Lewis & Clark among the Indians 9. The Way Home

James P. Ronda© 1984University of Nebraska PressLincoln and London
"Last evening the indians entertained us with seting the fir trees on fire. They have
a great number of dry lims near their bodies which when set on fire creates a very
suddon and immence blaze from bottom to top of those tall trees. They are a
beatifull object in this situation at night. This exhibition reminded me of a display
of fireworks. The natives told us that their object in seting those trees on fire was
to bring fair weather for our journey."
Meriwether Lewis, 1806

When Lewis and Clark left Fort Clatsop late in March 1806, their exploring duties were far from over. Ahead loomed responsibilities every bit as challenging as those that had driven the explorers up the Missouri and across the mountains nearly two years before. During the winter, Lewis and Clark had heard from Indian sources about a river that struck south from the Columbia and reached the "gulph of California." Finding that river, known to both Indians and explorers as the Multinomah, raised the expedition's hopes for a trade connection into the Southwest. Equally important were charting the northern course of the Marias River and exploring the Yellowstone. Finally, Lewis and Clark needed to verify Indian information concerning a shorter route between Travelers' Rest and the Great Falls of the Missouri. All that exploring would demand skill and coordination in field operations beyond anything yet attempted by the Corps of Discovery.

But in all these intricate maneuvers, Indian matters were not forgotten. Promoting and encouraging intertribal peace as a requisite for trade was a goal from the earliest days of the journey. On the return, Lewis and Clark needed to foster such notions, often in the face of long-standing tradition. Equally important was the complex matter of organizing delegations of Indians to visit federal officials in Washington. Like intertribal peace, this accomplishment hinged on neutralizing "the Sioux menace." Finally, there were ethnographic tasks yet undone. In their hurry to reach the Pacific, Lewis and Clark had not carefully studied the Nez Perce people. Time spent with those Indians would allow the American ethnographers to record aspects of their life and culture.

Speed, timing, and survival were essential for success in all these efforts. Lewis and Clark were determined to reach St. Louis in one season of travel, with careful planning and good fortune. The explorers had to work their way back up a floodstage Columbia even more hazardous than before, avoid Indian complications at the Cascades and The Dalles, and reach their horses at the Nez Perce villages before those Indians left for summer hunts. Delays caused by snow on the Lolo Trail could throw their schedules seriously off track. Finally, and no small matter, several field parties had to be coordinated to reach the Upper Missouri before freeze-up. All told, the return journey presented challenges and opportunities as great as any the expedition had yet faced.

The cold, wet days of spring on the Columbia did nothing to boost the men's spirits as they struggled back upriver. And struggle they did, since the river ran higher and faster than in the fall of 1805. Although Lewis and Clark found friendly treatment at several Chinookan villages along the lower Columbia, there were already unsettling signs. The expedition was intent on finding the Multnomah River, but information from the Indians on the short, shallow character of the Quicksand (Sandy) and Seal (Washougal) rivers was troubling. A brief reconnaissance of those rivers by Sergeant Pryor verified those disappointing reports.

But that disappointment could not match the real concern produced by news from Indians coming downriver from The Dalles. Lewis and Clark had expected to supplement the expedition's food stores with pounded salmon purchased from Wishram and Wasco traders. Now that plan was in doubt as party after party told of scarcities of food and even starvation upriver. "This information," said Lewis with considerable understatement, "gave us much uneasiness with rispect to our future means of subsistence." Quickly rejecting a time-consuming wait at The Dalles for the first salmon run, Lewis and Clark decided to remain at their camp on the north side of the river while laying in a supply of dried meat sufficient for the journey to the Nez Perces . Such a halt would also afford Clark time to extend his search for the elusive Multnomah River. [01]

On April 2, with expeditionary hunters out on resupply missions, Clark resumed his quest for the Multnomah. That effort was materially advanced when several Watlala Indians came to camp to trade. With them were two young men from one of the bands living on the Willamette, the river Clark would eventually select as his Multnomah. From these men he obtained a sketch of the river and directions to find its mouth. Convinced this was the true object of his search, Clark hired an Indian pilot and took seven men to reconnoiter the Willamette. Before reaching the entrance of the river, blocked from earlier view by Sauvies Island, Clark landed at the large Neerchekioo village. As was so often the case with Lewis and Clark's ethnography, it is not clear whether this name refers to a location, a village, or a band. The captains further confused things by describing town residents as the Neerchkioo tribe of the Shahhala (Watlala) nation. The village site was dominated by a large plank house, with more than one hundred cutwater canoes "piled up and scattered in different directions about in the woods."

Exploring the Willamette was Clark's principal objective, but seeing so imposing a plank house piqued his curiosity. That there might be some wappato for exchange could not have been far from his mind as well. Plank houses of this size were usually partitioned into several "apartments." Clark entered one of the rooms and offered goods in trade for wappato. He met stony silence, "sulkey" faces, and a firm rejection of his offer. Clark's mood is hard to guess. What he did next may have been practical joking or the reflection of more hostile feelings. Taking a piece of cannon fuse from his pocket, the explorer tossed it into the fire. As the fuse sputtered and the fire changed color, Clark used a magnet on his inkstand to make a compass needle spin around the rose. "Astonished and alarmed," the Indian women pleaded for him to restore their "healthy" fire. They hastily put several parcels of wappato at his feet. Throughout this display of technological wizardry, an old blind shaman had been "speaking with great vehemunce," calling on spirit forces to protect the village. The drama ended when Clark belatedly paid the women for the wappato. [02]

For all its color and comic overtones, this incident at Neerchekioo does have a grimmer side. In light of the canoe-stealing episode in the last days at Fort Clatsop, Clark's actions in the plank house suggest an increasing willingness to bend the rules whenever it suited the expedition's needs. Frightening and intimidating women and an elderly blind man did little to enhance the honor or the reputation of men who had set a high standard of conduct for themselves and others.

By the second week of April, the expedition had moved farther up the Columbia and was now in position for its first major river challenge—the Cascades portage. That long and difficult carry was more than a dangerous trek around boiling rapids. As Lewis and Clark knew, the Watlala Indians of the Cascades resented the presence of any outsiders who even appeared to threaten their control at this place on the river trade system. Harrassment, hostility, and petty theft were all part of the toll Cascades folk extracted from all travelers. Lewis and Clark were not exempt from that tariff. As the Americans labored up the north shore, against swift current and over high boulders, they met Indians increasingly "sulky and illy disposed." Everything pointed to a portage physically taxing and emotionally trying. One false step could mean canoes and goods irretrievably lost; an overreaction to Indian provocation could have fatal results. [03]

Friday, April 11, proved the crucial day for the Cascades portage. Clark was in charge of the actual portaging operation while Lewis remained at a base camp at the lower end of the Cascades. The captains elected to guide empty canoes through the rapids by means of ropes from the shore. Goods had to be transported over a narrow, rough, and slippery path nearly three thousand yards long. Even without Indian troubles, it was a demanding and nerve-racking task. No sooner had the portage begun than the Watlalas commenced their delaying tactics. So many Indians crowded around the base camp that several extra men had to be assigned to guard duty. The harrassment increased when one particularly bold Indian began throwing stones down on two men in the portage party. John Shields, who had taken some extra time at the head of the Cascades to buy a dog, suddenly found himself the object of the Watlalas' attention. When several Indians attempted to take his future meal and push him off the portage path, Shields drew his knife in readiness for something more than a polite scuffle. Seeing his determined resistence, the native highwaymen fled. Even Lewis did not escape his share of trouble. Three Watlalas slipped into his camp at dusk, and before he could stop them, they had absconded with the dog Scannon. Absolutely furious, Lewis ordered three men to give chase and use all necessary force to rescue Scannon. Gunplay was fortunately avoided as the Indians released the dog when they saw armed explorers in hot pursuit. Not even the reassurances of a Watlala chief that these were the unsanctioned exploits of "two very bad men" and "not the wish of the nation" could mollify the Americans. Lewis and Clark ordered the sentries to shoot any Indian who dared steal the expedition's property. The Watlalas may have seen this all as a baiting game, but an edgy Lewis did not share that view. "I am convinced," he wrote, betraying both worry and belligerence, "that no other consideration but our number at this moment protects us." [04]

The following day there was less tension with Cascades natives. Guards armed with short rifles perhaps convinced them that their toll price was simply too high. But the rapids demanded its own fee as one American craft was caught in the current, slammed against a large rock, and sank. At the end of another cold, rainy day the expedition had passed the Cascades. Considering his anger earlier in the day, Lewis completed the portage quietly, taking a Watlala vocabulary and carefully noting some of the differences between upper and lower Chinookan dialects. [05]

In many ways the Cascades portage was a dress rehearsal for the tensions and troubles that lay ahead at The Dalles. Lewis and Clark knew from their westward journey that Indians at The Dalles might prove difficult. When last at the Narrows, the expedition had attracted relatively few curious Indians. Now in mid-April, with the first salmon run not far off, The Dalles was crowded with people. On April 15, after establishing Rock Fort Camp at the lower end of Long Narrows, the explorers settled in to pursue portage and trade duties. Convinced that an overland route to the Nez Perce villages would save considerable time, Lewis and Clark prepared to do some horse swapping. To speed that trade, it was decided that Clark would set up a temporary trading post on the north side of the Columbia. Lewis would remain to oversee packing and portaging operations from Rock Fort Camp. [06]

With those decisions made, Clark took Drouillard, Charbonneau, and nine other men across to the north shore. Horse trading had never been one of the expedition's strengths. Despite the fact that the frontiersmen knew good horseflesh when they saw it, they were usually at the mercy of native sellers who could set price and supply at will. The Indians who watched Clark's party make camp showed little or no interest in trade. Concerned at how poorly business was faring, Clark detailed Charbonneau and Frazer to visit the Chilluckquittequaw village while Drouillard and Goodrich went to the Skilloots to drum up business. [07] These ventures produced scant results. Only Drouillard returned with any prospects, bringing a lame Skilloot chief who promised some trade. The chief's presence produced a few nibbles at Clark's merchandise, but the high price placed on horses made setting the hook nearly impossible. Faced with discouraging news, Clark cautiously accepted the Skilloot chief's invitation to visit his village. That night Clark's party was at the Skilloot camp. The explorers may have been pleased by the sight of so many fine horses. The whine of Cruzatte's fiddle and the stomp of dancing feet perhaps fostered hopes that The Dalles passage might not be so trying after all. But Clark experienced other and less favorable omens that night: he was bitten and chewed by "the mice and vermin with which this house abounded." [08]

Anticipation overcame the weariness of a restless night, and the next morning Clark eagerly laid out his goods on a nearby rock. They had been carefully packaged into individual parcels, one bundle offered for each horse. But his best efforts at creative merchandising went awry. Making and then promptly breaking agreements, the Indians "tenterlised" a frustrated William Clark. By the end of the day, he was worn out and ready to quit the Skilloots. Only word that more horses might be brought in convinced him to stay another day. And there was a second and more heartening piece of news. As the Skilloot trade languished during the afternoon, a chief and twenty people from the Sahaptian-speaking Eneeshur village appeared and promised good horses at low prices. For a man who had struggled all day to buy three horses, of which only one was a fit animal, the Eneeshurs' word was indeed welcome. Encouraged or not, Clark was willing to stay at the Skilloot village one more day in the hope that the winds of trade might shift. [09]

Horse trading on April 18 proved no better than on earlier days. Clark had pinned his hopes on the Eneeshurs now that Skilloot sellers persisted in demanding high prices. Those hopes received a sharp check early in the day when an Eneeshur party arrived and, to Clark's great "estonishment," announced that all trade understandings were off. Not about to give up, Clark fell back on his doctoring talents to change the market climate. He offered salve for the chief's sores, gave "some small things" to his children, and ministered camphor and warm flannel to the ailing back of the "sulky Bitch" who was the chief's wife. Just as medical skills had proved a powerful force in dealing with other Indians, Clark found the Eneershurs' sales resistance lessening. But only two more horses were forthcoming. At prices double what Shoshoni and Flathead traders had asked, Lewis and Clark must have wondered if the expedition's corral would ever hold enough horses for the journey to the Nez Perces . Clark had not slept in two days; when he collapsed in exhaustion at Rock Fort Camp, his timetables were falling steadily behind. [10]

