habits and industrial pursuits, diseases and laws of the Indian nations with whom they might come in contact; note the floral, mineral, and animal characteristics of the country, and, above all, to report whatever might be of interest to citizens who might thereafter be desirous of opening trade relations with those wild tribes of which almost nothing was then distinctly known.
The list of articles with which the explorers were provided, to aid them in establishing peaceful relations with the Indians, might amuse traders of the present day. But in those primitive times, and among peoples entirely ignorant of the white man's riches and resources, coats richly laced with gilt braid, red trousers, medals, flags, knives, colored handkerchiefs, paints, small looking-glasses, beads and tomahawks were believed to be so attractive to the simple-minded red man that he would gladly do much and give much of his own to win such prizes. Of these fine things there were fourteen large bales and one box. The stores of the expedition were clothing, working tools, fire-arms, food supplies, powder, ball, lead for bullets, and flints for the guns then in use, the old-fashioned flint-lock rifle and musket being still in vogue in our country; for all of this was at the beginning of the present century.
As the party was to begin their long journey by ascending the Missouri River, their means of travel were provided in three boats. The largest, a keel-boat, fifty-five feet long and drawing three feet of water, carried a big square sail and twenty-two seats for oarsmen. On board this craft was a small swivel gun. The other two boats were of that variety of open craft known as pirogue, a craft shaped like a flat-iron, square-sterned, flat-bottomed, roomy, of light draft, and usually provided with four oars and a square sail which could be used when the wind was aft, and which also served as a tent, or night shelter, on shore. Two horses, for hunting or other occasional service, were led along the banks of the river.
As we have seen, President Jefferson, whose master mind organized and devised this expedition, had dwelt longingly on the prospect of crossing the continent from the headwaters of the Missouri to the headwaters of the then newly-discovered Columbia. The route thus explored was more difficult than that which was later travelled by the first emigrants across the continent to California. That route lies up the Platte River, through what is known as the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, by Great Salt Lake and down the valley of the Humboldt into California, crossing the Sierra Nevada at any one of several points leading into the valley of the Sacramento. The route, which was opened by the gold-seekers, was followed by the first railroads built across the continent. The route that lay so firmly in Jefferson's mind, and which was followed up with incredible hardships by the Lewis and Clark expedition, has since been traversed by two railroads, built after the first transcontinental rails were laid. If Jefferson had desired to find the shortest and most feasible route across the continent, he would have pointed to the South Pass and Utah basin trails. But these would have led the explorers into California, then and long afterwards a Spanish possession. The entire line finally traced over the Great Divide lay within the territory of the United States.
But it must be remembered that while the expedition was being organized, the vast Territory of Louisiana was as yet a French possession. Before the party were brought together and their supplies collected, the territory passed under the jurisdiction of the United States. Nevertheless, that jurisdiction was not immediately acknowledged by the officials who, up to that time, had been the representatives of the French and Spanish governments. Part of the territory was transferred from Spain to France and then from France to the United States. It was intended that the exploring party should pass the winter of 1803-4 in St. Louis, then a mere village which had been commonly known as Pain Court. But the Spanish governor of the province had not been officially told that the country had been transferred to the United States, and, after the Spanish manner, he forbade the passage of the Americans through his jurisdiction. In those days communication between frontier posts and points lying far to the eastward of the Mississippi was very difficult; it required six weeks to carry the mails between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington to St. Louis; and this was the reason why a treaty, ratified in July, was not officially heard of in St. Louis as late as December of that year. The explorers, shut out of Spanish territory, recrossed the Mississippi and wintered at the mouth of Wood River, just above St. Louis, on the eastern side of the great river, in United States territory. As a matter of record, it may be said here that the actual transfer of the lower part of the territory--commonly known as Orleans--took place at New Orleans, December 20, 1803, and the transfer of the upper part was effected at St. Louis, March 10, 1804, before the Lewis and Clark expedition had started on its long journey to the northwestward.
