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William Clark Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains

These selections from William Clark's journal describe the crossing of the Rocky Mountains, a particularly hazardous stretch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and Clark to explore the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase, recently acquired from France. Lewis and Clark followed the path of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers through eleven present-day states to the Pacific Ocean. Both Lewis and Clark, along with several other members of the "Corps of Discovery," recorded their impressions of the expedition's often-perilous journey in carefully-detailed journal entries. Although Lieutenant Clark was technically second in command, he shared leadership of the expedition with Meriwether Lewis.

September 02, 1805

proceded on thro' thickets in which we were obliged to Cut a road, over rockey hill Sides where our horses were in [per]peteal danger of Slipping to their certain distruction & up & Down Steep hills, where Several horses fell, Some turned over, and others Sliped down Steep hill Sides, one horse Crippeled & 2 gave out.
Some rain at night.

September 03, 1805

horses verry Stiff
at dusk it began to Snow, at 3 oClock Some rain. ... we met with a great misfortune, in haveing our last Th[er]mometer broken, by accident ... rain which termonated in a Sleet

September 04, 1805


we [were] detained untill 8 oClock to thaw the covering for the baggage ... Groun[d] covered with Snow,
... we met a part[y] of the Tushepau nation, of 33 Lodges about 80 men 400 Total and at least 500 horses, ... they [are] Stout & light complected more So than Common for Indians, ... I was the first white man who ever wer on the waters of this river.

September 05, 1805

... we assembled the Chiefs & warriers and Spoke to them (with much dificuel[t]y as what we Said had to pass through Several languages before it got into theirs, which is a gugling kind of language Spoken much thro the throught [throat]) ... I purchased 11 horses & exchanged 7 for which we gave a fiew articles of merchendize, those people possess ellegant horses.
They Call themselves Eoote-lash-Schute (Oat la shoot)

September 06, 1805

all our horses purchased of the flat heads (oote-lash-shutes) we Secured well for fear of their leaveing of us, ...

September 13, 1805

Capt Lewis and one of our guides lost their horses, Capt Lewis & 4 men detained to hunt the horses,
(hot springs) ... one of the Indians had made a whole to bathe, I tasted this water and found it hot & not bad tasted ... I put my finger in the water, at first could not bare it in a Second.

September 14, 1805

here we were compelled to kill a Colt for our men & Selves to eat for the want of meat & we named the South fork Colt killed Creek, ...
... 9 miles over a high mountain steep & almost inaxcessible much falling timber which fatigues our men & horses exceedingly, in stepping over so great a number of logs added to the steep assents and decents of the mountains ...
rained and snowed & hailed the greater part of the day all wet and cold

September 15, 1805

Several horses Sliped and roled down Steep hills which hurt them verry much the one which Carried my desk & Small trunk Turned over & roled down a mountain for 40 yards & lodged against a tree, broke the desk the horse escaped and appeared but little hurt Some others verry much hurt, ... when we arrived at the top As we Conceved, we could find no water and Concluded to Camp and make use of the Snow we found on the top to cook the remns. of our Colt & make our Supe, evening verry cold and cloudy. ... nothing killed to day except 2 Phests.
From this mountain I could observe high ruged mountains in every direction as far as I could see.

September 16, 1805

began to Snow about 3 hours before Day and continued all day the Snow in the morning 4 inches deep on the old Snow, and by night we found it from 6 to 8 inches deep, ... I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin Mockirsons which I wore, ... men all wet cold and hungary. Killed a Second Colt which we all Suped hartily on and thought it fine meat.
to describe the road of this day would be a repition of yesterday except the Snow which made it much worse
September 17, 1805

Killed a fiew Pheasents which was not sufficient for our Supper which compelled us to kill Something, a Coalt being the most useless part of our Stock he fell a Prey to our appetites.

September 18, 1805

The want of provisions together with the dificul[t]y of passing those emence mountains dampened the sperits of the party which induced us to resort to Some plan of reviving ther sperits.
... Encamped on a bold running Creek passing to the left which I call Hungery Creek as at that place we had nothing to eate.

September 19, 1805

... we found a horse. I derected him killed and hung up for the party after takeing a brackfast off for our Selves which we thought fine ...
(from log book) ... found a horse on the head of the Creek in some glades, he was not fat the me[n] beg leave to kill him which I granted,

September 20, 1805

I met 3 (Indian) boys, when they saw me [they] ran and hid themselves, ... They call themselves Cho pun-nish or Pierced
I find myself verry unwell all the evening from eateing the fish & roots too freely

September 21, 1805

I collected a horse load of roots & 3 Sammon & sent R Fields with one Indian to meet Capt Lewis
... Village called the twisted hare [hair], ...
I am verry sick to day and puke which relive me

September 22, 1805

our party weakened and much reduced in flesh as well as Strength.

Source | University of Nebraska, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, September 9-22, 1805, http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=1805-09-09.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl.
Creator | William Clark
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | William Clark, “William Clark Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed January 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/700.

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