Throughout the next three days, expedition hands labored to drive packhorses and haul goods over The Dalles portage. Although that effort moved slowly, it was at least successful. The same could not be said for the continuing effort to swell the horse herd. Clark moved his trading post to the Eneeshur village above the Short Narrows and admitted that he used "every artifice decent and even false statements to enduce those pore devils to sell me horses." He unsuccessfully offered for each horse the full range of remaining trade items, including blankets, face paint, ribbon, beads, and brass. For a sweetener, Clark threw in his own large blue blanket, military coat, sword, and hat plume. All of that was to no avail because the canny Eneeshurs demanded cooking kettles for horses. In an outburst that revealed mounting frustration and worry, Lewis bitterly described the people of The Dalles as "poor, dirty, proud, haughty, inhospitable, parsimonious, and faithless in every rispect." [11]

As incidents of petty theft and harrassment increased, Lewis and Clark struggled to escape the grip of The Dalles. The last two days at the Narrows, April 21 and 22, held more unpleasantness with Indians than any comparable time in the history of the expedition. Determined to deny the Indians even castoff items, Lewis ordered canoes, poles, and paddles burned. When Lewis spotted an Indian taking one of the iron sockets from a canoe pole, the captain dealt him several blows and ordered the offender kicked out of camp. All the pent-up rage bred by days of trouble boiled over. "I now informed the Indians that I would shoot the first of them that attempted to steal an article from us; that we were not afraid to fight them, that I had it in my power at that moment to kill them all and set fire to their houses, but it was not my wish to treat them with severity provided they would let my property alone. That I would take their horses if I could find out the persons who had stolen the tommahawks but that I had rather lose the property altogether than take the horse of an innocent person." Just how much of this speech was understood is not clear. Lewis's exercise in spleen was perhaps more an index of the expedition's anxiety over homeward schedules than an overeager desire to burn and kill Indians. Punching one thief and shouting some ill-considered threats was not especially noble behavior, but there was sufficient provocation and confusion on both sides to make Lewis's words and deeds at least understandable.

Clark fared no better. Stuck at the Eneeshur village until Lewis's main party came up, he was surrounded by Indians who showed little regard for either his mission or his comfort. The captain's day was miserable as the Eneeshurs crowded around him, demanded tobacco, and made uncharitable remarks about his person. Clark's sole achievement was a chance meeting with a Nez Perce man who lent him a horse and promised to guide the party on their overland route to the Clearwater River. [12]

Lewis and Clark could not break free from The Dalles without one last incident. On April 22, as the expedition prepared to leave its camp at the mouth of the Deschutes River and begin an overland trek, Charbonneau was caught in a final entanglement. The Frenchman's horse bolted, threw its rider, and ran off toward one of The Dalles villages. As the horse neared the village, Charbonneau's saddle and pad slid from the animal's back. The pad was evidently picked up by an Indian who then denied having it. This seemed the final insult, and Lewis quickly renewed his promise to put the torch to nearby mat lodges unless the robe was returned. On the ragged edge of exasperation and fatigue, Lewis declared, "They have vexed me in such a manner by such repeated acts of villany that I am quite disposed to treat them with every severyty, their defenseless state pleads forgiveness so far as respects their lives." [13] But once again the storm blew over and the captain's rhetoric was not translated into reality.

Finally beyond the reach of The Dalles, the expedition marched along the north side of the Columbia through rocky, sandy country. Guided by the Nez Perce who had earlier offered his services to Clark and aided by the presence of an additional Nez Perce family, the expedition headed toward the Walulas and their friendly chief Yelleppit. Progress was slowed by too few packhorses and, inevitably, the travelers' sore feet and twisted ankles. Such now-familiar hazards were soothed when they reached the camps of the convivial Klikitats and Pishquitpahs. [14] Those evenings with them were filled with fiddling, dancing, and the sort of good times the explorers had not experienced for a long time.

Four days after slipping free from The Dalles, Lewis and Clark finally met Yelleppit. Encountering the Walulas symbolized the end of the Columbia passage. It also meant that the mountains were ahead, and a time with the Nez Perces . Yelleppit's village of fifteen large mat lodges was currently on the north side of the Columbia some twelve miles below the Snake-Columbia confluence. Eager to show his pleasure at seeing the Americans, Yelleppit delivered a long speech enjoining his people to welcome the strangers. The chief then went about gathering food and fuel to set an example of hospitality. Firewood and roasted fish were valuable but even more precious was information offered by the Walulas on the best way to reach the Nez Perce camps on the Clearwater. [15]

On the westbound journey, Lewis and Clark had not been able to spend much time with Yelleppit's folk but had promised to be more neighborly on the return. The chief, interested in gaining a prominent place in the American trade system, was not about to let that promise go unfulfilled. Early on the morning of April 28, he arrived at the expedition's camp with "a very eligant white horse" as a gift for Clark. Like The Dalles traders, the chief had his eye on acquiring some kettles. Since the expedition was dangerously short on cooking pots, the Indian was offered instead Clark's sword, one hundred rounds of ammunition, and some trade goods. If the captains thought this exchange would satisfy Yelleppit and the expedition might then cross the Columbia, they were mistaken.

The Walula chief was not ready to let Lewis and Clark slip so easily from his grasp. He was willing to provide horses, food, canoes, and information but his price called for the Americans to stay in camp for at least an extra day. Yelleppit artfully recalled the promise made a year ago. An extra day spent with him would hardly make any difference in travel plans. Just how much the presence of Lewis and Clark meant to Walula prestige became plain when Yelleppit revealed that he had invited a large party of Yakimams for a grand feast and dance. Once again, the explorers proved the greatest tourist attraction in western America. Sensing that it would be both impolitic and impolite to disappoint Yelleppit, Lewis and Clark agreed to spend a day before attempting a river crossing. Talks with the Walulas were simplified by the presence of a female Shoshoni prisoner who provided the necessary translation link between Sacagawea and the Sahaptian-speaking Walulas. "We conversed with them," wrote Lewis, "for several hours and fully satisfyed all their enquiries with rispect to ourselves and the objects of our pursuit." Throughout the day, Clark practiced medicine, "a great wonder" to the Walulas, as Ordway noted. The day ended as a group of one hundred Yakimas came for an evening of dancing and singing, much of it led by a Walula shaman who declared that communication with the moon spirit had enabled him to predict the arrival of the Americans. In the firelight and shadow of that festive night, the entire expedition may have set aside their knowledge that the Lolo Trail and the Bitterroots loomed ahead. [16]

In the last days of April, the explorers crossed the Columbia and began a northeastern trek toward the Snake-Clearwater junction. They were now blessed with twenty-three "excellent young horses," most of them from the Walulas. By the first of May, they were along the Touchet River near present-day Waitsburg, Washington. Two days later, up Pataha Creek east of present-day Pomeroy, Washington, the expedition met a Nez Perce known to them as Wearkkoomt. More properly named Apash Wyakaikt or Flint Necklace, he had heard that Lewis and Clark were on the way and was eager to greet them. Although their journals did not mention it at the time, Apash Wyakaikt had evidently gone by land ahead of the expedition in October 1805 to announce their arrival at the Snake-Columbia confluence. Lewis was convinced that those efforts were "very instrumental in procuring us a hospitable and friendly reception among those natives." Not even rain, snow, hail, and scanty rations could diminish what must have been the expedition's pleasure at knowing they would soon be with the Nez Perces on the Clearwater. [17]

The weather and the dog-meat rations did not improve as the explorers slowly made their way toward the Clearwater. In the hard going of steep and narrow paths, men and animals slipped and stumbled. One packhorse loaded with irreplaceable ammunition fell into a creek, but that mysterious Lewis and Clark luck held and neither horse nor load was damaged. In the afternoon of May 4, the party arrived at the lodges of another Nez Perce familiar from a year before. Tetoharsky, along with Twisted Hair, had provided invaluable help on the westward voyage. From Tetoharsky's kin, Lewis and Clark now learned that they should cross the Snake at this point and then follow the Clearwater on the northeast side to where Twisted Hair had pastured the expedition's herd of horses. Knowing that more horses were close by may have improved morale, dampened by a night so cold and disagreeable that the Nez Perces huddled around Lewis and Clark's fire "in great numbers insomuch that we could scarcely cook or keep ourselves warm." [18]

On the following day, May 5, the explorers plodded along the Clearwater. Their enquiries at Nez Perce mat lodges for food found the larders nearly bare. And many Nez Perces resented the way the strangers crowded into the lodges, disregarding both etiquette and their obvious poverty. But at one of the lodges Lewis and Clark found an unexpected ally. On the westbound journey, Clark had done a good deal of doctoring among the Nez Perces . One of those he had medicated had "never ceased to extol the virtues of our medicines and the skill of my friend Captain Clark as a phisician." Ointments and salves now proved powerful agents as dozens of ailing Nez Perces began to line up for consultations with "their favorite phisician." Lewis doubted the efficacy of Clark's medicine chest but justified "this deception for they will not give us any provision without compensation in merchandize and our stock is now reduced to a mere handfull."

Provisions, especially dog meat, were what the expedition desperately needed. The Nez Perces did not usually eat dog and found it amusing that the explorers relished it. That amusement very nearly sparked a serious argument when a Nez Perce prankster "very impertinently" threw a scrawny puppy toward Lewis. Angered by the act and the general laughter it provoked, Lewis caught the dog and threw it back at the Indian "with great violence." At the same time, the explorer brandished his tomahawk and made signs that if another dog grew wings the Indian would suffer for it. With undisguised arrogance, Lewis recorded that he then continued lunch "on dog" without further interruption.

Later that afternoon, the expedition reached a large mat lodge measuring 15 by 156 feet. Holding thirty families, this Nez Perce long house was home to many in the band of Neeshneparkkeook, or Cutnose, who had gotten his name as the result of a wound suffered in combat with the Shoshonis . Although not especially impressed with either his physique or his intelligence, Lewis and Clark gave Cutnose a small medal. Perhaps more important, the explorers met a Shoshoni taken prisoner by the Nez Perces . With this man as translator, it was now possible to have direct talks with the Nez Perces without relying on signs. The first piece of information that came from the Shoshoni translator was worrisome. He indicated that at least one Nez Perce elder believed Lewis and Clark were "bad men and had come to kill them." Knowing that such rumors had to be squelched, the captains were pleased when Flint Necklace rejoined the party. [19]

For the next two days, the expedition traveled east along the Clearwater. As before, those were days of slim rations. Horses traded for Clark's eyewash were quickly butchered. Clark also had time to record accurate descriptions of Nez Perce clothing, burial practices, and hunting techniques. But just beneath that travel routine was some very disturbing news, something beyond horses or diplomacy. Everyone in the party could now see that the Bitterroots were covered with snow, an observation confirmed by several Nez Perces who reported, "The snow is yet so deep on the mountains that we shall not be able to pass them until after the next full moon or about the first of June." Describing this as "unwelcome intiligence," Lewis admitted that the diet of horsemeat and roots already had most of the expedition dreaming of those "fat plains of the Missouri" and home. [20]

It was not until the afternoon of May 8, some miles south of the Clearwater, that Lewis and Clark found lodges belonging to Twisted Hair. The captains expected to see not only him but horses as well. What greeted them instead was a long-simmering quarrel between Twisted Hair and Cutnose. No sooner had the explorers met Twisted Hair than he began to speak in a loud and angry voice. Cutnose's reply was equally heated. Lewis and Clark did not immediately understand the cause of the dispute but quickly realized that any delay in finding their horses might be serious. Moving to cut off the argument, the captains announced that they were going to march on to the first good water and bed down for the night. Hoping to reconcile them, they invited both Twisted Hair and Cutnose to come along.

