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PBS “Into the Unknown” is a great interactive activity to help students understand the explorations of Lewis and Clark. The activity probably should take a student 30 – 45 minutes. Some might try to quickly make decisions without reading. To prevent this a teacher could create a post-activity assessment or a writing assignment.
The majority of the students enjoy the activity and will complete it enthusiastically and effectively. Students should be encouraged to click on the underlined words in the text to see the images associated with the word. These words are listed in ().
I have included some rough notes on the slides in addition the final print out form the PBS website once the activity is completed. Depending on your choices, the journey will be altered. Below are slides from one set of choices.
Rough notes on slides:
Slide #1 Introduction
Slide #2 (Mandan Indians, Fort Mandan, William Clark, Sacagawea, President Thomas Jefferson, prairie dog) This slides gives an explanation of the background of the expedition and the important people…..“You are about to lead an expedition off the map, into the unknown.”
Slide #3 There is a terrible sand storm that requires the Corps to stop.
Do you want to:
Continue up the river
Stop or wait out the storm
Slide #4 Description of the sand storm
Slide #5 Encounter with the Bear.
Do you want to:
Shoot the bear immediately
observe the bear
Slide #6: Description of the bear and the reaction of the members of the Corps to the bear.
Slide #7: Description of landscape and geography.
Slide #8: Encounter a fork in the river.
take north fork
take south fork
scout north fork
scout south fork
Slide #9: Explanation of decision, encounter with the indians
Shoot at the Indians or
Let the Indians go
Slide #10 Rustling in the night.
Order your men to shoot into the bushes
Tell your men to put up their weapons
Slice #11 Spend the evening communicating with the Blackfeet Indians. You learn the direction of the great waterfall.
Slide #12 Explanation of the travels to the great waterfall.
Slide #13 (Great Falls, work of portage, far in the distant) Challenging landscape and requirement of transporting the canoes over land through thick brush. The mountains can be seen in the distance. Crude carts from cottonwood trees are constructed to make transportation easier.
Slide #14 Sacagawea becomes ill.
Leave Sacagawea behind and move on
Attempt to nurse Sacagawea back to health
Slide #15 (Sacagawea, Clark) Description of Sacagawea’s assets to the expedition.
Continue to bleed Sacagawea or
Give her opium and sulphur water
Slide #16 Description of Sacagawea’s care and recovery.
Slide #17 Encounter 3 branches of the river. Need to take the Jefferson. The Albert Gallatin (Secretary of Treasury), Thomas Jefferson (president), James Madison (Secretary of State) are the names of the branches.
Take the Gallatin
Take the Jefferson
Take the Madison
Slide #18 Sacagawea spots the landmark “Beaver’s Head” where the Shoshone sojourned for the summer. It is a great help to have Sacagawea who understands the area.
Slide #19 Spot an Indian in the distance. Need to decide whether to track him or not.
Try to track the Indian
Return to camp (ends the adventure)
Slide #20 The decision has been made to track the Indian. Now you need to determine when to do this.
Track the Indian immediately
Wait a day before tracking the Indian
Slide #21 With some difficulty you stay on the track of the Indian
Slide #22 After a few days, you encounter the Shoshone Indians.
Order your men to level their guns and demand horses
Put down your guns and approach the Shoshones alone
Slide #23 You encounter the chief of the tribe Cameahwait. Cameahwait is concerned that the expedition might be in an alliance with their enemies.
Tell Cameahwait he needs to be brave
Slide #24 Cameahwait travels with you a few days to camp at the Jefferson fork.
Slide #25 Expedition is happy to be reunited. Sacagawea is excited to see Cameahwait, her brother. She sheds tears of joy! Cameahwait agrees to provide as many horses as needed.
Slide #26 Gain 29 horses and a Shoshone guide “Old Toby.” Gather supplies before moving on.
Take the northern route
Take the southern route
Slide #27 Learn that it took you 53 extra days to travel here. The Great Falls is only 4 days away. The Bitterroot peaks loom in the distance.
Slide #28 Cross the Bitterroot Mountains. It snows a foot, horses wander off and take valuable time to track down, and food is running low.
Trust Toby to find the trail
Retreat to the Bitterroot Valley
Slide #29 “Finally after 11 days of brutal marching, you make it over and down the mountains, barely alive, but alive.
Slide #30 Proud of crossing mountains no American has crossed with no loss of life. You encounter the Nez Pearce Indians and their 60-year old leader Twisted Hair. He shares you are only a few weeks from the ocean. You feast on salmon and dried roots. Every member of the Corps becomes incredibly sick.
