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Lewis and Clark

Lewis-and-ClarkWilliam Clark, and nearly four dozen men that made up the Corps of Discovery, started upstream on the Missouri River to meet up with Meriwether Lewis on May 20, 1804.  They had been commission by Thomas Jefferson, the year before, to find a water route to the Pacific and explore the uncharted West. Jefferson believed the team would find mammoths, volcanoes and salt mountains.  What their eyes actually beheld, during their journey, was no less boggling.  They interacted with nearly 50 Indian tribes, observed 300 species unknown, at the time, to science and then there were the Rocky Mountains!

keelboat_rapid_harveywjohnson1017x641Aboard a 55 foot long keelboat and two smaller pirogues, they charted, mapped, studied nature, and kept copious notes and journals of their experiences. By the end of that July, they had traveled more than six-hundred miles, all while not once crossing path with an Indian.  But things changed come August.

riverislandAs a precaution, the Corps camped on river islands when possible and had guards posted at night.  On the eve of August 2nd, Oto and Missouri Indians arrived at their camp.  This first encounter actually went well.  But, they had been warned, by President Jefferson, that the Sioux Indians would be another story.

The first and only death of a member of the Corps occurred on August 20th.  Sargeant Charles Floyd became the first soldier to die west of the Mississippi, most likely, from appendicitis.

At month’s end, the group had reached the Great Plains, which was well stocked with beautiful elk, deer, buffalo and beaver.  They were now headed into Sioux territory.  The first encounter was with Yankton Sioux, who were fairly peaceful, more so than the Teton Sioux a bit farther up the river.

tetonsiouxThe Corps were prepared to exchange gifts, but the Teton Sioux showed ill-disguised hostility. A Teton chief demanded a boat as exchange for passage. The Indians became further threatening until Clark pulled his sword and Lewis aimed the keelboat’s swivel gun on the tribe. As quickly as tensions mounted, they subsided, but the Corps never did achieve a friendly rapport with the Sioux.

As winter approached, they left their enemy behind them and headed further up the river. They continued to travel until the Missouri River began to freeze. Four days after the first snowfall, they reached the villages of the Mandan tribes. They wintered there, immediately building a fort to protect them from the fierce winter and potential attack by the Sioux. The expedition kept occupied by repairing equipment, trading with the Indians, and hunting for buffalo as their food supply began to dwindle. Lewis and Clark learned much from the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes.

sacagaweaIt was here that the expedition hired Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper living among the Hidatsa who would serve as their interpreter. Charbonneau, his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, and their baby son, Jean Baptiste, traveled with the expedition when it left Fort Mandan.

Lewis and Clark dispatched a dozen expedition members, 108 botanical specimens, 68 mineral specimens, and Clark’s map of the United States aboard a keelboat bound for St. Louis.  The items would eventually be presented to President Jefferson.

Using six dugout canoes and two larger pirogues, the remaining team loaded supplies and equipment and ventured where no American had ever gone. For the first time since the journey began, Lewis and Clark were headed due west and into grizzly country. Although warned by the Indians about the powerful grizzly, Lewis felt a bear would be no match for a man with a rifle.  But an encounter on April 29th changed his mind.Grizzly It was on that day that Lewis and several other party members spotted a pair of grizzlies. They wounded one of the bears, which managed to escape. But the other charged at Lewis, causing him to flee 80 yards before he and one of his colleagues were able to reload and kill the bear.

In early May a surprise gust of wind caught the sail of one of the pirogues, tipping the vessel over on its side. The quick reflexes of Sacagawea, who was riding in the vessel, preserved precious journals and supplies that otherwise would have been lost.

rocky_mountains1During the last week of May, Lewis caught sight of the Rockies for the very first time.  He was filled with awe – which was immediately tempered at the realization of what lay ahead – to traverse the amazing mountain range would be no small feat. Progress became slow as the group made its way along a bending and shallow river filled with sharp, jutting rocks.

On June 3, 1805, the Corps came upon a fork in the river. The branches of the fork were of equal size.  It was believed by the captains that the southern branch was a continuation of the Missouri.  They hoped this would lead them to be able to cross the Rockies before the first autumn snow. The rest of the Corps, however, disagreed, believing that the north fork was the way to go. The Mandan Indians had spoke of Great Falls.  Scouting parties went along each branch in search of the landmark that would guide their way.

