested enough to want to play the game, but his efforts were thwarted when he could not understand the scoring system.21 The Expedition family always took note of holidays. Birthdays, the Fourth of July, Christmas, and New Year’s never went uncelebrated. At Wood River Camp the December and January festivals had been occasions for rowdy drinking and fighting. Fort Mandan’s Christmas showed the change. There was dancing, a bit of hunting, and a merry disposition all around. Sgt. Ordway caught the mood in a memorable phrase—“All in peace and quietness.”22 There was a bit more unbuttoned merrymaking when the party celebrated New Year’s 1805. Both French and
18. Quaife, Milo M. (2), p. 163; Moulton Gary E. (1), Vol. 3, p. 261. 20. Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 3, p. 265. 22. Quaife, Milo, M. (2), p. 174; Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 3, p. 261. 19. Quaife, Milo M. (2). p. 171. 21. Quaife, Milo M. (2), p. 172.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

English traditions tended to put more emphasis on New Year’s than Christmas. On January 1, after firing two swivel guns to mark the occasion, the captains allowed sixteen men “with their Musick “ to visit the Mandan village of Mitutanka “for the purpose of Dancing.” The merry men of the Expedition had told Clark that their visit was made at “the perticular request of the Chiefs of that Village.” Led by John Ordway, the party left the fort carrying a fiddle, a tambourine, and a brass horn. At the entrance to Mitutanka the Americans fired their weapons and played a brisk tune. Welcomed into the village, they marched to the central plaza, fired another round, and began to dance. The Mandan onlookers were especially charmed by Rivet’s ability to dance upside down on his hands. All joined in a circle around the Frenchman, dancing and singing. After some time all the revelers were invited into the lodges for food and gifts of buffalo robes. Late in the afternoon the eating and dancing finally played out and most of the men went back to Fort Mandan. But some few did stay in Mitutanka overnight to enjoy other kinds of Mandan hospitality.23 It is a testimony to the good cheer of that day that the following day Lewis took a group to the village for an encore performance. That delightful New Year’s celebration, bringing together explorers and Indians, represents what I think was the fundamental fact of life at Fort Mandan. The Expedition was a community living alongside other communities. The Lewis-andClark tribe now joined other tribal peoples struggling to survive on the northern plains. Fort Mandan was never an isolated frontier outpost, caught in the grip of a Dakota winter and cut off from the simple pleasures of human companionship. Long before Lewis and Clark came to the Upper Missouri, Mandan and Hidatsa villagers had brightened their winters with a steady round of visits to the lodges of friends and neighbors. Life in the winter camps could be harsh and hungry, but there were also times for storytelling and gossip. Once the fort was built, the Americans simply became part of the social web. Nothing seemed more natural than the desire of explorer and Indian alike to see each other at home and share some food and friendship. The days of Fort Mandan added up to five months. And on most of those days Indians and whites met for all sorts of dealings. Business, diplomacy, hunting, sex, and simple curiosity made for daily encounters. Lewis and Clark’s hospitality was well-known; Indians often came early in the day, slept overnight inside the fort if invited, and left the next morning. Indian visitors brought to Fort Mandan’s rooms a sense of friendship and good company. The arrival of native neighbors usually meant sharing food and enjoying a dance or some music. There must have been time to appreciate a fine bow, a good gun, or a skillfully decorated pair of moccasins. The sheer numbers of Indian tourists sometimes tested everyone’s patience. Lewis called his neighbors “good company” but in the same breath complained that they sometimes overstayed their welcome. Sgt. Ordway peevishly recalled that on one day in mid-December he had fourteen Indians all eating in his squad room at the same time. It was enough to stretch the seating capacity of any small town Dakota cafe.
23. Quaife, Milo M. (2), p. 174; Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 3, pp. 266-267.


Along the Trail— J. P. Ronda

Frayed nerves and misunderstandings were inevitable. When an Indian guest did something to annoy Private Joseph Whitehouse, the soldier struck him on the hand with a spoon.24 All these comings and goings had a profound effect on the Expedition. It would not be wide of the mark to say that the earthlodge people civilized some of their more obstreperous white neighbors. That happened in two ways. From the earliest contacts between Europeans and native Americans, the white strangers used Indians as a kind of foil for themselves. We know, said the French or English, who you Indians are and thus we know ourselves. The fancy anthropological term is counter cultural image but the idea is a simple one. I know my own self because I am either like or unlike you. Being surrounded by other tribes, the Lewis-and-Clark tribe formed its own distinct identity. To put it another way, at Fort Mandan the Expedition found an in-group personality. Second and equally important, the villagers provided a good example of a life that was remarkably harmonious. The explorers could not have remained unaffected by the good company around them. The Fort Mandan experience gave the Expedition what it needed most—a sense of unity and common purpose for the journey ahead. So much western history is written like a John Wayne movie or a Louis L’Amour novel. Powerful individuals, so we are told, tamed a wild and savage land. But what happened to the men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition gives the lie to such a distorted vision. The explorers began their journey as individuals, boozing and brawling, threatening and storming. Along the way they learned a fundamental lesson—a lesson the earthlodge people learned generations before. It was a lesson about cooperation and community. Once learned, it was not soon forgotten. Lewis was right. Here at Mandan the Expedition had come to know a perfect harmony.

24. Quaife, Milo, M. (2), pp. 172, 174; Moulton, Gary E. (1), Vol. 2, pp. 261, 288, 315. See also Ronda, James P. (2), pp. 98-107.



The Summer of Decision: Lewis & Clark in Montana,1805
By John Logan Allen* Geographic explorers are required to make decisions before, during and after their exploration. Lewis and Clark proved to be master explorers, and it is the decision-making they did with regard to the area that is today known as Montana, that the author addresses. It was here, he says, that the concept of the Great Plains as a “garden” gelled in the explorers’ minds., as well as the water passage to the Pacific. The following article which was prepared as an address for the Lewis and ClarkTrail Heritage Foundation’s eighth annual meeting banquet in Great Falls, Montana, in August 1976, was printed in the Fall 1976 issue of We Proceeded On.

he success or failure of any journey of exploration can be measured in two contexts: first, the ability or lack thereof to negotiate terrae incognitae, the unknown lands, with a minimum of hardship and danger, inconsequential loss of property, and little or no cost in terms of human life; and second, the ineffectiveness or effectiveness of an expedition in clearing away the mists or pre-exploratory conjectural geography and replacing faulty geographic data with more solid and accurate information which may be added to the general fund of geographical knowledge.1 On both of these counts, the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 was remarkably successful—immense distances were traversed with relative ease (in comparison with other exploratory ventures of the time) and sound geographical data that would form the basis for a lot of what Americans knew about the Northwest well into the nineteenth century was added to general knowledge. To say that Lewis and Clark were just about as successful as explorers could have been leads naturally into the question of “Why?” For the answer to that question we must turn to a basic component of the process of exploration—


1. For more insight on the matter of “pre-exploratory conjectures”relating to the Lewis and Clark Expedition see article #65 of the present work—editor.

