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On the Trail of Sacagawea


      In order to write my books, I need to review my journals that I keep as I take my adventures.   The following is the journal I kept while traveling with my family from North Dakota to Oregon On the Trail of Sacagawea:

August 1st, 1999
Knife River Indian Villages, North Dakota

      Our family paddled up the Knife River in a replica Voyageur canoe. Where the modest Knife River enters the great Missouri, about 1500 miles upriver from where Lewis and Clark began their journey westward, the Corps of Discovery found a veritable city of Mandan and Hidatsa Indians living in great earth lodges. They estimated about 4,400 people lived here then. It was October and the snow was beginning to fly, so the captains built a small fort along the Missouri which they named Fort Mandan. Here they waited out the bleak plains winter of 1804-1805. The temperature dropped to forty below. For five months they prepared for their journey west. With the break-up of the river ice in the spring, they planned to cross the plains and climb the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. They had no idea how wide the Rockies were. They were about to enter territory unknown by Europeans. That's why President Thomas Jefferson had sent them: to learn about the people, the land, and the animals, and to find a way to the Pacific Ocean.
         During the long months, they got to know the friendly Mandan and the Hidatsa people, and they hired a French interpreter named Toussaint Charbonneau, whose young wife was named Sacagawea.

    Today my family--my wife and two children--visited a reconstruction of Fort Mandan, and slept in a teepee along the banks of the Missouri River. My children played in their kayaks, tipped them over in the freezing cold water, and swam in the river.

August 2

        At the Knife River Indian Villages, we saw depressions in the earth that were all that was left of Sacagawea's village. Then we drove to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation where the Mandan and Hidatsa live today. There are about four thousand Native Americans living on the reservation and maybe four thousand more who live off the reservation. A very helpful woman named Marilyn Hudson of Hidatsa descent took us to see the community gardens where children were harvesting the vegetables they had worked hard to grow. We met the tribal governor, Tex Hall, a big man with long flowing black hair.

        We learned from the Hidatsa that many on the reservation do not think that Sacagawea was Shoshone from the Rocky Mountains. Historians mostly agree that she was captured as a young girl hundreds and hundreds of miles from here and brought to the Missouri River. The Hidatsa say she was not Shoshone, but rather Hidatsa and in fact had been captured by the Shoshone and then walked back with many pair of moccasins for the long journey along the Missouri River to her home here around the Knife River.
        In the past fifty years, the Missouri River has changed completely. In the Dakotas and much of Montana, it no longer flows freely. Hundred-mile-long reservoirs have flooded the surrounding land and formed huge lakes, called reservoirs. Dams have been built to control flooding. And when the Garrison Dam was built and 178-mile-long Lake Sakakawea formed, the Mandan and Hidatsa lost much of their agricultural land. So it was wonderful to see the children of the tribes growing beans and corn again. Although there are only a handful of Mandan speakers, the language is being preserved and the young are taking an interest. There are many more Hidatsa speakers.

August 3
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Unit, North Dakota

        Today the kids chased prairie dogs and my son Walker almost kissed one in his little burrow, so tame are these little creatures that Lewis and Clark called "barking squirrels." Beyond the prairie dog village were fifteen bison lounging in the heat of the day. I stalked them, and took photos. I loved walked through the sage and prickly pear scattered over the lovely land along the Little Missouri River that feeds the great Missouri.

August 4
Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana,
and the Assiniboin Indians

        It was along this stretch of the river as we head into Montana that the grizzly bear attacked various members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The men shot the animal many times but had to jump into the river to escape the grizzly's ferocity. Now, of course there are no grizzlies here. First they retreated up into the slopes of the Rockies, then they were hunted out, and only now are making a comeback.
        I met with Ken Ryan, an Assiniboin who told me that in the oral tradition of his tribe, the Assiniboins kept away from Lewis and Clark when they passed through here in the spring of 1805. The chief at that time was a man named Rosebud and when Lewis who was walking along shore wanted to meet him, Rosebud kept Lewis at a teepee pole's length. He literally put a long pole between them. Lewis tried to step forward, and Rosebud poked him with the pole. The Assiniboin did not want to communicate with the Corps of Discovery.

       Lewis and Clark had heard tales about the Assiniboin that made them nervous as they traveled west along the Missouri River, and they found burials on scaffolds and other signs, but met little with this tribe.
        Ken says they Assiniboins called Sacagawea "the red French woman," probably because she was married to the French interpreter Charbonneau.

        Animals seen today: white pelicans, mule deer, pronghorn antelope. The air is filled with the smell of dry earth and sage, maybe a hint of cedar.

August 5
Fort Peck, Montana

        The dam here, built in the 1930s, is the largest of its kind in the world. We stayed in the old hotel, also built at the time of the dam, and rested after some long traveling. Kids slept late, coffee tasted good. But today we're heading west into some of the most remote and wild territory in the lower forty-eight states. Also some of the most scenic parts of the river--the white cliffs of the Missouri.
August 5
Leaving Fort Peck Dam

        Before the reservoir formed after the dam was built, the river as described by Lewis and Clark was maybe only 200 yards wide. Makes sense, too, because this land is nearly a desert. The Fort Peck reservoir sits like a small ocean, a dark blue watery mirage in the wavering heat and the dry, tan earth all around it.
        As Sacagawea moved upriver through this hot region, Lewis and Clark kept looking for the Rockies, for some relief from the eternal prairie. Finally Lewis climbed out of the river bottom and spotted some snow-capped mountains. Lewis was overjoyed, but in fact they were the Bears Paw Mountains, a small range that rises dramatically out of the High Plains.
        When we first spotted the Bears Paw Mountains, a full rainbow covered them in the sky like a magic hat.
        We stopped along the road to pet some horses, and saw mule deer bounding through the sage.
        Near here, Charbonneau carelessly overturned one of the boats, but Sacagawea saved some valuable supplies and instruments. She was already beginning to prove herself to the two captains of the Corps of Discovery, who seemed to grow more and more fond of her as the journey continued. She and her husband, Charbonneau, and their baby often slept in the same tent with Lewis and Clark. Some believe this was because Charbonneau was very rough with her and the captains wanted to keep an eye on her.