Eat more salmon
Eat more dried roots
Eat a horse
Slide #31 Description of what you eat.
Decide to winter with the Nez Perce
Decide to continue on westward
Slide #32 Description of the hard winter, where the health of many of the members of the Corps does not improve.
Other potential slides
Accept the help of the Nez Perce
Reject the help of the Nez Perce
Decide for yourself
Let the Corps decide
April 7, 1805. The worst winter you have ever known has ended, and thanks to the Mandan Indians, whom you have stayed with here at Fort Mandan for the past few months, you and your Corps of Discovery have survived unharmed. Now, it is time for the expedition to get underway again. Including yourself and Captain William Clark, the other leader of your group, only thirty-three of the original forty-odd members of the Corps remain. Among those remaining are York, Clark’s black slave; Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman; Toussaint Charbonneau, a guide, interpreter, and Sacagawea’s husband; Pomp, Sacagawea’s infant son; and Seaman, your Newfoundland dog.
It has been over a year since President Thomas Jefferson named you to lead an exploration of the newly-purchased Lousiana Territory. Jefferson hoped for two things: that you would document the vast, unexplored area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and that you would find the Northwest Passage, an easy water route that linked the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and opened trade with the Orient. So far, your journey has been successful. You have discovered numerous new plant and animal species. In fact, you’ve just sent a boat full of reports and scientific specimens – including a prairie dog – back to the East and to Jefferson.
But you have yet to locate the Northwest Passage. You assume that it lies somewhere in the miles ahead, but you have no idea how many miles away that is. After all, the maps you have only go as far west as you are now. You’re about to lead the expedition off the map, into the unknown.
With six dugout canoes and two pirogues (larger canoes) fully loaded with supplies, you and your men bid the Mandans farewell, and start paddling up the Missouri.
The weeks after you leave Fort Mandan prove difficult. The land is beautiful enough, and you see a wide range of wildlife: rabbits, geese and bald eagles. You also note increasing numbers of large animal footprints along the riverbanks. These, you guess, belong to the massive bears that the Hidatsas, a tribe you encounted earlier, warned you about.
But fierce headwinds slow your progress up river to a crawl. On several separate occassions, it becomes impossible to make any headway at all, and you spend these days stopped along the shore, waiting for the wind to stop.
Yet even when the wind weakens enough to row, there is another threat. Flatter, exposed areas of the shore are perfect places for sand storms to begin, and they begin often. Furious winds whip fine, light sand across the river, penetrating your clothes, supplies, and even your pocketwatch, rendering it almost useless. At times, it is almost impossible to see more than ten feet in front of you.
Today is such a day. The sand is bad, though it has been worse. Still, some of the men want to stop. Some of the other men want to keep going. You’ve made little progress in the last few days, and the wind isn’t blowing hard enough to prevent you from moving ahead.
The sand storm only seems to been getting worse. It doesn’t make any sense to keep going, so you and Captain Clark agree that it’s time to stop.
That turns out to be a wise decision. In the hours before sunset, the sand storm suddenly intensifies. The air above the river becomes an impenetrable cloud of sand. Navigating the river in the storm would have been impossible, and your boats would probably have wrecked. By nightfall, the winds fade, and you’re left with a pleasant evening. Everyone relaxes – singing, laughing, and generally having a good time.
The next morning, you awaken everyone at dawn and send them out to collect food before going back out on the river. When the different groups return, you see that this was a good idea. They’ve collected everything from berries to rabbits. It’s nice to have the extra food.
Right before launching the boats, one of the last men to return — Bratton — runs back into camp at full speed, completely out of breath. “A bear,” he sputters. “Bigger than any bear I’ve ever seen.” You realize that this must be one of the monstrous bear species rumored to be in this region.
“Did you shoot it?” you ask.
“Twice,” says Bratton, catching his breath. “It kept coming. It was right behind me. It can’t be too far away.”
Curiosity gets the better of you. With Bratton and a few others, you head into the woods. After a short walk, you come to a clearing, and at the other side, about seventy to eighty yards away, is the bear. It is covered with thick, dark brown fur, and very big. As it sees your party, it growls deeply.
With a bear of this size growling threateningly at you, there’s no reason to wait and see what’s going to happen next. You raise your rifle and shoot at the bear, hitting it. Incredibly, the bear gets up and begins to lumber toward you, its eyes bright and wild. At your command, your men shoot. This time, the bear does not recover.
