Stephen Ambrose Interview
Why should we care about Lewis and Clark?
They were first. They lead the way. Everyone who canoes on the Missouri River paddles in their wake. Everyone who crosses the Rocky Mountains does so in their footsteps. They were first. There's an awful lot more to this. But that's number one. Cut there? I mean I'll go on.
Go on. What makes it a good story??
It is such a great story. It's young men setting off into the unknown, having experiences that no one had ever had before and no one can ever have again. There's a uniqueness to being the first across two-thirds of a continent, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast. Nobody knew what was there. Every time they went around a bend in a river, they had a surprise in front of them. Every time they crossed a mountain pass, they didn't know what they were gonna to see on the other side. This is an experience that only Columbus, or Captain Cook, or Lewis and Clark have ever had. And none of the rest of us can ever have that experience, but we can live that experience through their Journals. We can put ourselves into those canoes with them, or we can get on those horses going over the Lolo Trail with them and their writings are so marvelously descriptive and alive and, and, and, and there, that you can follow Lewis and Clark, you can follow Lewis and Clark across the continent in a, in a way that you can't do with any other explorers. Every night you can camp on a sight that they camped on. And you can bring out their Journals and read what happened to them that day as they pass through that part of the country.
I believe all that, but why should we care about it now? Is there an importance to that journey that we need to remember? Why is it important??
There so many answers to that. I suppose from the point of view of the late 20th century, the single most important part of the expedition was the creation of the map, the acquis..., the most important part of the expedition was first of all, they were exploring Louisiana. Second, their entry, when they crossed Lemhi pass and stepped onto the Columbia watershed, they were the first Americans to do so and they established the American claim to the great Northwest empire. The importance of the expedition lies in its scientific discoveries, the over 100 new animal species. Over a hundred and fifty new plant species that they discovered. But beyond these practical things, and beyond that it is just a great story with fabulous human interest in it, (Interrupted ) ...I didn't like the word fabulous and then I lost what I was going to say. CUT.
In the late 20th century, the American people are yearning for heroes and a sense of national unity. Lewis and Clark are the real thing. They're authentic heroes. And they provide us with a sense of national unity that transcends time, and distance, and place, and brings us together from coast to coast. This journey really began in Washington, DC, on the Atlantic coast, when Meriwether Lewis set out. It made its mid-point when it got to the Pacific Ocean and then returned to Washington, DC. They bind the continent together, they bind together the American people in a way that nobody else can or, or ever will.
I had a sense that real star is the land itself.
Well, that's a ver, big part of the whole Lewis and Clark story is the, the greatness of the continent and what's on that continent--the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the falls on the Columbia River, the Pacific coast, the incredible diversity of the North American continent, which they were the first to see, and the first to realize and the first to describe. The journey, I'm going to repeat here a little bit, the journey begins in Washington. People talk about it begins in, at Wood River in St. Louis, it didn't really, it began in Washington, DC, where Lewis got his instructions, and then in Philadelphia where he got his training in the scientific aspects of the expedition, and then his trip up to Harper's Ferry and gathering the equipment and then on to Pittsburgh and then down the Ohio and then up the Mississippi to St. Louis and then up the Missouri all the way to the Mandans and then beyond the Yellowstone and all the way to the Rocky Mountains and then the descent down the Rocky Mountains and the trip out to Astoria, Oregon and the Pacific Coast. Nobody else has ever made a trip like that because there isn't any other continent like this. And the diversity and the spectacular scenery and the Indians. There's another place where what they found, no one had ever seen. There, except for Columbus, they saw more Indians in the pure, pre-contact state, then any oth..., except for Columbus and Cortez, they saw more Indians in the pre-contact state than any other explorers or any other people anytime, anywhere, in history. And their descriptions of these Indian tribes and the variety of these Indian tribes and the politics of these tribes and their mores and their customs that they described so colorfully and in such marvelous detail helped bring this whole story alive. So it's a combination of the land, the distance, and the people that were out there.
Let's start at the beginning. Why did TJ want the west?
Well, he didn't want it for his generation. The first thing you gotta remember about life at the turn, into the 19th century, is that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. So that the distance in North America, even to the Mississippi River, were so great that it was very hard to imagine how you were ever going to incorporate Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, into the United States of America. There was a very real possibility that those nations west of the Appalachian chain... there was a very real possibility that those states beyond the Appalachian chain would have to secede from the United States and form a separate nation that would allow them access to New Orleans which was the only way out to the world for them. So in that circumstance, why did Jefferson want Louisiana? Because he had a great mind. And because he was an empire builder, and because he was a Virginia planter. And Virginia planters were extraordinarily wasteful people. They would go into, it was almost (tight air?) country that Jefferson grew up in. And they would go into as yet uncultivated areas, gird the trees, plow around them, plant tobacco, after three years, move on to another field, using what they had the most of, labor, slave labor. And land. To create a crop, tobacco, that did no good and alot of harm, and then move on. Those, those, those Virginia planters could never have enough land. George Washington owned hundreds of thousands of acres and he wanted more. Jefferson was not a great landowner by Virginia standards, but he still had thousands and thousands and thousands of acres and he wanted more. And they were always dreaming of more land. So number one, Jefferson wanted land. Number two, Jefferson had a mind that encompassed the continent and he envisioned the creation of a great nation that would stretch from sea to sea, that would be bound together by a political concept, not by geography. That would be bound together by a political concept, not by commerce. The commerce was gonna go down in New Orleans. They couldn't imagine a train, or an automobile, or a truck. But it would be bound together by a political idea, the idea of liberty. And he wanted to spread that liberty all the way out to the West Coast and make this one great nation, joined together by democratic principals as expressed in his Northwest Ordinance, which was, I think, one of his greatest of many gifts to the American people.
Why did he choose Lewis?
Jefferson, of course, Lewis was a neighbor of Jefferson's. Lewis's father, who died when Lewis was very young, was a great friend of Jefferson's. Jefferson had watched Lewis grow up. He was a friend of Lewis's mother and had been terribly impressed by Lewis even as a young kid. Jefferson did a brief biography of Lewis and talked about Lewis going out into the snow of the winter hunting in bare feet, that's how tough this kid was. He picked Lewis to come to Washington to be his private secretary. Lewis was in the army at the time. Not to train Lewis for the expedition--that's a myth. He brought Lewis into Washington to provide him with information on the politics of the army of the United States, because that army had been packed by John Adams in midnight appointments, just as he did with the judges, filled with Federalist officers. Jefferson was determined to undo that, at least in part, and he wondered, who were the Federalist officers? Jefferson hadn't been in the army, he didn't know, who the politics of the officer corps. So Lewis's first job was to put the finger on the extreme Federalists in the army.
Ran out of the first roll.
Because he was an expert woodsman.
Why did he choose Lewis?
Ready? Because he was an expert woodsman. Because he had traveled extensively in the old Northwest. Because he was an army officer of proven leadership qualities. And because he was a man of the Renaissance. He knew, not an awful lot but quite alot about the classification of plants, about how to describe animals, about how to shoot the sun so that he could figure out where he was on the earth. Lewis combined all, the qualities necessary to first get out there and get back, the number one requirement. But into the process, bring alot of scientific knowledge so that he could bring back not just how far it is, but what's there and could describe it accurately.
What kind of man was he?
He was a drunk. A hard drinker. An army officer. Very ambitious, man of high temper, a Virginia gentleman. A man who had a big emphasis on rank and title and position in society. Was a great company commander. He knew how to lead, he knew how to bring out the best in the men, he knew how to push them, how to get out of them more than they knew they had to give. He knew when to back off, he knew when to issue an extra gill of whiskey. He knew when to tell a little joke. He knew when to get tough with them. These were some of the qualities that made him such a great leader. As a person, he was very troubled. He drank way too much. He used alot of drugs. Partly this was because he had malaria and it becomes a question, was that an excuse or not.
There is a melancholiness about him.
There, there's a... I don't like to get into that too much but...Jefferson spoke to the melancholy streak that ran in the family and he certainly was a man who could fall into a deep depression, into a really dark mood, and sink and sink and sink and then stay there for a long time--eventually he committed suicide. And yet, he had a willpower and an energy sufficient to overcome those depressions so that in the expedition itself the only indication we have of depression is when he doesn't write in his journal. But there's no indication at all that it ever effected his actions, and for a manic/depressive, which he pretty clearly was, that takes a tremendous willpower to overcome that depression and continue to act. And he did that well.
Tell me about Clark. Why Clark?
Clark was an army officer with extensive experience in the west. He was the youngest brother of George Rogers Clark, the great Revolutionary War hero...the great Revolutionary War hero. He knew his way around, he was a man that Lewis trusted completely. Lewis picked Clark, Jefferson didn't pick Clark. And Lewis is the one who decided to share the command with Clark because he had such confidence in him. He had served with him only six months. It's quite remarkable, their friendship. Although they were born close to each other, they hadn't grown up together and yet, they trusted each other implicitly and completely and Lewis picked Clark for this job because of this great confidence he had in Clark's abilities.
This is a story about a great team, isn't it?
Yes, very much so. It's unique. (interrupted)
OK, but you got me going on it. It is unique in the history of command. It is anathema to all military people to have a divided command. This was a divided command and it worked.
And I begin to suspect, too, that this is a story of a friendship.
The, the, the friendship between Lewis and Clark was well-established when they set off from Louisville in the fall of 1803 on the way to St. Louis. It grew, it expanded, it got so they just thought alike. Very often, they would come to the same conclusion simultaneously before they had consulted with each other and the, the, this pattern had its beginnings on the Ohio River and continued through the winter of 1803-04 as they were preparing for the expedition.
Set me off from St. Louis.
May 14, 1804, under a gentle breeze, they set off at four in the afternoon, headed up the Missouri River. They'd been looking at it all winter long. They were just bursting to get going, they were, wanted to vault that energy up the Missouri River. And it was on May 14th that they started into that gentle breeze and made four miles and camped on an island.
Who didn't want this to succeed?
Among Americans, the Federalists did. The Federalists ridiculed the Louisiana Purchase. Why are we giving away all this money, of which we don't have enough, to buy land, of which we've got more than we're ever gonna be able to use. The Federalists wanted to embarrass the Jefferson administration with the failure of the expedition. And the Spanish didn't want it to succeed. The Spanish were very concerned about their gold and silver mines in New Mexico and they feared that the Lewis and Clark expedition was aiming to take those mines away from them.
And did they do anything about it?
The Spanish? Yes, they sent out expeditions to try to intercept Lewis and Clark and to turn them back. Lucky for both sides that it didn't, that they never encountered them.
We tend to refer to L&C as two guys alone in the wilderness. Tell me about the men.
It was a platoon-sized force that varied at various times in the expedition, but ordinarily about 32 men. They were hand-picked, they were the best the American west had to offer. This expedition excited great interest all through the Kentucky and Ohio and Indiana country and the word was out that they were signing up soldiers for this expedition and they were besieged by young men who wanted to go along, so that they could pick and choose. And they picked the best. Average age was in the early twenties. Physical condition, excellent. Knowledge of the wilderness, outstanding. Devotion to duty--they were young men, some of them had to have some lashes laid on, fifty in a couple of cases. They became a disciplined crew. They were rowdy frontiersmen as the expedition began. By the end of the expedition they were a solid team.