Great_falls_of_missouri_riverOn June 13 Lewis became the first white man to see the Great Falls of the Missouri River. But to his dismay there were five separate falls, not one and they went on for a 12-mile stretch. Making their way around the  falls was going to take some time – more than they had planned. On June 22, the hardest physical task of the trip thus far began. More than a month would pass before the party made their way around Great Falls as the Rocky Mountains loomed larger on the horizon.

Once across the Continental Divide, they could ride the westward-flowing Columbia River. But the trek from the Missouri River to the Columbia River would require horses. To secure horses, the Corps would have to find the Shoshone tribe. On August 11, Lewis spotted an Indian on horseback that turned out to be, at long last, a Shoshone, and the first Indian they had encountered since Mandan.

shoshoneThe Shoshone led the expedition to his chief, who, as the best of luck would have it, turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. With Sacagawea translating, the bargaining began with Chief Cameahwait for horses. Without these horses, their chances of reaching the Pacific were nil.

So, what was the price of a horse?  At first, a knife and an old shirt.  But the price went up every day until Clark had to offer his knife, his pistol, and a hundred rounds of ammunition for a single animal. And even then most of the horses were in terrible health.

Continental-Divide-signInformation was also secured from the Shoshone.  An old member of the tribe described a trail that led across the Continental Divide which was paramount to find a way over the mountains.

Snow was already falling as the expedition set off for the Continental Divide. Game was scarce and food supplies were low. After passing over the divide into the Bitterroot Valley, the team came upon a band of Flathead Indians from whom they were able to secure more horses.  bitterootCrossing the Bitterroot Mountains tested their endurance.  After 11 days the horses were near starvation, and the men were too, resorted to eating three colts.   Upon emerging from the mountains, contact was made with the Nez Perce, where the expedition procured dried fish and roots for their sustenance.

Camp was set up on the banks of a branch of the Snake River called the Clearwater.  The Snake is also a branch of the Columbia River.  It was here that they hollowed out five dugouts.  With the Rockies behind them, the Pacific was soon to be on the horizon.  They also finally had the river current flowing in their favor.  columbia riverThe Corps reach the Snake on October 10 and the Columbia on October 16th.  They took a break to rest and meet with Indians, who had gather along the shore and had, what Clark estimated, 10,000 pounds of dried salmon. The explorers continued down the Columbia into the Cacades, the last mountain range between them and the ocean. On November 7, Clark wrote, “Ocean in View! Oh! The joy.”  But they were actually still 20 miles away as he mistook a wide band in the river for the Pacific. They were required to hunker down for three weeks due to high winds and rolling water.  Clark called this period of time, “the most disagreeable time I have experienced.”

In the middle of November, the men eagerly scanned the rolling waves of the ocean for the masts of ships that might carry them home.  Spying none, they realized they would be spending the winter on the coast.  One trade ship stopped to barter with the Indians while the expedition was present on the coast, but the Corps was never informed.  The team was anxious to go home, but timing of the journey back was critical.  They could only go once the snow had melted.  If they waited too long, the Missouri would be frozen and they would be required to endure a winter on the plains.  They spent their time at Fort Clatsop in monotony, making moccasins, buckskin clothing, working on maps, writing in journals and eating elk meat and roots.  The rain was constant.

The day that began their return occurred on March 23, 1806. Chinookan Indians were a constant concern via their continual attempts to steal supplies.  Getting around the falls was a great a challenge.  The expedition abandoned their boats and headed over the mountain with horses acquired from the Walla Walla tribe.

nezpercThe expedition arrived in Nez Perce Indian territory almost out of food.  They had to wait for the weather to improve before trying to cross the snow-covered Bitterroots. The men lived on a diet of dried fish and roots, with occasional meat in the form of deer, elk, horse and dog.

By early June the expedition was equipped with fresh horses and ready to continue east. Against the advice of the Nez Perce, Lewis and Clark left Camp Choppunish. Spring had begun on the plain, but it was still winter in the mountains where they encountered snow ten feet deep and packed so hard even the horses did not sink. They returned to the Nez Perce Indians for help. The Indian guides helped them to traverse the mountain range.