You and the others walk up alongside the bear and look it over. It is huge – at least a head taller than the tallest member of the expedition, and much broader. Looking at the bear’s wounds, you quickly determine that Bratton shot the bear straight through the lungs.
“Amazing,” says Bratton. “Shot through the chest and it kept on coming.”
Over the next few weeks, you become quite accustomed to seeing bears of different colors and sizes. All of them seem to have this uncanny ability to endure multiple wounds, and the grizzly, the biggest bear of them all, sometimes takes as many as twelve shots to kill.
The terrain begins to change, subtly at first, but then the change is clear. The air begins to grow more and more dry, and the landscape becomes quite beautiful. Hills and cliffs flank the Missouri, white, sandstone bluffs rising over the river to heights of two and sometimes three hundred feet. Topping the bluffs are natural cones of rock that almost seem crafted by human hands.
Along the way, you seen numerous types of animals, including buffalo, wolves, and what French traders call mountain sheep (though aside from their horns and hooves, they look nothing like sheep at all).
Far in the distance to the west, you see towering, snow-capped mountains, and wonder if you will eventually have to cross them.
After several weeks of travel, you face an unexpected challenge: a fork in the Missouri River.
One fork branches to the north, the other, further to the south. The northern branch looks muddy, and closely resembles the color and speed of the Missouri as the river has been all the way from St. Louis. The southern branch, on the other hand, is swifter and clearer.
Most of the men believe that the northern branch is the Missouri. But Clark thinks that the clearer, southern branch looks more like a mountain river, the kind of river that might lead to the Northwest Passage. He also thinks that it might be worthwhile to scout out each fork, and see where it leads.
You remember that an earlier Indian tribe mentioned a great waterfall on the Missouri that you have yet to reach.
Though you value Clark’s judgment, you cannot ignore the overwhelming majority of your men who believe that the muddier, slower-moving fork is the true Missouri. At your direction, the expedition heads north.
For the next few days, you proceed up river, passing some forty miles through beautiful but unchanging country. The river does not seem to alter at all in terms of its flow or color, giving you cause to wonder if this is indeed the right direction.
On this particular afternoon, while your party passes a portion of the riverbank thick with trees, you spot a group of Indians. Your appearance startles them, and they begin to flee into the forest. One of your men suggests that they¹re going to warn their tribe, and that their tribe could be hostile. He thinks you should stop the Indians from escaping.
Clark doesn’t think that the Indians look hostile, and you don’t either. This expedition is an expedition of discovery and peace. You let the Indians go without trying to stop them.
That night at camp, beneath laughter, eating and talking, the scarcely noticeable sound of cracking foliage catches your attention. You motion to everyone to be silent, and listen carefully. Without a doubt, someone – numerous someones – are walking in the shadows on the edge of the camp. You have no idea if their intentions are good or bad, but they have yet to announce themselves. Clark and some of the others get their guns and begin to lower them at the darkness past the surrounding bushes.
The crackling of brush is unmistakable – there are people watching you from the darkness. But if they meant to attack outright, you think that they would have done so already, before your men had a chance to arm themselves. “Lower your guns,” you say to your men. Clark sees the confidence in your eyes, and seems to agree with your decision.
As your men put up their weapons, a small party of Indians emerge from the outlying shadows. Quickly, after an interchange of signs, you learn that they are Blackfeet, and were trying to tell if you were a friend or a foe. When you lowered your weapons, they knew that you must be friendly.
You spend the rest of the evening communicating with the Blackfeet, and discover that the river that you have been following is not the Missouri. The massive waterfall that you were searching for is located on the other fork, the one you decided not to take. You need to return south, the Indians say, and when morning comes, the expedition starts the return trip.
Without delay, you direct the expedition south and proceed on. If you are correct, you know that you’ll see the massive waterfall that Indians have foretold.
For the next few days, you continue on the river. On the morning of June 13th, you begin hearing a constant roar in the distance. On the horizon, plumes of smoke appear to be rising from the surface of the river. Over the next seven miles, as you get nearer to the roaring smoke, you realize that it isn’t smoke at all, but the spray of the largest waterfall you’ve ever seen. The beauty of the waterfall is undescribable.
Clark was right. This fork of the river is the true Missouri, and the waterfall is the Great Falls.
