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.”
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.