On June 30, after reaching Traveler’s Rest, Lewis and Clark split up. Lewis took nine men to explore the Marias River.  Clark and the remaining members of the Corps headed to the Yellowstone River.

A skirmish, with Blackfeet Indians, resulted in the death of two Indians. Lewis and his men covered 120 miles, not knowing if the Indians were giving chase.

horsethiefMeanwhile, Clark and his group descended into Crow territory. The Crow were known as the great horse thieves of the Plains. On July 21, the party arose to find half of their horses gone, although they never saw a single Indian.

On August 11, Clark, mistaken for an elk, was shot clean through his left thigh.  The wound was painful and took a while to heal, but not fatal.

Lewis and Clark reunited and traveled the swift current of the Missouri River back to the Mandan Village, where they bade farewell to Sacagawea.

In Teton Sioux territory, the expedition encountered threats and taunts. As they ran into traders, they were told that the expedition had been given up for dead. Two years, four months and ten days after they first left, the Corps of Discovery entered the Mississippi River on their way to St, Louis.  One-thousand people lined the shore to greet the returning team with gunfire, salutes and an enthusiastic WELCOME HOME!.

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The Louisiana Purchase

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Pierre du Pont

In the year 1802, in a letter to Pierre Samuel du Pont, President Thomas Jefferson wrote:  “This little event of France possessing herself of Louisiana, is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both sides of the Atlantic and involve in its effects their highest destinies.” tjsignature This was amid reports that Spain would retrocede to France the vast Territory of Louisiana.

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Port of New Orleans

The United States was expanding westward and navigation of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans became critical to the American economy. This rumored transfer of authority was cause for concern.

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Robert Livingston

Jefferson wrote to Robert Livingston, who was the U.S. Minister to France, that “every eye in the US is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana.” It was the most uneasy time for the young nation since the revolutionary war. Jefferson’s vision of securing the territory was altered by the concept of having France, and its leader Napoleon Bonaparte, as a neighbor.

In 1762 French territories including New Orleans, west of the Mississippi, and Canada were transferred to Spain. The same land areas were ceded to Britain the following year.  But when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799, he seemed determined to bring France back to the continent.

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King Charles IV of Spain

In October 1802 the situation became a crisis as King Charles IV of Spain transferred the territory to France. Acting on orders from the Spanish court, American access was revoked to the New Orleans’ port warehouse.

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James Madison

Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison attempted diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. The opposing Federalist Party called for war and sought secession by the western territories in order to gain control of the lower Mississippi and New Orleans.  The threat of disunion caused Jefferson to recommend that James Monroe join Livingston in Paris in January 1803.

Jefferson also asked Congress to fund an expedition that would cross the Louisiana Territory no matter who controlled it. This concept later evolved into the Louis and Clark Expedition.

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James Garrard

Jefferson wrote to Jim Garrard, Kentucky’s governor, to make him aware of Monroe’s appointment and that he had the power to enter into “arrangements that may effectually secure our rights and interests in the Mississippi and in the country eastward of that.” 10 million in funds were allocated for the purchase of New Orleans and all or at least a portion of the Floridas. If the bid failed, Monroe was to purchase New Orleans or, at the very least, secure US access to the Mississippi River and the port.

When Monroe reached Paris on April 12 of 1803, Livingston made him aware of a very different deal.

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Napoleon Bonaparte of France

Napoleon Bonaparte’s plan to root back into the New World was fast dissipating. The French Army had been overcome by yellow fever during their attempt to suppress rebellion by slaves and free black people in the colony of Saint Domingue (present day Haiti).  A new war with Britain seemed imminent. It was Francois de Barbe’-Marbois, France’s Minister of Finance, who counseled Bonaparte that Louisiana would lose value without Saint Domingue. He also suggested that in the circumstance of war, the territory would be taken by the British from Canada. Because France could not afford to occupy the entire Mississippi Valley, the Finance Minister suggested Bonaparte release his desire for a presence in the New World and sell the territory to the U.S. On April 11, 1803, Livingston was told that France was willing to sell all of Louisiana and Monroe was informed as such upon his arrival the next day. By April 30th they reached an agreement, although it exceeded their monetary authority. Rumors of the purchase proceeded notification to Washington. Washington made an official announcement on July 4, 1803. The U.S. would acquire around 827,000 square miles of land just west of the Mississippi for $15 million dollars.