Virgelle, Montana
White Cliffs of the Missouri

        Today we reached Virgelle, Montana, a tiny little town (one store) on the Missouri River where people come to take canoe trips through the White Cliffs and Missouri Breaks section of the Missouri River, a 149-mile stretch that has been designated Wild and Scenic.
        Don Sorensen grew up farming here and now runs a bed-and-breakfast inn and canoe operation. He gave us a little cabin with no electricity. It was exactly like living a hundred years ago. It had two rooms, a big old wood cook stove and kerosene lanterns, and outside a view of the gentle cliffs scoured thousands of years ago by the great river.
        When Don grew up he was told by his parents never to swim in the Missouri. Lots of people had drowned in the river, and even today he does not get on the river without wearing his life jacket. Trying to keep the life jackets on my kids has proved a little difficult on this trip. But I wouldn't let them on the Missouri, or even near it without them. The river boils and sweeps away the banks and the cottonwoods growing there. I don't want it to sweep Suzanna and Walker away, too.
        Two hundred years ago, as the expedition approached the lovely white cliffs of the Missouri, Sacagawea passed a buffalo jump. Lewis described how vast herds of buffalo were killed at a stroke. One man would dress in the hide and head of a buffalo, and the other men would all at once herd the buffalo toward the cliff. The decoy closest to the cliff would run, leading the whole herd, and at the last minute he would jump off the cliff onto some rock, while all the many buffalo would fall over him and out onto the ground far below in one tangle of mangled carcasses. The Plains Indians used buffalo for all their needs.

August 6

        Today Walker and I walked up onto the tabletop above the river and found old cairns, piles of rocks marking directions. The newer ones might be ranchers' piles when they cleared some of the land, but the older ones with the sage growing out of them are probably Native American markers from a long time ago.
        Walker spiked his finger on a prickly pear cactus thorn and I swiped my foot against three of them. We found an old cabin tumbled down a hill, the roof in tact. And old planks from other cabins long ago forgotten.
        A lovely view of the river.
        Later in the morning we rode horses at a local ranch for a few hours along the river. Walker rode Champ, I took Spike, Melissa had T-Bar and Suzanna had Old Joe. It felt so good to be in a saddle again. Walker was more comfortable being led by Clara Alderdice who had grown up here.
        At one point Walker jumped off his horse, reached down, and picked up the backbone and pelvis of a dead cow. He said, "Look, DAD, look."  The bones were as big as he was. He was smiling as I have never seen him smile before. Clara told him not to leave it on the trail. Some of the newly broken horses get spooked by such bones.

        That night we drove into the Bears Paw Mountains to a powwow. Tribes from across the Great Plains, from Canada, from Fort Peck Reservation, from Fort Berthold Reservation, Assiniboin, Hidatsa, Cree, Chippewa, Sioux, and more, had come to the Rocky Boy Reservation to dance, sing, and drum. Ken Ryan had told us this was one of the best powwows
        At seven-thirty, with a storm approaching, Indians and non Indians sat around a dance ring waiting for the Grand Entry that marked the beginning of the all-night affair. When all the finely dressed dancers came out, the women formed lines around the circle and the men--some old and some teen aged, some as young as three or four--danced toward the middle. The haunting beat of the drums and piercing cries of the dance songs put us all into trances. And I wondered if the rainbow we'd seen the
day before was a harbinger for the powwow.

August 7

        In her old pickup truck, Clara drove us way out along the land above the Missouri (her family has a ranch here of ten thousand acres). We passed over some of the original prairie grass, never before cultivated or plowed by modern farmers, to the Little Sandy Creek where we found the most perfect teepee rings I'd ever seen. These smooth round rocks lined up in a circle were used to hold down the teepees of the plains Indians for maybe hundreds of years when they went out to hunt or to travel to the distant Rockies. Maybe these very rings were used by the Hidatsa on their way to capture horses and raid the Shoshone at Three Forks, where many believe that Sacagawea was captured as a ten-year-old. Or, perhaps they were the rings of the Shoshone coming to raid the Hidatsa, hundreds of miles away.
       Before Clara's family took possession of this land, it had been owned by one family since the late 1800s and no one had disturbed the rings in all that time. I was surprised to see that these rings were fairly close to one another. We found them on the ridges between the coulees, or gulches. Nearby was a possible buffalo jump, Clara said. And she pointed to a cliff.
        When we stopped in some sand dunes to hunt for arrowheads, Clara told us stories about growing up as a cowgirl. She said there were no snacks during the day, and when dinner was called, you went because if you didn't go, you wouldn't eat. Walker and Suzanna found lots of chips of arrowheads but no perfectly formed arrowheads.
        On our way back to the ranch, we came across a prairie dog town where the little critters weren't so friendly as they were in the National Park. Here the ranchers shot them because the prairie dogs eat the grass that the cattle need. Clara told us that one thousand out of her ten thousand acres was wasted land. These "barking squirrels" eat all the grass, and the land turns dark brown in those places.
        We saw a mother antelope with twins galloping over the prairie. Like phantom streaks of light over the pastel green.

