May 10, 1805 – Thirty Point Buck?

 

This is why you should support your local National Park. Help a volunteer out.

This is why you should support your local National Park. Help a volunteer out.

 

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.

 

Advertisements

May 3, 1805, Irresponsible Espontoon Ownership

A favorite view from the library at Ft. Clatsop. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

A favorite view from the library at Ft. Clatsop. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Thursday, May 3, 1804

Now the beginning of May, the Expedition is just over a week from departing on their epic journey. It’s easy to imagine the anticipation around camp as the Corps members assemble, accumulating the last of the necessary provisions, finalizing this chapter of their lives before they are to march West into the unknown and indelibly into our collective history. Emotions had to have been taut. Excitement, anticipation, trepidation.

It’s with the same suspenseful eagerness, I find the date in the journals of Clark:

“…writ(ing) letters…worked at boat.”

Oh.

There must be more though. Some mention, however slight, of the palpable aura of camp?

“Majr. Rumsey was polite enough to examine all my provisions several Kegs of Pork he condemed.”

I guess not.

Friday, May 3, 1805

Nearly a year into the trip, the Corps of Discovery has reached the Poplar River area of Roosevelt County, Montana. Though when they arrived, the christened the water, Porcupine River, owing to the large number of the animal they had seen at the mouth. Compared to the ruddy Missouri, Lewis describes the Porcupine River as:

“…a beatifull bold runing stream…the water is transparent it being the first of this discription that I have yet seen discharge itself into the Missouri.”

In addition to these notes on the clarity of water, Lewis takes fascination with the quilled creatures abound.

“I walked out a little distance and met with 2 porcupines…this anamal is exceedingly clumsy and not very watchfull I approached so near one of them before it perceived me that I touched it with my espontoon.”

To translate: Lewis is poking the wildlife.

He makes no other notes on the reaction of the porcupine, so it’s hard to imagine the act as one of scientific inquiry. Rather it seems to be that of a curious child left unsupervised and with a touch of boredom garnered from monotony.

I found an interesting note that Lewis’s espontoon was considered an odd choice by some to bring on the trip, but it’s a combination spear, walking stick, and, apparently, porcupine poker, so I’m not sure why the entire Corps wouldn’t have carried them.

On this day, both Lewis and Clark make notes about what they determine to be sacrificial offerings by Natives:

“we passed a curious collection of bushes which had been tyed up in the form of a faciene and standing on the end in a the open bottom…this we supposed to have been placed there by the Indians, as a sacrefice for some purpose.” Clark

“…which must have been left also be the natives as an offering to their medison which they Convinced protected or gave them relief near the place…” Lewis

“three of our party found in the back of a bottom 3 pieces of Scarlet one brace in each, which had been left as a Sacrifice near one of their Swet houses…” Lewis

Neither of these entries are accompanied with an explanation as to why they would think these to be sacrificial. No mention of stories from encounters with local Natives giving validity to the claims. I’d be interested in knowing whether these were actually used in spiritual practice, or if they had more practical uses.

On this date, in the journal of John Ordway, is one of the most succinct, yet powerfully accurate notations in all of their written tomes.

“we proceeded on.”

Saturday, May 3, 1806

A common element in everyone’s journal for this day in the Pataha Valley area (near Pomeroy, WA) is the desperate tone of low provisions. Patrick Gass writes they:

“…eat the last of our dried meat; and are altogether without other provisions, as our stock of dogs is exhausted, and we can kill no game in the plains.”

It is with luck though, they are in an area first covered on the westward portion of their trip, and, therefore, a familiar territory with established Native allies. Clark is joyous in meeting up with:

We arh koont (We ark koomt) whome we have usially distinguished by the name of the big horn Chief from the circumstance of his always wareing a horn of that animal Suspended by a Cord to his left arm.”

This Chief and his ancestors are well known to history, by a name other than the entirely uncreative title bestowed by Lewis and Clark. Apash Wyakaikt (‘apaswahayqt), or “flint necklace”, was the Father and Grandfather of prominent Nez Perce leaders, known to the Army and white settlers as Looking Glass Senior and Looking Glass Junior. Looking Glass Junior evaded the First US Calvary after they were sent to arrest him in July 1877 and for three months help lead escaping Nez Perce towards Canada. He was killed in battle in September 1877.

We ark koomt is the bearer of good news for the Corps, promising a village only a short ride on where they will be able to trade for food and other provisions. This may have eased the minds of the weary band only a month and a half into their return journey, who had no other choice but to “proceed on” towards home.

(Notes: As before all spellings and horrendous grammar errors are presented as written in the journals. You can read all the journal entries for May 3, 1805 here.)