All over the small area of the United States then existed a deep interest in the proposed explorations of the course and sources of the Missouri River. The explorers were about to plunge into vast solitudes of which white people knew less than we know now about the North Polar country. Wild and extravagant stories of what was to be seen in those trackless regions were circulated in the States. For example, it was said that Lewis and Clark expected to find the mammoth of prehistoric times still living and wandering in the Upper Missouri region; and it was commonly reported that somewhere, a thousand miles or so up the river, was a solid mountain of rock salt, eighty miles long and forty-five miles wide, destitute of vegetation and glittering in the sun! These, and other tales like these, were said to be believed and doted upon by the great Jefferson himself. The Federalists, or "Feds," as they were called, who hated Jefferson, pretended to believe that he had invented some of these foolish yarns, hoping thereby to make his Louisiana purchase more popular in the Republic.
In his last letter to Captain Lewis, which was to reach the explorers before they started, Jefferson said: "The acquisition of the country through which you are to pass has inspired the country generally with a great deal of interest in your enterprise. The inquiries are perpetual as to your progress. The Feds alone still treat it as a philosophism, and would rejoice at its failure. Their bitterness increases with the diminution of their numbers and despair of a resurrection. I hope you will take care of yourself, and be a living witness of their malice and folly." Indeed, after the explorers were lost sight of in the wilderness which they were to traverse, many people in the States declaimed bitterly against the folly that had sent these unfortunate men to perish miserably in the fathomless depths of the continent. They no longer treated it "as a philosophism," or wild prank, but as a wicked scheme to risk life and property in a search for the mysteries of the unknown and unknowable.
As a striking illustration of this uncertainty of the outcome of the expedition, which exercised even the mind of Jefferson, it may be said that in his instructions to Captain Lewis he said: "Our Consuls, Thomas Hewes, at Batavia in Java, William Buchanan in the isles of France and Bourbon, and John Elmslie at the Cape of Good Hope, will be able to supply your necessities by drafts on us." All this seems strange enough to the young reader of the present day; but this was said and done one hundred years ago.
From the Lower to the Upper River
The party finally set sail up the Missouri River on Monday, May 21, 1804, but made only a few miles, owing to head winds. Four days later they camped near the last white settlement on the Missouri,--La Charrette, a little village of seven poor houses. Here lived Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky backwoodsman, then nearly seventy years old, but still vigorous, erect, and strong of limb. Here and above this place the explorers began to meet with unfamiliar Indian tribes and names. For example, they met two canoes loaded with furs "from the Mahar nation." The writer of the Lewis and Clark journal, upon whose notes we rely for our story, made many slips of this sort. By "Mahars" we must understand that the Omahas were meant. We shall come across other such instances in which the strangers mistook the pronunciation of Indian names. For example, Kansas was by them misspelled as "Canseze" and "Canzan;" and there appear some thirteen or fourteen different spellings of Sioux, of which one of the most far-fetched is "Scouex."
The explorers were now in a country unknown to them and almost unknown to any white man. On the thirty-first of May, a messenger came down the Grand Osage River bringing a letter from a person who wrote that the Indians, having been notified that the country had been ceded to the Americans, burned the letter containing the tidings, refusing to believe the report. The Osage Indians, through whose territory they were now passing, were among the largest and finest-formed red men of the West. Their name came from the river along which they warred and hunted, but their proper title, as they called themselves, was "the Wabashas," and from them, in later years, we derive the familiar name of Wabash. A curious tradition of this people, according to the journal of Lewis and Clark, is that the founder of the nation was a snail, passing a quiet existence along the banks of the Osage, till a high flood swept him down to the Missouri, and left him exposed on the shore. The heat of the sun at length ripened him into a man; but with the change of his nature he had not forgotten his native seats on the Osage, towards which he immediately bent his way. He was, however, soon overtaken by hunger and fatigue, when happily, the Great Spirit appeared, and, giving him a bow and arrow, showed him how to kill and cook deer, and cover himself with the skin. He then proceeded to his original residence; but as he approached the river he was met by a beaver, who inquired haughtily who he was, and by what authority he came to disturb his possession. The Osage answered that the river was his own, for he had once lived on its borders. As they stood disputing, the daughter of the beaver came, and having, by her entreaties, reconciled her father to this young stranger, it was proposed that the Osage should marry the young beaver, and share with her family the enjoyment of the river. The Osage readily consented, and from this happy union there soon came the village and the nation of the Wabasha, or Osages, who have ever since preserved a pious reverence for their ancestors, abstaining from the chase of the beaver, because in killing that animal they killed a brother of the Osage. Of late years, however, since the trade with the whites has rendered beaver-skins more valuable, the sanctity of these maternal relatives has been visibly reduced, and the poor animals have lost all the privileges of kindred.