There’s no way to row around or through the waterfalls, so you’ll need to portage around them with all of your equipment. In spite of the towering size of the Great Falls, you don’t believe that it will take more than a few days to get around them. You ride out ahead of the rest of the party to scout out the land ahead.
When you return to the expedition, you have difficult news to bear. It turns out that it will take an eighteen mile portage over rocky terrain to get around the Great Falls. You and Clark direct the construction of crude carts from cottonwood trees, and begin the difficult overland trek.
In the following days, the work of the portage proves harder than you ever could have imagined. The ground is rock hard, and prickly pears carpet the prairie so thickly in places that your feet and everyone else’s are terribly cut and bruised. Several nights in camp are spent repairing mocassins with double soles. Grueling heat drains the life out of your men, who have to haul with all their strength to move the canoes and equipment over the thick brush and stones that mark the landscape. As if these plagues were not enough, violent storms and flash floods catch the expedition at its weakest moments, threatening to destroy equipment and at times, carry people off.
Finally, far in the distance, you can see the shimmering tops of snow-capped mountains – mountains that you will eventually have to cross.
After the first week of the portage, the constant labor begins to take its toll on everyone. Sacagawea, the young Shoshone woman, has held up remarkably well – especially since she has had to carry her infant son every step of the way. But one afternoon, without warning, Sacagawea comes down with some kind of illness. By nightfall, she has developed a terrible fever.
A few days pass. Sacagawea becomes so ill that she cannot move, and the expedition has to come to a stop. Many of your men become frustrated, telling you that Sacagawea is slowing the expedition. If you leave her with Charbonneau and continue on, they say, it might speed up the trip.
But as Clark reminds you, Sacagawea is the only member of the expedition who speaks Shoshone – a critical skill if you are to get the Shoshone Indians to help you cross the distant mountains.
“We need Sacagawea,” Clark says. “We won’t be able to communicate with the Shoshone if we don’t take her, and we’ll never find them without her. Besides, she’s part of the expedition just as much as anyone else is. We can’t leave her.”
You couldn’t agree more, and agree to help Clark nurse her back to health. Clark begins by bleeding Sacagawea that night and frequently over the course of the following day. But that night, her condition doesn’t seem to have improved. She starts to complain that her stomach aches and that she feels incredibly thirsty.
You remember that you’ve got some opium, and recall a nearby sulphur spring, which probably contains minerals that might settle her stomach. But Clark thinks you should continue to bleed her. With more time, he says, the bleeding might have an effect.
As much as you respect Clark’s opinion, you can’t agree with him. “The bleeding hasn’t helped her,” you explain. “If it was going to, I think it would have already.” Clark agrees, and suggests that you try your medicines.
You give Sacagawea a mixture of bark and opium, and then give her some sulphur water from the nearby spring. In a short time, her pulse seems to recover somewhat, but her stomach still aches.
When morning comes, you’re awakened by none other than Sacagawea. She’s not completely recovered, but she’s a lot better, and says she’s ready to continue on. You and Clark spend the rest of the day scouting out the portage ahead, which doesn’t look too bad. By the next day, the expedition is moving ahead again.
The expedition forges ahead for the following days. It is still tough, rugged country, and the air is thick with mosquitos, gnats, and other bugs. A flash flood nearly drowns Clark, Charbonneau, Sacagawea and her baby. But finally, you emerge at the end of the falls, and the river begins again. That night – the 4th of July – you have a tremendous party to celebrate the completion of the portage. Then, over the next couple of days, you, Clark and the others chop down two trees and hew out new canoes.
Once again, the Corps of Discovery is back on the river. You make good progress in this wild and mountainous country. After a long, uneventful stretch of days, you come to a three-way fork in the river. You expected to find the Shoshone Indians here, but after some scouting, they’re nowhere to be found.
With Clark’s aid, you name the three branches. The southeast branch you call the Gallatin after Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury. The southwest branch you name the Jefferson after President Thomas Jefferson. Finally, you name the southern branch the Madison after Secretary of State James Madison.
Naming the three forks is a lot easier than knowing which branch of the river to take. After some scouting, Clark suggests that you take the westward branch, the Jefferson. But the Gallatin, though it flows southeast initially, seems to continue on the further. Finally, the Madison seems to flow the easiest of the three.
Contrary to what Clark and the others believe, you have a hunch that the Madison might actually turn out to be the true Missouri, and eventually turn west. It’s important to trust one’s instincts, you think. So, once the canoes have been redirected, you’re off down the Madison.