How did they travel?
When they left where?
They were in a keel boat and three pirogues as they called them--canoes is the term often used today--going up the Missouri River. Moving that keel boat by pole, by oar, by sail or by pulling on ropes, were the four basic methods for moving that big, heavy, keel boat, overladen, up that Missouri River.
What's happening in the first days and weeks out? Are they cohering as a team?
Well, the shakedown, of course, and they had to learn how to handle the river. The river was filled with great trees, cottonwood trees, floating down from as far away as Montana, and these trees were tremendous obstacles and you had to have somebody in the front with a long pole to try to ward them off and to watch for them constantly. They had to learn how to move that big baby up that river and it took some practice and it took some doing. They also had some very serious discipline problems in the first three or four weeks of the expedition. Men sneaking extra gills of whiskey for themselves, sentinels on duty at night, going to the whiskey keg and helping themselves to some. The answer to that was, the discipline that we would just be shocked at today, but they did it, the 50 and even 100 lashes well laid on very quickly cured the men of that kind of discipline problem that beset them in the first days of the expedition.
What are "Rushes Thunderbolts?"
It was a pill that Dr. Benjamin Rush had worked up and that he said was sovereign for almost everything. It was a purgative that is well described by the term "thunderbolts." And it was the medicine of choice for almost any ailment. Usually it was almost certainly the wrong thing to use. But they used it constantly, and they believed in it and, and, and it sure did clean them out.
They're not in unknown territory now. They're in known territory, right?
All the way from St. Louis up to present-day Bismarck, North Dakota, they were in territory that previous fur trappers and Indian traders had been on, that's right. And it had been mapped. It was new to them. Although there were voyagers on the keel boat and in the pirogues who had been as far up as the Mandan Villages near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. So that the first season of the expedition, from May of 1804 to October of 1804 was really just, "Let's get up to the start point." The start point was Bismarck. It was from Bismarck that they would be going into the unknown territory.
What was the Great Plains? When you're from New Hampshire, what was it like when you hit the Great Plains?
It was the Garden of Eden. No American had ever seen anything like it. Buffalo herds that stretched across the horizon. Elk herds that numbered in the hundreds, indeed in the thousands. Deer so plentiful as chickens on a farm, according to William Clark. The Grapes, the fruits, the grasses of the Great Plains, the rolling hills of the Missouri River, the boundless horizon. This was paradise. ....I, I don't know how to describe, I don't know what, I've never been in the steppes of Russia, and maybe it's that way there, but on the Great Plains of North America that they were seeing as the first citizens of the United States, it was just wonderland.
They were seeing new animals for the first time...they are collecting new species.
When they got on the Great Plains it was almost daily that they ran into new animals. Prairie dogs, nobody'd ever seen before. Coyotes. Let me think about some others from the Great Plains. One of my favorite stories is the first time they saw a coyote, they didn't know what it was. They went out to kill it and they were unsuccessful. Now this didn't happen very often to the men on the Lewis and Clark expedition. If there was game around, they could hunt it up and track it down and kill it. They failed to get the coyote, an experience that hundreds of thousands of Americans have had since when they go after coyotes.
What about the prairie dog?
They couldn't believe the numbers of the prairie dogs that they were seeing and then they couldn't believe the lifestyle of the prairie dog and they went to one of holes and they kept pulling up water, gallons and gallons and gallons of water, and pouring it down that hole trying to force that prairie dog out of there. Then they tried to dig down and get to the bottom of the burrow and force the prairie dog out that way and, and, and neither method worked. The prairie dog foiled them. Just like the coyote did.
And they also had a problem with the grizzly bears.
Well, you've leaped ahead to 1805.
Because they didn't see their first grizzly until 1805.
What happens with the Indians along the way? The friendly encounters.
The initial relations with the Indians were with tribes that had had contact with French and Spanish and British traders and were accustomed to white men and who expected to be paid bribes to continue passing on up the river and the expedition was prepared for that and they had presents labeled for each of the individual tribes as they came to them and relations were very good. Lewis had a standard speech that he would deliver to these Indians on the new situation, you've got a new father, we're going to be trading with you, we're gonna bring you all the benefits that the British and the Spanish have been bringing you, only we're gonna sell you better goods at cheaper prices and you should join up in this great American trading empire that we're gonna be building. And that diplomacy was successful in the lower Missouri. Most of those tribes, the Otoes and the Pawnees and the others, were happy to have this new father who was going to be giving them all these great presents and a free trip. They were gonna take the chiefs to Washington to see the great father, and in the process to be impressed by the size and power of the United States. So that in the initial first three and a half, four months of the expedition, relations with the Indians couldn't have been better.
What happened with the Tetons?
Well, these were the bully boys of the Missouri River. And they had a monopoly on trading with the British coming out of Saskatchewan that they used to control tribes like the Mandans and the Pawnees and the Otoes and others. And the Teton Sioux were not friendly. They were afraid of the intrusion of the Americans into a set-up that they were the principal beneficiaries of. So the Teton Sioux tried to force a toll that was beyond the expeditions ability to pay and when the expedition wouldn't pay it--not enough tobacco, not enough whiskey, not enough beads, not enough guns, which is principally what they wanted, they made an attempt to stop the expedition. This was the tensest moment of the first year of the Lewis and Clark expedition because you had hundreds of Indians on the riverbank with their bows strung ready to fire and you had the young men of the expedition with their weapons primed and Lewis holding a lighted taper over the swivel gun ready to hit these Indians with his cannon. And Clark with his sword drawn ready to drive it through the heart of the Teton Sioux chiefs if they didn't let go of the cord of that canoe that they were trying to hold on to to force this payment. Clark was ready to act. "I felt myself grow warm," he wrote in his journal. And he told those Indians, "We are not squaws, we're warriors. And we're powerful enough, we can kill 400 such tribes as this." Well, it wasn't the Americans that saved the situation, it was the Red Indian chiefs. They're the ones who tried a bit of diplomacy. They're the ones who stepped forward and pushed their warriors back a little bit and extended their hands to Lewis and Clark and said, "Let's, let's talk this over guys." Lewis and Clark were Virginia gentlemen and they had been challenged and they were ready to fight. Indeed, they were eager to fight. And, if they'd a had their way there would have been a fight. And had there been a fight, there wouldn't have been a Lewis and Clark expedition. No question the Sioux would have won the fight and driven them back, and become permanent allies of the British with consequences for later American history we can only guess at, but they could only have been bad.
Tell me about York. Who's York?
York was Clark's childhood companion. He was a slave. We know he was big. We know he was very athletic. He was a great dancer. He was devoted to William Clark. He was a great help to the expedition because he was such a curiosity. Indians who had seen white men had never seen a black man before and there's the famous--is it Catlin or Charley Russell--and there's the famous Charley Russell painting in the Mandan lodges of the Mandan chief trying to rub the black off of York's skin. York had a great time on the expedition. He had, had his own rifle. He got to vote. He was a full member of the expedition. He had a, the Indians loved him, and the Indian women especially loved York and he took full advantage of that so that on many occasions York would be missing that night and he would be in the lodge with one of the Indians. Sometimes with the Indian husband standing guard while the business was completed.
Was there alot of such contact during the expedition?
With, it, it varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes were pretty chaste and, and had a high morality. And other tribes the morality was looser and in some tribes the thought was you transfer power via sexual intercourse. So that young braves would offer their wives to the young men of the expedition because these white men had power and the way these Indian braves could get that power was via their wives. So that there was a great deal of sexual contact between the men of the expedition and the Indian women. And the Sioux tribe, with the Mandan tribe, with other tribes. So far as we're aware, the Captains never indulged. There was a consequence to this. These Indians that had had contact with British traders all had the venereal disease in one form or another, and this was passed on to the men of the expedition. The treatment for it was mercury, heroic doses of mercury. Which in the end will drive you crazy. No indication Lewis and Clark ever took mercury. Which presumably means that they themselves never indulged with these, although they were frequently pressed by Indian chiefs, "Take my wife, take my wife." And Clark writes, "that I angered them by refusing. I embarrassed them." But Clark still refused.
Tell me about the Mandans and the Hidatsas and that incredible winter.
The Mandans and the Hidatsas and the Arikaras were the great tribes of the great bend of the Missouri River. Before Lewis and Clark arrived, they had been the dominant tribe of the great plains. They'd been badly decimated by smallpox. A series of smallpox epidemics in the decade just before Lewis and Clark arrived. It reduced their villages by as much as 90%. So they were greatly weakened by the time Lewis and Clark met them. They were wonderfully friendly. They made possible the expedition's spending the winter on the high plains under the most severe conditions--it's like Siberia. Without the Mandans, they never could have gotten through that winter. The Mandans provided them with buffalo meat, buffalo hunts, with corn, with buffalo robes, with skills about how to handle this kind of weather, and were very friendly as people. So there was alot of social intercourse between the Mandans and the men of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
What was the Mandan buffalo dance all about?
The Mandan buffalo dance was designed to bring the herds in to the area where the Mandans lived so they could go out and hunt them. And it was a elaborate ceremony, extraordinarily colorful. It involved having the old men come into these great earthen lodges that the Mandans lived in, with dozens, if not even hundreds of Indians gathered around a fire. And the oldest men in the tribe would be lead by the young warriors to the warrior's wife. Some of these guys were just tottering old men, they could hardly move. And the girl would be there, half dressed or not dressed at all. And the brave would offer the wife to the old man, who was supposed to go outside the lodge in the terrible cold North Dakota winter and have a sexual intercourse which would transfer power to the young man and help bring back the buffalo. Some of these old men weren't up to it. The brave would then be on his knees, begging, "You've got to do it." The men of the expedition were a part of that, too. They also were begged by the braves to go out with their wives and transfer that power.
What happened to Floyd?
Sgt. Floyd had a attack that apparently, almost certainly was appendicitis, and went very quickly. There was nothing that they could do for him. If he had been in Philadelphia with Dr. Rush and the leading medical men of the day, there's nothing they could have done for him either. So, that appendicitis attack killed Sgt. Floyd. They buried him on what's today called Floyd's bluff in Iowa. He was a very good man, kept a nice journal, it was a loss to the expedition. One thing that happened as a result of it is, worthy of passing interest. The Captains decided to have an election for his successor. They had three squads, they needed three sergeants. With Floyd dead, they needed a new sergeant. Instead of just appointing one, they decided to have an election.
Cut--Ran out of film.
When Sgt. Floyd died, the captains decided to have an election for his successor, they needed three sergeants for the three squads. This was unprecedented in the regular army. The militia had elections. The regular army never had. And this was the first election ever held west of the Mississippi River. Sgt. Gass won the election and was a good a choice. It showed the wisdom of the Captain's decision to let the men decide who the best among them was.