*See biographical sketch on page 428.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

the component of decision-making. Before, during, and after an expedition, explorers are required to make decisions: decisions made prior to a journey and based on the available geographical lore which aid explorers in establishing the goals and objectives of their venture; decisions made during an exploration as explorers recognize the need to modify their field operations when pre-exploratory data is found to be in conflict with observation and deduction in the field; and decisions made following the return of an expedition that will determine the amount and kind of new geographical information to be added to knowledge. Each of these three types of decision-making is important for the success or failure of an expedition. For example, the scientific approach to exploration that Lewis and Clark adopted grew out of the process of decision-making prior to their departure and became crucial for their success. Had it not been for the objective and scientific rationality of Thomas Jefferson and the willingness of the captains to follow his instructions, the Expedition might not have been the remarkable event it was. And this objectivity held over during the time immediately following the Expedition when the captains were making decisions as to the validity of their recorded geographical information. That they continued to be scientific in their evaluation of what they had seen and where they had been contributed immeasurably to their effectiveness in shaping new American images of the Northwest. Of the three types of decision-making referred to, however, it is the second type—the decisions made during the course of exploration—that is normally the most important. This was certainly the case with Lewis and Clark and more than anything else, it was their almost uncanny ability to make the right decisions in the field that determined the tremendous success of their travels. When Lewis and Clark left civilization for the unknown they carried with them a set of geographical conceptions based upon the twin notions that the interior of the Northwest was a potential agricultural paradise and that through this “Garden” lay a “Passage”—“the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” As they traversed the continent, these notions of garden and passage were modified by the conditions of geographic reality that Lewis and Clark encountered and the captains were to make decisions on the basis of the apparent contradictions between the pre-exploratory geography of conjecture and the real geography that was being experienced during exploration. Many of these decisions made between St. Louis and the Pacific were absolutely vital to the success of the Expedition. But none were more critical than those that were made in what is now Montana during the summer of 1805. Therefore, it is toward that area and that time that we must now direct our attention. Even before Meriwether Lewis had left Washington to join with William Clark and move into the winter camp of 1803-04 on the eastern shores of the Mississippi, the concept of the Northwest as a garden of wealth and beauty was firmly fixed as an integral part of the captains’ geographical lore. During the first summer of exploration between St. Louis and the Mandan villages, the captains had made no negative decisions regarding the garden concept. Indeed, all that they had seen


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

during their first year in the field reinforced the pre-exploratory concept. “So magnificent a Senery” wrote Clark and the valley of the Missouri River and the surrounding plains proved to be a luxuriance of the mind and of the landscape for the captains. Nor did a long cold winter at Fort Mandan modify the concept and as they prepared to enter upon the most crucial stage of their journey in the spring on 1805, the Great Plains were still, for Lewis and Clark, “one of the fairest portions of the globe.” But it was the summer in Montana particularly when viewed in retrospect, that really crystallized the idea of the Plains as a garden in the minds of the captains and, hence, in the minds of many Americans throughout the nineteenth century. Gazing upon the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, Lewis extolled the virtues of “these delightful tracts of country” and such commentary was to become typical of journal entries between the mouth of the Yellowstone and the Rockies. And while the notions of the Garden had relatively little to do with the critical field decisions that ultimately determined the Expedition’s success, the decision of the captains to maintain their garden concept of the Northwest (or at least of the Great Plains) while in Montana became important after the completion of the epic journey. From the mouth of the Yellowstone, as the Expedition continued through the valley of the Missouri, the journal entries read consistently “delightfull rich and fertile country.” Even the increasing aridity did little to diminish the captains’ enthusiasm for the abundance of the Plains environment. The herds of game were still beyond counting and the hunters of the Expedition found it only “amusement” to secure as much meat as they desired. Entry into the Missouri Breaks further strengthened the concept of exotic and beautiful landscapes and the Expedition continued through “scenes of visionary enchantment.” Clark, it is true, did refer to the country about the mouth of the Musselshell River as “the Deserts of America” but those “deserts” consisted of only a one-hundred-and-twenty-mile stretch along the Missouri and were a far cry from the “Great American Desert” notion that later observers would apply to the entire area of the Great Plains. Soon, however, the wide, abundant, and beautiful plains were no more. After the Expedition had passed the Marias, portaged the Great Falls, and entered the mountains, the captains’ commentaries on the Garden began to change. Timber in the mountains was only thinly scattered and there was “no game whatever.” Conditions did not improve as the Expedition struggled through the mountains in search of the elusive passage between the Missouri and Columbia systems and, looking backward, the abundance of the Great Plains environment seemed even greater. This retrospective increase in the favorable estimation of the High Plains of Montana was augmented even more in the months ahead—during the crossing of the arid Columbian Plateau and during the soggy, miserable winter on Pacific shores. And when the captains came to their final evaluation of the suitability of the Northwest for settlement, they hearkened back to the summer of abundance in Montana and described that area as a “vast fertile and habitable region.” Such descriptions were to form a basic part of American geographical lore of the northern Great


