July 20, 1806
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July 20, 1806


We set at sunrise and proceed through the open plain as yesterday up the North side of the river.    the plains are more broken than they were yesterday and have become more inferior in point of soil; a great quanty of small gravel is every where distributed over the surface of the earth which renders travling extreemly painfull to our bearfoot horses.    the soil is generally a white or whiteish blue clay, this where it has been trodden by the buffaloe when wet has now become as firm as a brickbat and stands in an inumerable little points quite as formidable to our horses feet as the gravel.    the mineral salts common to the plains of the missouri has been more abundant today than usual.    the bluffs of the river are about 200 feet high, steep irregular and formed of earth which readily desolves with water, slips and precipitates itself into the river as before mentioned frequentlly of the bluffs of the Missouri below which they resemble in every particular, differing essencially from those of the Missouri above the entrance of this river, they being composed of firm red or yellow clay which dose not yeald readily to the rains and a large quantity of rock. [1] the soil of the river bottom is fertile and well timbered, I saw some trees today which would make small canoes.    the timber is generally low.    the underbrush the same as before mentioned.    we have seen fewer buffaloe today than usual, though more Elk and not less wolves and Antelopes also some mule deer; this speceis of deer seems most prevalent in this quarter.    saw some gees ducks and other birds common to the country.    there is much appearance of beaver on this river, but not any of otter. [2]    from the apparent decent of the country to the North and above the broken mountains I am induced to beleive that the South branch of the Suskashawan receives a part of it's waters from the plain even to the borders of this river [3] and from the brakes visible in the plains in a nothern direction think that a branch of that river decending from the rocky mountains passes at no great distance from Maria's river and to the N. E. of the broken mountains.    the day has proved excessively warm and we lay by four hours during the heat of it; we traveled 28 miles and encamped as usual in the river bottom on it's N. side. [4]    there is scarcely any water at present in the plains and what there is, lies in small pools and is so strongly impregnated with the mineral salts that it is unfit for any purpose except the uce of the buffaloe.    these animals appear to prefer this water to that of the river.    the wild liquorice [5] and sunflower [6] are very abundant in the plains and river bottoms, the latter is now in full blume; the silkgrass and sand rush [7] are also common to the bottom lands. the musquetoes have not been 〈very little〉 troublesome to us since we left the whitebear islands.—

Courses and distances July 20th 1806.
S. 80° W. 28 ms. with the river in it's course upwards to or encampment
of this evening on it's N. side.    river 120 yds. wide and deep,
water appears to be but little diminsed, somewhat more trans-
parent.    passed a creek on S. side at 6 ms. also another 22 ms.
on the N. side [8]    this last has no water some little tim-
ber.    bed 15 yds. wide.—    the general course of this river is
very streight, and it meanders through a vally of about ½ a
mile in width from side to side.

I directed Sergt. Pryor and Shields each of them good judges of timber to proceed on down the river Six or 8 miles and examine the bottoms if any larger trees than those near which we are encamped can be found and return before twelve oClock.    they Set out at daylight. I also Sent Labech Shabono & hall to Skin & some of the flesh of the Elk Labeech had killed last evening    they returned with one Skin the wolves haveing eaten the most of the other four Elk. I also Sent two men in Serch of wood Soutable for ax handles.    they found some choke cherry [9] which is the best wood which Can be precured in this Country. Saw a Bear on an Island opposit and Several Elk. Sergt. Pryor and Shields returned at half past 11 A M. and informed me that they had proceeded down the timbered bottoms of the rivers for about 12 miles without finding a tree better than those near my Camp. I deturmined to have two Canoes made out of the largest of those trees and lash them together which will Cause them to be Study and fully Sufficient to take my Small party & Self with what little baggage we have down this river.    had handles put in the 3 Axes and after Sharpening them with a file fell the two trees which I intended for the two Canoes.    those trees appeared tolerably Sound and will make Canoes of 28 feet in length and about 16 or 18 inches deep and from 16 to 24 inches wide.    the men with the three axes Set in and worked untill dark. Sergt. Pryor dressed Some Skins to make him Clothes. Gibsons wound looks very well. I dressed it. The horses being fatigued and their feet very Sore, I Shall let them rest a fiew days.    dureing which time the party intended for to take them by land to the Mandans [10] will dress their Skins and make themselves Clothes to bare, as they are nearly naked. Shields killed a Deer & Buffalow & Shannon a faun and a Buffalow & York an Elk    one of the buffalow was good meat. I had the best of him brought in and cut thin and Spread out to dry.