This runs counter to almost everything. Sharing of command, the election... a wonderful story of cooperation.
It's a story of teamwork. And that's what they had started to do at the very beginning of the expedition and continued on through, with one of the highlights coming with the election of Sgt. Gass. We're gonna weld these kids into a team, and we're gonna act as one. And they were able to do that and the election of Gass was an important part of that process.
It's almost like the space program, with the training.
Is there an analogy to be made with the space program?
Meriwether Lewis was as carefully prepared for this expedition as the modern astronauts are for the space explorations. He went to St. Louis... He went to Philadelphia and the leading savants of the day in botany and mineralogy and zoology and all of the various branches of the natural sciences as well astronomers and people who could teach him about celestial observation, the very best there were in America which were in Philadelphia and really as good as any in the world, trained Meriwether Lewis for this expedition.
And then Lewis trained Clark. Lewis gave Clark the benefit of everything he'd learned in Philadelphia after they got together in Louisville and during that trip down the Ohio and then during the long winter at Camp Wood.
In terms of importance to the US, this is like the moon.
It's bigger. In our lifetimes at least nobody's gonna live on the moon. That they were exploring and moving into and opening up country that in their lifetimes people, American people were going to be going into, and, and living in, and developing, and building on.
Tell me about Charbonneau...
Charbonneau was a half-breed Frenchman who was living with the Hidatsas and who had acquired two young Shoshoni girls as wives, apparently as a result of winning a bet, probably playing some kind of a dice game. In any case, Charbonneau had these two young Shoshoni wives, and he was not much of a, pretty much a n'er-do-well kind of a fellow. He liked living among the Indians, he wasn't educated at all, he wasn't very bright, he wasn't very ambitious, but he had two Shoshoni wives, teenage girls. And the captains knew that when they got to the Rocky Mountains, they had no idea how big those Rockies were, but they're mountains. They're gonna have to have horses to get over, and they knew the Shoshonis had horses, and they were desperate to find somebody who could speak Shoshoni so that they could barter with them. Well, here's this thirteen or fourteen-year-old girl, Sacagawea, pregnant, one of Charbonneau's wives. Charbonneau was eager to hire on to the expedition as an interpreter. The captains didn't much want Charbonneau, but they sure wanted Sacagawea, and they couldn't have her without him. So he was signed on, then he backed off and said, I'm not, I'm signing on, I'll come along as an interpreter, but I am not going to pole any canoes, I'm not gonna stand guard, I'm not gonna gather firewood, I'm not gonna go hunting. My sole job is as an interpreter and the rest of the time I'm just gonna laze around. The captains said, unacceptable. Go. Out. Charbonneau, apparently at Sacagawea's urging, changed his mind. One can imagine her saying, "Are you mad? You're gonna pass up this opportunity 'cause you're not willing to do a little work?" In any event, he crawled, he came back to the captains and said "I'll do anything that you tell me to." Then she had to have that child. And then, for Sacagawea, her time came to have the baby. She had very, she was a very young girl, she had a very difficult birth. Lewis used a remedy that he'd heard about from one of the British traders of breaking up rattlesnake tail rattles into a liquid and having her drink it. And she did and like that that baby came out. So it worked. And so now they had added to the expedition this more-or-less no-good Frenchman, this wonderful, sparkling young girl named Sacagawea, and an infant. So along with York, they became members of the expedition who were outside the United States Army.
And now they leave Fort Mandan and now they're heading..
They left Fort Mandan on the 7th of April, 1805, and from that moment on they were in "terra incognito." As they headed more or less straight west on the Missouri River, into the setting sun, every minute of every day, what they were seeing was brand new to the civilized world. No white man had ever laid his eyes on it before.
And what extraordinary landscape they are going through... can you describe the White Cliffs....
You leaped ahead pretty far on me, but I'll leap with you. And, and, they came into this fantastic country, crossing North Dakota, crossing eastern Montana, getting into the White Cliffs area of the Missouri River. "Scenes of visionary enchantment," Lewis wrote. It seemed as if they would never have an end and these White Cliffs are formed into the most grotesque shapes and forms, it's like a valley of the gods. You can, with the help of a little imagination, as Lewis puts it, make out gargoyles, and make out statuary, and make out buildings as this limestone has eroded into these houses of fantastic shapes, of which you've certainly got pictures, right? And... it's a...you want me to talk about it today?
Well, no, just how they experienced it....
They had certainly never seen anything like this before. And Lewis, especially, was struck forcibly by the majesty and the grotesquesness and the variety of the forms that he was seeing. He says that some of these buildings look to him that they had been made by man, that these were fortresses until he recollected that nature came first. And so here was a case where man was imitating nature rather than the other way around.
What must be the effect of seeing the vastness of nature out west...of seeing the same mountain in your horizon for weeks?
Or for longer than two weeks. They saw the same mountains in the distance--they were only making 10, 12, 14, 15 miles a day. So that the change in scenery and the change in environment was imperceptible to them. And Lewis writes at one point that if this river weren't growing a little shallower every day, I would suspect that it would never have an end. The mountains were finally seen in the end of May of 1805, but they were so far in the distance and it, it just seemed you would never, ever be able to get to them. And meanwhile you're struggling along, knowing these mountains are hundreds of miles out there and you're making 10,12 miles a day. And the season is a-wasting. Getting into June. Soon it's gonna be the fall and snows and the end of the traveling season. It's always seemed to me that they must have been, every time they looked up from that river, wondering, "My God, Almighty! Will we ever make it? Will this river ever have an end to it?"
It's a wonder that they survived at all...
That's too easy. There's, that, that's true of the whole trip. Everywhere on the trip, you wonder how in the hell could they get through it...you, you live the trip through the journals, and every day as you go on to the next, "How in the hell are they gonna get out of this one? How on earth are they gonna be able to get over this next obstacle?"
After the White Cliffs, they came to what appeared to be a fork in the river...
They came to the Marias River and they had no preparation for that. The Indians who had been out west, like the Hidatsas, had told them, "This river, that river," and so far, they'd been more or less accurate. There'd been no mention of the Marias River whatsoever, so it came as a complete surprise to them and at that time it was flowing equal with the Missouri River. Must have been very heavy snows that winter up in Glacier Park, which is where the Marias comes out of. And they looked at it and they had an intellectual problem of the first magnitude. Which one is the Missouri River? They had explicit orders from Jefferson to follow the Missouri to its source. And they knew from the Hidatsas the Missouri was the right way to go to get to the place where they could cross the mountains and get on to the Columbia Range(?). It was getting late in the season. We're into July now. If they make the wrong choice, there's not going to be time to rectify that error and they're not gonna get over the mountains in 1805 and the whole expedition is gonna come crashing down. The men to a man thought the Marias, which flows from Glacier Park...The men to a man thought that the Marias, which comes in from the northwest, was the right river and that was the right direction to go. The Missouri comes in from the southwest, wrong direction to go. The captains Lewis and Clark were certain that the Missouri, the left-hand fork, was the true Missouri, and that the men were wrong about the Marias. They did some exploring and that further convinced them and also further convinced the men that the Marias was the right one to go on. Never-the-less, they made the decision, we're going up the left-hand fork. The men told the captains, "We disagree with you but we are happy to follow you wherever you choose to lead us." This was a mark of confidence in Lewis and Clark that was exquisite.
A terrific surprise. They had been told by the Hidatsas that there was a great falls, and they knew there had to be a falls with the water coming out of the mountains. Lewis discovered that falls and was ecstatic, because that meant they were on the right river. He proceeded, and there's another falls, and he proceeded and there's another one. And it turned out, what they expected to be one falls, with a little, short, one-day portage around it, was five falls and they had a more than 20 mile portage they were gonna have to make to get around it. That same day, Lewis had another adventure. The expedition declared war on the grizzly bears. They had been very eager to meet the grizzlies, they'd heard alot about them from the Indians. Nobody had ever seen, no white man had ever seen a bear this size before. In their initial encounters with the grizzly, and it went fairly well. And Lewis remarked in his journal that, "Well I can understand why the Indians are afraid of these bears with their indifferent little muskets that the British sell to 'em, and their bows and arrows, but we got Kentucky long rifles, we can take on anything." After about the third bear, the resolution of the men began to crumble a bit because these gentlemen were so hard to kill. They hit these bears with 8, 10, 12 slugs, some of them through the brains, others through the lungs, sometimes through the heart, and these bears were still coming after them. On the occasion of discovering the Great Falls, Lewis was walking along the north bank of the Missouri, observing the flora and fauna as he always did, and he, he had a wonderful eye, he'd catch everything, he'd catch the lay of the land, he'd catch the little tiny plant that he had never seen before, he'd see the little sparrow that he'd never seen before, he'd stop to describe it. He had a marvelous eye. But on this occasion, he hadn't noticed a grizzly coming. Until the grizzly was only about 30 paces from him. And he had just fired his rifle and had forgotten to reload her--one of the few mistakes he had made so far on the expedition. The bear started charging. Lewis brought his rifle up and immediately recalled, "She's not charged." And he turned and began moving toward the river as fast as he could, his eyes searching the terrain for a tree that he could climb. No trees. He started to run. The bear started to run. He got to the bank of the river and he thought, "Well, I'm going to jump into the river." And he had an espontoon(?) which was a long, pipe-like device, get out into the river so that I'm at chest height, the bear will have to swim, and maybe with my espontoon, I can protect myself. In all of this excitement, he never let go of that rifle. In the whole expedition, he never let go of that rifle. That rifle was his life out on those plains, and in the mountains. He turned on the bear and presented his espontoon and just like that the bear took one look and declined the combat. Turned and went back.
He writes about the Great Falls with rapture.
Way to describe it.
Yes, in his, one of the few times that he had a regret. He'd made some mistakes in packing for this expedition. People had to make mistakes, they didn't know what was out there. He didn't get enough blue beads and many other examples. They ran out of salt. They ran out of whiskey, which was worse than running out of salt. I forgot what we were talking about.
..the rapture at the Great Falls.
At the Great Falls he was so struck by the beauty of these falls, one of the most sublime sights in all the world, that he regretted that he didn't have the pen of a Thompson, referring to a famous travel writer of the 18th century, and that he was not an artist and couldn't draw it. And he regretted that they hadn't brought an artist along.
That's great. But they're late.