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

Plains even down to the closing years of the nineteenth century—a classic example of how the decisions explorers make about the quality the lands they traverse can influence later thought and action.1 Much more important to the success of the Expedition, however, were the decisions made relative to the second component of the captains’ overall image of the Northwest—the concept of the passage. The single objective of the Expedition, Jefferson had written, was the discovery of the water communication between the upper Missouri and the upper Columbia river systems. It was in their search for this passage that Lewis and Clark encountered the greatest difficulties during their entire journey and it was the process of decision-making that allowed those difficulties to be resolved and allowed the Expedition to terminate successfully. And of all the decisions made about the passage, those made in Montana in the summer of 1805 were the most central for the fulfillment of the captains’ exploratory objective. Although there were others, three specific decision-making points were most clearly crucial for the captains’ hope of succeeding: The junction of the Missouri and Marias rivers, the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, and the valley of the Bitterroot River. Before proceeding to analyze the decision-making procedure at these key points and the impact of decisions made there on the Expedition’s success, it is necessary to back up a bit and to take a look at the character of the geographical knowledge bearing on the passage that was in the captains’ possession at the beginning of the summer of 1805. In the spring of 1804, when the Expedition began, the image of the
1. EDITOR’S NOTE: In the editor’s opinion, the “passage” was the “garden.” Having lived in eastern Montana all my life, I have difficulty envisioning the region as a garden. Eastern Montana receives an average of less than twelve inches of precipitation annually—hardly enough to give it a garden image. Only along certain rivers and creeks could we consider there to be a garden image, and many of those waterways often dry up in the summer. Homesteaders of the benches were constantly attempting to dig wells, and to build dams across coulees to capture running water. The drying winds are nearly constant so that what moisture does come soon evaporates. The growing season for gardens in the area is only about four months including cold springs. The recommended soil temperature for planting corn is 65o F. According to Lewis and Clark’s meteorology the overall average temperature for April and May 1805, when they were passing through the area, was just over 51o. It’s hard to understand how they would consider the planting season conducive for a garden image. To a great extent the Missouri River channel was the southern reach of the Wisconsin Ice Age glaciers. The land south of the Missouri did not receive the fertile soil that was deposited by the glaciers on the north side of the river, leaving much of eastern Montana with its infertile bear paw shale. It took Mother Nature thousands of years to create grasses compatible to the climate of the region, and by the time Lewis and Clark passed through the top soil was still shallow with a gumbo underlay. In 1878 John Wesley Powell correctly estimated that it would take 2560 acres for a farmer to survive in this area. The Homestead Act of 1860, which allowed 160-acre homesteads, was of little value any distance from rivers or creeks. Even with the development of dryland farming techniques, equipment, and specialized grains, in the early twentieth century, coupled with the Enlargement Act of 1909 which increased homestead acreage to 320 acres, farmers had difficulty making a living. Most dryland homesteaders did not endure, being eventually defeated by climatological conditions. It was not until dryland farming was further developed and certain homesteaders were able to greatly expand their land holdings that dryland farmers began to be successful. Today, Montana’s average family farm is 2714 acres. In the editor’s opinion, neither Lewis and Clark nor anybody else of the nineteenth century had any concept of what it would take to actually make eastern Montana appear as a garden. Powell seems to have come closest to understanding the problem when he estimated that it would take over 2500 acres per family.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

passage was a simplistic one, based on the hazy conjectural geography obtained from published accounts in the east and from the reports of the St. Louis fur trade. In this image, the Missouri had its source in a single range of mountains about 2,200 miles west of the Mississippi,2 and directly opposite the Missouri’s headwaters were the source regions of navigable streams of the Columbian system. A short portage ought, in the early 1804 image, to connect the navigable waters of Atlantic and Pacific drainages and thus provide the water communication that was the central objective of Lewis and Clark.3 During the first spring and summer of exploration and during the winter spent at the Mandan villages, this simplistic image had been modified and had become more complex, although no less optimistically structured in terms of the feasibility of finding a short portage between eastward and westward flowing rivers. By the time the captains departed from Fort Mandan, they had a fairly detailed picture of the farther West—of the course of the Missouri and its tributaries, of the Great Falls4 and Three Forks areas, of the multiple-ridge structure of the Rockies,5 and of the drainage patterns between the mountains and the Pacific. But detail does not necessarily imply accuracy and the core of misconception was still present in the captains’ geographical understanding in the Spring of 1805—the Missouri was still seen as having its source within a half day of the navigable waters of the Pacific slope. It was this misconception that would be corrected during the decision-making process of the summer of 1805. As the Expedition traveled west from the Mandan villages and into Montana, the information provided the explorers by the Indians during the winter of 1804– 1805 proved to be remarkably accurate: the various rivers were encountered about
2. EDITOR’S NOTE: Apparently the author means the headwaters of the Missouri were thought to be 2200 miles up the Missouri, rather than “west of the Mississippi,” as it was common knowledge that 2200 miles west of the Mississippi would be several hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean. 3. EDITOR’S NOTE: As I pointed out in the General Introduction to the present work, the concept Jefferson seems to have adhered to was the 1727 idea of the British of a half-day portage over a “ridge of hills.” In 1772 the British revised that concept to a twenty-mile portage from navigable waters from the Missouri to navigable waters of the fabled Oregon River. 4. EDITOR’S NOTE: In fact, Lewis and Clark had a very poor concept of the great falls of the Missouri when they left the Mandans. What they had hoped would be a half-day portage around one waterfalls turned out to be a seventeen-day, eighteen-mile portage around five waterfalls. In all, the Expedition was detained almost four weeks at the portage. This was precious time lost, and the concept of the falls that Lewis and Clark held when leaving the Mandans was significantly altered. 5. EDITOR’S NOTE: Later the author will contradict himself regarding Lewis and Clark’s knowledge of a multiple-ridge structure of the mountains. Multi-ridge mountains west of Lemhi Pass does not seem to be what Lewis and Clark had learned from the Hidatsa. Once the explorers reached the Continental Divide, the author will later say, there must have been “shock and surprise” when they looked west and saw more mountains. I believe there was “shock and surprise” at what they saw, not because it contradicted Hidatsa information, but because it contradicted their own preconception of what they believed they would see. The Hidatsa said they had only been as far as the dividing ridge. Their information was inaccurate as to what was west of Lemhi Pass. The half-day portage over the mountains of which the Hidatsa had informed Lewis and Clark was, I believe, a portage to the Bitterroot River, not to any river west of Lemhi Pass. And when Lewis wrote that the Hidatsa told him that the “Western side of the river consists of open & level plains like those they themselves inhabit,” it may have been a reference to the Bitterroot Valley and not the land which lay to the west of Lemhi Pass.