August 7
Eagle Creek, White Cliffs

        Another local rancher named Gary Darlington dropped us off with our canoe in the heart of the White Cliffs.  Here at Eagle Creek, across from Labarge Rock, we set up camp with a storm coming in from the west. Sacagawea and the Captains probably walked here.
        Suzanna, Melissa, and I wrote in our journals in the exact same spot where Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea were camped on May 31, 1805, nearly a year since they left St. Louis, and two months since they had left Fort Mandan.

        It was right here at Eagle Creek that Lewis wrote: "The hills and river Clifts which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance." Running up to three hundred feet high, the cliffs are nearly perpendicular. They blaze brilliant white in the hot sun of late afternoon.
        Lewis continued: "The water in the course of time in descending from those hills and plains on either side of the river has trickled down the soft sand clifts and woarn it into a thousand grotesque figures, which with the help of a little imagination and an oblique view, at a distance are made to represent eligant ranges of lofty freestone buildings, having their parapets well stocked with statuary; columns of various sculpture both grooved and plain, ...the thin stratas of freestone intermixed with
the soft sandstone seems to have aided the water in forming this curious scenery. As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary inchantement would never have an end."

        The kids were interested more in swimming than history. On their backs and on their stomachs they ran the swift-flowing little riffles of Eagle Creek that comes from miles away up in the Bears Paw Mountains. Recent rain had brought it up so it was fun to get swooped along over the rocks and clutch at the long grass on the sides. Walker got a little panicky when he got in over his head. He felt like he'd be swept out into the bigger and more dangerous current of the Missouri. Suzanna "saved" him
more than once. Laughing and bashing their legs and feet, they had a blast.
        We canoed out into the big river and felt the great current sweep us along below the overhanging cliffs of Labarge Rock.  What light the cliff gave off!  White pelicans skimmed along the water beneath the white cliff face.

        We walked up to the pictographs, two figures of primitive-looking horses carved in the white sandstone maybe thousands of years ago. Walker touched the rock and was connected to the past in a strange way that even he might not recognize.
        Just as the Plains Indians used Buffalo dung to feed their fires, Walker wanted to burn cow dung of which there was plenty, and Suzanna wanted to burn sage, of which there was also plenty. So the fire smelled of distant countries where I have traveled, countries in Africa and South America.
        There was so much mystery all around us, and so much to explore, but the rain was coming, so we quickly put up our tent and dove into our bags. The wind flapped the tent around all night long like a flag.

August 8
Fort Benton
head of steamboat navigation

        Founded in 1846, Fort Benton's main street still lies along the river, where the steamboats would come in the 1800s. Furs, and supplies for miners and ranchers were taken up and down river until the last steamboat ran in 1890.
        Sacagawea fell very ill and just before reaching the Great Falls, Lewis made her drink sulfur water, which seemed to revive her. He was probably worried that if anything happened to her, his chances of friendly relations with the Snake Indians, or Shoshone, might be jeopardized. And he knew he needed the Shoshone horses in order to get over the mountains before winter came.
        After taking the Carter Ferry over to the other side of the Missouri (a ferry that pulled our van across along a few wires strung across the river), we went to Ryan Dam that now runs on top of the Great Falls of the Missouri. Lewis had been so happy to find these falls because he had learned way back at Fort Mandan from the Hidatsa that when he found the Great Falls, he would be nearing the source of the Missouri.
        Lewis described coming to the falls: "I had proceeded on this course about two miles when my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke. It soon began to make a roaring to tremendious to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri."
        Before the dam was built on top of it, the falls dropped about forty feet. Beyond these falls there are four more of them. And the portage around the series of falls here would take them a month.

August 9
Helena, Montana

        Today we paddled near the Gates of the Mountains, that narrow gorge with cliffs rising a thousand feet above the river. Here the captains kept expecting to find the Shoshone Indians but the Indians stayed mostly out of sight. Clark roamed miles ahead in hopes of meeting the Indians. He did not want the guns of the Corps hunters to scare them off. Lewis was still
under the false impression that all they had to do was get to the source of the Missouri, hop a few of the Rockies and look down at the headwaters of the Columbia River that would take them to the Pacific. One of his main goals for this trip was to find the Northwest Passage to the sea.
        For the next week my family was about to camp in the Rockies and see for ourselves that there is no Northwest Passage, no easy route to the Pacific over the Continental Divide where the water begins to run west to the other ocean. For Lewis and Clark, after they finally met the Shoshone, it was rough going walking and riding in that high country. For today's traveler, it is not so rough at all. But many of the passes and much of the route the Corps took through the Rockies has changed little in the last two hundred years. And we were excited to see this country.
August 10
Three Forks, Montana