Once at their evening camp, Lewis and Clark acted to mediate between the two quarrelling Indians. During the past several days, the explorers had heard rumors that their horses were scattered and the saddle and tack cache damaged. Putting Twisted Hair and Cutnose on good terms might clear the air and make rounding up the horses much easier. Because the young Shoshoni interpreter refused to take part in what he said was not his affair, Lewis and Clark had to rely on signs to mollify both parties. After Drouillard found Twisted Hair, the explorers listened first to his explanation. Twisted Hair claimed that no sooner had he taken possession of the expedition's horses than Cutnose and Tunnachemootoolt (Broken Arm) returned from a raid against the Shoshinis. Angry and jealous of the prestige Twisted Hair had gained by his association with the Americans, Cutnose and Broken Arm evidently had begun a long and wearing argument with the elderly Indian. Tired and upset by their complaints, Twisted Hair now admitted he had neglected the horses. Unsure how close to the truth his words were but unwilling to worsen a complex situation, Lewis and Clark reminded the Indian that his reward of two guns and ammunition was still available if he would locate the missing horses. The captains then sent Drouillard to fetch Cutnose. His story was predictably different. Cutnose charged that Twisted Hair was "a bad old man" who "woar two faces." According to Cutnose, Twisted Hair had allowed several young men to ride expedition horses hard enough to injure them. Cutnose insisted that he and Broken Arm had tried to protect the horses, but to no avail. Denied the services of their translator, Lewis and Clark could neither ascertain the full truth nor resolve the quarrel. Prudence suggested staying with Twisted Hair one day to allow him time to bring in the horses and then moving on to Broken Arm's lodge to pay him proper due. [21]

Letting each man tell his tale and giving at least surface credence to both was a happy compromise. On the following day, Twisted Hair sent two young men to bring in the expedition's horses. Although most were healthy, at least three showed signs of hard use. In the afternoon, Twisted Hair and Alexander Willard went out to recover saddles, tack, powder, and lead from a cache built the previous year. Happily, there were signs that the row between Twisted Hair and Cutnose had become a thing of the past. But against these good omens was the growing awareness that the expedition would be spending more time with the Nez Perces than first anticipated. Lewis and Clark's location on May 9 was unsuitable for a more permanent camp. Access to water, good pasture, and protection against weather and theft all required finding another site.

That the expedition had left Fort Clatsop too soon became painfully evident when the explorers set out on May 10 for Broken Arm's village. With eight inches of snow on the ground, horses slipped repeatedly along the hazardous trail. It was not until late in the afternoon that Lewis and Clark finally came down to Lawyer's Canon Creek and straggled into the Nez Perce settlement. Greeting them were an impressive Nez Perce chief and his people, framed by a large mat lodge and an American flag left behind the previous year. Cold and hungry, Lewis and Clark asked Broken Arm's help to restock the expedition's supplies. The chief responded by bringing roots and dried salmon, food that stirred memoires of agonizing indigestion and dysentery. He then graciously promised as many horses as needed for fresh meat.

While all this menu-planning was going on, the stage was being set for preliminary talks with the Nez Perces . Those councils moved a step closer when an important chief Lewis and Clark called Hohastillpilp arrived at Broken Arm's village with a party of fifty mounted warriors. More properly known as Hohots Ilppilp or the Bloody Chief, his village was some six miles away near the Clearwater. With Broken Arm, Cutnose, and Hohots Ilppilp present, Lewis and Clark decided to begin serious talks. Broken Arm and Hohots Ilppilp were first given medals. Using their Shoshoni interpreter, the explorers explained "the design and the importance of medals in the estimation of the whites as well as the red men who had been taught their value." Impressed by all this, and with his eye on gaining things more precious than medals, Broken Arm led the explorers to a council tepee. With a crowd of Indians packed into the lodge, everyone spent the rest of the evening eating prime horsemeat, smoking friendly pipes, and talking in a mixture of phrases and signs that were hastily translated. This council seemed to promise the kind of diplomatic success that had so often eluded Lewis and Clark. [22]

Early talks with Nez Perce chiefs prepared the way for two days of serious diplomatic exchange on May 11 and 12. If Lewis and Clark were unsure of their agenda at Fort Clatsop, they were more certain of their negotiating priorities with the Nez Perces and other plateau peoples. Participation in the American trade system, intertribal peace, and delegations of notables destined for the president's reception room were all on the list of subjects to be broached with the Nez Perces . It was an agenda that Lewis and Clark believed applicable to every native group. That such diplomacy—especially the dangerous practice of promising arms to traditional enemies—might have unforeseen and unpleasant consequences had not yet become plain to the Corps of Discovery diplomats.

With the arrival of Yoomparkkartim (Five Big Hearts), "a chief of great note," all major Nez Perce headmen in the immediate area were present. Lewis and Clark never lacked a flair for the dramatic, no matter how understated their journal entries. Borrowing from native cartographic techniques, the captains began the grand council by drawing a map of the country with charcoal on a stretched hide. Smoking, gift-giving, and the mapping revealed just how much the explorers had learned of Indian protocol. If past experience proved any guide, Lewis was responsible for making the formal presentation. Although his remarks were short and uncomplicated, translations proved "tedious" as every word passed through English, French, Hidatsa, Shoshoni , and Nez Perce speakers. Half the day was taken up getting Lewis's message across to the patient chiefs. The American officer presented four closely related points. Establishing trading posts, instituting intertribal peace, and preparing delegations were a trio of themes that had been repeated since the earliest days on the Missouri. The issue of American sovereignty was an unspoken part of the talks, although what had been said the previous day about the design and meaning of medals suggests that thoughts of sovereignty were not far from the Americans' minds. But there was a final point in Lewis's presentation that was both spoken and demonstrated. Throughout their long voyage Lewis and Clark were always at pains to show as forcefully as possible the military prowess and technological strength of the new republic. Parades, keelboat curiosities, telescopes, mirrors, and the omnipresent airgun were all for that purpose. "After the council was over," wrote Lewis, "we amused ourselves with showing them the power of magnatism, the spy glass, compass, watch, air gun and sundry other articles equally novel and incomprehensible to them." When one young and important warrior told the captains that he had "opened his ears to our councils and that our words had made his heart glad," Lewis and Clark must have believed that a major diplomatic victory was in the offing. [23]

The captains understood enough Indian political and diplomatic practice to realize that no immediate answer to the American plans could be expected. There had to be time for talk and a ceremonial acceptance of a consensus that was ultimately binding on none. Throughout the morning of Monday, May 12, chiefs and elders spoke their minds in a council that eventually proved to have far-reaching consequences for the Nez Perce people. The Nez Perce leaders assembled at Broken Arm's village certainly understood what was at stake. By 1806 there were about four thousand Nez Perces living in several autonomous bands. The predictable rhythms of their lives were increasingly challenged by the flood of firearms falling into the hands of Blackfeet and Atsina warriors. The Nez Perce situation was similar to that of Cameahwait's Lemhi Shoshonis . Both peoples desperately needed a place in the American trade system, if only to obtain guns and ammunition. In a plains and plateau world undergoing profound change, links to American traders promised what must have seemed cheap security. Several hours of talk behind him, Broken Arm emerged and set in motion one of the most dramatic moments in expedition history. Taking flour made from cous roots, the chief made a thick mush and then ladled it into "the kettles and baskets of all his people." After a long speech in which he explained the decisions reached in council, Broken Arm called on all who accepted those decisions to eat the mush. In a colorful line, Lewis observed, "All swallowed their objections if any they had very cheerfully with their mush." This was done to a background of women crying and tearing their hair, perhaps sensing that links with the strangers might bring unequal measures of safety and danger.

With ritual acceptance of the council's decisions, it was time for the Indians to present formally their views to Lewis and Clark. Because so many Nez Perces required medical attention, the captains decided that Clark would spend the rest of the day doctoring while Lewis pursued his diplomacy. The official orator for the Nez Perces was the elderly father of Hohots Ilppilp, a man of considerable prestige and political skill. Declaring that the Nez Perces now spoke with one heart and one mind, the old speaker presented a perceptive, critical evaluation of American proposals and native needs. He agreed that peace with neighboring tribes had real advantages. As if to underscore the unity of American and Nez Perce policies, he reported that in the summer of 1805 a Nez Perce delegation had gone to parley with Shoshonis along the Snake River. But those emissaries had been killed by Shoshoni warriors and the resulting raid against the Snake River people had counted forty-two Shoshonis dead and only three Nez Perce casualties. The blood of the slain peacemakers had been properly revenged and peace was now possible. But whether the old man meant peace as Lewis and Clark understood it or a temporary truce remained unclear. As they had along the Missouri, the explorer-diplomats unthinkingly assumed that "peace" meant the same thing on both sides of the cultural divide.

As the Nez Perce leadership understood it, the real issue was trade and security. Access to guns symbolized their concern. Speaking to that complex matter, the Nez Perce orator declared that his people were willing to travel on to the Missouri plains for trade. However, no Nez Perce was prepared to make such a trading journey unless there were solid assurances that Blackfeet and Atsina warriors were not lying in ambush along the trail. All of this meant arming the Nez Perces and making peace with those plains warriors already well armed by Canadian traders. That these two objectives were mutually exclusive may have been evident to some Nez Perces but not to Lewis and Clark. The old speaker pledged everlasting friendship to the Americans, saying that although the bands were poor, "their hearts were good." There may have been plenty of "good hearts" in evidence, but what the Nez Perces really wanted were guns. As for a delegation to the Federal City, that issue was unresolved. If the Americans could deliver weapons, then perhaps a long journey to see the chief of the seventeen fires would be worth the trouble and danger.

Lewis and Clark's fullest day of diplomacy since talks with Cameahwait ended with a flurry of eating, singing, dancing, and gambling. Pipes were passed, more gifts-exchanged, and Clark continued his medical ministrations. But in all this play and good feeling, there was one activity that especially fascinated many Nez Perce warriors. Firing rifles at targets drew their attention. The presence of native visitors on the weapons range was a clear indication of what lay behind so much of the talk during that day. When Lewis struck the mark twice from a range of 220 yards, those warriors could not help but be impressed with the weapons that might soon be in their hands. [24]

Lewis and Clark believed that their major diplomatic objectives with the Nez Perces had been accomplished. After the talks, they were increasingly concerned with the problem of deep snows in the Bitterroots. During the grand council, there were further reports that the Lolo Trail would not be passable for at least another month. Any hope of a quick passage over the mountains was now gone. A site had to be found for a camp among the Nez Perces , and arrangements had to be made for guides once the trail was open. Lewis and Clark hoped that by inviting Twisted Hair's family to live nearby, guides from his household might be hired. Following suggestions from several chiefs, they located a camping place along the north bank of the Clearwater River near modern-day Kamiah, Idaho. This was an especially favorable site, providing access to good hunting grounds, fine pasture for horses, and the river when the salmon finally ran. The expedition's baggage was stored in the center of a depression made by an abandoned winter pit lodge. Although the expedition spent nearly a month (May 14–June 10, 1806) at this spot, Lewis and Clark never gave the camp a formal name. Tradition has called it Camp Chopunnish, Long Camp, or Camp Kamiah. Clark placed his seal of approval on the location by declaring himself "perfectly satisfied with our position." [25]

Although Camp Chopunnish was never much more than a collection of leaky brush wickiups, luggage pens, and a makeshift horse corral, it was the center of busy activity. Day by day there were more Indians who found a welcome at Camp Chopunnish than at Fort Clatsop. Contacts with the Nez Perces ranged from trade and medicine to sport and sex. As they waited for snows to melt up in the Bitterroots, members of the expedition developed close ties with these Indians.