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The Louisiana Territory in green

The treaty for purchase had to be ratified before the end of October. Precise boundaries would not be determined for years afterward. Jefferson rationalized: “It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory and saying to him, when of age, I did this for your good.”purchase_treaty

The treaty was ratified on October 20th by a vote of 24-7. Spain was angered by the sale, but did not have the military power to block it. Spain formally returned Louisiana to France On November 30th. On December 20th, the territory was transferred to America and ten days later, the U.S. took formal possession.

TIMELINE OF THE LOUISIANA TERRITORY  
(Credit to http://www.Monticello.org)
1682 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claims for France all territory drained by Mississippi River from Canada to Gulf of Mexico and names it Louisiana.  
1718 New Orleans is founded.  
1762 France cedes New Orleans and Louisiana west of the Mississippi to Spain.  
1763 France cedes territories east of the Mississippi and north of New Orleans to Britain.  
1783 Treaty of Paris gives newly independent United States free access to the Mississippi.  
1784 Spain closes lower Mississippi and New Orleans to foreigners.  
1789 French Revolution begins.  
1790 Slaves revolt on Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, France’s richest colony.  
1795 Spain reopens the Mississippi and New Orleans to Americans.  
1799 Napoleon Bonaparte seizes power in France.  
1800 Spain secretly agrees to return Louisiana to France in exchange for Eturia, a small kingdom in Italy. 
1801 President Jefferson names Robert Livingston minister to France.  
1802 Spain cedes Louisiana to France. New Orleans is closed to American shipping. French army sent to re-establish control in Saint Domingue is decimated.
 
Events of 1803  
January Jefferson sends James Monroe to join Livingston in France.
February Napoleon decides against sending more troops to Saint Domingue and instead orders forces to sail to New Orleans.  
March Napoleon cancels military expedition to Louisiana.  
April 11 Foreign Minister Talleyrand tells Livingston that France is willing to sell all of Louisiana.  
April 12 Monroe arrives in Paris and joins Livingston in negotiations with Finance Minister Barbé-Marbois.
April 30 Monroe, Livingston, and Barbé-Marbois agree on terms of sale: $15 million for approximately. 827,000 square miles of territory.
May 18 Britain declares war on France.  
July 4 Purchase is officially announced in United States. October 20 U.S. Senate ratifies purchase treaty.  
November 30 Spain formally transfers Louisiana to France.  
December 20 France formally transfers Louisiana to United States.  
December 30 United States takes formal possession of Louisiana.

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Thomas Jefferson

The Fur Trade/Mountain Man era would have never occurred had it not been for the existence and influence of one Thomas Jefferson. So, let’s backtrack to the beginning by detailing the life of this great leader.

According to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time, Thomas Jefferson was born on April 2, 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia.thomas_jeffersonIn 1752, when Jefferson was nine years old, England and her colonies switched to the Gregorian Calender, which was more in line with the astronomical year. This conversion necessitated the deletion of 11 days to bring the calendar more in step. Today, we recognize Jefferson’s birthdate as April 13, 1743. More information about the two calendars and the switch is located here: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/old-style

peter jeffersonBorn to a successful planter and surveyor, Peter Jefferson, and Jane Randolph, a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families, Thomas inherited a considerable estate. Jefferson began building Monticello at the age of twenty-six years old.

martha wayles skeltonThree years later, at the age of 29, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, with whom he happily shared life until her death ten years later in 1782. During that ten years, six children were born, with only two surviving to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried. He maintained Monticello as his home throughout his entire life.

MonticelloFrom his inheritance and through his marriage, Jefferson owned 200 slaves, with almost half under the age of 16. 80 of these slaves lived at Monticello and 120 lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations in Bedford County on his Poplar Forest estate. In his lifetime, Jefferson freed the children born into slavery by Sally Hemings. More on that later.

william and mary collegeJefferson attended the College of William and Mary, where he learned and then practiced law. In his early professional life, he served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses. In 1776, as a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people.