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

where they should have been, the face of the country matched native descriptions and accounts, and the mountains began to come into view in the proper places. And as the Milk River, called “the river that scolds at all others” by the Indians, was passed and the various “unconnected ranges” of the Rockies began to appear on the western horizon, the captains began to anticipate the discovery of the Great Falls of the Missouri beyond which, the native had told them, lay the proper passageway to Pacific waters. Before reaching the Great Falls, however, the first real test of Lewis and Clark as decision-makers had to be faced when the explorers encountered, on June 2, a major river entering the Missouri from the north and almost equaling that stream in size. This was the Marias and its presence was puzzling. According to the captains’ available geographical knowledge, the Missouri had only one major northern tributary—the Milk or “Scolding” River passed more than three weeks before reaching the Marias. Was the Marias the true Missouri (the river described as having connections with the Columbia) and the southern stream an unknown tributary? Or was the Missouri itself the southern branch and the northern tributary a river the Indians had not mentioned? Finding the answers to these questions would determine the fate of the Expedition and Lewis and Clark began a complex series of operations that would allow a rational (and hopefully correct) decision to be made. The decision-making process began with a field reconnaissance of the width, depth, and speed of flow of the two rivers in order to determine which was the major stream. The captains dispatched two crews, one to go up each branch to carry out the necessary observations, while they themselves carried out a field investigation to try to match up the lay of the land as visible from the highest point between the two rivers with the information carried from St. Louis and given them by the natives at Fort Mandan.6 These investigations were basically inconclusive but on the strength of their geographical knowledge, Lewis and Clark came to the tentative decision that the southern branch was the Missouri proper. This conclusion was bolstered by the physical appearance of the two streams—the northern branch resembled the Missouri below the junction and was, therefore, a plains river, while the southern branch possessed the characteristics of a mountain stream and was, since the true Missouri was known to head in the mountains, almost certainly the proper route to Pacific waters. This reasoning failed to impress the other members of the party who remained firm in the belief that the northern branch was the right river to follow precisely because it did resemble the Missouri they had been traveling for so long. A longer field reconnaissance by Clark up the Missouri and by Lewis
6. EDITOR’S NOTE:The Hidatsa seem to be the officers’ informants about this section of the Missouri River. The Hidatsa overland warpath to the Great Falls area cuts across the land that makes the Missouri loop to the north, leaving the mouth of the Marias quite a distance to the north of the warpath. It is the editor’s contention that the reason the officers weren’t told about Marias River was because it was way off the Hidatsas’ beaten path. The informant may not have known about that river, or forgot about it as he was visualizing his own route to the Great Falls area. Confusion about the Marias River possibly being the River that Scolds at All Others (rather than Milk River) did not end until 1976, when its true identity was revealed. See Saindon, Robert A. (8).


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

up the Marias served to further justify the captains’ original decision but failed to persuade the bulk of the party. The captains argued their case on the strength of their analysis of the geographic data derived from all possible sources. Their argument was a brilliant piece of deduction from a fuzzy set of facts but still did not convince the men. This impasse presented a difficult problem. Although the Expedition was a military one and the men indicated a willingness to follow the captains wherever they would lead, Lewis and Clark recognized the seeds of a possible breakdown in command. Accordingly, it was decided that Lewis, with a small party, should proceed up the southern branch until he found the Great Falls, the discovery of which would be proof positive that the initial decision, reinforced by logic and evaluation of all the available geographical information, was the correct one. A few days after leaving the camp at the Missouri-Marias junction, Lewis did find the Falls; the decision-making process had worked as it should and, in the captains’ eyes, the accuracy of their geographical data must have appeared to be precise. From the falls, Lewis enthusiastically described the landmarks—the falls themselves, an eagle’s nest at their upper end, the entry of the “Medicine” or Sun River from the west, and the view of the mountains beyond—as matching the descriptions given him and Clark at the Mandan villages the previous winter. If their information had proven correct thus far, particularly in the application of that information to the decision-making process, there was no reason to suspect that what the Indians had told them of the passage between the Missouri and the Columbia should not be correct as well. (It would be interesting to speculate here—if time allowed—as to what would have happened had the captains’ decision at the Missouri-Marias junction been different. Although the route followed across the mountains was not the best possible one and involved a lot of back-tracking, the route via the Marias could have gotten the Expedition into a lot more trouble than they actually encountered. Suffice it to say that, whatever the reasoning behind it, the decision made by Lewis and Clark to follow the southern fork and not the northern branch added to their chances for success.) As the Expedition moved upstream from the Missouri-Marias junction, the captains continued to be secure in their faith in their store of geographical knowledge relative to the search for the passage. There were a few minor erosions in the quality of the data with which they had left Fort Mandan—the portage around the Falls took a lot longer than the Indians had told them it would and, above the Falls, the river began to take them in a slightly different direction from that they wished to go—but when, late in July, the Expedition reached the Three Forks of the Missouri, confidence in the accuracy of their Indian informants began to return. For there, just as the natives had told them, were three rivers of almost equal size coming together to form the Missouri. There was little question about which of these three rivers led to the Columbia for the Indians at Fort Mandan had specifically instructed them to
7. EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of the controversy over Sacagawea as a guide, modern historians shy away from giving her any credit with regard to directing the Expedition. In the editor’s opinion it would be ridiculous to think that Lewis and Clark wouldn’t consult her if they had any questions about which river to follow when


