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Waiting For Winter To End--The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Selected Daily Journal Entries



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Waiting For Winter To End––

The Lewis & Clark Expedition: Selected Daily Journal Entries

By Dottie Evans

Exactly 200 years ago in the northern plains of our undiscovered western frontier, the Corps of Discovery led by co-captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark was taken up with doing just what most of us are doing right now –– passing the winter as usefully as possible while waiting for spring.

By end of March 1805 when the ice finally broke, the Missouri River became navigable again. Despite their friendly relations with the local Mandan and Hidatsa Indian tribes, the 30 corps members could not wait to get going.

These men would venture further west than any white explorers had yet gone as they poled, pulled, and portaged their small boats up the Missouri River to its headwaters –– and they hoped to reach the Pacific Ocean beyond that. Impenetrable mountains or savage tribes, they were ready for whatever came.

At the same time the corps departed upriver, another group was headed home.

Splitting off from the westward expedition, a small number of men would board the large keelboat and point it downriver to deliver the 108 carefully packaged botanical specimens, numerous skeletons, hides and horns of newly discovered animals, and several caged live specimens (only a prairie dog and a magpie would survive the trip) as well as journals and maps detailing their journey so far. All were destined for delivery to the Monticello home of President Thomas Jefferson.

The entire Corps of Discovery passed the winter of 1804-05 at Fort Mandan in what is now central North Dakota by hunting, trading, repairing their boats, building six new canoes, learning as much as possible from the Mandan Indians about the geography of the terrain ahead, and preparing specimens and journals.

When not at work, they found amusement through dancing, feasting, and storytelling in the company of the Mandans who were “the most friendly and well disposed savages that we have yet met,” Lewis wrote encouragingly to his mother in Virginia.

What follows are several written accounts excerpted from individual journals kept by corps captains Lewis and Clark, and corps sergeants Patrick Gass and John Ordway. The spellings and punctuations appear as they were written and have not been corrected. To read the journal in its entirety, see website: http://www.pbs.org/lewisandclark/archive/idx_jou.html.

February 25, 1805, William Clark –– We fixed a Windlass and Drew up the two Perogues on the upper bank, and attempted the Boat, but the Roap, which we hade made of Elk skins proved too weak & broke Several times.

February 26, 1805, John Ordway –– Doubled the Rope & raised up the Barge. Got the windless Going. ... with much difficulty Got hir Safe up on the upper bank, ...

March 02, 1805, John Ordway –– A beautiful pleasant morning. the Savages continue to visit us in Order to git their Impliments of War made. they bring us in pay corn and beans dryed meat & persimblans &.C.

[Privates John Shields and Alexander Willard, blacksmiths, had set up a forge and bellows inside the fort and they were turning out iron battle-axes at a great rate.]

March 24, 1805, John Ordway –– Two men making cages for the Magpyes and the prarie hens which is to be Sent down the River.

March 27, 1805, John Ordway –– The Ice kept Breaking and Starting the Most of the day.

March 28, 1805, John Ordway –– We may be ready to set out as Soon as the Ice is done running.

March 30, 1805, William Clark — I observed extraordinary dexterity of the Indians in jumping from one cake of ice to another, for the purpose of Catching the buffalow as they float down …The Plains are on fire in View of the fort on both Sides of the River, it is Said to be common for the Indians to burn the Plains near their Villages every Spring for the benefit of their hors[e]s, and to induce the Buffalow to come near them.

April 03, 1805, William Clark –– We are all day engaged packing up Sundery articles to be sent to the President of the U.S.

April 04, 1805, Patrick Gass –– We packed the boxes full of skins, buffaloe robes, and horns of the Mountain ram, of a great size for the president; and began to load the boat.

April 07, 1805, Meriwether Lewis, Fort Mandan –– Our vessels consisted of six small canoes, and two large perogues. This little fleet altho’ not quite so rispectable as those of Columbus or Capt. Cook, were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs; and I dare say with quite as much anxiety for their safety and preservation. we were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden; the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessells contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves..... The party are in excellent health and sperits, zealously attached to the enterprise, and anxious to proceed; not a whisper of murmur or discontent to be heard among them, but all act in unison, and with the most perfict harmony.

April 07, 1805, Patrick Gass –– About 5 o’clock in the afternoon we left fort Mandan in good spirits. Thirty one men and a woman went up the river and thirteen returned down it in the boat. We had two periogues and six canoes, and proceeded about four miles, and encamped opposite the first Mandan village, on the North side.

April 08, 1805, Patrick Gass –– The woman that is with us is a squaw of the Snake nation of Indians, and wife to our interpreter. We expect she will be of service to us, when passing through that nation. [The Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea, would prove invaluable to the corps throughout the journey.]

April 09, 1805, Meriwether Lewis –– When we halted for dinner the squaw busied herself in serching for the wild artichokes which the mice collect and deposit in large hoards. ... her labour soon proved successful, and she procured a good quantity of these roots.

April 09, 1805, John Ordway –– Clear and pleasant. a gentle breese from the South we set off at day light. ... Saw [Grizzly bear] which was the first we Saw on this River. they were round and large. Saw Some on Shore also we Saw a nomber of wild geese on the River & brants flying over Some ducks. the Musquetoes begin to Suck our blood this afternoon.

April 10, 1805, Meriwether Lewis –– The country on both sides of the missouri from the tops of the river hills, is one continued level fertile plain as far as the eye can reach, in which there is not even a solitary tree or shrub to be seen, except such as from their moist situations or the steep declivities of hills are sheltered from the ravages of the fire.

April 10, 1805, John Ordway –– We Saw a nomber of large Eagles which had nested on large cottonwood trees...One of our men Shot a bald Eagle. I took the quills to write.

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