Virginia_State_CapitolWhen Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. He was elected and served as governor from 1779 to 1781. During his last year as governor, he was charged with failure to provide for the adequate defense of Richmond although he knew a British invasion was imminent, and of cowardice and “pusillanimous conduct” when he fled the capital and returned to Monticello during the moment of crisis. In June 1781 he retired from the governorship. The Virginia assembly subsequently voted that “an inquiry be made into the conduct of the executive of this state.” Jefferson was exonerated. In fact, the assembly unanimously voted a resolution of appreciation of his conduct. The episode, however, left Jefferson bitter about the rewards of public service although his hiatus from public service lasted a mere 3 years.

france-mapHe became a trade commissioner for France. It was at this time that he met Sally Hemings, who was his deceased wife’s half-sister and also a slave on his plantation back at Monticello. She was 14 years of age when she accompanied Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter Mary (Polly) to Paris after the death of her sister, Lucy, from whooping cough. Jefferson was 44 and, at the time, 7 years a widower. His daughter, Polly, and Sally stayed for two years in Paris. Sally-HemingsBecause slavery was abolished in France after the Revolution in 1789, Sally was paid a wage of approximately $2 per month by Jefferson while she lived in France. When Jefferson announced his intended return to the USA, Sally could have stayed in Paris and would have been free. It is said she based her return to the USA, as a slave, upon a promise by Jefferson to free any/all of her children when they turned 21. Sally did not work in the fields, nor did any other slave of mixed heritage. She worked in a domestic capacity at his estate.

Eston Hemings-JeffersonIt is said that Jefferson started what would be a 35 year relationship with Sally Hemings while in Paris. Sally Hemings’ first child died soon after her return from Paris in 1797. Jefferson recorded slave births in his Farm Book. Unlike his established practice of noting the fathers of all other slaves, he did not indicate the father of Hemings’ children. It was not unusual for men to take slave women as concubines during that time. All that was asked is that they be discreet. Marriage for a slave was illegal, although many took on common-law relationships. There was no indication that Sally had such a relationship with other slaves. According to Sally’s son, Madison, while young, he and his siblings “were permitted to stay about the ‘great house,’ and only required to do such light work as going on errands”.  At the age of 14, each of the children began their training. The brothers learned from the plantation’s skilled master of carpentry, and the daughter was taught the skills of spinning and weaving. The three boys all learned to play the fiddle, while Jefferson played the violin. Jefferson was determined through DNA testing conducted in 1998, to be the father of, at least, Sally’s last son, Eston Hemings,  He is reputed to be the father of all six of her children.

benjamin-franklin1Jefferson also served as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home to Monticello, books, seeds and plants, statues and architectural drawings, scientific instruments, and information.

george-washingtonIn 1790, he accepted the post of Secretary of State under his friend George Washington. His term was marked by his opposition to the pro-British policies of Alexander Hamilton. Along with James Madison, he founded the Democratic-Republican Party, the second political party in the United States, organized to oppose the centralizing policies of the Federalist Party run by Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republicans, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes.

Johnadamsvp.flippedFour years later, in 1800, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. The Democratic-Republicans, aka as the “Jeffersonian Republicans,” came to power with Jefferson’s election in 1800, and dominated national and state affairs until the 1820s.

la-purchase-largeThe most notable achievements of his first term were The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and his support of

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The Lewis and Clark Expedition. His second term is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France although his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.

Rotunda_UVa_from_the_south_eastThe last 17 years of his life were lived at Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. At the age of 76, he founded the University of Virginia. He spearheaded the legislative campaign for its charter, secured its location, designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first rector.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend, John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of our nation’s day of independence. He was eighty-three years old and a faithful and tireless servant of his country for over five decades. IST-IS162RM-00000177-001He authored the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. He voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era.

It was Jefferson’s wish that his tombstone reflect what he had given. jeffersons-grave-charlotte-court-houseSubsequently, Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph reads:
HERE WAS BURIED, THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S. DIED JULY 4. 1826

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The Legend that is Hugh Glass

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Hugh Glass

Hugh Glass was born in the year 1780 in Pennsylvania.  His parents were of Irish descent.  In 1822, at the age of 42, he responded to an advertisement in the Missouri Gazette and Public Adviser, placed by General William Ashley.