Terrible weather begins just after you get underway. Several storms hit the expedition in a row. Fist-sized hailstones rain down from the sky, bloodying the heads of a few Corps members. Your boats fill dangerously full with rainwater. The river becomes rapid at points, threatening to flip the boats over. Supplies of food spill into the water, lost.
After a few days, Clark insists that you have gone the wrong way. Many of your men seem to agree. They want to return to the fork, and take another branch of the river.
You decide that Clark and the men are right, and that you must be going the wrong way. With Clark, you order the boats to turn around, and head back toward the three forks. The weather improves a bit, enough to allow hunting. You manage to collect a good amount of food before reaching the forks again.
The Jefferson heads west, and that’s the direction you need to go. With little discussion and the full support of the expedition, you point the canoes down the Jefferson and proceed on.
In the next few days, the river narrows somewhat. Though the river is relatively easy to navigate here, the constant traveling is beginning to affect members of the Corps. In particular, Clark has an injured ankle, and battles daily with a fever. The land is becoming more mountainous, promising less game to hunt. Worst of all, you don’t seem to be able to locate any signs of the Shoshone.
Sacagawea comes to the rescue. While drifting down the Jefferson, she recognizes the crest of a high plain just off the river. Not far from that point, the “Beaver’s Head,” is where the Shoshone used to sojourn for the summer. The Indians must be close.
Determined to find the Shoshone, you and Clark decide to stop and search for them. Clark takes a group out for a few days, then returns without having made contact. You decide to lead the next party yourself, and with three other men, head out into the wilderness.
Your party covers nearly thirty miles of beautiful country in the next few days. Then, on the third day, you have some success. Through your telescope, about two miles distant, you see what is unmistakably an Indian on horseback. From the way that he is dressed, and the bow and arrows he is carrying, you believe he is Shoshone. He is coming in your direction.
You head down a sloping plain toward the Indian, flanked on either side by your men. But when you come within one hundred yards of the Indian, he stops. You stop as well, and lay out a blanket and a poor selection of trinkets. But the Indian shows no interest in your offerings.
You remember that Sacagawea taught you the Shoshone word for “white man.” “Tab-ba-bone,” you call to the Indian.
The Shoshone seems puzzled. After studying you intensely, he turns his horse and rides off.
You realize that the Indian you’ve seen may be your only chance to locate the Shoshone tribe before winter. Without their horses, the expedition has no hope. You’ve got to track him.
But you’re reluctant to head after the Indian immediately. There’s a good chance that the Shoshone you encountered will alert the tribe to your presence. Then, without your knowledge, the Shoshone might scout you out to discover your intentions. If you track the Indian too quickly, the Shoshone could misinterpret your eagerness as a threat, and move camp.
But there are also storm clouds gathering. A hard rain could erase the Indian’s tracks altogether, making it impossible to follow him at all.
While there is an urgent need to track the Indian, it’s more important that you find his tribe. The chance of being seen as a threat by the Shoshone is very real. You decide to proceed with caution.
It rains that night. In the morning, it is difficult to find the Indian’s trail. Grass that was trampled by his horse has sprung back up due to the rain. But after several hours of patient searching, you and your men pick up the Indian’s path.
During the early afternoon, you find an Indian road. Following it, you head toward a pass, sloping upward beside a narrowing stream — what remains of the mighty Missouri river. Amazingly, you have traced the Missouri to its source. Your heart begins to beat feverishly as you imagine what lies ahead, at the top of the pass.
But when you reach the summit, you are taken aback by what you see. Instead of a sloping decline into a valley and an easy route to the Columbia river, you are greeted by a range of formidable snow-capped mountains.
After another ten miles of hiking, you make camp. You and your men are confident that you will reach the Shoshone in a day or two.
In the morning, you and your men set out early. The trail begins to show signs of recent, heavy use, and as it descends into a valley, you see a Shoshone man and woman and their dogs in the distance. They flee as you approach, but several miles later, as you round a bend in the road, you find yourself face to face with three Indian women.
After placing your gun down on the ground, you begin toward them alone. They seem afraid of you, and one of them, a young woman, runs off. You pull up your shirt sleeve, exposing your arm, and say the word, “Tab-ba-bone,” the Shoshone word for “white man.” The remaining women seem surprised to see how white you are. Your face is so suntanned that it looks as dark as an Indian’s. You give the women some gifts, and they seem to relax a bit.
With the two Shoshone women leading the way, you head down the road in the direction of their village. Two miles later, you meet a party of sixty Shoshone warriors on horseback, all armed with bows. They don’t seem to know what to make of you.