Game was abundant all along the river as the explorers sailed up the stream. Their hunters killed numbers of deer, and at the mouth of Big Good Woman Creek, which empties into the Missouri near the present town of Franklin, Howard County, three bears were brought into the camp. Here, too, they began to find salt springs, or "salt licks," to which many wild animals resorted for salt, of which they were very fond. Saline County, Missouri, perpetuates the name given to the region by Lewis and Clark. Traces of buffalo were also found here, and occasional wandering traders told them that the Indians had begun to hunt the buffalo now that the grass had become abundant enough to attract this big game from regions lying further south.
By the tenth of June the party had entered the country of the Ayauway nation. This was an easy way of spelling the word now familiar to us as "Iowa." But before that spelling was reached, it was Ayaway, Ayahwa, Iawai, Iaway, and soon. The remnants of this once powerful tribe now number scarcely two hundred persons. In Lewis and Clark's time, they were a large nation, with several hundred warriors, and were constantly at war with their neighbors. Game here grew still more abundant, and in addition to deer and bear the hunters brought in a raccoon. One of these hunters brought into camp a wild tale of a snake which, he said, "made a guttural noise like a turkey." One of the French voyageurs confirmed this story; but the croaking snake was never found and identified.
On the twenty-fourth of June the explorers halted to prepare some of the meat which their hunters brought in. Numerous herds of deer were feeding on the abundant grass and young willows that grew along the river banks. The meat, cut in small strips, or ribbons, was dried quickly in the hot sun. This was called "jirked" meat. Later on the word was corrupted into "jerked," and "jerked beef" is not unknown at the present day. The verb "jerk" is corrupted from the Chilian word, charqui, meaning sun-dried meat; but it is not easy to explain how the Chilian word got into the Northwest.
As the season advanced, the party found many delicious wild fruits, such as currants, plums, raspberries, wild apples, and vast quantities of mulberries. Wild turkeys were also found in large numbers, and the party had evidently entered a land of plenty. Wild geese were abundant, and numerous tracks of elk were seen. But we may as well say here that the, so-called elk of the Northwest is not the elk of ancient Europe; a more correct and distinctive name for this animal is wapiti, the name given the animal by the Indians. The European elk more closely resembles the American moose. Its antlers are flat, low, and palmated like our moose; whereas the antlers of the American elk, so-called, are long, high, and round-shaped with many sharp points or tines. The mouth of the great Platte River was reached on the twenty-first of July. This famous stream was then regarded as a sort of boundary line between the known and unknown regions. As mariners crossing the equator require all their comrades, who have not been "over the line" to submit to lathering and shaving, so the Western voyageurs merrily compelled their mates to submit to similar horse-play. The great river was also the mark above which explorers entered upon what was called the Upper Missouri.