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A young Jim Bridger

The advertisement requested a corps of 100 men to “ascend the river Missouri” as part of a fur trading venture. The corps would later be known as “Ashley’s Hundred,” and included James Beckwourth, a young Jim Bridger, John Fitzgerald, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Jackson, Jedediah Smith and William Sublette.

bull boatGlass, More, Dutton, Chapman and Marsh were sent by Ashley to determine a new trapping route. In a bullboat they set off, intending to travel up the Powder River, which is a tributary of the Yellowstone River, across and down the Platte to the bluffs. However, near the junction with the Laramie River they came upon 38 Indian lodges and several Indians on the shore. The Indians appeared to be friendly at first, and the trappers mistook them for Pawnees.  But after coming ashore and eating with the Indians, Glass determined them to be Arikara.  From past encounters he knew they were anything but friendly.  The trappers returned to the bullboat and attempted the far shore with the Indians swimming after them.  Both groups arrived at the opposite shore at around the same time, where two of the party, More and Chapman, were killed.  Marsh and Dutton, escaped and reunited later. Glass found a large rock grouping to shield him from view of the Arikara Indians.  He later was able to return to Fort Kiowa with a party of Sioux Indians.

HughGlassBearAttackIn August of 1823, near the fork of the Grand River in present day Perkins County, South Dakota, Glass was scouting ahead of his trading partners when he was attacked by a sow bear tending to two cubs.  Although he managed to kill the bear, he was badly mutilated and mauled to unconsciousness.  The video below describes the events of the attack and amazing aftermath.

The map below shows the ground the injured Hugh Glass covered and is one of the most remarkable treks in history. glass_bear_attack_route

A monument to Glass stands near the site of his mauling on the southern short of the Shadehill Reservoir on the forks of the Grand River.50467359a476a.preview-620

Glass could not stay away from the frontier.  He returned, employed as a hunter for the Garrison at Fort Union, where he died at the hands of Arikara Indians in 1833 on the Yellowstone River at the age of 53.

In the book, The Deaths of the Bravos by John Myers, the Arikara Indians tried to pass themselves off as Minitaris Indians to trappers employed by Amfurco.  Johnson Gardner, one of the trappers, recognized Hugh Glass’ rifle – the same rifle that Glass had retrieved from Fitzgerald after he was left for dead from the bear attack — and surmised that the Indians were actually the Arikaras who had killed Glass. The Indians were executed by the trappers as revenge for the death of Hugh Glass.

Watkuweis

sc0099748fWatkuweis was single-handedly responsible for saving The Lewis and Clark Expedition, although they never even knew.

As recorded in The Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

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It would have been an easy matter to kill them and take possession of their guns, ammunition, and trade goods, thus ensuring the Nez Perce’s dominance over other nations, and several of the warriors advocated doing just that.

It was an old woman named Watkuweis who stopped them. Watkuweis stepped forward and said, “These are the people who helped me. Do them no hurt.”

“She told history about the whites and every Nez Perce listened . . . told how the white people were good to her, treated her with kindness. That is why the Nez Percés never made harm to the Lewis and Clark people. . . . We ought to have a monument to her in this far West. She saved much for the white race.”

From The Women of The Fur Trade website, with permission and a big THANKS to Sandy Gabbert Hunt:

watkuweis-1jpgThe story of Watkuweis has been handed down in the oral history of the Nez Perce tribe.   Lewis and Clark never even knew, so of course they recorded nothing of the event.  Clark did meet her and recorded in his journal about the woman who had been captured by the Minitarries of the North and had seen white men. William_Clark-Charles_Willson_Peale

Watkuweis, whose name means “Returns from a Far Land,” had been captured, taken to Canada, and then traded between tribes until she ended up far away in the Great Lakes region. She had been purchased by a white man and lived for a time among the whites. According to the stories she was the first of their tribe to see white men and return to tell about it. After she had given birth to a child she determined to escape. With the help of the friendly whites, who supplied her with food and a horse, she began her long journey back to her tribe.nez perce map