Your men seem nervous, and clutch their rifles tightly.
You are the stranger, you decide. It’s up to you to show that you mean no harm.
Setting your rifle down on the ground, you advance toward the Indian warriors alone. Before you reach them, a man at the head of the Shoshone motions toward the old woman who led you here. He looks like a chief. After talking with the chief, the old woman shows him the presents you gave her. He smiles, then dismounts and moves toward you.
His name is Cameahwait, and he is indeed the Shoshone chief. He says, “Ah-hi-e, ah-hi-e,” which you later learn is the Shoshone word for, “I am much pleased.” Then, Cameahwait embraces you in the Shoshone way, putting his left arm over your right shoulder, and touching his left cheek to your right cheek. You meet all of the Shoshone braves in this fashion, and then head into the village, where you spend the rest of the evening getting to know the Shoshone people. In his tent that night, Cameahwait promises to accompany you to meet the rest of the expedition, and to give you the horses you’ll need for the expedition.
But in the morning, Cameahwait and the other Shoshone seem more guarded. When you ask him what is wrong, Cameahwait says some fear that the white men may be in league with the enemies of the Shoshone. He eyes you suspiciously and awaits an answer.
The Shoshone chief seems to be testing you, trying to judge whether or not you are trying to deceive him. It’s a question of making him trust you.
“Cameahwait,” you say, “I don’t make a habit of lying. I still hope that there are some among the Shoshone who are brave enough to trust others and are not afraid to put their lives at risk.”
While Cameahwait continues to look reluctant, he agrees to come with you to meet Clark. Women in the village begin to cry, fearing that their chief and his men will not return. With a handful of warriors, Cameahwait joins your party and together, you head back to the rest of the expedition. After several days of travelling, you arrive at the Jefferson fork, and find the Corps of Discovery waiting for you.
The morning that you rejoin the expedition, you are happy to be reunited with Clark and the rest of the Corps. It has been some time since you have seen him and your men. They are equally happy to see you.
But when Sacagawea sees you return, she seems to act somewhat strangely. Soon you realize that she is staring at Cameahwait. The Shoshone chief also seems taken aback by Sacagawea. Suddenly, Sacagawea begins to cry — not from fear, but from joy. It has been a long time since Sacagawea, who was kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe, has seen him, but there is no mistake: Cameahwait is her brother. Immediately, the chief recognizes her as well. The coincidence is astonishing.
After his reunion with Sacagawea, Cameahwait warms up to you and the rest of the Corps. The process of communicating is slow. Cameahwait speaks to Sacagawea in Shoshone. Sacagawea then speaks to Charbonneau in Hidatsa. Charbonneau translates the Hidatsa to French, and then Private Labiche translates the French into English, so that you can understand. Sometime during the conversation, you learn that “tab-ba-bone” means “stranger” in Shoshone, not “white man.” Now you understand why the first Shoshone you met, the lone horseman, was so confused.
Every time you speak or are spoken to, you have to go through this process. But finally, at the day’s end, the negotiations are finished. Cameahwait agrees to bring you as many horses as you will need to make it over the Bitterroot Mountains.
After several weeks of scouting the countryside and collecting food and supplies, the expedition is ready to move on. In addition to twenty-nine new horses, you also have a elderly Shoshone guide named Old Toby.
Old Toby explains that there are two routes to the ocean. One is south through a flat, desert country that promises to be easier to cross, but will offer no food or water. The other is north, through the Bitterroot Mountains. The northern route will prove harder to travel, but Toby says that you will reach a navigable river in about two weeks.
With Old Toby leading the way, you descend into the Bitterroot Valley, and spend a day hunting game to prepare for the trip ahead. During the day, you learn from the old Indian guide that the Great Falls of the Missouri, which you reached two months earlier, is actually only four days due east. By going all the way to the source of the Missouri, you added nearly fifty-three extra days of work.
As the day draws to an end, you take a long look at the snowy Bitterroot peaks. Bathed in the light of the setting sun, they are beautiful. But they also tower above you like no other mountains you have ever seen.
Crossing the Bitterroots, you think, is going to be rough.
The next morning, you begin to climb the Bitterroots.
There is no trail to follow here. Every step of the way, you are cutting through bushes and making your way over craggy rock. Only two days after you enter the mountains, it starts to snow. Your horses frequently slip and stumble on the wet ground. The food that you brought from the Bitterroot Valley runs out faster than you imagined it would, and there doesn’t seem to be much to eat besides grouse.