        As soon as we got to Three Forks, we went to a local fishing access, a swimming hole on the Madison River. We heard that local kids jump off a train bridge into the cold, fast water. Suzanna went first. I was a typical parent, terrified for my kid, especially since she wanted to keep jumping. But finally I jumped, too. Walker lifted rocks and chased crawfish. Then we all tried to swim against the swift current in the shallow river. The small pebbles on the bottom shone like colored eggs in the clear clear water.
        After spending the night in a wonderful old hotel called the Sacajawea Inn, we launched the canoe where the Jefferson and Madison meet, near the very spot where Sacagawea was captured by the Hidatsa raiding party five or so years before she returned here with Lewis and Clark and recognized the spot.
        The Hidatsa view that Sacagawea was really Hidatsa and that she had been captured by the Shoshone but later walked back nearly a thousand miles along the Missouri is not the common view. The reason I use the Sacagawea spelling, pronounced "Sah-KAH-gah-wee-ah," is that this is a Hidatsa name, the one she was given as a child around the Knife River area along the Missouri, and is the way her name is pronounced even today by the Hidatsa people.
        We paddled the swift current down past the confluence of the third river of the three that come together to form the main stem of the Missouri. This one is called the Gallatin. After I put the canoe back on the van, I forgot to place the paddles back inside. Accidentally I backed the van over my two lovely wood, bent-shaft paddles, cracking one of them and denting the other. Later I'd try to duck-tape it.
        This little accident made me wonder how many such little and not-so-little mishaps the Lewis and Clark Expedition must have faced in two years and four months of travel. You can't travel eight thousand miles in rugged country and not have a million mishaps. The difference perhaps between then and now is that I don't have the skill or materials to fix my paddle. I'll probably just look for a new one, whereas the Corps had to fix every broken thing as they went, and not just fix them a little, but make them as useful and as solid as if they were new.

        At Three Forks, Lewis was right in thinking that the Jefferson, and not the Gallatin or the Madison, was the main branch of the river. Perhaps he guessed it simply because it seemed to be coming from the direction he figured he needed to go to get over the Divide. But he and Clark had an uncanny sense of where they needed to go, and this, after the choice they had made at the Marias River, was the second time they chose correctly.

August 11
Up the Jefferson & the Beaverhead

        Raining today as we headed up the Jefferson by car and then the Beaverhead. Amazing how the rivers keep coming from above. Seems never to end. It was this same month in 1805 that the Lewis and Clark Expedition headed up the Beaverhead, too.

        Sacagawea spotted a rock formation on the Beaverhead that her people called the Beaver Head, hence the name of the river. The Beaverhead is one of the great fishing spots in the west. We found drift boats and rafts and sport fishermen everywhere. Here they told us that there are 2500 trout in every mile of river.
        Still the Corps was looking for the Shoshone Indians. It had been four months since they left the Mandans and Hidatsas, and they'd met no Indians for all that hot crossing of the prairies. They were in Indian territory but the Indians kept out of sight.

        As the days passed, our little Corps of Discovery faced some rising tensions. We were learning to travel together, but inevitably flare-ups occurred, especially at the end of a long day of travel and exploration.
        Everyone always comments on how Lewis and Clark got along so well for the two years and four months they traveled together. But I can't help thinking they must have had their spats. Travel, especially hard journeying over long periods of time, leads to tension. Perhaps, Lewis and Clark simply didn't write about their difficulties. And why would they hang their dirty laundry out for President Jefferson and the world and all future generations to read about. Another thing I noticed in their journals, which I read to the kids as we followed in the adventurers' steps, was how cheerfully their men faced hardships. Like all those prickly pear cactus thorns in their feet after days and days of lugging canoes and gear around the waterfalls at Great Falls.

August 12
Camp Fortunate & The Lemhi Pass--the Continental Divide

        This morning I woke the kids early with a live raccoon on their beds. Outside in the parking lot in the Dillon motel was a family, two children, Rex and Shelby, and their parents, from Twin Falls, Idaho, who had pet raccoons, named Bonnie and Clyde. I borrowed one and put it on Suzanna's bed. My kids did not wake with the usual grumpiness. They held and cuddled the little masked critters. And of course now they want raccoons. The Idaho couple said they might sell us a couple if these two
have babies.

        We reached the Canyon Ferry Dam and Lake. Walker got out of the van, saw the big lake, and asked, "Dad, is this the Pacific Ocean?"
        The big blue reservoir sitting like a small sea in the hot hot dry dry land now covers the area historians call Camp Fortunate. Some of the most important events of the Expedition occurred here and just west of here up in the Lemhi Pass mid to late August, 1805.
        Lewis got here first. Clark followed dragging the boats and supplies up the shallow Beaverhead. Lewis left a note for Clark and left the river heading west on foot. He climbed up the Lemhi Pass and over to the Pacific side where he finally met the Shoshone.
        He convinced the Shoshone chief, Cameahwait to return forty miles to the Camp Fortunate area where Clark would join them. The chief was suspect but decided to come with Lewis. The Shoshone had very little to eat. One of Lewis' men killed a deer, and the Indians ate the meat raw, they were so hungry. This helped reduce some of the tension.
        When Lewis and the Shoshone returned to this spot, now a reservoir, and when Lewis saw Clark had not gotten here yet, the captain was very worried. The Chief's confidence in him would determine whether or not they could get horses for their trek over the mountains. He resorted to various deceptions in order to keep the Shoshone here while Clark dragged the boats up the Beaverhead, a difficult task in such shallow water.
        Lewis let the Shoshone hold his gun to assure the chief this was not a trick. He lied, too, saying the note that was there at Camp Fortunate was from Clark (it was actually his note to Clark). The note, he told the chief, said Clark would be late.
        When Clark finally approached Lewis' camp he, Sacagawea and Charbonneau were out front. Spotting an Indian on horseback, Sacagawea and Charbonneau, began to dance, jump, and shout because they recognized the Shoshone tribe who they had longed to meet. Sacagawea started to suck her fingers to indicate they were her people. A young woman ran out to embrace Sacagawea. It was a friend of Sacagawea's who had been captured also by the Hidatsa but who had escaped.
        About three thousand miles from where the Expedition had started, the reunited parties made camp here for a week. Lewis and Clark smoked a peace pipe with Chief Cameahwait. And Sacagawea suddenly recognized the chief was her very own brother. She jumped up, ran to him, threw her blanket over him, and "cried profusely."  Then she sat down and began to translate, but broke into tears often.
        Translations were not simple.  Since she spoke no English, she translated her brother's words into Hidatsa. Then Charbonneau, who also spoke no English, translated the Hidatsa into French, and another man named Labiche translated the information from French into English. Back and forth, the negotiations for horses took some time.
        Lewis and Clark again told the chief that he and his tribe were now under the protection of the United States government. They said they had come to find a trade route. The chief agreed to help the Corps perhaps because Lewis promised such items as guns. There had been only three or four guns in the whole Shoshone village, Lewis' men noticed. Cameahwait most probably wanted to be first to attain special trading status with the USA. Then he might more successfully fight off his enemies, the Blackfeet and the Hidatsa who made constant raids on the Shoshone horses.