It was such an incredible distance for a lone woman and her baby to travel!  Whenever she was in danger of being discovered the fog would close in thick and hide her! Faced with starvation in the season of cold, she killed her horse for food. Under such hardships, her baby died. By a miracle she made her way to a band of Salish who helped her return to her tribe, but the privations of her journey had taken a toll on her health, which she never fully regained. Though still young, she was called “Old Watkuweis.”

watkuweisShe was on her deathbed when the strange party of white men arrived with their Shoshone guide. Their arrival immediately aroused suspicion because the Nez Perce had recently sent a group of their men to try and establish peace with the Shoshones, but the Nez Perce delegation was killed. They felt vulnerable, since many Nez Perce warriors were absent from the village at this time, having gone to revenge their fallen tribes.

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Marie Dorion

marie dorianYou know of Sacajewea, but have you heard of Marie Dorion? She was the second woman to make the long trip from Missouri to the West Coast. She was in her early 20’s at the time her husband, Pierre Dorion, was hired as a guide and interpreter for the Wilson Hunt Party of 1811. Marie, along with her two children, Baptiste (approx. age 4) and Paul (approx. age 2), were brought along.

After they tried, unsuccessfully, to travel the Snake River in Dugout Canoes, the ill-fated Wilson Hunt party met with hard times.  Around what is now Burley, Idaho, they had to abandon their canoes. With most of their trade goods cached, each man, carrying a 20lb. pack, began walking toward their goal of Fort Astoria which was located on the coast.  The party divided into smaller groups, hoping it would be easier to find food.map

From journals members of the party kept, we know how desperate their situation became. On November 18th, around Glen’s Ferry, Idaho, they were able to trade for salmon and dog meat. On November 27th, they found frozen blackberries and divided the meat of one beaver among their group. Remember that, all this time, Marie was carrying her two children and was also pregnant! Her baby was the first, with mixed blood, to be born in the Western land. In their sad state of starvation, however, the baby did not survive.

Marie carried her burdens, of body and soul, without complaint and earned the admiration and respect of all the men in the party!  Amazingly, all but two men lived, arriving to the fort on February 15th, 1812. Marie may have thought her hard times were over, but it was not to be.

In the Summer of 1813, Pierre Dorion was assigned as a hunter for a trapping party headed to the Boise River.  They built a cabin on the Snake, where trapping was good, near the mouth of the Boise River. In January they were attacked by Bannock Indians.  Marie and her husband, along with Jacob Rezner and Giles LeClerc, were trapping from a camp about 5 days away from the main cabin.  LeClerc, severely wounded, made his way back to camp to bear the bad news to Marie that her husband and Rezner had been killed.

marie-dorionMarie caught two horses and hoisted the wounded LeClerc over one saddle, along with what supplies she could hastily pack. With her two children on the other horse, she forged her way back to the main cabin.

LeClerc died that first night, but Marie and her children continued on, arriving late on the fourth day only to find ashes where the cabin had once stood. Determined to save her children, she forded the Snake River and followed their old trail back from Astoria. Nine days later the snow became too deep to continue. In a sheltered ravine, she built a primitive hut by using skins thrown over a framework of branches.  She killed the two horses for food. This shelter was their home for 53 days.marie-dorion2

By the end of March their food supply had become desperately low. Marie set out on foot, holding the hand of her oldest and carrying on her back her youngest child, along with what was left of their food. On the second day of travel, Marie became snow blind, and was unable to take a step further.  She remained in this condition, for three days, before starting out on foot again.

placqueFinally, she reached the Wallah Wallah River and then traveled for 15 more days to reach the Columbia River Plains. Weak from hunger, and barely able to walk, she saw smoke in the distance.  Leaving her children lying under a Buffalo robe, she walked, and then crawled, to reach that distant camp. It turned out to be friendly Wallah Wallah Indians, who tracked back to rescue her two children.

Marie_dorionOn April 17th, canoes from Fort Astoria, approaching the mouth of the Wallah Wallah, were intercepted by this tribe. When they pulled to shore they were amazed to hear of Marie Dorion’s story of survival under such hardship!


sandyUsed with permission from The Women of The Fur Trade and with special thanks to Sandy Gabbert Huntwho did a 5 day trip down The Snake River, in a bull boat, on the 200th anniversary of Marie Dorion’s trek!bull boat