Still, after two weeks have passed, the expedition is still in fair shape. Then the attempt to cross the tops of the mountains begins, and so do the real troubles. In a single day, it snows nearly a foot. Some of the horses stray, and valuable time is wasted tracking them down. The weather worsens even further, alternating between rain, hail, sleet and snow. Food really starts to run out.
One afternoon, standing knee deep in the snow, Old Toby turns to you and says that he’s lost the trail. He thinks he can find it again, but Clark is dumbfounded, and isn’t sure whether to believe Toby or not. Old Toby proposes two choices: let him try and regain the trail, or retreat out of the mountains to the safety of the Bitterroot Valley.
Clark expresses his doubts about Old Toby, but you disagree.
“He’s gotten us this far,” you say. “Besides, if we go back, we’ll have to wait until spring before trying another crossing. We’ve got to go now.” The rest of the men agree, and after he thinks about it briefly, so does Clark.
For two days, you wander after Old Toby, hoping that he will rediscover the route. The weather worses, raining at times, snowing at others. Even so, Old Toby comes through, and the expedition is back on track.
Progress over the Bitterroots is a struggle. You can’t remember ever being as cold as you are now. Food runs out, forcing the Corps to eat anything and everything it can find. You eat grouse and crawfish, and a few times, you even eat horse. One day when food is especially scarce, you and several others actually eat candles.
Finally, after eleven days of brutal marching, you make it over and down the mountains, barely alive, but alive.
Descending the Bitterroots, you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. These were the toughest mountains any American had ever had to climb before, and you, Clark and the Corps of Discovery crossed them without losing a single life.
A few days after exiting the mountains, on the banks of the Clearwater River, Clark and a hunting party come into contact with some braves of the Nez Percé Indians. Following the braves, you make your way to the village of the Nez Percé. There, you meet the sixty year-old Twisted Hair, chief of the Nez Percé. He explains that you are only ten days from the waterfalls of the Columbia River, and only a few weeks from the ocean.
But right now, the first thing on the minds of every member of the Corps is eating. The Nez Percé give the expedition a feast of salmon and dried roots that night that no one will ever forget, not only because the food is so tasty, but because it makes every member of the Corps terribly sick.
In the morning, you and many others are still very hungry, but you’re also fighting a terrific stomache ache.
You can’t decide whether the salmon or the roots are making you sick, so after several days, you decide to stop eating both of them. When one of the men suggests eating a horse, you’re not thrilled by the idea, but you are thrilled by the notion of getting well.
With getting better in mind, you and your men eat one of the horses.
After a number of days, your men begin to recover, but they’re far from well. Many have troubled standing up, and several of those that can stand are incapable of moving much without feeling faint or dizzy.
You and Clark are among the sick, though the two of you are in slightly better health than the others. One evening, while the two of you are sitting together outside your tents, you conclude that a decision needs to be made. Winter will be coming soon. Already, you can feel the air cooling down a bit, and the collecting clouds seem to promise future rain.
Considering the shape that the Corps is in, Clark is thinking about staying the winter with the Nez Percé. That way, everyone will have time to recover from their illness.
Clark may be right. On the other hand, the only foods available with the Nez Percé seem to be roots and salmon, neither of which sits well in your stomach. What’s more, you don’t have enough horses to feed you through the winter. There may be various types of game, elk among them, available further west. The only way that you will know, however, is if you get back to the river and continue on.
You tell Clark your reasons for wanting to continue the expedition before winter, and after listening, he agrees with you. But he also points out the need for new canoes.
“Who’s going to build them?” he asks. “With so many of us ill, I’m not sure we’re up to the task.”
Clark does have a point. Still, you think that the expedition should try building boats first. If you try and fail, then you’ll think about an alternative.
Guided by the Nez Percé, you, Clark and every able member of the Corps make your way to a grove of Ponderosa pines up the Clearwater river. You begin to cut down the trees. Though you are able to cut down enough trunks, your axes aren’t much good for hewing out canoes. Your men are also beginning to tire.
Several Nez Percé who wanted to watch you build the canoes offer their help. You’re a little reluctant to take it, however. They’ll likely want something in exchange, and right now, you don’t have any supplies to spare.
As fatigued as your men are, you don’t think there’s any way that they can finish hewing out the canoes. You gratefully accept the Nez Percé offer to help.