Despite the best efforts of expeditionary hunters led by George Drouillard, it was plain by early May that a reliable trade in foodstuffs had to be established with the Nez Perce villages. It was this trade that most often provided common ground for explorer and Indian. What to offer for stocks of camas and cous roots and the much-sought-after cous bread proved a serious problem. Nez Perce tastes in trade goods did not run to "baubles," as Lewis called them. Beads, armbands, and other luxury items failed to attract much attention. The practical Nez Perces sought knives, kettles, blankets, and moccasin awls. But the expedition's supplies of those tools and utensils were short, and if Lewis and Clark hoped to foster a dependable trade, canny substitutions had to be found. [26]

By mid-May, as the expedition's hunting fortunes further declined, Lewis and Clark organized trading parties to visit the Nez Perce villages. Typical of those ventures was the first mission to Broken Arm's village. Toussaint Charbonneau, John Thompson, Peter Wiser, John Potts, and Hugh Hall were given moccasin awls, knitting pins, and brass armbands to exchange for cous roots and bread. After a day of haggling, "our marketers" returned near dark with six bushels of roots and bread. On May 20, Frazer was sent on the second trade foray. He reported that the Nez Perces were apparently ready to depart from their usual utilitarian demands and might be wooed with brass uniform buttons. Buttons promptly vanished from the expedition's clothing as each man gathered what he could to make trade bargains. Lewis and Clark evidently feared that such a scramble might produce economic chaos and reduced morale. On May 21, the captains collected all the remaining goods and carefully parceled them out to each man. Every member of the Corps of Discovery was given one awl, one knitting pin, half an ounce of vermilion paint, two needles, a few skeins of thread, and one yard of ribbon. With this "slender stock," each man was to make any agreements he could to obtain the food necessary for the Lolo Trail passage. [27]

In the last days of May, small expedition parties made regular trips to Indian camps along the Clearwater. Trading was often difficult as Nez Perce folk soon learned that the laws of supply and demand favored them. Gass admitted that roots and bread could only be bought "at a very dear rate." Hardpressed to meet Nez Perce business demands, some men ingeniously fashioned moccasin awls from small links of a discarded chain. The Nez Perce trade was not only difficult but dangerous as well. When Charbonneau and Jean Baptiste Lepage went up the Clearwater to trade at a village some eight miles away, they experienced, in Lewis's words, "a broken voyage." Things began to go wrong for the two French traders when their packhorse slipped and fell into the Clearwater. Terrified, the horse bolted and swam across the river. An Indian on the opposite shore helpfully tried to drive the horse back toward the traders, but the pack cinches broke and precious cargo was lost. And to compound troubles, a raft loaded with roots destined for Charbonneau and Lapage struck a rock and capsized. "The river having fallen heir to both merchandize and roots," wrote Lewis laconically, "our traders returned with empty hands." The troubles experienced by Potts, Shannon, and John Collins were far more serious. While attempting to cross the Clearwater, their canoe caught the full force of the current and slammed into a tree. Potts was "an indifferent swimmer"; as he floundered in the river, the canoe quickly filled with water and sank. In the confusion three blankets, one blanket coat, and a supply of trade goods were lost. Efforts by Pryor and his men to raise the canoe and recover the goods failed. The loss of the blankets was indeed serious. As Gass explained, "The loss of these blankets is the greatest which hath happened to any individual since we began our voyage, as there are only three men in the party who have more than one blanket apiece." [28]

By the first days of June, the expedition's stocks of trade items were nearly gone. High prices, accidents, and continued poor hunting made business with the Nez Perces increasingly difficult and jeopardized the explorers along the Lolo Trail. "Having exhausted all our merchandize," wrote Lewis, "we are obliged to have recourse to every subterfuge in order to prepare in the most ample manner in our power to meet that wretched portion of our journey, the Rocky Mountains, where hungar and cold in their most rigorous forms assail the wearied traveller." Whether those "subterfuges" were the same as the tricks of trade employed by Clark along the Columbia is not plain in the journals. What is recorded is a desperate effort to find any objects that might attract the Indians' attention. Lewis and Clark cut the buttons from their own coats and made up measures of several medications. Those goods, along with some unused phials and tin boxes, were given to McNeal and York. When the two men returned bringing three bushels of roots and some cous bread, their success was "not much less pleasing to us than the return of a good cargo to an East India Merchant." [29] Less successful was a long trip undertaken by Ordway, Frazer, and Wiser to an Indian fishery at Wild Goose Rapids on the Snake River to trade for salmon. After a journey that lasted a week and covered some one hundred miles, Ordway's party returned with seventeen spoiled fish and a few cous roots. [30]

Throughout the first week of June, Lewis and Clark continued to pursue the Nez Perce trade. Believing that snows would be sufficiently melted within the next two weeks, the explorers redoubled their efforts to stockpile food for the mountain passage. But these efforts were hampered by few goods for trade and the failure of salmon to run on the Clearwater. Nothing could be done about the tardy fish, but many men in the party used considerable imagination to create "little notions" from bits and pieces of worn files, spare bullets, and tattered fish nets. These ventures in product design evidently paid off, much to Lewis and Clark's surprise. The captains, who had been so pessimistic a few days before, found that by June 6 the Corps had enough rations to dare the Lolo Trail. [31] The remaining trade centered on obtaining ropes for packsaddles, skin bags to hold provisions, and animal hair for saddle pads.

That the Nez Perces continued to have "good hearts" toward their Camp Chopunnish neighbors was the result of two expectations. Hope that ties to the Americans might bring a steady supply of trade goods, especially guns and ammunition, and some lessening of tensions with plains raiders clearly shaped the Indians' behavior. Only slightly less important for expedition– Nez Perce relations were the medical services Clark provided to countless Indian men, women, and children. Just how interested the Nez Perces were in his doctoring was evident even before Camp Chopunnish was established. As Clark explained it, cures accomplished during the westbound journey "raised my reputation and gives those nativs an exolted oppinion of my skill a a phisician." Quickly realizing that much of their future comfort and security depended on Nez Perce good will, the explorers were willing to continue the "deception" of Clark as the great healer. But Clark was not without scruples, and he maintained: "We take care to give them no article which can possibly injure them, and in many cases can administer and give such medicine and sirgical aid as will effectually restore them in simple cases." [32]

As the Nez Perces ' "favorite phisician," Clark had a waiting room filled with eager patients. Throughout the days at Camp Chopunnish, he saw a wide variety of diseases and disorders. Most common were sore eyes, rheumatism, strained muscles, and abrasions. But there were also more demanding medical problems, including serious abscesses, mental depression, and "disorders intirely out of the power of Medison." Determined to do what he could for those "poor afflicted wretches," Clark utilized simple medications and common-sense therapies. Those included various salves, elixirs, pills, and large quantities of eyewash. Laudanum (tincture of opium) was the most potent drug in the expedition's medicine chest. Clark also administered back rubs and on at least one occasion performed minor surgery on festering abscess. The fact that a party of Nez Perces once spent two days in the saddle to obtain some of Clark's famous eyewash is a reminder of how important his medical services were at Camp Chopunnish. [33]

Of all the Nez Perce cases seen by Clark, none was more dramatic or as well-documented as that of a paralyzed chief. This unnamed "chief of considerable note" first appeared at camp on May 11. With Clinical precision, Lewis and Clark described the Indian's symptoms and speculated on the cause of his apparent paralysis. "This man is incapable of moveing a single limb but lies like a corps in whatever position he is placed, yet he eats hartily, dejests his food perfectly, enjoys his understanding. His pulse are good, and has retained his flesh almost perfectly; in short were it not that he appears a little pale from having been so long in the shade, he might well be taken for a man in good health. I suspect that their confinement to a diet of roots may give rise to all the disorders of the nativs of this quarter except the Rhumitsism and Sore eyes, and to the latter of those, the state of debility incident to a vegitable diet may measureable contribute." Although betraying a cultural preference for red meat in the diet, in every other way the diagnosis represents a skillful piece of physiological observation. [34]

With this case Lewis and Clark learned the difference between successful diagnosis and effective therapy. The explorers were especially eager to provide good care for the chief. Success in treatment would further insure Nez Perce hospitality and support. But in a case as complex as this, they were quite unsure how to proceed. Notions about diet as the root cause of the man's immobility offered slight guidance for a condition that had already lasted five years. Clark first prescribed "simple cooling medicenes" for the chief. When these failed and the chief's relatives persisted in hoping for a cure, he gave several doses of sulphur and cream of tartar and proposed a regimen of daily cold baths. But in all of this Clark admitted that he was at a loss to deturmine what to do for this unfortunate man." In desperation, he suggested a few drops of laudanum and the expedition's version of chicken soup, a watery broth made from portable soup. [35]

A breakthrough of sorts came on May 24. After giving a powerful sweat bath to chronically ill William Bratton and seeing its positive results, the captains decided to try the treatment on the chief. But the sweating hole dug for Bratton proved too small for the chief. Stymied but not ready to admit defeat, Lewis and Clark urged relatives to take the chief to their larger sweat lodges. And reflecting current medical interest in the possible healing effects of electricity, Lewis declared that the chief "would be an excellent subject for electricity" and regretted that "I have it not in my power to supply it." [36]

Clark may have thought that, after his failure to sweat the chief, his advice to the anxious family might end the expedition's involvement. But Clark's reputation was too powerful for that, and when both patient and family lingered in camp, he was compelled to once again prescribe sulphur and cream of tartar and urge that the stricken chief be be taken home. When the latter suggestion was strongly resisted, it was agreed to attempt a second sweat. On the following day, May 27, the chief's father carefully enlarged the sweat pit. The man was then lowered into the pit with ropes and, despite considerable pain, the therapy seemed promising.

In the days that followed, the heat treatments were repeated. To the surprise of all, the chief gradually recovered use of his arms and hands. By the end of May, the man was washing his face and was able to move his toes and legs. As the expedition prepared to leave Camp Chopunnish in early June, the chief continued to report progress. Whether his improvement was sustained is not known, but the efforts of Lewis and Clark in this difficult case reenforced the positive image of the explorers in the minds of many Nez Perces . [37]

Busy with trade, medicine, and the demands of daily life, Lewis and Clark still found time to record something about the lives of their Indian hosts. As had become the rule in their ethnography, the explorers paid most attention to Nez Perce material culture. In references scattered throughout the Camp Chopunnish entries, Lewis and Clark commented on a variety of topics. Eating habits, domestic architecture, hunting techniques, and the Nez Perce passion for fine horses all found a place in their records. Clothing, saddles, and weapons were duly noted and described. Attitudes about old age, the protocol of diplomacy, and the custom of sacrificing horses at the death of a prominent person made the Nez Perces come alive in the journals. And the explorers took time to set down one vivid aural impression of native life. "The noise of their women pounding roots reminds me of a nail factory," wrote Lewis. [38]

Camp Chopunnish was second only to Fort Mandan as a place where Indians and explorers could enjoy each other's company. Although records for this period are neither as full nor as explicit as those kept at Fort Mandan, there is evidence strongly suggesting that the Americans stood "at ease" among the Clearwater people. Finding much to admire in Nez Perce customs, hospitality, and physique, Lewis and Clark felt comfortable enough to relax and enjoy some breathing time before assaulting the dreaded Lolo Trail. There were times for fiddling, dancing, and singing. On several occasions, the expedition's hunters shared meat with hungry Indians. In return, the natives showed the Americans a remarkably infection-free method for gelding horses. Even at Fort Mandan there had been bumps and scrapes in Indian-expedition relations. But if such troubles drifted into Camp Chopunnish, they were so minor as to elude all journal keepers. [39]

Even more elusive are the facts about sexual relations between men in the expedition and Nez Perce women. Among the Nez Perces , there were no strong sanctions for or against sex with whites. These plateau people used sex neither to seal trade bargains nor to gain spiritual power. The expedition's records during the winters with the Mandans and the Clatsops are filled with the pleasures and troubles of native affairs. But the Camp Chopunnish entries in all journals are oddly silent on what was from the beginning an accepted part of the life of the expedition. There seems little doubt that contacts more intimate than trading for roots took place during those early spring days. Sex usually made for good copy in the journals when it involved disease, personal trouble, or cultural misunderstanding. Since relations with the Nez Perces were amiable, whatever personal encounters took place may well have been mutually satisfactory.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece of evidence to suggest the presence of such liaisons is a photograph taken by the noted western cameraman William H. Jackson. Before the 1877 Nez Perce War, Jackson encountered a Nez Perce band and was introduced to a blue-eyed, sandy-haired man claiming to be William Clark's son. Sufficiently impressed, Jackson photographed the man. The assertion that Clark left a son behind along the Clearwater persisted, and when Chief Joseph's band surrendered to General Nelson Miles in 1877, one of the Nez Perce prisoners was pointed out as Clark's son. Although in no way conclusive, the story does reveal the continued positive reputation of Lewis and Clark among the Nez Perces well into the nineteenth century. Whether this particular man was indeed Clark's son or the child of another white explorer is beyond the power of existing historical evidence either to verify or deny. At the same time, the persistence of the tale hints at one more part of the physical life at Camp Chopunnish. [40]

Far less difficult to document were times of boisterous fun and athletic competition in what might be aptly described as the Camp Chopunnish Olympics. The men of the expedition had been selected, at least in part, for their sound constitutions. Despite long months of travel and often irregular diets, most remained in good condition. Their frontier and military backgrounds were filled with demanding physical conditioning as well as a tradition of competitive sports. The Nez Perce men equally admired strong bodies and tests of skill and strength. Early in June, as the expedition prepared to leave camp, the explorers and Indians staged an impromptu series of athletic contests. There had already been some target shooting, and now foot races were added to the schedule. Matched against a Nez Perce team that Lewis admitted was "very active" were sprinters George Drouillard and Reuben Field. But Indian runners proved very swift, and at least one was as fast as the best the Corps of Discovery had to offer. Following the races was a game Lewis and Clark described as "prison base," an activity much like "keep away" or "running bases." These good-natured competitions provided yet another chance for all in camp to enjoy simple pleasures. For the captains there was an additional benefit. As Lewis explained it, with the mountain crossing drawing near, those men who had become "rather lazy and slouthfull" needed some rigorous exercise. [41]

As May slipped into June and the time grew closer to leave Camp Chopunnish, there were several diplomatic questions still unanswered. Although Lewis and Clark certainly believed that most of the American proposals had been accepted, some issues had not yet received formal Nez Perce replies. Those included the expedition's requests for guides beyond the mountains, a Nez Perce group to accompany Lewis at least partway in his journey to negotiate with Atsina and Blackfeet bands, and a delegation to visit President Jefferson.