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

follow the most western and northern branch (the Jefferson) above Three Forks, that river being “navigable to the foot of a high chain of mountains, being the ridge which divides the waters of the Atlantic from those of the Pacific ocean.”7 And directly across the dividing ridge were the waters of “no other river but the Columbia.” Thus when the captains and their men began the final ascent of the Atlantic slope, up the Jefferson and its westernmost source, they proceeded with confidence in their data. Beyond that ultimate source of the Missouri should lay the final dividing ridge. And beyond that, the natives had told them, a mighty river flowed through open plains all the way to the Pacific.8 Such was not to prove the case, however, and a new decision had to be made—a decision based on something other than the lore carried westward from Fort Mandan. Imagine, if you will, the exultation that Lewis must have felt as he and a small party of men climbed a gentle slope toward “the most distant fountain of the waters of the Mighty Missouri in surch of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights.” Imagine the air of expectation as they refreshed themselves at the Missouri’s “ultimate” spring and proceeded “to the top of the dividing ridge.” And imagine the shock and the surprise—for from the top of that ridge were to be seen neither the great river that had been promised nor the open plains extending to the shores of the South Sea. Rather, to the west were only “immence ranges of high mountains…their tops partially covered with snow” while far below the waters of a very small river shone through the trees. The older geographical lore was no longer operative. Henceforth, decisions would have to be made on the basis of the captains’ own geographic awareness and intuitiveness and what new information they could pick up in the field. A distinction between the geography of hope and the geography of reality was made at the top of the Divide, at Lemhi Pass. In the Lemhi Pass region, the captains were made painfully aware that the ancient concept of the short portage between the Missouri and the Columbia had to be rejected in favor of new data sources upon which to base their decisions. Characteristically, the captains did not panic but set immediately about the task of acquiring information to replace that which had proven to be inaccurate. Having finally contacted the elusive Shoshone Indians near Lemhi, they began the process of data collection and analysis which would point the way across the mountains. From the Shoshones they learned several things about the potential routes to the Pacific: the most direct route via the Lemhi and Salmon rivers was virtually impassable by land or water; a route to the south led to a country inhabited by “white people”; and, to the north, lay another route which involved several additional mountain crossings. Which of these routes would be the easiest and quickest? This question required a
they were at the Three Forks of the Missouri. Clark’s problem at the Wisdom (modern Big Hole) River was probably because he did not ask her if that was the river to her people. There’s little doubt that she had the information and would have told him not to try to go up the Wisdom if he had asked. She probably assumed that he was simply following the route of Captain Lewis who was traveling ahead of the main party. 8. EDITOR’S NOTE: I have tried to no avail to locate the source for the author’s statement that Lewis and Clark were informed at Fort Mandan that “a mighty river flowed through open plains all the way to the Pacific.”


Along the Trail—J. L. Allen

decision that was every bit as critical as that made earlier at the junction of the Missouri and Marias. Mustering all the geographical skills they possessed, the captains set about making that decision. The original plans were to follow the stream of the Pacific drainage which, the Indians had told them during the previous winter, lay opposite the Missouri’s source. This route, the Shoshones advised the captains, was impassable by canoe or by foot or horse. No longer willing to trust native lore implicitly, Clark and a small party tried this route down the Lemhi and then the Salmon (in much the same way as field reconnaissance had been used during the Missouri-Marias dilemma) and found the Indian information to be correct. Rejecting the direct route as unfeasible, given the difficulty of passage and the lateness of the season, the captains were forced to come to some decision regarding the southern and northern routes the Shoshones had described. The southern route lay up the Lemhi, across a mountain range to a large westward flowing river (the Snake?), across that to another river (possibly the Owyhee) which led to the “Stinking lake.” Utilizing their general pre-exploratory conceptions of western drainage systems, the captains concluded (erroneously but, as it turned out, wisely) that the natives were describing a route to the waters that flowed to the Gulf of California and rejected it as being “more to the South” than they wished to travel. This left the northern route—across the mountains north of the Lemhi-Salmon junction to a northward flowing river west of which, and across another mountain range, lay the navigable waters of the Columbia. The captains were learning of the Bitterroot River and the Lolo Trail. But since their geographical conceptions were still distorted and fuzzy, it is likely that the northern flowing stream was confused in the captains’ minds with a stream of the Missouri system while the mountains lying west of that river were seen as a northern extension of the Continental Divide they had just crossed. There was still, in their image of the passage, room for only one mountain crossing between the navigable waters of the Missouri and those of the Columbia. The decision was then (and it ultimately proved to be the right one) to cross the ranges north of the Lemhi-Salmon junction to “the great river which lay in the plains beyond the mountains.” By early September, the crossing into the Bitterroot Valley had been made and here the decisions that were to finally bring some order to western geography and solve the riddle of the short passage were made. As the captains and their men dropped down into the valley of the Bitterroot, two things became apparent: there were mountains both east and west of the river; and the Bitterroot itself was most certainly a Pacific-slope river and not a Missouri basin stream. But Pacific water or not, the Bitterroot contained no salmon and was therefore probably not navigable— a suspicion confirmed by the Flathead Indians who told of a great fall before the Bitterroot entered the Columbia. This left one alternative—crossing the mountains west of the Bitterroot by the trail that the Nez Perce Indians used to reach the buffalo grounds of the Missouri basin. And here the final riddle of the short passage was solved—for the captains learned that the Nez Perce road to the buffalo involved
9. See footnote #5 of this article for the editor’s opinion with regard to this half-day portage. —editor


not just one but two mountain crossings: from the valley of the Clearwater across the Lolo Trail to the Bitterroot Valley and then across another pass east of the Bitterroot to the Missouri. This was not quite the half-day portage that the explorers had been led to expect by the natives at Fort Mandan.9 But it was a shorter and more direct route than the one they had followed up the Jefferson, across the Divide, and then across another range to the Bitterroot where still another mountain traverse lay between them and the Pacific. This new knowledge required new decisions—should the crossing from the Bitterroot to the Missouri be investigated or should the party continue with their original plans to reach navigable waters of the Columbia and follow them to the Pacific? Some talk was made of splitting the party into two groups—one to check the Bitterroot-Missouri passage and a second to make the attempt on the BitterrootColumbia (Clearwater) crossing. Finally, the elements aided the decision-making process. The season was beginning to lengthen into fall and snows were appearing on the mountains. The mountains west of the Bitterroot must be crossed, navigable waters must be found, and the Pacific must be reached before the onset of winter. But a second decision was made at the same time. The captains now knew that they must spend a second winter in the field—this time probably on or near the Pacific shores near the Columbia’s mouth. After that wintering, they concluded, at least some members of the party would make the return journey via the Lolo Trail and the second mountain passage between the Bitterroot and the Missouri. That decision, and the working out of the details of western geography which accompanied it, was responsible for the final solution to the central objective of the Expedition— the discovery of “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” For later generations it was this decision that was the most crucial. The decisions at the Missouri-Marias junction and in the vicinity of Lemhi Pass were critical for the Expedition’s successful negotiation of unknown territory. But reaching the decision they did in the Bitterroot Valley, Lewis and Clark cleared up, once and for all, the erroneous notion of a short portage between the Missouri and the Columbia. In doing so, they brought reality to the emerging American image of the Northwest. This was their major contribution and beyond anything else made them successful as explorers.