        At Canyon Ferry, I took the canoe off the car and dropped it into the water. The kids drank hot chocolate and ate snacks. It was our own Camp Fortunate because Walker found an eagle feather. It was illegal to take it with us since eagle feathers are used for Native American ceremonies and dances. Also this was our Camp Fortunate because tensions today had been running particularly high. Now we had a chance to rest and laugh. We played hot potato, and our spirits turned upward.

        Sacagawea went across the pass to her brother's village in the Lemhi valley, while Clark and a few men went north to scout the Salmon River to see if it would be possible to reach the Columbia River and the Pacific.

The Lemhi Pass
August 12, 1999
August 12, 1805

        What a coincidence!  We packed up the van and headed up the pass. When we got to top, we had to put on sweaters. The wind was cold, bringing in rain from the west. A wood fence marked the actual border between Montana and Idaho and here we read on a plaque what I had forgotten. That it was this same day, 194 years before, that Lewis and a few men, out in front of the main body of the Corps, topped the Divide and looked out over the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains. It was then that Lewis, who had hoped for an easy route to the sea, discovered just how much more he and the Expedition would have to travel. And now he was sure he would need horses to travel overland.
        When Lewis had crossed the Lemhi Pass to meet the Shoshone on August 12, 1805, he was the first white man to cross the Continental Divide in the United States. The Nez Perce, the Blackfeet, the Salish, the Assiniboin, and the Hidatsa had been traveling across the Divide for hundreds, probably thousands of years. The Shoshone, the Salish, and the Nez Perce thought nothing of traveling all the way from the Lemhi Valley, Bitterroot, and Lolo Valleys west of the Divide to Three Forks for their buffalo hunting.

        What I loved about this part of our trip was that the Lemhi Pass, elevation 7339, is today much as it was when Lewis and the Corps crossed in August 1805. Windswept, the pass gets no more than 30 or 40 cars each day. The gravel road is often only one lane.
        Coming down from Lemhi, big rain and lightning. Road turning from dust to mud. I felt a kind of sadness about leaving Montana behind. We'd been there a long time and so had Lewis and Clark.
        Heading now for the Pacific, our journey has a different feel to it. Rivers to travel now: First there is the Lemhi River, then there is the Salmon, the North Fork of the Salmon, the Bitterroot, the Lochsa, the Clearwater, the Snake, and finally the Columbia. A lot more rivers than Lewis had thought and hoped since when he crossed the Lemhi, he was sure he was drinking the water from the headwaters of the Columbia itself, which in a sense he was.

        A young woman and a baby--Today I tried to imagine what it would be like for the rugged men of the Corps of Discovery to have a young woman on their trip, and also a tiny child. Did the Jean Baptiste cry much? Was he swaddled in such tight comforting cloth around Sacagawea's back so as not to cry? But a tiny child in the Lemhi Pass, in the rapids on the Jefferson, or later on the Lolo trail when the white men ate horses, or on the Snake and Columbia when the white men ate dogs, and the canoes swamped in the rapids! How many parents today would bring an infant on such a journey? And if Jean Baptiste cried only a few times, imagine a child's cry in the wilderness on this the greatest adventure any American had taken to date or perhaps, next to the moon shots, take forever again.
        Imagine John Glenn in his little space capsule with a baby aboard!

August 14
Baker, Idaho & the Lemhi River

        We passed the site of one of the Shoshone villages on the little lovely Lemhi River, just north of Tendoy. Expeditioner Patrick Gass described it, "...there are about 25 lodges made of willow bushes. They are the poorest and most miserable nation I ever beheld: having scarcely anything to subsist on, except berries and a few fish...They have a great many fine horses, and nothing more; and on account of these [the horses] they are much harassed by other nations."

        Clark later stopped at a village where the Shoshone had placed a fish weir across the Lemhi River. Broiled and dried salmon and dried chokecherries were given generously to the Corps. Clark wrote, "Those Indians are mild in their disposition appear Sincere in their friendship, puntial, and decided kind with what they have, to Spare...The women are held more Sacred,...and appear to have an equal Shere in all Conversation, ...their boeys and Girls are also admitted to Speak except in Councils, the women doe all the drugery except fishing and takeing care of the horses, which the men apr. to take upon themselves."