On June 4, as Broken Arm and several other chiefs prepared to leave for their own villages, Lewis and Clark reminded them of earlier promises to aid the expedition. The chiefs' reply revealed not so much second thoughts about an American trade and military alliance as some caution about the powers and abilities of untested new friends. Broken Arm carefully declined the invitation for some young warriors to accompany Lewis beyond Travelers' Rest, declaring that his hunters would not venture beyond the Bitterroots until late in the summer. He hinted that there was little hope for a Nez Perce delegation to go with Lewis. Although none of the chief's replies spelled defeat for American diplomacy, they did reveal a certain prudent wariness. The Nez Perces wanted American guns and the security they promised, but there were always those cries of fearful women to counsel caution. [42]

Not about to accept Broken Arm's words as a final answer, the captains decided to send Clark and a small party to parley once again with the chief. Receiving the Americans with unfailing hospitality, Broken Arm told Clark of the presence of many headmen from small and more distant villages who had not been at the grand council in early May. Broken Arm had thoughtfully invited them and now asked Clark to repeat to them the American plans. If Clark hoped that a larger audience and a second chance to explain federal policy might change some minds, he was wrong. Broken Arm repeated what he had said two days before: no large number of Nez Perces were about to accompany the expedition. The request for some warrior-diplomats to foster intertribal peace on the Marias could not be decided until a larger council met.

But Broken Arm did not want Clark to think the whole notion of peace with neighbors was now in doubt. The chief explained that, as a result of recent contacts with Shoshonis who desired peace with Nez Perce and Cayuse bands, a Nez Perce delegation had been sent toward the Snake River to negotiate such an agreement. Broken Arm promised he would never break that peace and to emphasize his good intentions presented Clark two ceremonial pipes—one a traditional Nez Perce pipe for the explorers and the other a fancy plains pipe with silver inlays for the Shoshonis . Knowing the significance of those pipes, Clark decorated the one destined for the Shoshonis with blue ribbon and white wampum to symbolize a mutual desire for peace. As he made his way back to camp, Clark may well have noted that, although American policy now seemed on firmer ground, the immediate need for guides over the treacherous Lolo Trail was yet unmet. [43]

From the first days at Camp Chopunnish, Lewis and Clark had maintained a close watch on snow conditions in the Bitterroots. The expedition's timetables called for a quick journey over the mountains. A long stay with the Nez Perces , no matter how pleasant, seriously endangered the homeward voyage. By the middle of May, both captains were looking for any sign to prove that the Lolo Trail would soon be passable. Clark reported: "I frequently consult the nativs on the subject of passing this tremendious barrier whic now present themselves to our view." Lewis anxiously eyed the level of the Clearwater River for some hint that snows were melting. In a moment of frustration, he lashed out at "that icy barrier which seperates me from my friends and Country, from all which makes life esteemable—patience, patience." Lewis might well have counseled patience for himself and the whole party. Both Nez Perce and expedition hunters reported deep snows that might not melt until at least mid-June. [44]

As mid-June approached, the entire expedition busied itself preparing for the Lolo assault. By June 6, Lewis and Clark felt certain that their food stocks were sufficient to meet any challenge on the trail. But two days later, all those hopes and plans suffered an unexpected setback. A Nez Perce reported that the trail beyond Weippe Prairie was still so deep with snow that any passage during June was courting disaster. As the Indian explained, "If we attempted it sooner our horses would be at least three days travel without food on the top of the mountain." Lewis admitted, "This information is disagreeable inasmuch as it causes some doubt as to the time at which it will be proper for us to set out." A hurried and anguished meeting to discuss tactics must have followed that unwelcome Nez Perce road report. When Lewis and Clark had held a similar talk in early June 1805 to decide whether the Marias River was the true Missouri channel, they had made the right choice. But in a rush to get home, and increasingly fearful of delay, the captains now blundered into the wrong decision. "As we have no time to loose we will wrisk the chanches and set out as early as the Indians generally think practicable or the middle of this month." Risking the chances was dangerous enough; without Indian guides, the expedition was moving toward a rendezvous with the Lolo that not even the old Lewis and Clark luck could overcome. [45]

The decision to leave Camp Chopunnish against Indian advice and without guides was dead wrong, but it was very popular with the rank and file in the Corps of Discovery. Lewis insisted that "our party seem much elated with the idea of moving on towards their friends and Country, they all seem alirt in their movements today." But as the day of departure approached, both captains began to have second thoughts. "Even now," said Clark, "I shudder with the expectation [of] great difficuelties in passing those Mountains." Lewis was typically more explicit in his appraisal of the situation.

I am still apprehensive that the snow and the want of food for our horses will prove a serious imbarrassment to us as at least four days journey of our rout in these mountains lies over hights and along a ledge of mountains never intirely distititue of snow. Every body seems anxious to be in motion, convinced that we have not now any time to delay if the calculation is to reach the United States this season; this I am detirmined to accomplish if within the compass of human power. [46]

That determination now brought Lewis and Clark to risk their chances on what all remembered as a harsh, unforgiving trail.

On June 15, the explorers rode from Camp Chopunnish to Weippe Prairie. Even that reasonably easy path proved hazardous as spring rains made the ground slippery. Fallen timber blocked much of the route and Lewis was forced to concede that "our march [was] slow and extreemly laborious." On the following day, as the expedition moved to higher elevations, the full impact of snowy conditions on the trail became plain. Although the Lolo vanished in deep snow, the expedition was determined to press on. But even Lewis began to question such foolhardy valor, and at the end of an exhausting day wrote that the Bitterroot snow "augers but unfavorably with rispect to the practicability of passing the mountains." [47]

June 17 proved a day of decision and defeat. Floundering in drifts sometimes twelve to fifteen feet deep, each member of the party musth have recalled those terrible days of September 1805 when it seemed the Lolo would be a cold grave. With men near exhaustion and horses unable to breast the drifts, Lewis and Clark held another hurried conference. Lewis made the choices and chances painfully clear. "If we proceeded and should get bewildered in these mountains the certainty was that we should loose all our horses and consequently our baggage, instruments perhaps our papers and thus eminently wrisk the loss of the discoveries which we had already made if we should be so fortunate as to escape with life." The needed on the compass of human power had swung about and now counseled retreat. Bested by the bitter snows, the expedition "a good deel dejected" turned around and headed back toward Weippe Prairie, there to wait for Indian guides hired by Drouillard and Shannon. Patrick Gass caught the mood at the end of the day when he wrote that most in the party were "melancholy and disappointed." Camping that night in a chill rain that edged toward sleet, Lewis could only recall, "This is the first time since we have been on this long tour that we have ever been compelled to retreat or make a retrograde march." [48]

After the difficult and depressing trek back to Weippe Prairie, the expedition's fortunes took an upward turn. Drouillard brought three Nez Perce guides into camp. In return for guns and ammunition, these men promised to direct the explorers at least as far as Travelers' Rest. Lewis and Clark were told that a peace had been arranged between Nez Perce , Walula, and Shoshoni bands. But news about fresh engagements with Atsina warriors was troubling. The Nez Perce guides claimed that hostile raiders had recently killed many Shoshonis and Flatheads . Those deaths added both danger and urgency to Lewis's diplomacy on the Marias. [49]

Led by experienced Nez Perces , the expedition made a safe and swift passage over those tremendous mountains. By June 29 the explorers were at the Lolo Hot Springs enjoying the recuperative powers of steaming water on aching muscles and bruised feet. Once at Travelers' Rest on July 1, Lewis and Clark put the final touches on an intricate plan that promised to fulfill many of their objectives and test their field skills.

The captains "consurted" the following strategy. Lewis would take a small party overland to the Great Falls of the Missouri "by the most direct route." Privates Thompson, Goodrich, and McNeal would remain at the falls to retrieve and refurbish equipment cached in 1805. In the meantime, Lewis would take a handful of volunteers up the Marias River to chart its northern course, explore the country, and contact the Blackfeet and Atsina Indians. After that dangerous reconnaissance, Lewis hoped to rejoin the Great Falls detachment on the Missouri for a grand reunion with Clark's party at the mouth of the Yellowstone.

Although Lewis's Blackfeet adventure on the Two Medicine River was more dramatic than anything Clark undertook, Clark's assignment was every bit as important. He was to proceed south from Travelers' Rest through the Bitterroot Valley and eventually cross the Great Divide to Three Forks. At the forks, Clark planned to take his party overland to find the Yellowstone and explore its course to the Missouri. At the same time, a group under Ordway would travel by canoe from Three Forks to Great Falls for a linkup with the men left by Lewis. Eventually the whole Corps of Discovery would reassemble at the Yellowstone-Missouri confluence. [50]

One last detail remained to be done that day at Travelers' Rest. Thinking about the complex diplomacy ahead with Missouri River villagers and Sioux bands, Lewis and Clark decided that the Nor'Wester Hugh Heney might prove a valuable ally in the struggle either to win or to cow the Sioux . In a long letter to Heney, the explorers offered him the office of Indian agent. More specifically, the captains wanted the trader to use his influence to wean Sioux chiefs away from British merchants like Murdoch Cameron and bring them into the St. Louis trade system. At the same time, they hoped Heney could organize a delegation of chiefs and elders for a journey to Washington. Reflecting Lewis's ideas on American trade along the Missouri, the letter urged Heney to employ every means to pacify or at least neutralize Teton power. So long as the Sioux choked traffic from St. Louis, the American fur trade would slowly die. Lewis and Clark explained to Heney that American Indian policy was based on peace and reconciliation. But the iron fist of coercion was undisguised in the letter. If the Sioux did not allow passage of American trade goods, Lewis and Clark were "positive that she [the United States] will not long suffer her citizens to be deprived of the free navigation of the Missouri by a fiew comparatively feeble bands of Savages who be so illy advised as to refuse her profered friendship and continue their depridation on her citizens who may in future assend or decend the river." The captains' claims that Sioux warriors amounted to "comparatively feeble bands of Savages" would have surprised men like Black Buffalo and the Partisan who had effectively derailed American policy two years before. The letter suggests that when it came to understanding plains Indian politics, the explorers had still not learned the lessons of the Teton confrontation. [51]

One day after leaving Travelers' Rest, Lewis and his party were reminded of the dangers that lay ahead. Lewis knew that entering Blackfeet and Atsina territories was risky, but when his Nez Perce guides left him and warned that the "Pahkees" would "cut us off," the full weight of that danger came home. Two days later, when Lewis and his men were at the Big Blackfoot River, they saw so many abandoned lodges as to become "much on our guard both day and night." Lewis's concern was justified, but by the time his detachment reached the Great Falls of the Missouri on July 15, they still had seen no Indians. Once at the falls, Lewis selected Reuben and Joseph Field and George Drouillard to take part in what was to be the most violent Indian encounter in expedition history. [52]

Leaving Great Falls on July 17, the explorers rode northwest, believing this route would bring them to the Teton or Rose River and then on to the Marias. On Montana shortgrass plains as flat as "a well shaved bowling green," Lewis and his men maintained a "strict lookout" for any Indians. By July 21 a disappointed Lewis realized that the course of the Marias was not as northward as he had hoped. That unhappy discovery was overshadowed on the following days as the explorers found more signs that Indians were nearby. When the ever-watchful Drouillard located a cluster of eleven recently abandoned skin lodges, Lewis assumed that these were made by Atsina buffalo hunters camped along the main branch of the Marias. At Camp Disappointment on July 25, there were even more traces of recent native presence. As he had once before, Lewis wrote that he was "extreemly fortunate in not having met with these people." [53]

The captain's good fortune ran out the next day, July 27. Leaving Camp Disappointment, Lewis rode with the Field brothers while Drouillard scouted the Two Medicine River valley. At midafternoon, as Lewis forded Badger Creek and came up a sharp rise, he spotted to his far left some thirty horses, about half having saddles. The captain quickly drew out his small telescope for a closer look. He saw "a very unpleasant sight." Standing out against the afternoon sky were several Indians looking intently down toward the Two Medicine River valley and its cottonwood fringe. These Indians were so fixed on watching Drouillard that they did not appear to notice Lewis and his companions. Lewis immediately decided to make the best of an uncertain situation and proceeded to "approach them in a friendly way." [54]

To signal their intention, Lewis sent Joseph Field riding on ahead with an American flag. At that moment, the Indians saw the Lewis forces and became frightened. As Lewis later explained, they "appeared to run about in a very confused manner as if much allarmed." Plainly fearing an attack, several Indians came down toward the horses and drove them back up to the summit. If the Indians were fearful of hostilities, Lewis was equally concerned. He believed that there might be at least as many warriors as there were horses—surely a daunting thought. Lewis was also convinced that any attempt to escape from such a large, well-armed war party would invite disaster. Riding on, the Americans came to within a quarter of a mile of the warriors before the Indians made any move toward them.

