No. 40 in a series
The Shoshone Indians proved to be hard bargainers for the horses the expedition needed to cross the mountains. The captains and the party moved out on Sept. 1 with a guide named Old Toby. The trip turned miserable from the start. Clark remarked they were "obliged to cut a road over a rocky hillside." The difficulties persisted. Snow fell on Sept. 3, the last thermometer broke, the last of the salt pork was consumed and game was very scarce.
The group got a break when they camped at Travelers Rest on Sept. 9. The weather moderated and rest was truly welcomed. On Sept. 12 the Corps began the torturous climb across the divide along the Lolo Trail. The party made scant progress over the next few days and a colt was killed for food. On Sept. 16, the snow began before dawn and steadily piled up to eight inches.
Clark wrote, "I have been wet and cold in every part as I was in my life." The men were approaching the limits of their endurance. Lewis and Clark made a strategic decision. Clark and a few men would move ahead, find food and return to the group a few days later.
On Sept. 22, the party was overwhelmed to discover an Indian village on a vast prairie. The encampment consisted of 18 lodges of the Nez Perce Indians and Lewis remarked in his journal of the joy of having triumphed over the Rocky Mountains. The Corps of Discovery had made 160 miles in 11 days, a superb forced march under horrible conditions. The party had pushed itself to the limit and never blinked in the face of terrible odds. The trip along the Lolo trail remains one of the great lessons in leadership.
The Corps suffered for days with dysentery, venereal complaints and extreme weakness from the trip. While Lewis and the men recovered, Clark moved the camp and began the process of hallowing out Ponderosa pines to build canoes for their journey to the Pacific.
With many men still sick the group set out on Oct. 6 and despite a set of difficult white water rapids made over 20 miles. Once again the Corps of Discovery headed west on the water.
Dave Hinze is a professional historian and tour guide. He leads tours and presents at conferences on Lewis & Clark, and other topics pertaining to early American history, for the American History Education Association. For information about this series or one of AHEA's many history tours you can contact Dave at 1-800-298-1861 or AHEA2004@yahoo.com