Season's wearing on. Days are starting to get shorter. We've passed the 21st of June now. Every time he looked to his right, there were those mountains, covered with snow. He's got to get across them before winter sets in. And the damn river is going the wrong way. The river is flowing south and even south-east a bit. He's gotta follow that river. Eventually it's gonna have to turn and go up into those mountains, but when, where? So there was a growing sense of urgency and a, a trepidation and an anxiety that had to be lived with. Weren't anything to do about it--just keep pressing on. And now here are these falls, this tremendous barrier, and you're gonna have to haul all of this stuff, or everything that you don't put into a cache, around those falls. This is broken country. It's treeless country. It's country of the most extremes in weather, terribly hot days, freezing cold nights, winds of a force that you don't experience on the east coast of the United States. And they didn't have any equipment to portage with. They're gonna have to put together out of what was available from natural resources to, to make some kind of transportation to haul these big, heavy dugout canoes, and the iron kettles, and all the trade goods, and the rifles, and all the other gear, around these falls. They had another problem at the same time. Sacagawea was desperately ill. On the verge of death, a faint pulse, unable to eat, can't sleep, sweating profusely. Fortunately they found a sulfur springs on the side of the Missouri River and Lewis, who was a great experimenter in medical matters and was the doctor of the expedition, started prescribing doses of this sulfur water for her. And it worked. So she recovered. Meanwhile, they're organizing this portage around the Great Falls. They made 21 miles in thirty days. This was excruciating, because this was the best traveling season of the year but it was the best that they could do. They built trucks, as Lewis called them, they used cottonwoods to build axles and to cut out wheels and they put the canoes on these trucks and began manhandling them over the prairie. The wind blew with such velocity that when it was directly behind them they could raise the sail on those canoes and sail across dry land.
Less than a mile a day was what they were averaging during the portage of the Great Falls. And then there was another awful disappointment at the end of that portage. Lewis, together with Jefferson, had designed an iron-framed boat that he had had built at Harper's Ferry and had hauled all of this way anticipating there was going to be a big falls and a portage and he was gonna need transportation on the other side of it because he couldn't bring all the canoes along with them. They put this boat together, using elk skins. There were no pine trees in the area, so they couldn't get any pitch to seal the seams of the sew-together elk skins. They put "The Experiment," as the men called this boat, onto the water, above the Great Falls, at the conclusion of the portage, and Lewis was just overjoyed. It worked. It was light as a feather and yet it could carry tons of equipment. And it floated like a cork--until those seams started to come apart. And at the end of the day, she sank. And had to be abandoned. They moved upstream and found some cottonwoods and made some more dugouts for themselves. But it was a terrible disappointment. Lewis characteristically just passed right through it.
They need to get to the mountains, they need horses...
After "The Experiment" sunk and they made the new dugouts and began moving up the Missouri River again, the next great feature they came to were the Gates of the Rocky Mountains, as Lewis named them, the canyon of the Missouri River. A dark and foreboding place where the cliffs rise straight up on either side of you. They made their way through the Gates of the Mountains and came into what is today's Helena Valley. And continued to move on with now the worry being, "Where are the Indians?" They were delighted that so far they hadn't seen an Indian since they left Mandan village. Because they didn't want to have to deal with the Blackfeet and the other tribes out there on the Great Plains. Now they were desperate to find the Indians, the Shoshonis, rich in horses, very poor in guns. Perfect trade opportunity for them. But no Shoshonis. Clark went off by foot to try to find the Shoshonis. The prickly pears, the bane of the Great Plains for anyone who doesn' t have the 4 and 5 layer deep moccasins, just, just, just, just crumpled his feet. He was just in agony, but he insisted in going on. He came back to report to Lewis one night and said, "I'm going out again tomorrow," and Lewis said, "No, I'll go." "No," Clark said, "I insist. I'm going." He was determined to find those Indians. Lewis, meanwhile, was getting the canoes up the Missouri River in the direction of Three Forks which they'd heard about from the Indians. And which was where Sacagawea had been captured by the Hidatsas about 5 years earlier. Clark had no luck finding any Indians. He then took over the water-borne part of the journey while Lewis went out on a exploration to try to find the Shoshonis. And eventually at Shoshoni Cove he did run into a lone Indian and had bad luck. The Indian, a young brave, astride a horse, was watching Lewis. And on one side, Lewis had Dryer, the chief hunter of the expedition, and McNeal was over here on the other side and they're all three proceeding on. To the Shoshoni brave they were obviously strangers, strangers are enemies, there were three of them, they kept coming on, he could see that they were armed with good long rifles, he had only a bow and arrow. Lewis stripped his arm back, he was so suntanned he looked like an Indian, to show this, to show this brave his white skin. Was probably was a mistake, because Shoshonis knew nothing about white men, had never seen one before. In any event, the Indian heard Lewis shouting, "Cabbabone, cabbabone(?)." Sacagawea told him that that was...
Cut. We just ran out of film.
So Lewis was proceeding toward Shoshoni Cove, following an Indian trail, and he saw in the distance an Indian brave, on a horse, probably a teenager. This was a critical moment in the expedition--that contact had to be established. He moved forward slowly, trying to convince the Indian that he had no hostile intention. But Dryer was over here on the left and McNeal was on the right, Lewis wanted them to stop, but they didn't see his signal and they continued. So to the Indian, from his point of view, it looked like three armed men, quite possibly Blackfeet, were coming after him. And he was very skittish on his horse as Lewis approached. Lewis had had the foresight to ask Sacagawea what's, what's the Shoshoni word for friend and she said, "It's tababone(?)." Lewis stripped his sleeve back to show the Indian he was so suntanned he looked like an Indian, to show the Indian he was a white man, and started shouting, "Tababone, tababone!" Turns out that Sacagawea had misunderstood him. Tababone was the Shoshoni word for "stranger." They didn't have any word for white man. The Indian, watching these men approach, wield his horse around and disappeared. So Lewis emotionally went from just exaltation to the deepest despair. The chance to get those horses had quite possibly passed, maybe forever. Because these Shoshonis were so beaten on by the Blackfeet that it was likely that the tribe would pull out of the mountains.
They go through the Three Forks to the Lemhi pass...take me to Lemhi Pass, walk me up there...
From who's POV, Lewis's or Clark's?
After the Indian disappeared, Lewis determined to follow his trail back to the village. He really had no choice about it. He had to get contact with these Shoshonis. He followed the track. It lead him up a creek until finally he came to a spring and with all the anxiety and fear that he was feeling, he nevertheless was able to pause and drink out of that spring coming out of the side of the mountain, and to exalt that he had reached the ultimate source of the Missouri River. His man, McNeal, Pvt. McNeal, had earlier stood with a foot on either side of this little rivulet and thanked his God, as Lewis described it, that he had lived to bestride the mighty and heretofore deemed endless, Missouri River. Then it was up to the top of the pass, called Lemhi Pass. Now when Lewis took those last steps up to the top of Lemhi Pass, he was passing out of Louisiana, that is to say out of the United States, and into unclaimed territory. He anticipated seeing in front of him what was behind him. What was behind him was a very gradual ascent down to the Jefferson River and then down to the Three Forks and then down to the Missouri River, and it's a very long, gradual climb, quite easy to do on foot. He thought he would see the same thing on the other side. An easy descent down to the Columbia River. One day's portage over this mountain pass, build some... one day's portage over this mountain pass, you could haul the canoes on your back. Put them on to the water on the other side and you're home free. You just float on down to the Pacific Ocean. That's what he thought he was gonna see. What he saw was the Bitterroot Mountains, stretching endlessly in front of him, snow-clad peak after snow-clad peak after snow-clad peak. And they're gonna have to be crossed and he had no idea in God's world how he was gonna do it. Except he was gonna have to have Shoshoni horses to do it. Is that bothering? (?)
It's a funny thing about Lewis. When he got to the ultimate source of the Missouri River, he expresses in his Journal his exaltation at this, at, at, at this, a darling project of mine for seemingly all my life to get to this point and now I'm here, and he lets you know how excited and happy he is. Just a few minutes later, he gets to the top of Lemhi Pass and sees not at all what he expected. Way bigger problems than anything he'd ever anticipated and he doesn't write at all about his emotions. About his disappointment. And there's a bigger disappointment here than simply, "I'm gonna have alot tougher time getting through these mountains than I ever anticipated." The bigger disappointment is, the whole purpose of the expedition in terms of commerce was to find that one day portage over the Rocky Mountains. Jefferson was certain it was there. That it would be just like the Appalachians, going up the Potomac and then getting on to the waters of the Ohio. And Lewis had anticipated this and the Indians had told him that that was going to be the case. Of course, the Indians didn't understand about moving heavy equipment. And what he saw when he took that first step out of the United States and into what is today Idaho, brought an end to a dream that had begun with Columbus. The dream of an all-water route from Europe to the Far East, to the Indies, to the spices. Of course that dream had been battered with the discovery of the Isthmus of Panama and with the realization that Hudson's Bay had no outlet to the Pacific. That the hope had been kept alive via the Potomac, the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Columbia, there would be something very close to an all-water route, with just two short portages to make. And the instant that Meriwether Lewis stepped to the top of Lemhi Pass and looked out onto those Bitterroot Mountains, that dream that began with Columbus, ended. And he says not a word about it. He says, "I proceeded on down the Indian trail, and came to a spring, and here I first drank from the waters of the Columbia River." Then he continued on, found an old Indian woman with a couple of teenage girls digging roots--the Shoshoni. And he offered them some presents, some beads and some vermilion to paint their cheeks with, and through the sign language asked them to go back to the main village and tell the people there that they were friendly, that they were white men, that they wanted to make contact, and it worked. And then another great piece of luck. After various adventures of getting the two groups together, because Clark had been bringing the canoes up the Beaverhead River all this time, they finally got together and Sacagawea was reunited with her people, and it turned out that the chief of this band of the Shoshonis, named Cameahwait, was Sacagawea's brother. You wouldn't dare write it that way. But it happened. And there were hugs and there were kisses and there were embraces. And she started to translate and she was so overcome with emotion that she broke down and couldn't do it and then they got her going again. And through her good offices and her translating ability, a very complex translation route. She had to speak Shoshoni to her brother and her fellow tribespeople. Then she would put that into Hidatsa for Charbonneau, Charbonneau would put that Hidatsa into French for Labiche(?), and Labiche, Pvt. Labiche would put it into English for the captains, so it was a very complex translation route. But it worked. And very friendly relations were quickly established and the trading began. With the expedition offering European manufactured goods to these Indians who had magnificent horses. The Shoshonis were a desperately poor tribe, except for one thing. They had a tremendous horse heard. And excellent horses. Initially, Lewis and Clark were getting much the better of the bargain, until the Shoshonis realized how desperate they were for horses, and the price started to go up. And the Shoshonis proved to be better Yankee traders than these U.S. soldiers.
What was it like in the Bitterroot Mountains?