Some hint of what was going on in the minds of the Piegan warriors comes from an interview conducted in the early 1900s by the ethnologist George Bird Grinnell with an elderly Piegan named Wolf Calf. Wolf Calf was the youngest member of the war party, and his recollections of that meeting with Lewis were still vivid and remarkably accurate. The Indian admitted that his companions were both surprised and frightened when they saw Lewis's men but decided to act in "a friendly fashion" for at least a short time. That decision was made plain when one Indian galloped toward Lewis at full tilt. Seeing this and understanding it was not a general charge, Lewis dismounted and extended his hand to the Piegan. The warrior eyed Lewis and then cantered his horse back to the main Blackfeet group. Whatever this scout said to his fellows was not recorded by Wolf Calf, but the fact that all eight soon came riding to meet the Americans perhaps suggests that the Indians were now confident of their own security.

As the Blackfeet neared Lewis and the Field brothers, the captain remained certain that additional warriors were still hiding close at hand. Claiming an expertise that was not really his, Lewis told Joseph and Reuben that these Indians were "Minnetarees of Fort de Prairie" or Atsinas. Using language filled with more swagger than wisdom, Lewis pronounced his willingness to "resist to the last extremity prefering death to that of being deprived of my papers instruments and gun." Lewis, once again on his horse, advanced slowly and met the one Indian who was ahead of the rest. Both men cautiously shook hands and then moved on to use the same welcome with those behind. This accomplished, Lewis dismounted. Perhaps thinking this signaled the beginning of a parley, the Indians asked for pipes and tobacco. Those supplies were with Drouillard who was still down along the Two Medicine. While one Indian joined Reuben Field to find Drouillard, Lewis tried his hand at some sign language. Inquiring as to what tribe these men belonged, Lewis understood their answer to be that they were Atsinas. Although unquestionably they were Piegans, there are two possible explanations for Lewis's faulty identification. Because the expedition's most skilled sign language interpreter was still down in the river valley, Lewis may have simply misunderstood what was being signed. It is equally possible that the Piegans, already thinking about stealing guns and horses, hoped to shift the blame on other Indians. Whatever the case, Lewis's attempt at conversation as well as his handing out of medals, flags, and handkerchiefs did little to calm the edgy Piegans. They seemed "more allarmed at this accedental interview than we were." Still worried about more warriors, and with evening approaching, Lewis suggested leaving high ground for a camp nearer the river. Guiding their horses down steep bluffs made more dangerous by loose, slippery gravel, the explorers and their nervous Blackfeet hosts made their way to three solitary cottonwood trees near the Two Medicine River.

At those trees which still stand near the river, the Blackfeet put up a makeshift shelter of buffalo skins. Then the Indians invited Lewis's party to join them. Lewis was anxious to learn as much as possible from the Piegans. Using Drouillard's signs, he conducted "much conversation" inside the hide wickiup that night. The Blackfeet said that they were part of a large band camped along the Marias. Lewis must have perked up when he heard that this band had a white trader in camp. He may well have urged Drouillard to press the Piegans for more details about Blackfeet-Canadian trade. What Lewis learned simply reenforced Jefferson's worst fears. Agents of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company were firmly entrenched on the northern plains and were rapidly extending their influence throughout the region. The Blackfeet made regular visits to posts like Buckingham House and Rocky Mountain House along the North Saskatchewan River. Those Indians brought to the "Northern White Men" wolf and beaver pelts for guns, ammunition, and alcohol. Their loyalty to the Canadians made it clear that American fur traders would find this part of the northern plains a hard market to crack. [55]

Although what Lewis heard form the Piegans worried him, what he said frightened them. Explaining that he came from the east and had been beyond the mountains to the great ocean, Lewis unwittingly dropped a geo-political bombshell by declaring that the Blackfeet's traditional enemies—the Nez Perces , Shoshonis , and Kutenais—were now united by an American-inspired peace. Even more shocking to Piegan ears was word that these united tribes would be getting guns and supplies from Yankee traders. If Lewis thought the Blackfeet would receive such news with glad hearts and then join an American alliance, he gravely misjudged western realities. That night along the Two Medicine the explorer, in effect, announced the clash of empires had come to the Blackfeet. After more than twenty years of unchallenged power on the plains made possible by Canadian guns, the Blackfeet now faced a profound threat to their power and survival. Unaware that this was a frontal assault on Blackfeet influence, Lewis invited the warriors to help form a delegation of chiefs and elders for additional talks in Washington. To make that offer more attractive, he promised ten horses and much tobacco to those who ventured east to see the great chief of the seventeen fires. But all this naive talk did not hide the fact that Lewis and his men were among well-armed Piegans whose intentions were unclear. Had the captain known what young Wolf Calf knew that night—that a decision had been made to steal the expedition's guns—the explorer might have doubled the watch. [56]

In the chill dawn hours of July 27, Joseph Field struggled to fight back sleep and keep his watch. As soon as it was light, the Piegans were up and crowding around the fire. Intent on watching them, Field carelessly laid his gun behind him and close to his sleeping brother Reuben. One of the Indians, seeing the gun unguarded, slipped behind Joseph and quietly took the weapon. That act was a signal for other Indians to take guns belonging to Lewis and Drouillard. Still unnoticed, the Piegans then attempted to make good their escape with valuable booty. It was only then that Joseph Field saw what was happening and shouted to rouse his sleeping brother. Reuben, armed only with a broad-blade knife, gave angry chase. He proved a faster runner than a Piegan named Side Hill Calf. Field caught the Indian, pulled the guns away, and in a moment of fury thrust his knife into the man's chest. When an excited Reuben Field told John Ordway late the next day about the deed, he said that Side Hill Calf "drew but one breath [and] the wind of his breath followed the knife and he fell dead."

But Side Hill Calf's violent end was only the beginning of confusion and bloodletting around the lonely cottonwoods. Awakened by all the shouting, Drouillard saw an Indian making off with his rifle and shot pouch. Springing up, the Frenchman yelled, "Damn you let go my gun," and wrested it from the Piegan's hands. That shout awakened Lewis, who by his own admission had been in "a profound sleep." Still groggy, Lewis demanded to know what was going on. What he saw was explanation enough as Drouillard scuffled with the Indian. Going to aid the interpreter, Lewis reached for his rifle only to find it missing. He then drew his horse pistol and began to run after one of the fleeing Piegans. Quickly overtaking him, Lewis leveled his pistol at the Indian and demanded return of the rifle. The hapless thief was about to do as ordered when the Field brothers, still boiling with anger, came up and asked permission to shoot the Indian. Lewis wisely refused a similar request from Drouillard, who had now captured the would-be robber of his weapon.

It now appeared that the Piegan plan had been thwarted and the Blackfeet might quietly retire. If Lewis believed that, he was soon jolted back to a harsher reality. Once the Indians saw that the Americans had all their guns back, the Blackfeet turned their attention to the expedition's horses. Losing guns was serious enough, but without horses Lewis and his men would be stranded in a difficult country. For the Piegans, it seemed a last chance to rescue some honor and bring home valuable prizes. Now they threatened the survival of the American detachment and the ultimate success of the whole western venture. Understanding the stakes, Lewis ordered his men to open fire on any Indians trying to make off with horses. Whie the Field brothers and Drouillard pursued some Blackfeet, Lewis ran after two Piegans doing just that. Nearly out of breath from the long dash, Lewis called on the Indians to release the stolen horses or he would fire. One Indian hid behind some mushroom-shaped rocks and called to his friend, standing about thirty paces from Lewis. That armed Indian suddenly turned around and squarely faced Lewis. Certain he was about to be attacked, the captain shot his adversary through the stomach. Stunned by what was plainly a mortal wound, the warrior fell to his knees. Then suddenly he raised himself up on one elbow and fired a desperate shot at Lewis. But from his awkward position the dying man could not take clean aim and the ball went whistling just over the captain's head. "Being bearheaded," recalled Lewis, "I felt the wind of his bullet very distinctly."

As quickly as the Two Medicine fight had exploded in two deaths, it was over. Whatever the combatants on both sides felt about each other, all were united by a common desire—to escape as quickly as possible. Fleeing north, the six surviving Piegans must have feared that more armed whites were on the way. Lewis was equally fearful of Blackfeet revenge. He ordered the horses rounded up and decided to use the stronger Indian ones to make good a speedy escape. While Drouillard and the Field brothers prepared the horses, Lewis gathered up shields, bows, and arrows abandoned by the Piegans. He burned the weapons and in a final act of defiance put a peace medal around Side Hill Calf's neck so that "they might be informed who we were." As if to count coup on the Blackfeet, Lewis cut off the amulets from the shields and took them along as spoils of war. [57]

What remained now was to escape the Two Medicine killing ground. Ahead lay two full days of hard riding over broken ground to reach Ordway's party on the Missouri. When Lewis and his men finally reached the great river on the afternoon of July 28, they had "the unspeakable satisfaction to see our canoes coming down." Lewis and his tired companions left behind at the Two Medicine the seed of a myth that has long shaped popular understanding of the Blackfeet fight. That myth links the Two Medicine encounter with later Blackfeet-American hostilities. As the story goes, the violence directed against American fur traders in the years after Lewis and Clark was the result of Piegan revenge wreaked on the killers of Side Hill Calf and his unnamed fellow warrior. The death of George Drouillard at Three Forks in 1810 at the hands of a Blackfeet war party has been used to strengthen the claim for an undying Indian vengeance.