        Today the Lemhi Valley has some of the best elk hunting in the world. Cougar come down into the valley. Wolves howl from nearby mountains. Last night a rainbow shaft thicker and more bright with color than any I'd ever seen popped out of the sky after the rain. The mountains all around us with wolves and cougars sang emerald songs to us.

        We watched Shoshone dances from the Fort Hall Reservation south of here in Island Park in the nearby town of Salmon. The men all arrayed in eagle feathers danced expressively, while the women made little restrained steps, very lovely in their restraint, tantalizing. Handsome faces. These were old, traditional dances.

        On August 30, the Expedition set off for the north. Sacagawea said good-bye to her people, but there is no record of what that parting was like. I wonder if she wanted to stay with her tribe, or, perhaps because they were so hungry, she might have wanted to keep going with the Corps.

        Before leaving Salmon, Idaho, we visited Scott and Linda Matz, archaeologists who work for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service. They have sixteen sled dogs and they go to mushing races in the winter. Suzanna is passionate about mushing. She can't wait to get her own dog and sled, and so it was a great opportunity to get some tips about dog keeping and what sleds to buy.

        Before going up to Lolo, we took a little detour and headed west along the Salmon River road to Shoup, a little outpost with a store/gas station. Lovely road, along the section of river that Clark had explored in late August, where he discovered the Expedition dare not go. We saw why. The river got wilder by the minute as we headed west. Stunningly beautiful, though, with remains of old log cabins dotting the pines.
        This fork of the Salmon River is called The River of No Return and can not be reached by car. We turned around and headed up Lost Trail Pass. Clark reported that the Salmon was almost one continuous rapid and that passage "with canoes is entirely impossible." So the expedition had to buy pack horses and go 110 miles north on an Indian trail across the mountains.

        Old Toby, a Shoshone man, and his son, led the expedition north through the Bitterroots. By Sept. 2, it had snowed.

August 16
Spring Gulch, MT

        We crossed back over the Divide, just like Sacagawea. The Expedition had just spent a few grueling days climbing over what is known today as Lost Trail Pass, over the Divide again and into present-day Montana. The morning was very cold and wet. Ground covered with snow, on Sept. 4. "We kept for Several Miles & fell on the head of a Creek which appeared to run the Course we wished to go prosued our Course down the Creek to the forks about 5 miles where we met a party of the Flathead nation, of 33 Lodges, about 80 men 400 total and at least 500 horses."
        Clark wrote, "We Proceeded on ...Crossed a mountain and Struck the river. Sever miles down, at place the Indians had encamped two days before...rained this evening nothing to eate but berries, our flour out, and but little corn, the hunters killed 2 pheasants only"

        It was here the expedition met the Flathead Indians, the Salish people. Lewis and Clark camped with them. He found them friendly but hungry. They had very little, but like the Shoshone they were incredibly generous. They shared what they had with the expedition. Well dressed with skin shirts and robes. Stout and with light complexions, this tribe had never met white people before.

        One hundred and ninety-four years later, we camped the night in a National Forest Service campground beside the shallow and lovely Bitterroot. Suzanna took out the portable bike, and Walker fished the stream. He lost his best lure under a boulder, and he cried for a while until I told him that's what fishermen do--they lose lures so they can buy new ones. That seemed to cheer him up a little.
        Together the kids picked a large wild berry, the Service berry, which tasted like sour blueberries. Suzanna boiled her cupful with sugar and labeled a plastic container and planned to go into the business of selling the stuff.
        All night the stream sounded fast and beautiful. It rained off and on and got pretty cold. High in the mountains, like Sacagawea, we were about to go over the Divide again and down to the sea.
Next: The final push to the Ocean.
August 16
Nez Perce country

Sacagawea and the Corps were dangerously low on food as they crossed the Divide west over the Lolo Pass. The Lolo, called "Khusahna Ishkt" or Buffalo Trail, by the Nez Perce, had linked Columbia river tribes and northern Indians for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.
        The Expedition, traveling westward over the Lolo Pass, only 5000 feet high, and into Nez Perce country, now faced one of the worst portions of the whole journey. For eleven days it rained and snowed. Game was scarce. Horses stumbled and fell over cliffs. Lightning and hail blasted the little group of adventurers, who at one point killed and ate a colt, they were so hungry. Sacagawea would not eat horse meat.
        The Nez Perce might easily have wiped out the expedition as it approached their villages west of the mountains. Some wanted to do so, but they did not harm the Corps of Discovery probably because one old woman spoke about being treated well by whites many years ago.

        As we drove upward into the clouds and the chilly air of the pass, it was hard to imagine Sacagawea with a baby in these conditions. Suzanna fed a ground squirrel right out of her hand. It looked a little like a prairie dog.
        We followed the lovely rapids of the Lochsa River down into the Clearwater where Clark and Lewis made five dugout canoes from Ponderosa pines. These boats they'd now take down the Snake and Columbia rivers to the sea. Of all the rivers we'd seen so far, perhaps the Lochsa was the most beautiful whitewater river of all. Here in the wildest part of Idaho on a stream that was one continuous rapid after another live moose, elk, black bear, wolves, and cougar. There is talk, too, of reintroducing the grizzly bear!
        Along the Lochsa we stopped to hike a mile into a natural hot springs, where hot mineral water rises from deep in the earth and flows out into the open and down into the cold river making steam. Lewis and Clark swam in the hot springs and rested before pushing on over the pass. What a feeling that must have been. All those travel-weary bodies lolling in 100-degree medicinal water. Did Sacagawea bathe her little boy in the springs, too, I wonder.