In September they, having gone down the Bitterroot River with a Shoshoni old man named Toby as their guide, had made a left turn to finally make the assault on the Bitterroot Mountains, following the Lolo Trail, which was the Nez Perce' route from their part of Idaho, across the Bitterroots to get to get out to the buffalo plains. Buffalo didn't live in the left side of the continental divide. It had been used for hundreds of years by the Nez Perce and was a fairly clearly marked trail and relatively easy for the Nez Perce with their women and children and abundance of horses. But for Lewis and Clark, it was a challenge as great as the Great Falls. A physical challenge. They had 165 mile marks to make. Winter was coming on, although it was still by the calendar very early fall. But the snows were coming, the cold was there. The ascents and the descents were extraordinarily steep. The trail was, as I say, alright for Indians. For these white men with all their baggage on their horses, it was just murder because it was criss-crossed with fallen timber. So you had to be stepping over here, and stepping over there and nobody had chainsaws to clear the path the way they do in the mountains today. There was no food. They had run out of almost all the provisions that they had brought with them, and there was no hunting in the mountains. The game animals in those days lived down in the plains, not in the mountains. They had to start killing horses for food to sustain themselves. That's the indication of how desperate they were because of course those horses were critical to bring in their baggage, their journals and their kettles and ammunition and all their other equipment along with them. They got lost. Old Toby got lost in the mountains. He'd only been across them once as a young man, 50 years earlier. They came almost to the point of starvation, certainly malnutrition was beginning to set in. There were alot of indications of scurvy among them. So their energy was way down. Clark said that he had never been as cold in his life as he was in these mountains. Horses were falling down these precipices that they were having to cross. They became so desperate that they separated. They decided Clark would go ahead with four of the best hunters and get out of those mountains. They knew once they got across the mountains, got down the plains, they would at least find deer. And thus get some some meat.
Cut. End of roll.
OK. Editorial commentary on Lewis's 31st birthday remarks. Ready? The first thing that stands out is his self-reproach. Oh, how he wished he knew more, how he wished he had studied harder so that he could more properly describe the things that he was seeing and finding and experiencing. How down on himself he was for all those hours he had wasted drinking and courting and horseback riding when he could have been studying and preparing himself for this expedition. It, it, but in a way this passage is, he was 31 years old, this has a heavy effect on people in the 19th century, the 20th, the 15th century, to reach your 31st year, and he was just expressing the kind of sentiments that seem to flow naturally from a young man at that time. He was physically exhausted and he was in the midst of the most tension-wracked time of the whole expedition. He had reached the source of the Missouri, but he had all these mountains to cross and he had not yet gotten ahold of any Shoshoni horses so that he was in a really difficult, and perhaps the most difficult single moment of the expedition. Everything hinged on getting those horses and he didn't know if he was going to or not and he's got his 31st birthday and he writes this almost Victor... he writes this passage, I just leaped ahead a century, he writes this passage that is not untypical of young men on their 31st birthday at any time and place. It is certainly the kind of thing you expect from a Virginia gentleman, born at the time of the American Revo, Revolution, who is in command of such momentous expedition that he's virtually all alone up here in the middle of these mountains, I think in some ways too much has been made out of that passage.
It's a view.
So desperate did they become that they decided to split up, with Clark going on ahead with some of the best hunters and Lewis bringing on the main body. Clark's determination to get out of these mountains and get down to the plains on the other side where we can get some meat and hopefully establish contact with some friendly Indians, while Lewis would follow with the bulk of the party. Clark did finally get out of the mountains. He reached Sherman Peak and could see 60 miles in the distance. The mountains receded and there was plain, level country with grass, which meant deer. And his joy was inexpressible. They hurried down the mountain, Clark and his companions, and they made contact with the Nez Perce, leaving behind a horse that they'd killed and they hung from a tree for Lewis and his party. Without that, Lewis and his party may very well have perished right there in those mountains. But they did make it through--it was one of the great forced marches in all of American history. Now they're with the Nez Perce, very friendly Indians, rich in horses, very poor in guns. The Nez Perce had an opportunity here that came about because they were generous. They shared with the expedition what they had. What they had primarily were roots, and the men gorged themselves on these roots and got just ungodly sick. Swollen stomachs, dysentery, diarrhea, unable to move, flat on their backs, passing gas out of all the orifices. And for the Nez Perce, think of the opportunity. Thirty-two slits across the necks of thirty-two men laying on their backs helpless, and the Nez Perce would have been the richest Indians in America. They woulda had the biggest arsenal west of the Mississippi River. They woulda had the best rifles in that whole stretch of territory from St. Louis out to the Pacific Coast. They woulda had a lifetime supply of ammunition. They woulda had kettles, telescopes, beads, trade goods. They would have been fabulously rich and all it took was 32 little slits. And there were some Nez Perce who were tempted and started talking about doing this. And a woman among them who had been captured earlier and lived with British traders for a while before escaping, had been well treated by these British traders and she told the tribe, "Don't do it. These are white men and they helped me when I was in trouble." So once again, as with Sacagawea and the Shoshonis, the expedition had been saved by a woman. It never occurred to the captains to look at it that way, much less to ever thank the woman. And it certainly never occurred to the U.S. government to thank the Nez Perce. Because among that tribe was a young boy whose name was Joseph, who became Chief Joseph, of later fame.
And they proceeded on through the Snake and Columbia Rivers. It was different than the Missouri...
Entirely different country. First of all, after leaving the Nez Perce, making canoes at canoe camp, and going down the Snake to the Columbia and then down the Columbia to the mountains, to the falls into the mountains, they were in a desert. An entirely different kind of environment than any they had been through before. Then through the great passage of the Columbia River, down the chutes and the falls that marked the progress of the Columbia to the Pacific. On this part of the journey, they were so eager to get to the Pacific that they took chances they wouldn't ordinarily have taken. Basically in running rapids in these big, clumsy, dugout canoes. The Indians living along the bank, and this was well-populated area because of the salmon, was very rich country for Indians, were certain they could never make it through these rapids and would gather at the foot of the rapids to pick up all the white man's equipment after their canoes crashed and broke up and the men drowned. They made it through all of them without any loss. It was a great feat of, of, of canoeing on their part. And now they were down into another entirely different country. Now they're down into the rainforest of the lower Columbia River, with these gigantic trees, bigger than anybody in the white world had ever seen before in their lives. This magnificent forest growth of the Pacific Northwest. And this river teeming with salmon. And, almost as heavily populated as the east coast of the United States. Even though smallpox had hit some of these tribes, nevertheless the Indians lived in towns along these rivers in numbers that were way beyond anything they had seen on the Great Plains and approached the numbers of the white men living on the east coast of the United States at that time.
Aren't they seeing evidence of European influence?
The first evidence they had was with some of these river tribes who had on seaman's jackets that had been trade items. And then they began seeing other trade items. And then they began running into Indians who had a little bit of English. Because these Indians were trading with English and Russians and, and American sea captains. And the first one they ran into had the word "son-of-a-bitch." They knew they were coming back into known territory. And this part of the world now had been explored. That is, the mouth of the Columbia River had been discovered and British vessels under Vancouver had gone as much as 100 miles up the Columbia River. So now they were once again back in territory that had been mapped, and seen, and to some extent described although nowhere near as well as Lewis and Clark were going to describe it.
Before that moment, they passed through this spectacular gorge...
You can't see, I've never seen it because you can't see it anymore. I mean with all the dams in the Columbia River you don't, that's an experience that is denied to us today. That's one of the very few places on the whole of the trail, there are some others in the dams along in the Dakotas. You can only imagine, you can't experience. It's not like being in the White Cliffs.
But they're racing along...
They were racing along.
And it's salty...
And they're beginning to get into tidal water. And of course that's an absolute indication that they're getting close to the ocean. And finally they reach the day in November when William Clark looks out and writes his immortal line, "Ocean in view. Oh, the joy, the great Pacific Ocean in which we have spent these restless days and endl..." You'll have somebody else read it. Anyway, "Ocean in view. Oh, the joy." And they had come to the end of a four thousand mile long journey. They had made it. Conditions were just terrible. This was fall on the Pacific Northwest, the storms were roaring in from the Pacific, the tidal waves coming up the Columbia River. Little tiny areas to camp in, just strewn with rocks, with great huge trees crashing down on them, the driftwood trees breaking up their canoes, their clothes by this time were all rotting away, their tents were virtually gone. "A feeling person," Clark wrote, "would have to have the greatest sympathy for us if he saw us now. Oh, how tremendous is the day. Oh, how this ocean roars." And yet despite these really miserable conditions, their hearts sang. They had made it. They had gotten to the Pacific. Now they had problems. Where we gonna spend the winter? How are we gonna spend the winter? How are we gonna get through it? Are we gonna find a trading vessel or not? Are we gonna have to go back the way we came? None of these questions were yet settled. First biggest problem was, where we gonna spend the winter? And they had a number of choices? Could we go to the south bank of the Columbia? Should we stay on the north bank of the Columbia? Should we go up back up above the falls where it will be dryer and where the possibilities are that we'll be able to find more game? What are we gonna do? The captains laid out all the alternatives to the men and Sacagawea and said, "You guys decide. We're gonna have to spend this winter together. We're a team. You guys decide. We're gonna have a vote." Sacagawea got to vote. York got to vote. That's the first time a woman ever voted in America. And that's the first time a black slave ever voted in America. It was a divided vote, but the majority said, "We'll go to the south bank." And they went to a spot near Astoria, Oregon, where they set up Fort Clatsop, and built that fort to get through the winter.
Well, as the expedition was approaching the Pacific Ocean, it had been anticipated that it wasn't going to take anywhere near this long. And people were beginning to worry, in fact, to the point that Jefferson was the only man in America who thought, "They're out, they're out there. They're doing ok." He hadn't heard from them since they left Mandan in April of 1805. He'd had no contact with them whatsoever. So all he could do was worry. Now, meanwhile, he was setting other expeditions into motion, going up the Red River, going up the Mississippi River to try to find its source. Going out to the Rocky Mountains. So the process of exploring the Louisiana Purchase that he had begun with Lewis and Clark, he was continuing during this time. But mainly, Jefferson was worrying.
Yeah, let me go back a minute and, cause you, that is a nice line. So as they're coming down the Columbia River, the River's speeding up--rapids, falls, chutes--they're just pushing right on through every one of them. And as they get past the last of the white water and now they're down into the lowest reaches of the Columbia, oh those guys were leaning into those paddles, pushing, pushing, pushing, and the river is speeding up, the ocean is now, can't be very far away, they're seeing all kind of evidence, from the trade goods and all the rest of it, and boy, they were putting their backs into it on that last, on that last stretch. Fort Clatsop. It, it was altogether a miserable winter. It rained ever day. Very often tremendous storms. Sometimes just a light drizzle, but a constant rain. They were always wet. They had built this small fort for themselves, they had a smokehouse, it was very difficult to keep fires going because the wood was wet all the time. And they had nothing but elk to eat. Elk for breakfast, elk at noon, elk in the evening. Sometimes boiled elk, sometimes smoked elk, very occasionally fresh elk, because quickly they were having to go further and further away from Clatsop to find the game, and then it was a two and three day process to bring it in. So it was elk, and then more elk and then more elk. For Christmas dinner and then for New Year's dinner, they had elk and cold water. No salt--long since run out of salt. Occasionally they would get some fish. Occasionally they could trade with the local Indians for dog, which became a favorite of theirs. Once there was a whale that had been washed ashore on the Pacific. Soon as they got word of that, they sent an expedition out under Clark to find that whale and bring back some blubber. Just the idea of the oil was irresistible to them, and especially if they could get some meat. Unfortunately, they didn't get to the whale until the local Indians had taken the great bulk of it. They were able to trade for some oil, but they didn't get much out of it. Sacagawea was at Clatsop at this time. Clatsop was, oh, a dozen miles or so from the ocean, and she had never been to the ocean, as well as other members of the expedition hadn't. But Sacagawea had never been to the ocean, and when she heard that Clark was going to lead this expedition to find the whale, she asked permission to go along. Denied. She said, "That, that, that's wrong. It's very hard. I have come all this way and now there is the great fish out there, and I want to see the ocean and this great fish." And the captains relented, and Sacagawea did get to see the Pacific Ocean.