The Two Medicine myth was not the product of anything either the explorers or their contemporaries wrote about the fight or about later trapper troubles. Rather, the tale appears to have its genesis in the fertile imagination of Washington Irving. In his Astoria, Irving claimed that the Blackfeet had "conceived an implacable hostility to the white men, in consequence of one of their warriors having been killed by Captain Lewis, while attempting to steal horses." When David H. Coyner published his The Lost Trappers in 1847, he repeated Irving's claim and added, "The act created an implacable hatred for the whites from that day till this." By the time Elliott Coues produced his edition of Nicholas Biddle's History in 1893, the legend was in full bloom. Coues gave his stamp of approval to the tale in a footnote citing the Irving account and stories he heard on the northern Montana frontier in 1874. Although historians from Hiram Chittenden to more recent scholars have discredited this interpretation of native behavior and have suggested more persuasive explanations, the myth continues to be repeated in popular accounts of the expedition as well as in an occasional serious study. [58]

As Alvin Josephy, Jr., pointed out in 1965, the key to understanding Blackfeet actions toward American traders comes from something Lewis himself said that July night around the fire along the Two Medicine. After telling the Piegans that their traditional enemies had been united in a peace promoted by American diplomats, Lewis dropped the other shoe. Traders from St. Louis were going to sell guns to those united tribes, thus challenging the place of the Piegan, Blood, and Siksika peoples. All of that seemed to come terribly true in subsequent years. By 1807–1808, men working for St. Louis entrepreneurs were busy trading with Blackfeet rivals. When a former member of the expedition, John Colter, joined in an 1808 battle with Crow and Flathead warriors against the Blackfeet, the message was not lost on anyone. It may well have been that those merchants in places like Rocky Mountain House saw to it that the import of that message was fully understood. In the face of a massive assault on their plains empire, Blackfeet warriors hardly had time to think of avenging Side Hill Calf and his unfortunate companion. Lewis was unwittingly the prophet of events like the 1821 Immell-Jones massacre; he was not their cause. The bloody fray on the morning of July 27 provides a window into the ever-unstable balance of plains power. Although Blackfeet revenge against Americans for the deeds of Reuben Field and Meriwether Lewis may satisfy the modern writer's sense of historical symmetry, it was the more potent forces of guns and international trade that made the Blackfeet feared by a generation of American mountain men. [59]

It was not until noon on August 12, 1806, that the Corps of Discovery reassembled. Much had happened since those days at Travelers' Rest. Clark's party had explored the Yellowstone, the plan for Pryor to carry a letter to Hugh Heney had misfired when Crow Indians stole expedition horses, and Lewis had been wounded in a freak hunting accident. But now on the Missouri below the Yellowstone, the company was whole again. What remained of its Indian business was the same thorny problem that had occupied so much time during the winter with the Mandans. Establishing peace among Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara villagers and the consequences of that peace were at the heart of that problem. Lewis and Clark had not abandoned their commitment to a villager alliance aimed at eliminating or reducing Sioux influence. The explorers thought they had successfully planted the seeds of that policy during their first winter. In truth, the alliance and the tactics to execute it were no more realistic in 1806 than they had been in 1804. But realism had never been part of the expedition's Indian policy. As the explorer-diplomats began their final talks with the Indians, there was no reason to think that they might suddenly understand the Missouri facts of life. [60]

For three days beginning on August 14, William Clark carried on constant and sometimes difficult negotiations with Mandan and Hidatsa leaders. Neither cast nor lines had changed much since the explorers and the Indians had met during the winter of 1804–1805. The issues—trade, sovereignty, and the villager alliance—were the same. Black Cat, Sheheke, Black Moccasin, Little Raven, and Le Borgne were familiar faces from the earlier scene. Believing that the Mandan chief Black Cat was the key to American success, Clark quickly sought him out after paying brief calls at the villages of Metaharta and Mahawha. Black Cat greeted Clark with customary warmth, and together the two men shared a summer squash and smoked a friendly pipe.

Anxious to begin talks on the delegation issue as soon as possible, Clark detailed Charbonneau to call on Hidatsa chiefs while Drouillard was sent to Sheheke's village to hire René Jusseaume as council interpreter. When Jusseaume arrived at the expedition's camp just above Matootonha village, the talks began. Following a familiar agenda, Clark first renewed the invitation to visit Washington and speak with the president. Black Cat agreed with such a journey would be important but insisted that the price in danger exacted by Teton Sioux warriors was too high. It was just those kinds of fears that Clark sought to allay. Claiming more power than either the expedition or the United States actually had, he told Black Cat that the Americans "would not suffer those Indians [the Sioux ] to hurt any of our red children who should think proper to accompany us." Bent on making promises even more difficult to keep, Clark offered continued federal military protection against hostile raiders after the chiefs returned home. To make American proposals more palatable, Clark reminded Black Cat that there would be lavish gifts for all who ventured so far from home.

This exchange was interrupted by the arrival of Le Borgne. If there was one man the explorers had failed to impress during the Mandan winter, it was this powerful and astute Hidatsa chief. That Le Borgne now came without much coaxing illustrated his recognition that some accommodation might be necessary with the persistent strangers from downriver. Knowing how important this moment was, Clark rounded up whatever other chiefs he could find and assembled them along the riverbank. With Jusseaume as interpreter, Clark once again repeated the familiar litany of American proposals. Delegations could see for themselves the wealth and power of the American nation. Clark encouraged quick action on the invitation, hinting that a prompt decision would hasten the arrival of quality trade goods at reasonable prices.

Le Borgne's reply was characterized by the kind of political acumen that marked so much of his diplomacy with both Indians and whites. He showed some passing interest in making the long trip to Washington but insisted that dangers posed by the Sioux made the journey far too harzardous. "The Sioux were in the road," he said, "and would most certainly kill him or any others who should go down." Suddenly turning the negotiating tables, the chief observed that the American claim to have brought peace to the Missouri was not true. Sioux warriors had recently killed eight Hidatsas and taken some horses. And there had been renewed tension with the Arikaras. If Lewis and Clark were peacemakers of dubious repute, Le Borgne boasted that he had done much better. The chief had recently negotiated a complex trade agreement with the Cheyennes . When the Americans pacified the Teton Sioux , then Le Borgne might consider a visit to the federal father. [61]

Clark must have finally realized that Le Borgne was not a likely prospect for conversion to client-chief status. But there was always Black Cat. When he asked Clark to make a second visit to Rooptahee, the captain may have taken new hope that the delegation problem was nearing some solution. As the two men again shared a pipe, Black Cat broke the news Clark most feared. Because "the Sioux were still very troublesom," not a single prominent man was willing to risk a Missouri voyage. Black Cat tried to soften the blow by offering twelve bushels of corn from what had been a slim harvest. But that well-meaning gesture could not hide a serious failure of the expedition. Plainly disappointed, Clark urged the chief and his elders to "pitch on some man which they could rely and send him to see their great father." After more objections were aired, one young man stepped forward and agreed to go. But when George Gibson reported that the man had taken his knife, all fury broke loose. For all the comic overtones in a process that seemed to move two steps back for every one forward, Clark was justifiable angry. Tongue-lashed by Clark, the chief and elders hung their heads. Black Cat broke the painful silence and admitted that fear of Sioux ambushes and reprisal made it impossible for anyone to accompany the expedition. At last Clark seemed to grasp the depth of Mandan concern. To his credit, he gracefully accepted the inevitable and quietly spent more time smoking with Black Cat.

Later the same day, August 15, Jusseaume brought some startling news. The Frenchman claimed that Little Raven, second chief at Matootonha, had expressed a desire to go with the expedition. After so many false starts and setbacks, Clark was determined not to let this opportunity slip away. Taking Charbonneau with him, Clark hurried to the Mandan village for a talk with Little Raven. The chief acknowledged his interest in the journey but wanted to talk with friends and family before setting out on so dangerous a course. A pipe of tobacco moved that intention along and Clark returned to his camp thinking the delegation issue settled at last.

What Clark heard late that night made the need for any diplomatic success even more urgent. Since returning to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages, Charbonneau had spent some time at Metaharta, where he and Sacagawea had lived before joining the expedition. From those contacts he had learned that several Hidatsa war parties had gone out against Camehwait's Lemhi Shoshonis and the Grand River Arikaras. Such news plainly demonstrated the fragile character of any villager alliance. Even more worrisome, continued Hidatsa forays against the Shoshonis and other potential American allies could only subvert and discredit diplomatic efforts made over the past two years. A symbolic gesture in the form of a Mandan-Hidatsa delegation could not change old patterns of warfare, but it might rescue the expedition's diplomatic reputation. [62]

On August 16, compelled by a sense of desperation, Clark made one last effort to fashion a respectable delegation. When Le Borgne and several other Hidatsa chiefs appeared uninvited at the American camp, he was given a rare opportunity. Here was a final chance to impress Le Borgne and perhaps bring him into the federal fold. Clark may have even dared to hope that at least one Hidatsa might join Little Raven to form a genuinely representative delegation. Pulling out all the ceremonial stops, the captains decided to give Le Borgne one of the swivel guns that had originally been on the keelboat. As Clark had the cannon loaded, he offered a double-barreled message. Raids against the "pore defenceless Snake Indians" had to stop, and such a potent weapon could always be used to defend American friends.

Although Le Borgne was plainly pleased with the gift, it was the elderly chief Caltarcota who now replied to Clark. The Hidatsa orator, who had so effectively challenged the expedition's diplomacy two years before, now repeated what must have been painfully familiar to all the explorers. The Hidatsas wanted to see the great father, but so long as the Sioux stood in the way such a trip was impossible. But Caltarcota had more to say and more than Clark wanted to hear. The Hidatsa chief had been opposed to an Arikara peace and lessening of tensions with the Teton Sioux in 1804, and nothing he had heard since had changed his mind. Raids against enemies were both strategically wise and culturally necessary. The Hidatsas were not about to alter old ways and endanger village security simply to please the seemingly odd whims of unpredictable strangers. There would be no Hidatsa representatives, nor would there be any promises of peace and cooperation. Le Borgne proudly took the cannon back to his village, but as was so often the case, the American diplomats were left with empty hands and empty promises.

For all the disappointment with the Hidatsas, Clark felt certain that he still had Little Raven as a token delegate. Later on the evening of August 16, Clark walked to Matootonha to keep up the chief's resolve. To his astonishment, Clark was bluntly told that Little Raven had changed his mind and would not accompany the expedition downriver. Not even a gift of a flag could change the Indian's mind. When Clark pressed Jusseaume to find reasons for this unwelcome change of heart, the interpreter reported that there had been a serious argument between Sheheke and Little Raven. Sheheke was evidently jealous of the prestige offered to Little Raven. At this point a frustrated Clark simply did not care who the delegate was so long as he was of sufficient rank and influence. Turning again to Jusseaume, Clark asked him to use his influence to enlist Sheheke in the expedition's ranks. The trader, a man always in search of the main chance, drove a hard bargain. He promised to deliver Sheheke if the Americans agreed to provide transportation and rations for the Sheheke and Jusseaume families. Worn down by days of fruitless talk and seeing no alternatives, Clark grudgingly agreed. [63]

Saturday, August 17, was a day to tie up loose ends. There were brief but inconclusive talks with some Hidatsa chiefs, financial settlements with Charbonneau and a fur trade-bound John Colter, and some poignant words from Clark about the future of Sacagawea's young Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, "a butifull promising child." By midmorning the expedition was at Matootonha to pick up the Sheheke and Jusseaume entourages. The explorers were already anticipating the joys of a festive homecoming, but when Clark came to Sheheke's lodge he saw what it meant for the Mandan chief to leave for an uncertain future. Grim-faced elders sat smoking farewell pipes while women wept. Despite Clark's efforts to reassure the villagers with gifts of powder and bullets, "maney of them cried out aloud" as Sheheke and his family went to the canoes. Tears and gunpowder were not the sort of legacy Lewis and Clark wanted to leave behind. [64]

Only one piece of Indian diplomacy was left before reaching St. Louis. The role of the Arikaras in Middle Missouri trade and politics had always eluded Lewis and Clark. The explorers simply could not comprehend the intricate relationship between Arikara farmers and Sioux hunters. In the eyes of the explorers, the Arikaras should have been willing recruits in the struggle against Teton power. That Sioux and Arikara warriors continued to carry out joint raids against Mandan and Hidatsa towns was bewildering. How could the Arikaras pursue a policy that further bound them to their Sioux oppressors? Lewis and Clark hoped that the earlier delegation sent under Joseph Gravelines, and now the presence of Sheheke, might at last end the raids that fueled endless hostilities.

By the morning of August 21, the expedition was at the Grand River and the Arikara villages. After exchanging volleys of shots in greeting, the Americans landed opposite the upper village of Waho-erha. While securing their canoes, the explorers could not miss the white skin lodges that dotted the hillsides above the Arikara towns. Those tepees belonged to Cheyennes who regularly traded for Arikara corn. Lewis and Clark had met individual Cheyennes during the Fort Mandan winter, but now there was a chance for serious talks with these important plains people. Once on shore, Clark was greeted by a crowd of friendly and inquisitive Arikaras and Cheyennes .

Without further ceremony, Clark decided to hold a council. Putting Sheheke to his left, he faced a semicircle of eager Indians. To symbolize the hoped-for peace between villages, Sheheke offered Mandan tobacco for all to smoke. Encouraged by the acceptance of that gift, Clark launched into a capsule history of the expedition, relating "where we had been, what we had done and said to the different nations." He was aided in that narrative by the presence of the trader and translator Joseph Garreau. As Clark surveyed the assembled dignitaries, he may have noticed a man of substantial importance who had not been seen in October 1804. That man was Grey Eyes, who had taken the place of Kakawissassa as principal chief and would lead defiance against American forces in 1823. After being introduced to Grey Eyes, Clark again emphasized the need for peace with neighbors and unity against the Sioux . The Arikara chief than delivered a "very animated" speech, filled with rhetorical sound and fury denouncing the Sioux as "bad people." But the sharp words were intended to please Clark and did not signify any change in Arikara policy. Grey Eyes certainly wished that the Sioux might be less troublesome at market times, but he was not about to alienate so strong and important a customer in order to please untested whites.