August 17
Kamiah, Idaho
The Heart of the Monster

        Like so many other native tribes the Corps met, the Nez Perce greeted the expedition with generosity and curiosity. For two weeks the Corps of Discovery rested in the Kamiah valley, below the mountains, recouping, eating salmon and dried roots called Camas which the tribe was preparing for winter storage.
        The Nez Perce, according to the journals, like the Shoshone and the Salish people, had also not seen white men before. Famed for their fine horses, the Nez Perce agreed to take care of their horses while Lewis and Clark headed west.
        Accompanied by three Nez Perce, the Corps, Lewis and Clark, Charbonneau and Sacagawea and her baby left for the sea on Oct. 7, 1805, hoping to be back the next spring on their way home. The expedition faced many dangerous rapids on the Clearwater and more on the Snake. Two boats sank, and many repairs had to be made. Imagine Sacagawea's little boy on such a journey. In so much whitewater!
        Along the Snake they met other tribes and traded goods for dogs. The dogs, forty of them, were for eating. Lewis liked dog meat, but Clark did not. Tribes along the rivers of the Northwest began to call the Corps, Dog Eaters.
        On October 13, Clark wrote in his journal how beneficial it was to have Sacagawea and her son along on this part of the trip. Traveling with a woman and a baby helped diffuse any hostility the native peoples might have felt if Sacagawea had not been with them. War parties did not travel with women.

        In Kamiah, I talked with Allen Slickpoo who still speaks the Nez Perce language and who has been passing it along to his children. He said he still practiced the traditional ways of the tribe. Allen said his people remember Lewis and Clark in context with the missionaries that came a few years after the Expedition. Much of the Nez Perce culture was taken away from the tribe by the missionaries, he said, and the effects of those early missionaries still can be seen today. Slickpoo does not sound bitter but his message is strong. Lewis and Clark brought death to the Nez Perce way of life. "It is like a beautiful plant or fruit or berry," he told me, "and you are starving. That fruit looks nice and plump, but then you eat it and it turns out to be poison."

        Our family stayed in the Lewis and Clark Resort Motel across from a legendary mound or rock that the Nez Perce call, the Heart of the Monster. Here it was that Coyote slew the Monster and carved him up, and, tossing pieces of the monster to various parts of the Pacific Northwest, created animals and tribes. And here too it was that Coyote watered the ground and up sprang the Nez Perce people, the Nee-ME-Poo, as they call themselves. Here was the heart of their nation, and I considered it a blessing to sleep so near to the very place that Coyote had created everything in the Nez Perce world.
        I decided someday to return to spend more time with Mr. Slickpoo, and to learn more about the Nez Perce people. I liked the dry, brown grass of the Kamiah valley and the green pines in the surrounding hills. I had a calm feeling here. The people we met seemed kind and generous.

        In Kamiah, we also met a man who told us where to pan for gold on the Clearwater River near Lewiston, Idaho. In the afternoon we bought pans and we swirled the muck around on the bright river until little yellow flakes showed in our pans. The kids put the gold into small glass bottles. This was flood gold that had washed down from the mountains thousands of years ago. Walker and Suzanna would have stayed for the whole day, but we needed to get going.
        Just down river from Lewiston, the Clearwater opens out and hits the Snake River, and the land is hot and brown and dry and the Snake is big, where we found the first evidence of tugs and real industry. We were getting closer to the sea.
        We spent the night in the famous and dramatic Columbia River Gorge, so perfect for its wind-surfing conditions.

August 18
Columbia River  

        Sacagawea faced more rapids and waterfalls on the Columbia. The Expedition met other tribes catching salmon and drying them on fish wracks along shore. The Nez Perce guides returned to their homeland, and the Corps began to see evidence of sea trade among the peoples of the Columbia River. These people had been visited for years by British and Yankee ships along the coast.

        Then on Nov. 7, 1805  Clark wrote "Ocean in view. O. The Joy." Actually when Clark wrote this, he was looking at the wide mouth of the great rolling Columbia River, not the sea proper. He was just east of present-day Astoria, Oregon.
        Near the sea finally, their exuberance, however, was tempered by days of hunger, darkness and dreariness. By rain, fog, and gloom.

        Our own little corps of discovery was weary from nearly three weeks of travel in the modern dugout of our big Chevy van, so we were happy to reach the sea, but our joy was tempered by our fatigue and by the misty fog rolling in from the Pacific. The air dripped with humidity, and the giant cedars and firs of the Northwest looked like fantastic animals with coats of moss along every branch and trunk.

August 19
Fort Clatsop    

        Like Lewis and Clark, we camped. We set up our tent at Fort Steven's State Park, a few miles from where the Expedition spent the winter of 1805-1806. And once again we noticed how engaged our senses were when we spent a night camping instead of staying at motels. The outdoors put us all in better spirits. Collecting wood, preparing dinner, being
active--this saved us. The kids had a natural playground, too. Whenever we stayed in a motel on the Trail of Sacagawea they had sat like pasty-skinned, eye-glazed animals in the motel room watching Bart Simpson, but now they came alive in the great outdoors. They threw rocks on the rivers and fished and explored even though it got cold and damp and mysteriously foggy from the sea.