Were they homesick?
On the first of January of 1806, Lewis remarked on having nothing but rotten elk meat and cold water for his meal and no companions. Now, what he meat by that was, he, he had been in the White House for more than two years as the president's secretary. He had met all of the leading people in Washington and Philadelphia. He had become accustomed to dinner with Jefferson. I'm gonna tell a little quick story here. John F. Kennedy, in one of his most famous lines, had a party for Nobel Prize winners, and remarked after the banquet, that the White House had never seen such a collection of brains and knowledge with the single exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. But Thomas Jefferson never dined alone. Meriwether Lewis was his constant companion. I envy Meriwether Lewis for many things, as all Americans do. I mean, oh to have been on the expedition. But the thing I envy Meriwether Lewis the most for is dinner with Thomas Jefferson. So Lewis is at Fort Clatsop, and he's got Clark, who's an educated man, to talk to, and of course they were the closest possible friends, but Clark was more a practical man than a dreamer. Clark was less of the philosopher than Lewis was. Clark wasn't as interested in politics as Lewis was. Lewis was an intensely partisan Republican. So that his discussions with Clark were about meat for the next day, about getting canoes ready for the return journey, about practical matters. He hadn't previously ever confessed this in his journal, but on January 1 1806, it's obvious that he misses the life that he had had. But, "I'm gonna get home this year. This is 1805 (wrong date), we've turned a corner with New Year's Day, and we are gonna be back in the bosom of our family and our friends for New Year's Day of 1807. And, oh how I'm looking forward to that." In the event, he did have a party at the White House on January 1 of 1807.
It's time to go home.
Oh, it was time to go home. And of course, they had the journals. There were many objectives to the expedition. One of them had been dashed--the finding of the all-water route. But they had the map, the first map ever of the North American continent. They had the descriptions of all these plants and animals and birds that they had seen and described for the first time and these were men of the enlightenment. They were dying to get those journals back. The expedition would be a failure without the journals, and they wanted to get them back to civilization. They wanted to bring back word, "Here's what we've discovered, here's what's out there." So that urge to get back was not just to get back with their friends and their loved ones and the life that they had known. It was the urge to come back and say, "Here's what we found. Here's what's out there." And they knew they were going to be heroes. If they could get it back. There was a long way back, and there're alot of dangers.
And they began to go faster this time. They are traveling lighter...
Traveling very much lighter. They, they were broke. The expedition was broke. They had run out of trade goods. They were down to a few iron kettles, their rifles, their lead caskets that held their ammunition, their tomahawks, and their journals.
And they're going fast and taking risks...
Taking very much greater risk on the return journey. Pushing as hard as they could, as fast as they could, until they got back to the Nez Perce. And it turned out they got there way too early, they might as well have taken their time. Because when they got back to the Nez Perce, there's the Bitterroot Mountains. And it's late May and then June, and the snows haven't melted. The snowfall in the winter of '05-'06 must have been unusually heavy. The Nez Perce had told them, "Yeah, the middle of June you'll be able to cross. Maybe even earlier than that." Middle of June came, and those mountains were still covered with snow, and the Nez Perce said, "You're crazy, you can't cross these mountains. You're gonna have to wait. You're gonna have to wait for those snows to melt." Well, waiting for the snows to melt in Idaho is like waiting for the grass to grow. And, so they had an enforced layover of almost 6 weeks with the Nez Perce. It was a great time for them. They got on famously with the Nez Perce, and they had all kind of sports competitions. These captains were army officers, and army officers just love it when,...army officers just love to put their men into athletic competition. This time it was with the Nez Perce--horse races, foot races, games that they played together. In alot of ways it was a lovely time and in another way it was an agonizing time waiting for that damn snow to melt.
They split into separate groups..why?
After the snows finally melted enough for them to proceed, they'd had a retrograde movement. They'd tried once, against the Nez Perce advice, and had to retrieve. It turned out the Nez Perce were right. The second attempt, they did get across the Bitterroot's, more or less uneventfully and relatively easily. Then they got down to Travelers Rest on the Bitterroot River and they split into two groups, with Clark going south and then east to discover the Yellowstone River and to follow and map the Yellow River to its junction with the Mississippi (wrong name), while Lewis went north and east, first of all back to Great Falls and then back up the Marias to explore the country that lies just to the east of today's Glacier National Park. He was looking for the northernmost source of the Missouri River. This was a diplomatic objective, because when the United States bought Louisiana, what it bought was all of that territory drained by the Missouri River. Nobody knew how far north that went. There was a great hope that it would go beyond the 49th parallel and that thus today's Saskatchewan would be a part a part of Louisiana. So that's what Lewis was looking for and that was his objective in his exploration of the Marias River country. Now on that exploration, he had another objective, which was to make contact with the Blackfeet to try to bring the Blackfeet into this American trade empire that Jefferson wanted to build. Want me to go with this
Two favors...say "1806."
Thank you. And also say "Missouri."
What'd I say?
You said Mississippi. When the Yellowstone...
That was a roll out.
It is a strange thing. He was loosing his temper quite alot, especially with Indians. Now part of it was reality. These Indians were thieves, petty thieves, stealing knives, thimbles, needles, things like this. And the expedition couldn't afford to loose these things. So there was a real...one time, the Indians stole his dog, which just infuriated him, the point he was ready to burn down that Indian village. He said, he said to his men, you go get that dog back. If they don't give it up, burn that village. Shades of Vietnam in that. You'd have to be a psychiatrist to get fully into this. He clearly was in a depression through that long, miserable winter at Fort Clatsop. He was so eager to get back, he had made the main discoveries that he had to make, he, he would loved to been able to just fly across the continent, return to what he had. Clearly impossible. This does seem to have had an effect on him. He was shorter with the men. He was, the really bad with the Indians. He was slapping Indians around. He ended up stealing a canoe from the Indians. Very unlike Meriwether Lewis. He desperately needed the canoe, but he could have paid a rifle for it. Instead, he just stole it. There are a number of actions of Lewis during this period that indicate a shortness of temper, an irritability and a depression. A pretty deep depression. Indeed, quite possibly, a very severe depression that he had to overcome every morning with an act of will, to get himself up and get himself going, and get to doing what he was doing.
When they split up, is this a mark of confidence...
I'm, I'm personally very critical of that decision. At that point, once they got over the Lolo Trail, by far the most important thing they had to do was to get those journals home. Get them back to the civilized world and get them published. And they had a clear route ahead and they knew the shortcut now that they had made the trip once. You could go down the Dearborn River and they could have been back by the end of July, early August, if they'd had just hustled. Instead, Lewis split them up into these...Instead, Lewis and Clark split up into these two expeditions that took a month each and delayed the return to St. Louis considerably, and were very risky because they were splitting up in the middle of Indian country and they knew the Blackfeet were hostile. Where Clark was going, down the Yellowstone, it was gonna be with Shoshonis and the relations were good. The Blackfeet hadn't yet been encountered. So Lewis was taking great risk, and one has to wonder why such a big risk at such a critical moment. I think what Lewis was reacting to here was his own very keen disappointment which may have contributed to his depression that he was gonna have to be the one to tell Thomas Jefferson that there is no Northwest Passage. Now Jefferson was a man of the enlightenment. He was a man who was accustomed to facing facts. Lewis knew when he told Jefferson that, Jefferson would nod and say, "Well, so that's how it is, that's how it is." But Lewis knew Jefferson so well that he also knew Jefferson would feel a deep disappointment at, at, at this really terrible news that there is no Northwest Passage. To soften that blow, Lewis wanted to bring back as much information as he possibly could, such as "I've got all these Indians gathered into the trade empire." And most specifically, such as, "I went up to the northern most reaches of the Marias River, and guess what, Mr. President? It goes up to 50 degrees. We've just added Saskatchewan to Louisiana. It's a part of the United States." That's what he was hoping for. When he actually got to the northern-most point on the main tributary of the Marias, he was still short of the 49th parallel, and he named that Camp Disappointment. He did celestial observations, not very successfully because of cloud cover and then had to give it up because the season was progressing, and began moving back to the Missouri River to meet with another party there that he had left and then to proceed down to the Yellowstone to meet with Clark.
Well then, on the Two Madison River, a tributary of the Marias, he ran into a small group of Blackfoot teenagers, about a half a dozen of them. He camped with them. He talked with them. He let them know who he was, where he had come from, tried to get them to agree to take him to the main tribe so that he could make contact or get the main tribe to join him down on the Missouri River, and then fell into a profound sleep. "Damn you, let go of my gun," he heard Dryer shouted, woke him, absolute first light. He woke up with a start to see Dryer wrestling with an Indian, trying to get his rifle back. And the Field brothers, who were the other members of this expedition, chasing Indians who were trying to run off the horse herd. A fight ensued. Shots were exchanged. The Field brothers knifed one Indian and killed him. Lewis took his pistol after an Indian who was running off with his horse, and ordered the Indian to stop and lay down the rifle that he had stolen, and the Indian did, but then two other Indians were running off with some more of Lewis's horses. Lewis chased them some 300 yards. He arrived at a point where the cliff was vertical and there was a little cove in the cliff, and the Indians ran the horses in there and then presented themselves with their British muskets against Lewis who had only his pistol. Lewis told them to "lay down that gun." Instead, one of the Indians fired. Lewis heard the ball go past, very distinctly, past his ear. He fired and killed the Indian, retreated back to camp. He didn't have his rifle with him and he didn't have his powder with him, so he had to get back to camp to reload. Back in camp, he told the Field brothers to desist, he told Dryer not to kill an Indian who was still there. There was one dead Indian on the ground. He said, "We got enough horses," between the mix of the Indian herds and the horses that Lewis had with them, they had enough horses. They destroyed all the Indian equipment. Lewis left a medal that he had given them the night before, the Jefferson peace medal, which he had hung around the neck of one of these young Blackfeet. He left that so that "they might know who we are," the other members of the tribe. He resisted the temptation to take a scalp. But he did take an amulet from the Indian. And then he and Dryer and the Field brothers mounted up on Indian ponies. He confessed later he had nothing to complain about in the exchange, because these ponies were as good as the ones that he had had. And took off on an incredible march. They were scared to death because there were no members of the expedition within a hundred miles of them. The Blackfeet, as far as they knew, were camped right over the hill. And of course these young Indians were gonna ride and tell them that two of them had been killed, and that there had been a fight, and the whole tribe was certainly gonna come after them. So they rode through the day and they rode through the night. They rode 100 miles without stopping. Lay down finally at about 4:00am to get a couple hours of sleep. Got up at first light at 6:00-6:30am, and the men were so stiff and sore after that 100 mile ride they said, "Captain, oh Captain, can, we've got to rest some more." And he reminded them that not only were their lives in danger, but the men down on the river waiting for them didn't know there'd been an Indian fight, and they could well be surprised by these Blackfeet. And in that case, they would be wiped out. So by appealing to their solidarity with their comrades, the absolute perfect thing for a combat commander to do. Your comrades' life were at stake, not your life so much as your comrade's life is at stake. He got them back on those horses and they rode on down towards the Missouri River. As they approached the river, they heard the joyful sound of the discharge of rifles that could only be their own men. And, sure enough, they had met Sgt. Windsor and the party coming down from Great Falls.