The expedition was now advancing into a region inhabited by several wandering tribes of Indians, chief of which were the Ottoes, Missouris, and Pawnees. It was determined, therefore, to call a council of some of the chiefs of these bands and make terms of peace with them. After some delay, the messengers sent out to them brought in fourteen representative Indians, to whom the white men made presents of roast meat, pork, flour, and corn-meal, in return for which their visitors brought them quantities of delicious watermelons. "Next day, August 3," says the journal, "the Indians, with their six chiefs, were all assembled under an awning formed with the mainsail, in presence of all our party, paraded for the occasion. A speech was then made, announcing to them the change in the government, our promises of protection, and advice as to their future conduct. All the six chiefs replied to our speech, each in his turn, according to rank. They expressed their joy at the change in the government; their hopes that we would recommend them to their Great Father (the president), that they might obtain trade and necessaries: they wanted arms as well for hunting as for defence, and asked our mediation between them and the Mahas, with whom they are now at war. We promised to do so, and wished some of them to accompany us to that nation, which they declined, for fear of being killed by them. We then proceeded to distribute our presents. The grand chief of the nation not being of the party, we sent him a flag, a medal, and some ornaments for clothing. To the six chiefs who were present, we gave a medal of the second grade to one Ottoe chief and one Missouri chief; a medal of the third grade to two inferior chiefs of each nation; the customary mode of recognizing a chief being to place a medal round his neck, which is considered among his tribe as a proof of his consideration abroad. Each of these medals was accompanied by a present of paint, garters, and cloth ornaments of dress; and to this we added a canister of powder, a bottle of whiskey, and a few presents to the whole, which appeared to make them perfectly satisfied. The air-gun, too, was fired, and astonished them greatly. The absent grand chief was an Ottoe, named Weahrushhah, which, in English, degenerates into Little Thief. The two principal chieftains present were Shongotongo, or Big Horse, and Wethea, or Hospitality; also Shosguscan, or White Horse, an Ottoe; the first an Ottoe, the second a Missouri. The incidents just related induced us to give to this place the name of the Council Bluffs: the situation of it is exceedingly favorable for a fort and trading factory, as the soil is well calculated for bricks, and there is an abundance of wood in the neighborhood, and the air being pure and healthy."
Of course the reader will recognize, in the name given to this place by Lewis and Clark, the flourishing modern city of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, the council took place on the Nebraskan or western side of the river, and the meeting-place was at some distance above the site of the present city of Council Bluffs.
Above Council Bluffs the explorers found the banks of the river to be high and bluffy, and on one of the highlands which they passed they saw the burial-place of Blackbird, one of the great men of the Mahars, or Omahas, who had died of small-pox. A mound, twelve feet in diameter and six feet high, had been raised over the grave, and on a tall pole at the summit the party fixed a flag of red, white, and blue. The place was regarded as sacred by the Omahas, who kept the dead chieftain well supplied with provisions. The small-pox had caused great mortality among the Indians; and a few years before the white men's visit, when the fell disease had destroyed four hundred men, with a due proportion of women and children, the survivors burned their village and fled.
"They had been a military and powerful people; but when these warriors saw their strength wasting before a malady which they could not resist, their frenzy was extreme; they burned their village, and many of them put to death their wives and children, to save them from so cruel an affliction, and that all might go together to some better country."
In Omaha, or Mahar Creek, the explorers made their first experiment in dragging the stream for fish. With a drag of willows, loaded with stones, they succeeded in catching a great variety of fine fish, over three hundred at one haul, and eight hundred at another. These were pike, bass, salmon-trout, catfish, buffalo fish, perch, and a species of shrimp, all of which proved an acceptable addition to their usual flesh bill-of-fare.