Sunday 20th July 1806.    a clear warm morning.    we conclude to lay here to day as the truck waggons are not fixed. Sergt. Gass went at putting in the tongues to the waggons. Some of the men are engaged dressing Skins, but we are tormented by the Musquetoes and Small flys.    the men engaged dressing deer Skins &c.    towards evening we got up our 4 horses tackled them in the truck waggons    found they would draw but were covred thick with Musquetoes and Small flyes &C.


Sunday 20th.    We had a fine day; but the musquitoes were very bad. We concluded to stay here all day, as the men, who had come with the canoes were fatigued; and, in the evening tried our horses in harness and found they would draw very well.

1. Late Pleistocene glacial ice in this area displaced the Marias River southward from its preglacial course. The displaced Marias River then cut a new valley in older glacial till and into shale of the Colorado Group. This downcutting produced a more rugged topography here than it did farther to the east. The gravel is both glacial outwash and cobbles that were left behind when the finer-grained portion of the till eroded. The glacial till that overlies the Colorado Group was derived from this same formation farther to the north. In this area the till is composed of silt- and clay-sized particles and is highly impregnated with salts such as calcium-magnesium sulfate/bicarbonate. When the clay dries out it becomes exceedingly firm, resembling adobe. The bluffs near the river are composed mainly of goacial till. The till does not dissolve but erodes easily in contact with running water. The running water undercuts the banks and they slide or fall down into the river. The firm red or yellow clay and rock along the Missouri above the mouth of the Marias is part of the Kootenai Formation. (back)
2. Lutra canadensis. (back)
3. Lewis was still hoping that the Marias would provide Americans with access to the Saskatchewan River country and its fur trade. In fact, the entire basin of the Milk River lies between the South Saskatchewan and any part of the Missouri system. (back)
4. Lewis camped on the north side of the Marias River in southern Toole County, Montana, some five miles southwest of the present town of Shelby, and perhaps a mile west of Interstate Highway 15. (back)
5. Wild liquorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota (Nutt.) Pursh. Booth & Wright, 130. (back)
6. Probably the early flowering perennial, Nuttall's Sunflower, Helianthus nuttallii T. & G. ssp. rydbergii (Britt.) Long, typically found in riverbottoms. It flowers earlier than the annual sunflowers, H. annuus L., and H. petiolaris Nutt. Another possibility for such an early flowering, perennial, upland sunflower is stiff sunflower, H. rigidus (Cass.) Desf. ssp. subrhomboideus (Rybd.) Heiser (also known as H. laetiflorus). Booth & Wright, 274; Barkley, 377–79. (back)
7. Based on the bottomland habitat and association with the scouring ("sand") rush (Equiseum sp.), the silkgrass is almost certainly hemp dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum L., long known as a textile fiber plant commonly used by natives. See August 20, 1805. (back)
8. Couese (HLC), 3:1090–91 n. 43, argues that the actual order and direction of these two streams has been reversed in Lewis's wording. According to Coues, the first stream, from the south some eighteen miles above the previous night's camp, is the Dry Fork of Marias River, in Toole County. Coues identifies the second stream, six miles above the first on the north side of the Marias, as Medicine Rock Coulee, a name perhaps present in his time but not found on current maps; it would probably be an unnamed creek occupying a glacial channel that passes through Shelby. On the other hand, if Lewis's first creek did enter from the south at six miles as he has it, it could be Dead Indian Coulee. The second stream in Lewis's record almost has to be coming from the south and therefore would be Dry Fork since there is no stream of any consequence coming from the north in this day's route and Dry Fork most nearly fits his mileage estimates. (back)
9. Choke cherry; for a previous use of the wood as axe handles, see July 10, 1805. (back)
10. For this party and its purpose, see July 23 and 24, 1806. (back)