Imagining the West Through the Eyes of Lewis & Clark
By James P. Ronda
What would be the image of the trans-Mississippi west to one born and raised east of the Mississippi in the late eighteenth century? Were the pre-Expedition images in the minds of Lewis and Clark deduced from their own experiences or were they infused from some other source? Did the image in their minds live up to the reality they eventually experienced? How do we know? James Ronda looked at these and other questions and drew conclusions in his address to the Third Annual Lewis and Clark Festival in Great Falls, Montana, June 1991. His address was published in the May 1992 issue of We Proceeded On.

the best lectures focus not so much on an idea as on a question. After all, we learn everything in our lives by asking questions—how does it work, where does it come from, what does it mean, what should I do next? So let me pose a question, one that I hope will engage our minds and hearts, our thoughts and imaginations. Let me warn you in advance. This is a deceptive question. It will sound easy to answer but the search will probably take us in unexpected directions. And my guess is that those answers will be a bit unsettling. But then all good exploring is unsettling and maybe even troubling. With that as a cautionary prologue, the question, is: What did the West look like to Lewis and Clark? How did it appear to those eyes and minds so comfortable with familiar eastern landscapes? What does it mean when we read Sergeant John Ordway describing what is now Fergus County, Montana, as “the desert of North America,” a place wholly unfit for any human Life? And Sergeant Patrick Gass agreed,calling that part of the Treasure State “the most dismal country I ever beheld.” Montana patriots need not take offense. Lewis and Clark journal keepers said equally unflattering things about the present states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Let me ask the question again. What did the Corps of Discovery see in the West? Remember that seeing is not
*See biographical sketch on page 441.

I have always believed that


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

just a physiological act. The old rule from first year physics applies here. To every observation the observer brings something. The Expedition saw the whole western landscape through eastern eyes. Like us, they saw through a glass darkly. If we understand that seeing means more than just looking, then we can begin to re-imagine the West through explorers’ eyes. Most of us would have a simple, quick answer to the question. We would march off to our favorite museum or perhaps page through a lavish book of western art until we came to the Catlins and the Bodmers.1 See, we would say, here is the West just as Lewis and Clark saw it. Question answered, case closed. But as Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade knew, no case is ever really closed, no question is ever fully answered. Think of it this way. Lewis and Clark laid one main line of exploration track from east to west. That main line was important, but it showed them only one piece of a vast and vastly complex country. Three decades later when Catlin and Bodmer rode the Lewis and Clark Missouri River truck line they took it only into Montana. It’s important for us to remember that while Lewis and Clark saw only one slice of the western pie, the pioneer artists painted an even thinner slice of that pie. Not only was the Catlin and Bodmer geographic range a sharply limited one but it was also an artistic vision interested only in a few things. Catlin’s bright colors and Bodmer’s wonderful eye for detail can trick us into a romantic, technicolor West. So we are back to the original question— What did the West look like to Lewis and Clark? How can we recapture what they saw? Can we share the dream, relive the experience? I think there is a way for us to do just that. I’ve always thought that the eye of the mind and the power of print are the real secrets to time travel. The force of the imagination is far greater than the command from the Starship Enterprise: “Beam me down Scotty.” So I’m going to suggest that we do something quite strange given the fact we are in a place filled with so many wonderful visual images. We need to read thoughtfully and listen carefully to the words of the explorers themselves. Let those simple, memorable words from the journals give wings to our imaginations and take us back to another time. We should begin where Lewis and Clark began, not in St. Louis, but in the spacious mind of Thomas Jefferson. Like all explorers, Lewis and Clark carried with them a program, a design. It was Jefferson’s design, one that he fashioned by blending his
1. EDITOR’S NOTE: George Catlin (1782-1867) was a Pennsylvania-born American, lawyer turned artist/ ethnographer. He was a miniature portrait artist, and then Indian artist with the ultimate goal of reaching every Indian tribe on the North American continent. He said it was worthy of a lifetime of one man to rescue “from oblivion the looks and customs of the vanishing races of native men in America.” He visited the Indians of the Upper Missouri River in 1832, painting landscapes, villages, scenes of Indian life, and Indian portraits. Although he described the country all the way to the falls of the Missouri, he actually reached little beyond Fort Union on the present-day Montana/North Dakota border. The works of Catlin are scattered, but a fine collection is found at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) was a young Swiss artist who accompanied Alexander Philip Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, on a scientific expedition up the Missouri River in 1833. The Maximilian party reached nearly as far as the Great Falls of the Missouri during their great North American enterprise. Bodmer was engaged to paint landscapes along the route of the expedition as well as portraits of the aborigines. The writings and artwork of the Maximilian/Bodmer expedition are in the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

own thoughts with the dramatic voyages of James Cook, George Vancouver, and Alexander Mackenzie. Jefferson’s captains saw the West through his eyes and by his design. So if we want to know what Lewis and Clark saw, we must begin with the words and vision of the third president of the United States. There is no more familiar document in exploration history than the instructions Jefferson drafted for Meriwether Lewis in the early summer of 1803. We tend to think about that piece of paper as guidelines for the explorers, a kind of rough script for the Expedition’s great western movie. And indeed it was that, but it was something more as well. The instructions give us clues toward deciphering Jefferson’s own secret code of the West. What he thought he would see if he went up the Missouri, across the mountains, and down the Columbia can help us understand what Lewis and Clark encountered on their real journey. Reading the instructions as a commentary on Jefferson’s mind and imagination tells us some fascinating and important things. First, the president assumed that the West was already a battlefield, an arena where the great imperial powers would fight it out for the control of the West and the ultimate destiny of all North America. We should not be surprised by this. After all, the American continent had been both battleground and prize since 1492. And native people had been struggling against each other for the first conquest of America long before 1492. Jefferson was determined to make the United States an imperial contender. It was Alexander Mackenzie’s vision of British dominion in the West that proved the immediate cause for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, something we forget as we romantically imagine Jefferson dreaming about the West all his life. The word “empire” does not appear in Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis. But there is a word, an eighteenth century synonym for empire, that appears four times in crucial places. The word is “commerce,” a word broadly defined as nearly all productive, profit-oriented human activity. Jefferson and other imperial visionaries knew that business enterprise and national empires always marched together. When the president ordered his captain to find a passage from Atlantic to Pacific “for the purposes of commerce” he plainly put the United States on the list of combatants in the war for America. That struggle would, in one way or another, shape the entire course of America history. Jefferson’s second assumption about the West had to do with geography. Maps of the West before the Expedition portrayed an uncluttered, nearly empty region. While Jefferson did not envision the kind of geographic complexity we know in the West today, he did not think it was a simple, empty place. Mountains interested him— after all he built his house on a mountain and named it Monticello. But it was rivers that fascinated him, both aesthetically and for their commercial value. He expected Lewis and Clark to find a West filled with rivers, a republic of rivers. Their names run through the instructions like a shining thread—the Missouri, the Columbia, the Oregon, the Colorado, and the ghost river Rio Bravo. Jefferson assumed an intricate western landscape and as we know, Lewis and Clark got even more than the president bargained for! Jefferson once wrote that “no occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth.” This devoted gardener put new plants and animals high on the Lewis and


