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Posts Tagged ‘Corps of Discovery’

Confinement while my surgically fused ankle heals provides time for reading, perhaps too much. No– that’s not possible. Along with my infatuation with all of Steinbeck and Hemingway I am addicted to any publication that deals with the Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I own at least a couple of dozen books dealing with those adventures.

While re-reading, I’ve lost track of how many times, the three volumes edited by Elliott Coues I, as always, discovered something new to think about. The history of the Coues edition is interesting in itself. After returning from the mouth of the Columbia River both Lewis and Clark promised to publish their journals but didn’t get to it. After Lewis’ untimely death Clark travelled to Philadelphia to find an expert to edit and publish the over twenty-seven separate writings, some only partial journals, that survived the trip. The expert he selected was Nicholas Biddle who in 1814 published; “History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Source of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the Columbia River to the Source of the Pacific Ocean”. It didn’t sell well because a member of the Corps, Patrick Gass published his journal of the trip shortly after their return thus the story was well known.

Biddle trimmed about two-thirds of the journal entries to create his narrative.  Elliot Coues and his “expert copyist” Mary Anderson were granted access to the original journals late in 1892. Anderson deciphered misspellings and abbreviations and completed a word-for-word, handwritten transcript. Coues used her transcript to create “The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” first published in 1893. He added many footnotes based on his travels along the route, Gass’ publication and partial journals from other members of the Corps, along with much of the original information left out by Biddle.

Sorry too much information? I warned you that I am an addict. Anyhow during my latest binge of reading I re-discovered that in 1803, while in Philadelphia preparing for the journey, under Jefferson’s direction, Lewis purchased a black, male Newfoundland puppy for which he paid twenty dollars. The basic pay for privates in the Corps of Discovery was $5 a month while Captain Lewis earned $40 per month.

Newfoundland dogs are massive. Males can weigh 130-150 pounds and stand 22 to 28 inches at the shoulder. They have webbed feet and are powerful swimmers, bred to retrieve from strong ocean currents. They are great swimmers with a thick, oily, waterproof coat. When they swim they don’t dog paddle, the limbs move up and down in a sort of modified breaststroke.

Lewis’ dog was named Seaman, but errors in transcription of the journals identify him as Scannon in many writings about the expedition. He became a favorite of the Corps and functioned as a watchdog often warning of danger. Many of the Native Americans they encountered wanted to purchase the dog but, of course, Lewis always refused. One journal entry recounts a time when a deer was wounded by one of the hunters and jumped into the river to escape. Seaman went in after the deer, caught it, drowned it and retrieved it. He made the entire trip to the Pacific and back and legend has it that after Lewis committed suicide, or was murdered, at an Inn in Tennessee on his way to Washington, Seaman wouldn’t leave Lewis’ grave and died of starvation guarding his master.

What troubles me is how the dog survived the trip from the Western Slope of the Rockies to the Pacific. At many times during this portion of the trip the Corps faced starvation; sometimes subsisting on rotting dried and pounded salmon and various roots purchased from the Native Americans. This diet, when they could acquire it, made most of them ill. During this period it is estimated they ate about three hundred dogs, meat that the Native Americans of the Columbia watershed did not use but that the Corps apparently considered acceptable, if not tasty. What did Seaman eat during these times? The issue is not addressed in any of the writings that I can find.

I’ve discussed this issue with Charlize, what else do we have to talk about? She is concerned, as I am, that Seaman might have turned cannibal.

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I am an addict of all descriptions of the Lewis and Clark expedition. One of the many extraordinary obstacles overcome during that journey was the portage of the Great Falls of the Missouri. The Mandan Native Americans described this landmark of the upper Missouri River to Lewis and Clark during the winter of 1804. The explorers anticipated finding these falls thus verifying that they had made the correct choice when faced with the merging of the Milk and Missouri Rivers earlier in their journey.

Lewis, as he frequently did, left the party with Clark in charge to continue the struggle of moving all of their supplies and equipment westward against the current of the river. After he had traveled about two miles Lewis heard the sound and saw the spray from the falls and seven miles later he arrived. Here is his written description taken from his journal as edited by Elliott Coues in “The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”:

“The river immediately at this cascade is 300 yards wide, and is pressed in by a perpendicular cliff on the left, which rises to about 100 feet and extends up the stream for a mile; on the right the bluff is also perpendicular for 300 yards above the falls. For 90 or 100 yards from the left cliff, the water falls in one smooth, even sheet, over a precipice at least 80 feet. The remaining part of the river precipitates itself with a more rapid current, but being received as it falls by the irregular and somewhat projecting rocks below, forms a splendid prospect of perfectly white foam, 200 yards in length and 80 in perpendicular elevation. This spray is dissipated into a thousand shapes, sometimes flying up in columns of 15 or 20 feet, which are then oppressed by larger masses of the white foam, on all which the sun impresses the brightest colors of the rainbow. As it rises from the fall it beats with fury against a ledge of rocks which extend across the river at 150 yards from the precipice. From the perpendicular cliff on the north, to the distance of 120 yards, the rocks rise only a few feet above the water; when the river is high the stream finds a channel across them 40 yards wide and near the higher parts of the ledge, which then rise about 20 feet and terminate abruptly within 80 or 90 yards of the southern side. Between them and the perpendicular cliff on the south the whole body of water runs with great swiftness. …”

Lewis himself found this description not adequate to describe what he saw and intended to revise the description to better reflect the magnificence of this natural phenomenon. He never got around to making those revisions. The next day, June 14 of 1805, Lewis continued upstream and discovered a second falls, 19 feet high and 300 yards across. He named it “Crooked Falls” next he climbed a nearby hill and found a third waterfall he described as “…one of the most beautiful objects in nature, a cascade of about fifty feet perpendicular….” Lewis named these falls “Beautiful Cascade”, but they are now known at “Rainbow Falls”. Further upstream Lewis spotted yet another falls that were only about 6 feet high but stretched more than a quarter of a mile across the river, these became known as “Colter Falls”. Captain Lewis continued his explorations and about two and a half miles upstream of Colter Falls he located a fifth cataract. This one was about 26 feet high and close to 600 yards wide and became known of the “Black Eagle Falls”.

I had never seen these wonders and wanted to experience them so on our trip home from Denver Charlize and I made a detour to Great Falls, Montana. Here is what we found:

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Just upstream of the Great Falls sits Ryan Dam reducing the Missouri’s flow to slightly more than a trickle. No roar, no mist, no rainbows. Between Rainbow Falls and the Great Falls resides the Cochrane Dam and just downstream of the Rainbow Falls is the Rainbow Dam. The flow over Crooked Falls is significantly reduced because of Rainbow Dam. Colter Falls, upstream of the Rainbow dam, is now submerged. The Black Eagle Falls are upstream of Black Eagle Dam and the water held back by this structure has made the Black Eagle Falls a vestige of what the Corps of Discovery experienced.

I’m certain the people now inhabiting the city and environs have benefitted from the hydroelectric power generated and the water impounded by these dams, that’s progress. But just as it is now impossible for me to experience the agonies of the Corps of Discovery’s portage around the falls as described in the Journals, it is also impossible to experience the magnificence of those five cascades. Charlize and I both considered the experience a “bummer”!

 

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