Part 4: Back over the Rockies and home
While planning at Fort Clatsop, Lewis and Clark calculated they would have eight canoes and two pirogues, plus whatever Clark made for his trip down the Yellowstone, to carry them from their reunion point back down the Missouri to St. Louis. What they actually had when the Expedition was reunited was less than that.
Lewis recorded that the pirogue left at the Marias was rotted so we know it was left behind. Pryor’s bullboats lasted until August 12. That was the day Lewis and his party caught up with Clark. The combined group must not have needed the bullboats since Clark wrote that when the combined Expedition continued down the river, they left the two “leather canoes” laying on the bank. An interesting side note is that earlier that day Clark had one of the men repair a rip in one of the bullboats. When finished the boat worked fine and without any leaks. The two small canoes Clark built and had fastened together on the Yellowstone remained in use almost all the way home to St. Louis. At the Osage River on September 20, several of the men were unable to work so the Corps was consolidated and left Clark’s catamaran behind.
But what happened to the three canoes that were unaccounted for? Journal records show that the one canoe cached at the Big Hole River (Lewis’ Wisdom River) was cut up for other uses. A bit of investigation shows that one of the canoes at Camp Fortunate was badly damaged so it too was cut up for other uses. The third canoe was left at the Upper Portage Camp at the Great Falls because it was damaged and according to the Sergeants, not needed.
Interestingly, Capt. Clark said the damaged canoe at Camp Fortunate was repaired, but Ordway said it was cut up for other uses. Maybe Clark just assumed they would fix it. Ordway’s response is more accurate since they only took six canoes downriver from there.