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

Clark priority list. Jefferson anticipated that his explorers would find a West overflowing with what he called “productions animals and vegetable.” But it is important to remember that Jefferson expected particular kinds of plants and animals in the West. Science in Jefferson’s time was really applied science. Knowledge was valued in direct proportion to its practical application. Like his contemporaries, Jefferson was interested in useful knowledge. That meant botany and other sciences with immediate practical, economic consequences. Today we are delighted by looking at the lovely plant specimens from the Expedition, some so fresh they seem to have been cut yesterday. But remember that as we admire the bitteroot, what Jefferson prized were the samples of corn and tobacco. Although Jefferson never journeyed beyond the Blue Ridge, he expected the West to be a land of wonders. While some of the more fantastic notions about the West were beginning to fade, the president was not immune from some of the best western folklore. Thomas Jefferson’s Land of Western Wonders—a theme park of the mind—still held herds of llamas and packs of mammonths in a landscape of volcanic towers and salt mountains. And of course there were blond-haired, blue-eyed Welsh Indians to round out a truly exotic world.2 But the president’s belief in a western wonderland went far deeper than fantastic scenery, bizarre animals, and mysterious natives. Jefferson believed in his very soul that the West offered the promise of renewal, of starting again in a new place. Like so many others of his age, Jefferson had a nearly religious belief in owning land. Farmers were the chosen people of God, so he said, and in the West there was land without end. The West could promise a forever young, vibrant American republic. In the West, so Jefferson imagined, Americans could erase the troubled past and begin life fresh. This was the greatest, most seductive of Jefferson’s wonders. The West would spawn no larger, no more troubling illusion. Jefferson’s vision of the West as a wonderland and cultural fountain of youth was a fantasy, a very dangerous fantasy, but his final expectation was anything but illusory. Look again at his instructions for Lewis. I won’t ask you to count the lines but nearly one-half of the document deals with native people, either as objects of scientific study or as important peoples and tribes to be reckoned with. Jefferson understood one of the fundamental western realities—that the region was not an empty space, an unpopulated place. Lewis and Clark had many Indian missions—everything from diplomacy to ethnography. And in all of those duties Jefferson recognized what became the Expedition’s almost daily experience. The West was Indian country. Throughout the instructions Jefferson acknowledged what only a few maps hinted at—that the West’s first explorers had already scouted the land and called it home. So how would Lewis and Clark see the West? In many ways they would come to see it through Jefferson’s eyes. The captains were not remote controlled robot mini2. EDITOR’S NOTE: About 700 years ago a group under the leadership of Prince Madoc left Wales and was believed to have landed on the continent of North America never to be seen again. [I do note, however, that John Filson in the appendix of his 1784 book The Discovery and Settlement of Kentucke (pp. 95–98) goes into some detail about this lost group of Welshmen, and about those who had seen them, and those who had seen evidence of their existence on the North American Continent.] Prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and for many years thereafter it was believed by some that a tribe of Indians would one day be found that would conclusively prove to be descended from the Welsh. No such tribe was ever found.


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

cams automatically sending back thirty second sound bytes for the Five O’Clock Action News. They were intelligent, thoughtful observers but what they saw and how they saw it were largely determined by Jefferson’s expectations. I guess we might call all of this the preconditions of exploration seeing. None of us ever comes to a place innocent of preconceptions about that place. Lewis and Clark’s preconceptions were molded and shaped not only by their own personal experiences but by the hopes and dreams of the man from Monticello. Knowing that, we can now begin to answer the original question—what did the West look like to the bearded strangers who came from the sunrise? Let me suggest to you that Lewis and Clark saw five distinct things in the West. Remember that I’m using the idea of seeing as more than a visual/biological fact. For me seeing is another way to talk about experiencing a reality that might be invisible but nonetheless quite real. First, the Expedition saw a remarkably urban West. What a surprise. We tend to think that if ever any party of travelers should have seen the wide open spaces it was Lewis and Clark. But their journals and maps tell a very different story. Everywhere they went, the explorers found Indian communities. Some of those communities were large, well-established towns. It is important to recall that in 1804 more people lived in the five Mandan and Hidatsa towns than called St. Louis home. The Indian agricultural towns of the Missouri River were flourishing communities. We need to remember that towns like Mitutanka, Rooptahee, and Menetarra were home to farmers and merchants long before the map held names like Pierre, Mobridge, Bismarck, and Williston. Across the Great Divide and down the Columbia the explorers found the same urban reality. Stick lodges, wickiups, teepees, and great plank houses—here was a land of towns and villages. One final reminder on this point. Look sometime at the maps Clark drew of the Columbia River from present-day Pasco, Washington, to the Pacific. There are towns and fishing camps everywhere. In fact, the maps suggest a fascinating thought. Perhaps the immediate banks of the Columbia were more densely and continuously inhabited in 1805 than today. If Lewis and Clark saw a West already dotted with towns and villages, they also saw a region of astounding human diversity. Here perhaps neither Jefferson nor his explorers were quite prepared for such variety. Jefferson knew the West was filled with native people but he could not have guessed at the rich cultural complexity of the Great Plains, the Rockies, the Plateau, and the Pacific Northwest. As fortune would have it, the Expedition passed through four of the most important native American culture areas. During the winter at Fort Mandan the explorers saw the world of the village farmers, those earth-lodge people who made the Dakota soil bloom long before the days of dams, John Deere, and custom cutters. And there were the people of the horse, buffalo, and tipi. The plains nomads entered the world of Lewis and Clark in the guise of Sioux warriors, Cheyenne traders, and Assiniboine merchants. On the second season of western travel there were the peoples of the Plateau—Shoshone, Flathead, and Nez Perce. Days running the Columbia and weeks at Fort Clatsop showed the explorers a native universe profoundly different from the plains and the plateau. This