Over the rest of the day, the Indians show you a method of making canoes that you’ve never seen before. Instead of using axes to carve out canoes, they place the tree trunks on top of a slow-burning fire trench and burn them out. Nearly ten days pass before the job is complete. But by the time you and the Nez Percé are finished, your men are well-rested and the expedition has five new canoes.
On the afternoon of October 7th, you, Clark and the Corps of Discovery bid farwell to the Nez Percé. You thank them for their patience and their hospitality. They wish you luck on the rest of your journey.
Pushing the boats into the Clearwater River, you and the expedition begin your trip again. For the first time, the current of the river is with you. The difference is amazing. Faster than horses, you speed down the Clearwater and then the Snake, one mile slipping into the next. The terrain changes yet again, stretching on either side of the river into high, dry plains that contain little timber. The lack of wood makes it difficult to cook.
In just over a week, you reach the Columbia. Swimming in the great river’s rapid waters are thousands and thousands of salmon, though there seem to be many dead fish strewn about the shore. You think that maybe the fish have some kind of illness, so you look for other foods. As you pass downriver, you come into contact with a number of new Indian tribes, and they are able to help supply you with new things to eat.
As you travel, the waters of the Columbia become more rapid and difficult to navigate. Many times, your boats are bounced and battered by the river, but you manage to keep on, wondering how much further it will be until you reach the ocean. Finally, one afternoon, you spot a landmark that lets you and Clark know that you’re close to the end of the trip: a massive, snow-whitened mountain. According to your maps, this must be one of the mountains near the mouth of the Columbia.
Passing down the Columbia, crossing through rapids that the natives cannot believe you would even attempt, you enter a lush rainforest. Forests of tall trees rise on either riverbank, while on the cliffs high above the river, waterfalls seem to stream out of the very rock. Many of the new Indian tribes that you meet briefly on your way wear trinkets — jackets and hats — that they must have received from Europeans and Americans trading on the Pacific coast.
The smell of salt in the air is your first hint. Next, the movement of the water changes. When you can taste the salt in the river, you know that the ocean must be close. On the morning of November 7th, you are moving slowly downriver in a thick fog. The fog lifts in the afternoon, and suddenly, you can see it. The ocean!
The expedition lets out a shout of joy. As you discover in the following week, however, this is just a massive bay a few miles from the sea. Walking with Clark to the top of a hill several days later, you finally see the ocean
You, Clark and the Corps celebrate reaching the ocean for several days. After all, you’ve come 4,162 miles since leaving the Mississippi River, where the expedition officially began. But once the celebration is over, you’re faced with the fact that winter is coming. You need to decide where to spend the following months.
There are many options.
You could make camp near the ocean, where you might meet a ship and send a man back to Washington by sea to tell your story. You could also camp on the north side of the Columbia, but you’re a little hesitant to do that because the Chinook Indians charge high prices for their goods. There’s also the possibility of staying on the south side of the Columbia, where there would be more than enough elk to hunt. Finally, you could head back upriver toward the Nez Percé, where you would likely have better weather.
On a walk with Clark, the two of you discuss all of your choices. But rather than making a choice himself, Clark suggests letting the Corps of Discovery vote on the decision.
“We’ve come this far together,” Clark says. “You and I would never have made it without their support. We should let them know how important we think they are.”
The next morning, you assemble every member of the Corps of Discovery and ask each of them where they want to spend the winter. At first, they seem taken aback. You and Clark explain how grateful you are to have come this far with them, and that you hope that the return journey home will be just as much of a effort together. They smiles, and then one by one, each man gives his vote. Then York, the black slave, casts his vote, and after York, Sacagawea. Last but not least, you and Clark have your say as well. In the end, the Corps of Discovery decides to spend the winter on the southern side of the Columbia.
Later that afternoon, you, Clark and the rest of the Corps carve your names into the side of a tree, writing that you have arrived “by land from the United States.”
The expedition is only half over. When spring arrives, you, Clark and the Corps will still have to make the return trip to the United States. Based on the incredible effort that you have already made already, you are confident that you will make it home safely, with all of your supplies intact. One winter evening, sitting alone inside the small fort that the expedition has built, you think about the return journey.
Undoubtedly, you think, you will see new places. You may very well encounter new tribes of Indians. To be certain, you will continue to be tested as a leader and as a person in ways you never could have imagined. But nothing will be as it was the first time, you think, smiling to yourself, the way it was when you headed out into the unknown, unsure of how much further you had to go, or what awaited you behind each approaching turn in the trail.