The only time guns were fired in anger during this expedition..
This is the only Indian fight,....this was the first Indian fight,...this was the first fight between the United States Army and the Indians west of the Mississippi River. And it was the only fight that the expedition had with Indians. It resulted in two Indians killed. It was the only Indian fight Lewis ever engaged in in his long career in the army.
Without the help of Indians, this expedition wouldn't have gotten past Fort Mandan, much less to the mountains, much less over the mountains, much less down to the Pacific. The Indians were critical at every step along the way. The Mandans by getting them through the window...The Mandans by getting them through the winter, and by providing information for them. The Shoshonis, so obviously without the Shoshoni horses there's no crossing of the Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce saved them from starvation. The Clatsops got them through the winter on the Pacific by bringing in fish and dogs and providing local information. The expedition never could have made it without the Indians. If the North American continent had been unpopulated, there would have been no Lewis and Clark expedition.
Tell me about whiskey...we're low on film. How long?
About three sentences. Well...I'll try. Fourth of July of 1805 they ran out of whiskey. They ran out of other, that was a serious loss. They had run out of salt. Eventually they ran out of damn near everything. What they never ran out of was lead, and powder, and their rifles were always in good shape. These were frontiersmen. Give me lead, give me powder, and give me a good rifle and I can get through anything. One other thing they never ran out of--paper and ink. These were Meriwether Lewis's and William Clark's tools--paper, ink, powder and rifle. With that, they conquered a continent.
Oh, there was great concern and, and tremendous worry, and it was a national enterprise comparable to the astronauts of our own time. They'd caught the imagination of the people. Wilderness skills were very much respected in those years, and they knew that they were the best. Of course, everyone wanted to know, "What the hell did we get when we bought Louisiana." And there was intense national concern over the fate of the expedition and, and, and, and, and wanting them to get back. Oh, when, when, when, when are we gonna find out?
And when they walked back in..walk me back in to civilization.
From how far out?
Just bring me in.
You want, you want to skip Lewis getting wounded?
Yeah, right now.
The last stage of the journey going down the Missouri River, they were just speeding along. The men were digging into those paddles like just crazed men. They told the captains, "Let's not waste time sending out hunters, that's just gonna cost us a few miles. We're, we're, we're ready to live off of berries and we can gather berries at night and have enough to live." So they lived on berries the last part of the trip. When they saw their first cow, oh, the cheers went up from the men. When they came to the first settlement, LaSallette, LaCharrette(?), and the inhabitants, Frenchmen mainly, were gathered on the riverbank, they fired their rifles off and the Frenchmen fired their rifles off. As they got closer to the Missouri River, the excitement just mounted. As they got closer to the Mississippi River, the excitement just mounted. They went passed a fort that had been built since they had left, Bellfontaine(?). And there they got some new clothes for the Indians that they had accompanying them. And then it was down to where they had started from Camp Wood, and they swung into the Mississippi River, and they made that right turn and they proceeded down to St. Louis. And all the 5,000 inhabitants of St. Louis were there on the riverbank to greet them. They fired their rifles, the citizens fired their rifles, they met one resident of St. Louis said they looked Robinson Crusoes. Everybody had given up on them, except for Jefferson. And now here they were, they had made it, they had come back.
What did Jefferson think when he got the news.
His first emotion was relief that they were still alive. As he told Lewis in his first letter to Lewis, we had begun to worry about you and it had become virtually unbearable. So, delight that they were still alive. And then, an eagerness to know. He wanted those journals, he wanted that report, he wanted to see Lewis, he wanted to hear what was out there, he wanted to find out about the Northwest Passage, about the animals, about the botany of the Great Plains and the mountains and the Pacific coast, about the Indian tribes. He was just dying for all of this information, and he wanted it all at once. Unfortunately, we have no record of their first meeting. Neither Lewis nor Jefferson ever wrote about it. We do know they got down on their hands and knees with Clark's map in the Oval Office. Oh, what a moment that must have been for Jefferson, bittersweet. He wanted to know. But what he learned was what he had not expected and terribly disappointing to him ,that the, what he hoped would be a one-day portage had turned out to be a 65-day portage, and there just wasn't going to be any Northwest Passage and many of his dreams crumbled at that moment. But he was so eager for information, and he, he wanted to hear about these buffalo herds, he wanted to know about any dinosaur bones. He wanted to know about the Indians, were the Welsh out there? He wanted to know about Indian languages, he wanted to know about Indian customs. He wanted to know about the trade possibilities. He wanted to know about, what were the Rocky Mountains like? How far does the Missouri extend? Where does the Columbia begin? What's the Columbia like? Jefferson was a man who could never get enough knowledge and could never get enough information. Meriwether Lewis brought him at that first meeting, more new information and more knowledge than he ever got in his life in one brief period like that. And there's no record of it. Oh, if there'd had been a tape recorder in the Oval Office.
What happened to York?
York had been a full-fledged member of the expedition, he had participated in all the dangers and all the triumphs. He had been, on many occasions, invaluable. They got back to St. Louis and he was a slave again. And he continued as Clark's slave. All the men of the expedition got their rewards--land bounties and cash rewards--York got nothing. York, a couple of years after they got back, asked Clark, "How about my freedom? Shouldn't I get a reward for having gone out west with you and made it and made my contribution? How about my freedom?" "That's funny," said Clark. York said, "Well, then, if I can't be a free man, at least let me go back to Louisville where my wife and children are, and sell me to somebody in Louisville so I can live there." Clark said, "No, I depend on you too much. I'm too accustomed to having you about. No." And then Clark wrote to his brother Jonathan to say that, "York is getting uppity, and surly, and insolent. And he's got such a high and mighty opinion of himself because he had been out west and came back. I had to beat him the other day." York then, Clark never gave him his freedom. He sent him back to Louisville for a very short period to see his wife and then had him come back to St. Louis. He warned York that, "If you keep this up, I'm gonna sell you down the river," meaning to the sugar camp...meaning to the sugar cane plantations in Louisiana. After that, what happened to York, we don't know. He eventually died, of course. But his, York's bid to get something out of the expedition, ie: his freedom, was turned down cold by William Clark.
What happened to Sacagawea?
Sacagawea's fate is a bit of a controversy. According to some accounts she lived to be an old woman, but William Clark recorded her death in the 1820's. Her son, Pomp, who was a great favorite of Clark's, did come down to St. Louis at Clark's urging, and lived with Clark when he was Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and was educated by the Jesuits in St. Louis. So he had the fabulous life of living his summers with the Indians, with his mother's people and the winters down in St. Louis and being educated. Eventually made a trip to Europe, became an accomplished linguist, accompanied Prince Max on his trip up the Missouri River, and his, himself quite a fabulous character. As for Sacagawea, she got nothing out of the trip. Charbonneau got some pay. Never occurred to anybody to pay her anything. And she just really disappears from history, except for her son.
Clark had a wonderful post-expedition career. He married, successfully. Went to St. Louis, where he was promoted to General of Militia and became Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Was very popular with all the Indian tribes of the west. Kept the peace among the Indians on the Mississippi River, and pretty far west actually, for 30 years, and became a distinguished citizen of St. Louis.
What happened to Lewis?
Lewis had a...at the end of the expedition, Lewis went to Washington to report to Jefferson. Jefferson then appointed him Governor of Louisiana, with the capital in St. Louis. This was a terrible mistake. Lewis was not a politician. He got into fights in St. Louis about land bounties and about the iron mines and many other things. He took to drinking very heavily. He also had malaria and was doping himself up, taking a mixture of opium and morphine on a regular basis. He sank into a depression. He had over-extended himself in speculating in western lands. He had signed way too many government (chits?), which he had become accustomed to doing, just signing his name and then the government will pay you off later. And now the War Department, Jefferson was gone, Madison was president, began to fail to honor these chits that he had signed. So his creditors started calling in his debts, and he was ruined financially. He was a physical wreck because of the drugs and because of the alcohol. He became suicidal. He left St. Louis in July of 1809 to make a trip to Washington to explain to the government that all these chits were legitimate. During the course of that journey he tried to kill himself, was restrained by the crew. Finally got down to today's Memphis, Tennessee, and set off overland, over the Natchez Trace, to go to Washington with his journals, to make his explanations to the government. And on that trip, at a place called Grinder's Inn, just across the Mississippi-Tennessee border on the Natchez Trace, he killed himself. You want details of the killing itself?
No, check footage. What happened on the Natchez Trace?
A horse had strayed. His companion had said, "I'll stay behind and find the horse, you go on ahead to the first white establishment and set up for the night and I'll join you later." Lewis did and he came to Grinder's Inn. Mrs. Grinder was present and he got a room for himself and for his servants. He asked her for some whiskey, which she provided, then she went in to make a dinner, and he sat on the porch and remarked to her, "Oh, what a sweet evening this is." And then he stared off to the west. He had been talking to himself like a lawyer, according to Mrs. Grinder, and pacing back and forth earlier in the evening, and was clearly distraught and terribly disturbed. And then he sat down on the porch and had this moment of quiet and remarked, "Oh, what a sweet evening this is," and went into an introspection. What he thought about, we'll never know. Did he think about the expedition? Did he think about his troubles? We don't know. One thing we do know. He had told his servant, a freed mulatto named Permea(?), that day that, "Captain Clark has heard about my difficulties and he's coming on." I think as he sat on that porch and looked west, he was waiting for Clark to come down the trail and rescue him. But of course Clark knew nothing about the situation, was hundreds of miles away.
Re-do the end...ran out.
There is a great deal of bittersweetness in this story because the people, the land that they passed through, who had made it possible for this expedition to succeed, whether they had helped Lewis and Clark, as most of them had, or whether they had tried to stand in the way, as the Sioux had done and the Blackfeet did, were all treated the same by the United States government. They were driven from their land. They were herded onto reservations. They received not even a thank you, much less a reward, from the United States government for what they had done to make this greatest of all American explorations possible. The land...What Lewis and Clark saw, with some very minor exceptions, like the White Cliffs area of the Missouri River, none of us will ever have the privilege of seeing. Because the coming of civilization to the west has meant the changing of the west. It has meant the damming of the rivers. It has meant putting the hydro-electric dams in at the Great Falls. It has meant damming up the Columbia River. It has meant creating these great lakes with the dams in South Dakota, in Iowa, and elsewhere. It has meant that the buffalo herds have been driven off the land to be replaced by cattle. It has meant that fences have come to the west. It has meant the transformation of the west in a remarkably short period of time, really. Now, this is ??? the benefit of mankind in many cases and in alot of different ways. We're growing an awful lot of corn in Nebraska, we're growing an awful lot of wheat in Kansas and in Montana and throughout the Great Plains. But a price has had to be paid. And that price has been that the primeval land that Lewis and Clark saw and described, none of us will ever see again. It's just gone.
