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The Lewis and Clark expedition across the present day United States began May 14, 1804. With the approval of President Jefferson and the U.S. Congress, Lewis and Clark gathered an exploration party of about four dozen men. These men headed off to discover Western America. On September 1, 1805, they arrived at the Bitterroot Mountains, near present day Idaho. This began a nightmare that would not end until they reached modern-day Weippe. September 1, 1805, the explorers set out traveling west, heading into rough, seldom traveled, mountainous country.
They stopped at todays North Fork of the Salmon River, known as Fish Creek to Lewis and Clark, where they caught five fish, and were able to kill a deer (MacGregor 125). Some of the mens feet and horses hooves were injured due to the rough, rocky terrain. The next day, they were entering mountains far more difficult to pass than any American had ever attempted (Ambros 284). Clark describes the route: Throu thickets in which we were obliged to cut a road, over rocky hillsides where horses were in perpetual danger of slipping to their certain distruction and up and down steep hills (De Voto 232). Traveling along the steep hills, several horses fell. One was crippled, and two gave out. Patrick Gass described the trip that day as, the worst road (If road it can be called) that was ever traveled (MacGregor 125).
To make conditions even worse, it rained that afternoon, which made the trail even more treacherous. The party was only able to travel five miles that day. On September 3, snow fell and the teams last thermometer broke. Several more horsed slipped and injured themselves. Later that day, the snow turned into sleet. The expedition family consumed the last of their salt pork and fish and began their descent into the Bitterroot Valley.
That night, was the coldest yet. The next day, the party went down a very steep descent to a river that Lewis named, Clarks River, (Today known as The Bitterroot River.) There, they encountered a band of Salish Indians, whom the captains called Flatheads. They stayed there with the Indians the next couple of days to trade. They acquired thirteen new Appaloosa Horses, including three colts, for seven worn out horses. The Salish Indians shared berries and roots with the men for their meals. On September 6, they set off traveling northward along the Bitterroot River for about ten miles.
They camped that night with nothing to eat but some berries and corn. Along their travel they viewed the Saw-toothed Bitterroot Range to the west of the valley. The next two days were spent traveling north, trying to find a safe passage over the Saw-toothed Bitterroot Range. September 10, Captain Lewis sent out all of the hunters. They returned with some game. John Colter brought back three Indians from a tribe that lived across the mountains, probably Nez Perce.
The Indians were in pursuit of a band of Shoshones that had stolen more than twenty horses from the Nez Perce Indians. This was proof to Lewis and Clark that the Bitterroot Mountains could be crossed. One of the three Indians agreed to remain with the Americans to introduce them to his tribe. Their tribe resided in the plain below the mountains, on the Columbia River. The Indian said that it would require five sleeps to reach his tribe (De Voto 237). That evening, the party put their packs in order and made final preparations for crossing the Bitterroot Mountains.
On September 11, two of the partys horses had strayed. This delayed the explorers from leaving until late that afternoon. They were able to travel seven miles before they had to set up camp for the night. The hunters, who had been previously sent out, returned having killed nothing. Clark described the day as, Verrey Worm (De Voto 237). The next day, the terrain began to get really rough.
They had reached the mountains, which were very steep. The road through the mountain was covered with fallen timber and undergrowth. Captain Clark described the road as, intolerable (De Voto 237). They traveled eight miles along the steep mountains without water. They made camp on the hillside next to Travelers Rest Creek. Some of the party did not arrive until after ten that night. Both the men and horses were extremely fatigued.
They had just finished the first day of the most agonizing part of the journey to the Weippe Prairie. On September 13, they passed several hot springs that were so hot the water was nearly boiling. Captain Lewis was curious about this naturally hot water, so he tasted it. The road that day was fairly level, except for a small part. Some of the mountains that they could see from the path were covered in snow. On September 14, it began to snow.
Old Toby, who was an Indian guide from the Shoshone tribe, got the party lost. He led the party down to a fishing camp, near a creek. Indians had recently been there, and their ponies had eaten all of the grass. The road they were traveling was much worse than the day before. It was covered with thick underbrush and fallen timber. Since the hunters were unsuccessful this day, the expedition party killed a colt for meat.
They named the creek they found Colt Killed Creek. The next day, the party reached elevations as high as seven thousand feet, on todays Wendover Ridge. Travel was incredibly difficult. There was a steep descent that was made even more difficult, by the excessive quantity of fallen timber. Several horses slipped and crashed down the hills. The horse carrying Captain Clarks field desk rolled down the hill for forty yards, until it lodged against a tree.
The desk was smashed, but the horse was uninjured. Captain Lewis said, Two of our horses gave out, pore and too much hurt to proceed on and left in the rear (De Voto 239). When the party reached the ridgeline, they made camp. Having no water, the men had to melt snow to drink. Patrick Gass said, There was here no water; but a bank of snow answered as a substitute (MacGregor 130). September 16, began with snow falling three hours before dawn, and would continue all day. The snow piled up to six to eight i ....
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