        And I wondered how it would be when we got home, back to our soft beds and regular routines. Lewis, when his journey was ended, told an innkeeper that ever since his great expedition, he had found himself unable to sleep in a feather bed, put preferred to unroll his buffalo skin and to lie on the floor.

        Just as at Fort Mandan way back on the Missouri River where the Corps spent its first winter, so too here at Fort Clatsop, named also after the local tribe, we found a reconstruction of the fort where the Expedition spent its second and only other winter on the whole 8,000-mile, two-year journey. To get away from the terrible weather of the sea, the fort was built inland seven miles from the Pacific. As with Ft. Mandan, the gates of this fort were shut at night and a sentinel was put on watch. The present-day fort was reconstructed from a copy of Clark's floor plan which he kept in his journal.
        The day we arrived at the fort, it was drizzling, and the mist off the sea had a kind of mystery to it. As small and cozy as the first fort, Clatsop was fun to visit. Walker and Suzanna jumped on the bunk beds covered in animal hides. A real fire smoldered in the fireplace of the captain's quarters which was right next to the little room where Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and Jean Baptiste slept. Here on this spot, nearly two centuries ago, captains Lewis and Clark spent cold and dreary months rewriting their journals and perfecting their maps.
        On Jan. 6, 1806, Clark set out with a small group, including Sacagawea and Charbonneau, and the baby?, or did the baby stay behind? to get blubber from a beached whale on the ocean itself. But when they got to the whale, which was 100 feet long, it had been stripped clean by the Timamoot people who lived nearby.
        In 106 days at the fort it rained all but twelve, and the sun showed itself on only six of those twelve days. The captains and the men prayed for a British or American ship to pass by to take them home by way of the Horn so they wouldn't have to walk and take boats back to St. Louis. Jefferson had given them a letter of passage saying that the US government would pay their way. But no ship came, so on March 10, they headed back the way they had come. They should have waited until April, but they were anxious to get home. Other adventures and setbacks awaited them. Snows beset them in the Rockies and they had to turn back more than once. The two captains split up on their return, Clark heading down the Yellowstone River and Lewis going north to explore the Marias. But a few months later, reunited at Fort Union, they managed to reach the Mandan villages on the Knife River, where Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and Jean Baptiste left the Expedition before Lewis and Clark continued on down the Missouri to St. Louis. And in September 1806, two years and four months after setting out, Lewis and Clark were greeted in St. Louis as heroes.

        One of the guides at Fort Clatsop asked my children if they wanted to help her take down the flag. At six p.m. it was the end of her day. It seemed fitting at the end of our trip, too, for Suzanna and Walker to put on replicas of the two dress coats that Captains Lewis and Clark would have put on for meeting chiefs and conducting affairs of state even in the wilderness. The captains' coats were much too big for children, but they looked beautiful and stately on my children in the raw, gray drizzle at Fort Clatsop. The American flag with only fifteen stars on it, representing fifteen states (what a young country it was in 1806)--the exact flag that the Corps would have flown on the Pacific coast, came down slowly. Suzanna helped fold it. And our trip was done, really.

        Just one last photo to take, I told the kids. I assembled the family on the beach of the great ocean. The sea was gray, the sky was gray, but I felt anything but gray. Walker and Suzanna had grown sick of me taking photos of our trip. I think I now had about 2,000, give or take a few hundred. They fled from my cameras screeching and laughing hysterically until suddenly a seal from under a jetty started to bark. For awhile Walker and the seal kept barking at each other. Then Walker found a dead crab among the big black beach boulders, and he lifted it up with glee. Offshore, surfers in wet suits cruised the cold gray expanse for good waves.
        I told my kids they'd been wonderful companions on the trip, which hadn't always been easy. Through their young eyes, I had seen things I might not have noticed if they had not come with me. From the prairie-dog town and buffalo on the dry prairie of North Dakota and eastern Montana, we had followed in Sacagawea's trail, trying to imagine what she could have felt as she then moved over the mountain passes with her baby boy to the gloomy, yet mysterious mists of the Oregon coast.
        Nearly two hundred years after Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste, we had witnessed with awe the same rivers she had canoed and hiked and admired on her long trek west--first the great Missouri, then the Jefferson, the Beaverhead, the Lemhi, the Bitterroot, the Salmon, the Clearwater, the Snake, and finally the massive Columbia. We had spoken with some of the descendants of the tribes she had known, and we had seen what a great land this country is, full of native people who do not necessarily share the same vision of discovery as the whites who now would come in droves across the plains and mountains to settle the new nation.
        President Jefferson had had the vision to send the Corps of Discovery out into the new territories of the United States and beyond. Lewis and Clark and their men had realized this vision, but they most probably could not have succeeded had it not been for Sacagawea who helped secure horses to get over the Rockies before the winter came, and who helped find roots and plants to eat when the Corps was starving, and who acted always as a softening agent to this strange band of white people traveling in an Indian land. Sacagawea was not so much a guide to the Expedition as perhaps a guardian to the traveling strangers.
        She remains something of an enigma. Many say Sacagawea died a few years later in what is now South Dakota. Others say she lived to be an old old lady and is now buried with her Shoshone ancestors. Because we do not know more than what little is written about her in the journals and what remains of her story in the oral traditions of the Shoshone, the Assiniboin, the Hidatsa, and other tribes, Sacagawea, Birdwoman, will remain ever a mystery--an exemplar or archetype to give us all heart in our daily adventures.



Hudson River Presentation

& Study Guide