Desiring to call in some of the surrounding Indian tribes, they here set fire to the dry prairie grass, that being the customary signal for a meeting of different bands of roving peoples. In the afternoon of August 18, a party of Ottoes, headed by Little Thief and Big Horse, came in, with six other chiefs and a French interpreter. The journal says:--
"We met them under a shade, and after they had finished a repast with which we supplied them, we inquired into the origin of the war between them and the Mahas, which they related with great frankness. It seems that two of the Missouris went to the Mahas to steal horses, but were detected and killed; the Ottoes and Missouris thought themselves bound to avenge their companions, and the whole nations were at last obliged to share in the dispute. They are also in fear of a war from the Pawnees, whose village they entered this summer, while the inhabitants were hunting, and stole their corn. This ingenuous confession did not make us the less desirous of negotiating a peace for them; but no Indians have as yet been attracted by our fire. The evening was closed by a dance; and the next day, the chiefs and warriors being assembled at ten o'clock, we explained the speech we had already sent from the Council Bluffs, and renewed our advice. They all replied in turn, and the presents were then distributed. We exchanged the small medal we had formerly given to the Big Horse for one of the same size with that of Little Thief: we also gave a small medal to a third chief, and a kind of certificate or letter of acknowledgment to five of the warriors expressive of our favor and their good intentions. One of them, dissatisfied, returned us the certificate; but the chief, fearful of our being offended, begged that it might be restored to him; this we declined, and rebuked them severely for having in view mere traffic instead of peace with their neighbors. This displeased them at first; but they at length all petitioned that it should be given to the warrior, who then came forward and made an apology to us; we then delivered it to the chief to be given to the most worthy, and he bestowed it on the same warrior, whose name was Great Blue Eyes. After a more substantial present of small articles and tobacco, the council was ended with a dram to the Indians. In the evening we exhibited different objects of curiosity, and particularly the air-gun, which gave them great surprise. Those people are almost naked, having no covering except a sort of breech-cloth round the middle, with a loose blanket or buffalo robe, painted, thrown over them. The names of these warriors, besides those already mentioned, were Karkapaha, or Crow's Head, and Nenasawa, or Black Cat, Missouris; and Sananona, or Iron Eyes, Neswaunja, or Big Ox, Stageaunja, or Big Blue Eyes, and Wasashaco, or Brave Man, all Ottoes."
Novel Experiences among the Indians
About this time (the nineteenth and twentieth of August), the explorers lost by death the only member of their party who did not survive the journey. Floyd River, which flows into the Upper Missouri, in the northwest corner of Iowa, still marks the last resting-place of Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died there of bilious colic and was buried by his comrades near the mouth of the stream. Near here was a quarry of red pipestone, dear to the Indian fancy as a mine of material for their pipes; traces of this deposit still remain. So fond of this red rock were the Indians that when they went there to get the stuff, even lifelong and vindictive enemies declared a truce while they gathered the material, and savage hostile tribes suspended their wars for a time.
On the north side of the Missouri, at a point in what is now known as Clay County, South Dakota, Captains Lewis and Clark, with ten men, turned aside to see a great natural curiosity, known to the Indians as the Hill of Little Devils. The hill is a singular mound in the midst of a flat prairie, three hundred yards long, sixty or seventy yards wide, and about seventy feet high. The top is a smooth level plain. The journal says:--
"The Indians have made it a great article of their superstition: it is called the Mountain of Little People, or Little Spirits; and they believe that it is the abode of little devils, in the human form, of about eighteen inches high, and with remarkably large heads; they are armed with sharp arrows, with which they are very skilful, and are always on the watch to kill those who should have the hardihood to approach their residence. The tradition is, that many have suffered from these little evil spirits, and, among others, three Maha Indians fell a sacrifice to them a few years since. This has inspired all the neighboring nations, Sioux, Mahas, and Ottoes, with such terror, that no consideration could tempt them to visit the hill. We saw none of these wicked little spirits, nor any place for them, except some small holes scattered over the top; we were happy enough to escape their vengeance, though we remained some time on the mound to enjoy the delightful prospect of the plain, which spreads itself out till the eye rests upon the northwest hills at a great distance, and those of the northeast, still farther off, enlivened by large herds of buffalo feeding at a distance."
The present residents of the region, South Dakota, have preserved the Indian tradition, and Spirit Mound may be seen on modern maps of that country.
Passing on their way up the Missouri, the explorers found CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE, CLICK HERE