A slight delay in getting this written, as I spent the weekend wandering my little town with my grandma and going to see my mom in celebration of Mother’s Day. Although, maybe I should feign a bit of planning as today, May 14th, marks the 210th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery’s departure of Camp DuBois.
(Note: As usual, all spelling and grammatical errors in quotations are the theirs. The rest are mine.)
Thursday, May 10, 1804
In just four days time, the Corps will leave Camp DuBois for the vast, uncharted Western expanse. I imagine this is the reason that entries are brief and discuss only the basics: weather and preparation, but the dramatist in me would love to know the inevitable tensions of camp, the fears of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but all the latter gives us on this day is:
“…continued to fix Tents Covering, adjust the Load & c. order every man to have 100 Balls for ther Rifles & 2 lb. of Buck Shot for those with mussquets…”
Unfortunately, I will not be volunteering on the 14th, the genesis, but I read the entries for the 14th and found much the same in way of detail and tone. Perhaps the most anxious statement by Clark indicates a readiness to begin the trek:
“…fixing for a Start.”
Friday, May 10, 1805
Near Garfield or Valley County, Montana, at this point, the journals reflect the uneasiness that accompanies the Corps, as they criss-cross land owned, hunted and inhabited by Natives:
“we still believe ourselves in the country usually hunted by Assinniboins, and as they are a vicious ill disposed nation we think it best to be on our guard…”
It seems that despite the ominous potential of an encounter on the hunting lands it does not deter the group from hunting for their necessary protein. They regularly record the type and number of animals killed, but, on this day, Lewis sermonizes…lengthily…on the differences between the Mule deer and the common deer. Size, antler characteristics, general habits. Going so far as to describe in the Mule deer,
“the inner corner of each eye there is a drain or large recepicle…which gives it the appearance of weeping…”
(The Mule deer being the name Lewis uses in describing what the French referred to as the black-tailed deer. He finds this name irritating and “…by no means characteristic of the anamal as much the larger portion of the tail is white.” Those damn French.)
One can imagine if a simple tear in time and space were to find Lewis bellied up at any dim, wood-paneled bar in Smalltown, USA, can of Old Style in hand, his strong opinions and vast knowledge of the hooved beast would find him right at home.
In addition to this lengthy biological study, Lewis includes a short note about the human biology of the Corps. Specifically, that nearly a year in, the camp has become a roving cesspool.
“Boils and imposthumes have been very common with the party. Bratton is…unable to work with one on his hand; soar eyes continue also to be common…”
It’s hypothesized by some, that these ailments are the result of malnutrition due to a the predominately meat diet. It appears the Corps could have done with advertising for a few competent gatherers to join the ranks of sharpshooters.
It’s in this few days that I wish William Bratton would have kept a journal, though a depressing read it may have been, as only a day after this entry about his pustulous hand, he is chased and nearly attacked by a bear.
Saturday, May 10, 1806
“This morning the snow continued falling…8 inches deep on the plain…”
Still low on provisions, the returning group went to a village, Tunnachemootoolt, near present-day Lawyer Creek (originally called Commearp Creek) in Lewis County, Idaho. A previously established relationship, formed on their way West, with a
“…cheeif at whos lodge we had left a flag last fall. this flag was now displayed on a staff…”
led to a very generous gift of horses for consumption. Lewis wrote,
“This is a much greater act of hospitality than we have witnessed from any nation or tribe since we have passed the Rocky mountains.”
An interesting insight, considering the five months the Corps spent at Ft. Clatsop. No attack on the fort was made during their winter encampment and while there may have been rightful tension, the Corps was camped on land previously inhabited for many years. I’d argue an extended, uninvited stay would be the epitome of hospitality, but Lewis seems to have had higher expectations.
(Indicative of the tenuous relationships expected or, actually developed, are the two entries regarding encounters (or possible encounters) with local Natives exactly a year apart.)
Lewis continues in his description of the welcome time spent in the village. He mentions the medals brought by the Corps as a sign of good will and a means of open communication to be given to chief’s and other individuals deemed significant. There were various sizes of medals, the
“…one of small size with the likeness of Mr. Jefferson…
was included in the presentation at this occasion. In reality, these medals were gifts with mighty strings attached. They were more a means of subjugation. When accepted, they were unknowingly agreeing to the superiority, the might, the power of the United States.
It’s further written that,
“(Lewis)…directed the men not to croud their lodge surch of food in the manner hunger has compelled them to do at most lodges we have passed and which the Twisted hair had informed me was disagreeable to the natives.”
In my initial reading, I was struck by what seemed to be Lewis’s abominable manners, yet again, and his seeming lack of knowledge of basic social norms and niceties. Clearly, strangers forcing themselves into your home would be considered “disagreeable.” But as the brief moment of naivete passed, I recognized the idea that this practice would be considered acceptable by white men in the villages of Natives.
A sobering reality then and, rightfully applied to other situations, an equally sobering reality today.