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Scenic Clark Canyon Reservoir

Clark Canyon Reservoir
Clark Canyon Reservoir.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

Clark Canyon Reservoir
Clark Canyon Reservoir.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

"...bestride the mighty and heretofore deemed endless Missouri."

- Lewis
12 August 1805

On August 13, 1805, Lewis finally made contact with more of Sacagawea's tribe. He was anxious to trade for horses to cross the mountain ranges ahead, but moved cautiously when he at last approached an entire camp of the Shoshone.

He first spotted two women and a man foraging. The Shoshone stood their ground as Lewis approached, extending the American flag and repeating "tab-ba-bone." The three fled, but a mile further on Lewis met with three more women. One fled, but Lewis presented the other two with gifts and painted their faces with vermilion as a sign of peace.

"I took the elderly woman by the hand and raised her up repeated the word tab-ba-bone...I directed Drewyer to request the old woman to recall the young woman who had run off to some distance by this time fearing she might allarm the camp before we approached."

The young woman actually had warned the camp and "about 60 warriors mounted on excellent horses who came in nearly full speed" came to meet Lewis and his men.

This first contact made for a tense situation, as Lewis and his men were vastly outnumbered. Fortunately, Lewis' restraint and caution paid off:

"when they arrived I advanced towards them with the flag leaving my gun with the party about 50 paces behind me. the chief and two others who were a little in advance of the main body spoke to the women, and they informed them who we were and exultingly shewed them the presents which had been given them these men then advanced and embraced me very affectionately in their way."

It was here that the Corps got its first news of the ocean from an older member of the tribe. Lewis wrote: "he had understood from the persed nosed (Nez Perce) who inhabit this river below the rocky mountains that it ran a great way toward the setting sun and finally lost itself in a great lake of water which was illy tasted."

The party also had its first taste of salmon and was warned that game would be scarce on the trail across the mountains.

Lewis waited anxiously for Clark to arrive. A wrong turn, the strength of the Big Hole River, and the shallow, rocky waters of the Jefferson River held Clark back. The Shoshone were eager to reach the buffalo hunting ground in the east. Lewis detained them with intriguing descriptions of slave York's appearance and promises of gifts. He finally had to hand his rifles over to the Shoshone to convince them they were not allies of an enemy tribe laying a trap.

Lewis' luck improved phenomenally when Clark finally arrived. A woman of the tribe recognized Sacagawea almost immediately. She had been with Sacagawea the day she was kidnapped by the Hidatsa and had barely escaped. The commanders arranged a trade session quickly. As if Sacagawea's acceptance by the tribe wasn't opportune enough, she recognized the leader of the band, Cameahwait, as her brother. These strokes of luck, combined with Clark's nick-of-time arrival, led to the name Camp Fortunate.

The horse-trading proceeded by means of a language chain. Sacagawea translated Shoshone to Hidatsa for her husband who translated into French. Private Labiche then translated into English. Horses secured, they broke up boxes and cut their boat paddles to make saddles for the mountain ride. Lewis demonstrated his prized air rifle to the tribe.

During his inspection of the horses, Lewis noticed Spanish brands on many and even an occasional Spanish-made bridle or bit. Unfortunately for many of the tribes, the Spanish were willing to trade their horses but not their weapons. The Shoshone, like many others, had been forced west and south by pressure from better-armed tribes. In fact, this band of Shoshone was almost as short of food as the Corps, but the natives still shared what they had.

More than a week after they first met with the tribe, the expedition set out to find navigable waters on the other side of the mountains.