As the day grew hotter and the diplomacy less successful, Clark was grateful when a Cheyenne chief invited him to enjoy the shade of a tepee. Making little progress with the Arikaras, the captain hoped for better with the Cheyennes . After smoking with the chief, Clark offered him a small peace medal. It was an awkward moment when the frightened chief firmly rejected the gift. "He knew that the white people were all medecine," explained Clark, "and was afraid of the medal or anything that white people gave them." It was only with the greatest difficulty that Clark convinced the chief that flags and medals were signs of status and prestige, not carriers of disease and death. As things fell out, American diplomacy proved more successful with the Cheyennes than the Arikaras. Just before leaving the villages on August 22, Clark was approached by several Cheyenne chiefs who asked that American traders be sent among them to teach proper trapping techniques. That was the kind of request to gladden the heart of any St. Louis merchant. [65]

But Cheyenne requests were still in the future as Sheheke, who had accompanied Clark to the Cheyenne camp, offered a long discourse on villager tensions—a diatribe that contained more self-justification than serius analysis. The Mandan's torrent of invective was finally checked when the Cheyenne chief caustically observed that all the village folk shared a measure of blame. Never one to miss a chance to press the fundamentals of American Indian policy, Clark again insisted that "if they wished to be happy they must shake off all intimecy with the Sioux and unite themselves in a strong alliance and attend to what he had told them." But, as before, American proposals got no more than token assent.

Unnoticed throughout the day was the growing tension caused by the presence of Sheheke and his family. They were constant reminders of all the blows and strikes the Arikaras and the Mandans had exchanged over the years. Resentment finally exploded late in the evening. Sheheke found himself embroiled in an acrimonious shouting match with an Arikara chief named One Arm. Fearful that One Arm's "loud and thretening tone" might lead to violence, Clark stepped in and reminded the Arikaras that Sheheke was under American protection. Any harm done to him would bring a strong response from the expedition. That threat evidently worked since Clark finished the evening hearing One Arm and the other chiefs swear peace toward the Mandans and loyalty to the United States. [66]

But their solemn oaths meant little. The next morning, as the expedition prepared to make the final pull for St. Louis, Garreau reported that the Arikara chiefs had decided not to form another delegation until the first party had safely returned. And the Arikara leaders themselves again told Clark how dependent they were on the Sioux for guns and ammunition. Those were facts that not even the most adept diplomat could shape to fit an American mold. Except for the interest in the fur trade shown by the Cheyennes , the expedition left the Arikaras with little to call success. [67]

The next month saw Lewis and Clark sprint for home. Moving quickly with the Missouri current, the expedition often covered fifty or sixty miles in a day. Despite unending mosquito attacks, sudden rain squalls, and sore eyes from river glare, the men "ply'd their orers very well." But Black Buffalo and the Brulé Teton Sioux, those most redoubtable of expedition adversaries, were not about to allow Lewis and Clark to leave the river without one last set-to. At the end of August, as the Americans neared present-day Yankton, South Dakota, they spotted Black Buffalo and a large band of well-armed men along the river bank. What ensued was a nasty verbal exchange that pitted Clark and Jusseaume against Black Buffalo. The jeering and hooting so unnerved the explorers that when they came upon some friendly Yankton Sioux two days later there was nearly fatal gunfire.

But raw nerves were soothed in the days that followed. Edginess was replaced by excitement. Every day brought fresh signs that the great venture—what Lewis had once called "a darling project of mine"—was nearly done. New clothes, tobacco, and alcohol obtained from trader James Aird brought the men of the expedition one step closer to home and further from the life they had shared for so long. And then in the third week of September there were the familiar sights and faces of St. Louis and what had been the Corps of Discovery was about to escape into national history and myth.

The final scene in a drama that had so long bound together the lives of Indians and explorers was played out on September 23 at Fort Bellefontaine along the Missouri above St. Louis. Sentries on duty that cold, wet morning were perhaps the only audience as Clark escorted Sheheke to the "publick store" so that the Mandan chief could outfit himself and his family in the latest fashion. [68] As the Indian searched through stacks of calico shirts, fancy handkerchiefs, and colored beads, he symbolized the first fruits of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The explorers brought Indian America face to face with the Industrial Revolution and a rising American empire. Still ahead for people from the Missouri to the Columbia were more delegations, more talks, and more troubles. The calloused hands of the explorers had delivered the Indians into the finer fingers of agents, merchants, and bureaucrats. But, for now, none of that was clear to grizzled veterans or to an anxious Indians. For Lewis and Clark, there was only the homecoming reserved to those once feared lost and now found. Men of the expedition were about to reenter a familiar world; Sheheke and his kin could not say the same. The Mandan chief, dressed in the best the young Republic could afford, did not know how much those explorers had forever changed his world.


B A E       Bureau of American Ethnology

Field Notes.       Osgood, Ernest, S., ed. The Field Notes of Captain William Clark, 1803–1805. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964.

Gass, Journal.       Gass, Patrick. A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery. Edited by David McKeehan. 1807. Reprint, with preface by Earle R. Forrest. Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, 1958.

Ordway, Journal.       Quaife, Milo M., ed. The Journals of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Sergeant John Ordway. Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1916.

Thw.       Thwaites, Reuben G., ed. The Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 8 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1904–1905.

Whitehouse, Journal.       "The Journal of Private Joseph Whitehouse." In Thw. 7:29–190.


1. Thw. 4:227–28. (back)
2. Ibid. 4:235–39. (back)
3. Ibid. 4:259–60. (back)
4. Ibid. 4:266–68. (back)
5. Ibid. 4:273. (back)
6. Ibid. 4:284. (back)
7. Although the Skilloot villages were usually clustered around the Cowlitz River, during the spring salmon runs many Skilloots buit temporary mat lodges at The Dalles. (back)
8. Thw. 4:288–90. (back)
9. Ibid. 4:292–94. (back)
10. Ibid. 4:296, 298–300. (back)
11. Ibid. 4:306–7. (back)
12. Ibid. 4:308–12. (back)
13. Ibid. 4:313. (back)
14. Ordway, Journal, p. 347; Thw. 4:317, 319, 321. The identity of Lewis and Clark's Pishquitpahs remains unclear. They were certainly not Salish-speaking Pishquows as Thwaites claimed, Thw. 3:137. It seems more likely that they were Sahaptin speakers and a band of either Cayuses or Umatillas. (back)
15. Thw. 4:328–29. (back)
16. "Biddle Notes," 2:532; Ordway, Journal, p. 348; Thw. 4:331–32. (back)
17. Josephy, Nez Perce, p. 11; Thw. 4:351–52. (back)
18. Thw. 4:354–55. (back)
19. Ibid. 4:357–60. (back)
20. Ibid. 4:371. (back)
21. Ibid. 5:4–9. (back)
22. Ibid. 5:14–16. (back)
23. Ordway, Journal, p. 356; Thw. 5:18–20. (back)
24. Josephy, Nez Perce, pp. 11–14; Verne F. Ray, Lewis and Clark and the Nez Perce Indians (Washington, D.C.: The Westerners, 1971), pp. 11–14; Thw. 5:23–27. (back)
25. Appleman, Lewis and Clark, pp. 272–73; Peebles, Lewis and Clark in Idaho, p. 30; Thw. 5:33–35. (back)
26. Thw. 5:30. (back)
27. Ibid. 5:52–53. What remains unclear in this arrangement is whether all food obtained by trade was put in a common stockpile or if each mess or individual was responsible for his own rations. (back)
28. Gass, Journal, pp. 265–66; Thw. 5:86, 95. (back)
29. Thw. 5:98. (back)
30. Ordway, Journal, pp. 360–63; Thw. 5:99–100. (back)
31. Thw. 5:113. (back)
32. Ibid. 5:360–61. (back)
33. Thw. 4:359, 365, 5:27, 48, 50. (back)
34. Thw. 5:22. Modern medical opinion suggests that the chief was suffering from a variety of polymyositis. C. L. Thomas, ed., Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 13th ed. (Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Co., 1977), Ibid. 112, and personal communication with Charles McGowen, MD. (back)
35. Thw. 5:27, 62–63. (back)
36. Ibid. 5:63. (back)
37. Ibid. 5:67, 72. (back)
38. Ibid. 5:4, 11, 16, 29–31, 72. (back)
39. Ibid. 5:35, 49, 58, 68. (back)
40. Josephy, Nez Perce, p. 14. (back)
41. Thw. 5:117. (back)
42. Ibid. 5:105–6. (back)
43. Ibid. 5:112–13. (back)
44. Ibid. 5:43, 46, 51, 53. (back)
45. Ibid. 5:95, 103, 113–14, 118. Although the journals do not offer a clear explanation for the lack of Nez Perce guides, Clark told Nicholas Biddle, "The reason of our having no guide was that the Indians had declared that the hills were impassable. One of them had attempted and returned we met him." "Biddle Notes," 2:544. (back)
46. Thw. 5:134–35. (back)
47. Ibid. 5:135, 137. (back)
48. Gass, Journal, p. 273; Thw. 5:141–42. (back)
49. Thw. 5:153, 156–58. (back)
50. Ibid. 5:175–80. (back)
51. Clark to Heney, July 20, 1806, Jackson, ed., Letters 1:309–13. Donald Jackson's view that the July 20 draft is Clark's copy of a document composed by Lewis, probably on July 1, fits what is known about Lewis'a Indian policy. (back)
52. Thw. 5:188, 192, 203. The word "Pahkee" specifically referred to the Siksikas or Blackfeet-proper but was often used by Shoshonis and Nez Perces to mean any plains enemy. (back)
53. Ibid. 5:207–208, 212, 215–17. (back)
54. The Indians that Lewis saw were Piegans. Bloods, Piegans, and Siksikas or Blackfeet-proper were the three constituent tribes of the Blackfeet confederacy. The tribes were politely independent but united by a common language, common customs, and common enemies. See John C. Ewers, The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958), pp. 3–18. (back)
55. For the rise and growth of the Blackfeet trade, see Ewers, Blackfeet, pp. 19–44 and E. E. Rich, The Fur Trade and the Northwest to 1857 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), pp. 122–29. (back)
56. Thw. 5:219–23. Wolf Calf's talk with Grinnell is recorded in Wheeler, Trail of Lewis and Clark, 2:311-12. A second and less accurate account from Blackfeet tradition can be found in James H. Bradley, "The Bradley Manuscript," Montana Historical Society Contributions 8 (1917):135. (back)
57. Ordway, Journal, p. 383; Thw. 5:223–27; "Peale's Memorandum of Specimens and Artifacts," Jackson, ed., Letters, 2:477. My understanding of both Camp Disappointment and the Two Medicine River fight site was greatly enhanced by Wilbur Werner, who guided me over both locations in the summer of 1981. (back)
58. Biddle-Coues, History, 3:1105n; David H. Coyner, The Lost Trapper, ed. David J. Weber (1847; reprint, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1970), p. 55; Washington Irving, Astoria; or, Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains, ed. Edgeley W. Todd (1836; reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), p. 147. (back)
59. Josephy, Nez Perce, pp. 651–53. Josephy's conclusions were somewhat anticipated by Ewers, Blackfeet, p. 48, and Dale L. Morgan, The West of William H. Ashley, 1822–1838 (Denver: The Old West Pulishing Co., 1964), p. xxxv. (back)
60. The councils with Missouri Indians in 1806 were conducted by William Clark since Lewis's painful wound limited his active participation in expedition affairs. (back)
61. Le Borgne's diplomatic achievements are recorded in Coues, ed., New Light, 1:367–97. (back)
62. Thw. 5:337–42. (back)
63. Ibid. 5:342–43. (back)
64. Ibid. 5:344–46. (back)
65. Ibid. 5:347. (back)
66. Ibid. 5:350–53. (back)
67. Ibid. 5:355–56. (back)
68. Ibid. 5:393–94. (back)