On a positive way, what did this exploration make us as a people?
Well, first and foremost, what this expedition did was to bring us together as a continent-wide nation. It is because of this expedition that the northwest empire is a part of the United States. It is because of this expedition that Louisiana, which means Minnesota and Iowa and all of the other states west of the Mississippi River, have been incorporated into the United States. It has made us the greatest nation in the world. And it has made us a nation in which democracy extends from sea to sea. This is the number one result of the expedition.
What is the lesson of the story... what can we take from the story of Lewis and Clark?
Teamwork. The number one story here is there is nothing that men can't do if they get themselves together and act as a team. Here you have 32 men who had become so close, so bonded, that everyone of them could recognize a cough in the night and know who it was. They could hear a footstep and know who it was. They knew who liked salt on their meat and who didn't. They knew who's the best shot on the expedition. Who is the fastest runner. Who is the man who could get a fire going the quickest on a rainy day. They knew, because they sat around the campfire, about each other's parents and loved ones. Each other's hopes. And they had come to love each other. To the point that they would sell their own lives gladly to save a comrade. They had developed a bond, they had become a band of brothers, and together they were able to accomplish feats that we just stand astonished at today when we look at them. The crossing of the continent with nothing but rifles to depend on in the face of dangers, of the, the greatest possible imaginable dangers and physical difficulties. To, to manage the portage of the Great Falls, to get over the Lolo Trail, to go down that Columbia River, these are feats that, had they not welded themselves together into that team, they just could not possibly have accomplished. So, I think the number one human lesson of the Lewis and Clark expedition is, what can be accomplished by a team of disciplined men who are dedicated to a common purpose.
It's just not men. A person of color and women could do as well.
Very much so. It's not just a team of men. It includes a young Indian girl, who saved the expedition on numerous occasions, sometimes even from starvation, when she could find roots that nobody else knew about. And obviously in dealing with Cameahwait and the Shoshonis. And she brought a woman's touch to this expedition. I like to think as she was nursing Pomp at night around the campfire, that scene had to have had a great effect on the men, to hear a woman's laugh at night around the campfire bolstered spirits. To have Sacagawea say to them, "That's the Beaverhead, we're getting close to the Three Forks, we're on the right trail." All that lifted spirits when spirits were very low and they thought they'd never come to an end of this journey.
York made invaluable contributions to the expedition on many occasions. Risking his life to save Clark in a flash flood on the Missouri River near Great Falls in present-day Montana. Going out and hunting and bringing in the game. Putting up the captain's tents, managing the sails, plying his oar, doing all the things that everyone else did. He made his contribution. And he was a part of the team. And I would emphasize this, that, that, from the, the infant boy who danced around the fire and gladdened the hearts of the men and was enormously popular with all the men, through Sacagawea, through York, through the lowliest privates, through the sergeants, up to the captains themselves, this was a family that had come together and formed a team for the exploration of the continent of North America. And they couldn't have done it if they hadn't become a family. And forged themselves into a team.
So finally, what is it that draws us, what grips us in this story?
Your brother did the same thing to me. What grips us in this story is the story itself. It's a great story, it's a human story. It's about how obstacles are overcome by determined people who can act together as a team. It's a story of those who went first. All of us who canoe on the Missouri River, or who cross the mountains, or who descend the Columbia, travel in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark or in the wake of their canoes. They were first. They led the way. They opened the trail.
The Gates of the Mountains. Can you just drink in the Gates of the Mountains for me?
You keep forbidding me to read. Let Lewis describe it, Lewis does this, how the hell could I beat Lewis's description.
It's marvelous how it opens up.
When you're going up the Missouri River, as they were, coming out of the Great Falls area, and then through some minor canyons and getting into the beginnings of the, of the mountains, you come around a broad bend in the Missouri River and it widens out a bit and you look ahead and, and you, "Where the hell is this river gonna go?" I mean, it, it, it, this looks like a lake now. And all of a sudden there's a slight parting and you see the entrance into this canyon and you go into this canyon and the cliffs rise on either side of you up to as high as 1,000 feet. Very narrow, very constricted, no place where a man can land a canoe, much less put down his foot, for the first, oh, mile and a half of that canyon. And then a ravine comes in and a small opening, but still not suitable for a campsite. Lewis talks about the dark and gloomy aspect of the place. The sun hardly ever gets down on it. The river is running quite rapidly through there. Fortunately, they were able to get their poles down so that they could propel themselves forward because they wouldn't have been able to row against that current. They didn't have a wind behind them. It was coming on dark. And finally on the left they saw a place where they could land and would have a suitable, although by no means attractive, campsite for themselves. And then the next morning they got out of it. Lewis called it the Gates of the Rocky Mountains. Today you don't see it the way they did. The river is up about 30 feet because of the dams from what it was. You don't get the full impact of that canyon as Lewis and Clark saw it in 1805. I can't beat Meriwether Lewis's description. Let me read you Meriwether Lewis's description.
Mosquitoes, very troublesome. William Clark--innumerable entries. Twenty-six different ways to spell the word mosquito, never once did he get it right. The mosquitoes were there...what are you doing? I had something on here? Mosquitoes, very troublesome. Yeah, of course, the Missouri River, the mosquitoes were just killers. The mosquitoes, the, the captains had brears(?), mosquito netting. It was the only defense they had. They had no offense at all against these mosquitoes, who were the mortal enemies. Mosquitoes would get so bad sometimes that you would, could not get your food into your mouth without a mouthful of mosquitoes. They got so bad on some occasions that Lewis could not raise and aim his rifle. Too many mosquitoes. He would just have to, to fire it. Mosquitoes would drive them away from campsites on many occasions. They'd have to go down river or up river to try to escape the mosquitoes. They picked their campsites where they could get the most wind, with the hope that it would drive the mosquitoes away.
Then there were the prickly pears of the Great Plains. This is a gorgeous cactus, as Lewis himself described it. They're still very much there. But it has these sharp thorns that would go right through those moccasins, and you could not avoid them there. You just could not possibly walk across many parts of the Great Plains without stepping on these prickly pears. So their feet were always mangled by the prickly pears.
Then there were the gnats, which would get into the eyes, and get into the ears, and just swarm on the men so that they just surrounded by these gnats that were coming after them. These were just a few of the, these were the most prominent of the many natural enemies that they encountered.
How important was whiskey on this expedition?
You know, Napoleon said, whenever you set off on a march, make sure you've got plenty of beer and wine along and that it's enough to last until you get far enough away from camp so that nobody can desert. And that's basically what happened with Lewis and Clark. They brought enough whiskey along to get them through to the Great Falls. And then they ran out. Well that was way too late for anybody to desert. They measured out the whiskey, gave them about enough, a gill of whiskey, about 4 ounces, enough so that under today's conditions you would be described as legally drunk by a, by a police officer if you were driving. Then they began to water that whiskey down to stretch it out. Every man in the expedition knew exactly how much whiskey was left. So when Pvt. Hall got into the whiskey barrel one night near present-day Kansas City, and then got himself drunk and was taking more than his share, they had a court martial, he was found guilty, and they ordered 100 lashes well laid on. And from the descriptions of the event, the Indian chief who saw this, an Otoe chief, just cried at the sight of this. They just beat the holy hell out of Hall for this, because that was their whiskey that he had stolen.
Fort Mandan in winter. I'd like you to set the scene.
Well, it was incred...they built a fort on the Missouri River that provided some protection from the wind, and a little bit of protection from the snow, but obviously they didn't have any insulation and their only heat was from an open fire. 40 below was not uncommon. Many days, well below zero. They would go out onto the prairie hunting buffalo in weather that was below zero and much worse, and I'm not talking wind-chill here, I'm talking about real temperatures. The Indians could take that weather alot better than the white men could. One Indian boy spent a night in the prairie with only a buffalo robe and got through it in pretty good shape. Lewis and Clark couldn't have done that. None of their men could have done that. You should ask Dayton Duncan about this. He spent a night in a Mandan lodge in the middle of the winter. With a buffalo robe.
Mandan was a big city when they arrived.
Yeah, well the villages had been much reduced by the smallpox. But it was, they were the biggest villages on the Missouri River, and it was almost a city, that's right. These earthen lodges that the Mandans lived in, and the Mandans had done a good job of adjusting to the environment, much better than the white men were able to do. And they got the expedition through the winter with their corn and other provisions. They were farmers more than they were nomadic Indians. I don't know, I'm kinda drawing a blank, I mean there are so many stories about how cold it was, and.
Tell me about Lewis as a doctor...
Lewis's mother was famous throughout the Piedmont of Virginia as a dispenser of medical herbs, and she was the doctor of choice for the residents of Charlottesville and the surrounding area. And she taught her boy about the medicinal properties of plants and he was a great experimenter. And she was very open to experimenting, as indeed was Jefferson. One of Jefferson's instructions to Lewis was, "Find out what those Indians use. They've been here alot longer than we have, I bet they know the medicinal properties of plants that we don't know." So Lewis was a great experimenter. Thus, he saved Sacagawea at the Sulfur Spring by carrying out that experiment. He knew alot of simples(?), he knew alot of herbs, he knew about mercury, he knew about other drugs that were available for treatments, he had studied with Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, that may or may not have been a blessing. One of the medical aspects of the expedition is, that, that Rush's Thunderclaps that they would use, probably inappropriately in many cases. And also bleeding, that era believed in bleeding and they just bled the hell out of these men. One of the things that booth... interfered with Sacagawea's recovery was they were bleeding her all the time, and she was loosing not only liquids but minerals from her bodies, and she was getting the shakes apparently because of that. So he was, Lewis, and Clark was a good doctor, too. Clark treated the Nez Perce. They paid their way with the Nez Perce with Clark's treatment. He would, he could, he had a, a wash that he would use for sore eyes. He had other remedies that he would use that the Nez Perce were very grateful for. The medical records are a very mixed bag. Sometimes they would do things right. They ran into a Nez Perce chief who had been paralyzed for years, and Clark started giving him sweats, putting him into a sweat lodge, and then into cold water, and that worked. They had no broken bones on the expedition so we don't know how good they may or may not have been at setting broken bones. They, they were, their treatments for venereal disease were effective, at least for a short time, usually it would come back and the long-term effects of taking all that mercury were very deleterious to the health of the men. So that most of the men of the expedition died young and one of the guesses about this is--all that mercury that they had been taking.
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