Dakota Datebook: Lewis and Clark Return (Part IV)

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Dakota Datebook: Lewis and Clark Return (Part IV)
July 24, 2006

Transcript:

200 years ago this week, Captains Merriwether Lewis and William Clark were separated by some 300 miles of wilderness as the Corps of Discovery proceeded with its multi-faceted exploration of Montana. Clark and most of the party were making steady progress eastward on the Yellowstone River in the south. Lewis and a few men were up near the Canadian border, close to Cutbank, deep in Blackfeet Indian territory. It was a pleasant week for Clark and company. Not so for Lewis…far from it.


On July 25, 1806 William Clark wrote from the vicinity of present-day Billings, “...arived at a remarkable rock situated in an extensive bottom ... this rock I ascended and from it’s top had a most extensive view in every direction. This rock which I shall call Pompy’s Tower is 200 feet high and 400 paces in secumpherance and only axcessable on one Side ... The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year.” Clark’s graffiti is the only known mark the Corps left on the landscape that is still visible today.


Meanwhile, Lewis and three men spent three days at the northern-most point of the expedition, at a place Lewis called Camp Disappointment. The camp was so named because they did not find what they hoped to find—a natural boundary of the Louisiana Purchase—and dreary weather had prevented some survey measurements.


As they headed south on July 26th to resume their descent of the Missouri River, Lewis encountered a group of eight Blackfeet warriors. The Corps was outnumbered two to one; but they had guns, and the Blackfeet had bows and arrows. Even so, neither party was seeking armed conflict. They were able to communicate, and made camp together for the night, if somewhat warily.


On the morning of July 27, the Indians awoke first and made a stealthy attempt to separate the sleeping soldiers from their weapons. The gun grab almost succeeded, but the soldiers awoke, chased the fleeing Indians, and recovered the weapons. At this point, one Indian lay dead from a knife “to the heart.” Then the Indians attempted to drive off all the horses, and Lewis himself shot and killed a second warrior.


The skirmish ended badly for the Blackfeet. This was the only bloodshed of the entire expedition. Lewis and his men retained their guns and chose the best Indian ponies for their getaway. Before leaving, they burned bows, quivers of arrows, and other goods the Indians left behind.


Fearing retribution, the men pushed the horses to the limit, riding nearly 24 hours to rendezvous with the men and canoes they had left on the Missouri. On July 28th Lewis wrote, “I was so soar from my ride yesterday that I could scarcely stand, and the men complained of being in a similar situation however I encouraged them by telling them that our own lives as well as those of our friends and fellow travellers depended on our exertions at this moment; ... I now told them that it was my determination that if we were attacked in the plains on our way to the point that the bridles of the horses should be tied together and we would stand and defend them, or sell our lives as dear as we could.”


Also on the 28th, John Ordway wrote, “turned out the horses in the plain & threw the Saddles in the River & came on board the canoes. then we proced on with as much Speed as possable.”

Written by Russell Ford-Dunker
Sources:
http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/archive
http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/archive/1806
http://lewisandclark.state.mt.us

Source

Source: Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public. http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Subject Matter

Social Studies

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  3. Dakota Datebook: Lewis and Clark Return (Part III)
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