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

was the world of salmon, not buffalo; of sea-going canoes, not spirited horses; of plank houses, not tipis or earth lodges. Lewis and Clark did not always understand or appreciate the crazy quilt cultural mix in the West. All too often they acted as if all native people were generic “Indians.” But the explorers’s journals and other records are filled with the signs of a rich human diversity. What did Lewis and Clark see?—a west already settled with towns and villages, home to many sorts of people. Add to this a third element. Jefferson’s captains found large-scale economic development. We might imagine the West’s economic map largely empty in 1804. We might emphasize resources not yet exploited. But if Lewis and Clark had that Third-World, undeveloped vision of western economies, they soon lost it. From the Missouri to the Columbia the West was crisscrossed with trading trails and exchange routes. Two vast economic systems—the Middle Missouri System and the Pacific Plateau System—spanned the whole West. Through these networks passed every conceivable item: corn from Arikara fields, squash from Mandan gardens, trade guns carried by Sioux middlemen, fancy clothing made by Cheyenne artisans, dried salmon from Columbia River fishing folk, and beargrass baskets from the Chinook villages of the Pacific coast. Lewis and Clark saw Spanish horse tack in North Dakota, found war hatchets they had made at Fort Mandan in the hands of Idaho Indians, and remarked on Boxton overalls and British teapots along the Columbia. Think of these huge trade systems and their annual rendezvous not as abstract economic structures. What Lewis and Clark saw was a West bound together by a great circle of hands. Those hands passed around not only fish and fur but songs, stories, and the gift of friendship. A quick look at the economies of the modern West suggests some enduring continuities with the past as well as some obvious changes. Perhaps the fundamental economic continuity from 1804 to the 1990s is the extractive nature of western economies. The westerner—whether native or non-native—harvests the earth. That harvest has changed over time, moving from corn, buffalo, and fish to wheat, cattle, minerals, and oil. And of course we ought not forget tourism, quickly becoming the region’s most productive extractive industry. After all, Lewis and Clark were the West’s first tourists, seeing all the great sights and writing home to an eager presidential audience. And the explorers were a tourist attraction. Indians came out in great numbers to gape at the odd strangers and their outlandish ways. Lewis and Clark were economic geographers. They gave us the first detailed study of business in the West. And we can see that in some ways western business has remained remarkably the same. But Lewis and Clark also serve to remind us of how much has changed. What the explorers saw in Indian country were regional markets just beginning to feel the pressure of outside, non-Indian economic forces. While Lewis and Clark did not initiate the western fur trade, the Expedition gave added energy to an enterprise already well underway. What the fur trade brought is what the West has today—extractive industries in a global marketplace. The trip from fur to oil, from digging sticks to air-conditioned combines, is not nearly so far as we might think. And Lewis and Clark help us understand how we began that fateful journey. Once again, let’s go back to the original question. What did Lewis and Clark see


Along the Trail—J. P. Ronda

in the West? The explorers saw busy communities filled with diverse peoples all linked together by substantial business systems. But the captains also saw conflict and violence. One of the most powerful, enduring myths about the West is that it was once a peaceable kingdom, a kind of native Garden of Eden.Eastern writers from Jefferson to Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour imagined a western paradise where we could repeal the past and find the best in ourselves. It was as if motion west meant salvation and the death of the past. Dances with Wolves plays that game when John Dunbar thinks that in the land of open spaces he can outrun his own personal and cultural past. There is no greater personal or national delusion than this. At the same time, Jefferson and his successors in the White House knew that the West was a place of terrible conflict, a dark and bloody ground. What did Lewis and Clark see in this country of paradise and sudden death? For the most part, Lewis and Clark found friendship, good company, and open-handed hospitality. After all, they were tourists sure to move on to the next Best Western. But more to the point, the explorers encountered a West riddled with suspicion, hostility, and open warfare. Read again the accounts of Expedition diplomacy with the many tribes. Fear and ill-concealed aggression ooze out from every page. The native American West had its own rhythms and patterns of personal and communal violence long before Lewis and Clark pitched camp and talked with the voice of the Great Father. When Lewis urged a young Hidatsa warrior to give up the cycle of raid and counter-raid, the explorer got a pointed lesson in western realities. As the Hidatsa put it, warfare was the way young men distinguished themselves and the nation gained respected leaders. Without the discipline of the raid, the nation would collapse. But Lewis and Clark did more than simply record the tracks of violence. As agents of empire they often unwittingly intensified the conflict, extending its reach by new technologies, and giving it a hard ideological edge. What happened at the Two Medicine Fight with the Piegan Blackfeet is an excellent case in point. The events of the morning of July 27, 1806 are so well-known that I won’t tell them again.3 What is important about the struggle between Lewis’s small detachment and several Piegans is not the immediate event itself. We need to understand the consequences of the deaths of Side Hill Calf and his now-unnamed friend. Their deaths at the hands of Lewis and Reuben Field are sometimes credited with being the cause of later violence between American fur traders and the Blackfeet. Popular writers would want us to believe that the bloody deaths of some mountain men was all about revenge. But the truth is more complex and considerably less tidy. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was implicated in that later trader-Indian violence, but not because of simple revenge. The origins of the violence can be traced to something Lewis said the night
3. EDITOR’S NOTE:The event mentioned took place on the return from the ocean when Lewis and three men were on a horseback reconnaissance to find the source of the Marias River in present-day central Montana. The hope was that this northern tributary of the Missouri would satisfy the 1783 Treaty of Paris, that is., 49o 37’ north. It failed to do so. On the return to the Missouri to meet up with other Expedition members, Lewis and his men met a party of Indians who attempted to steal Lewis’s horses. The fight that ensued left two of the Indians dead and Lewis and his men making a hasty, 100-mile equestrian dash to the Missouri. See footnote number one in article #91 of the present work for a further discussion on the identity of these Indians—the editor contends that they were probably not Piegans.


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