Part 2: East of the Divide - 1805
The Lewis and Clark Expedition is known as a trek by water from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back, along with a few times the exploring was on land. It is generally understood that the Expedition left Camp Dubois in a keelboat and two pirogues and made their way up the Missouri to the Mandan villages where they wintered. The next Spring the keelboat was sent back to St. Louis and the Expedition continued on up the Missouri River to where one pirogue was cached. The other pirogue was cached at the Lower Portage Camp. The rest of the trip was a mixture of boat and horse travel. Somewhere along the way during the 1806 return, after splitting into several groups, they got back together on the Missouri and finished the trip to St. Louis in boats.
What many people do not realize is the Corps of Discovery made canoes in four different places along their water trail. They started the trip on the large eastern rivers that required larger boats. When they reached the upper Missouri, they were on smaller western waterways that called for smaller boats. Here is where the canoes became useful.
After the keelboat left for St. Louis from Fort Mandan the Corps of Discovery needed more boats than the two pirogues they had, so men were sent five miles upriver where they had located six cottonwood trees large enough to make dugout canoes from. When Lewis left winter camp with his men, he had two pirogues and six canoes.
All went well until they reached the mouth of the Marias River. At that place they cached part of their food supplies and other equipment that would not be needed on the journey over the mountains. With the reduction in “baggage” came a reduction in the number of water craft needed to carry it in. One of the pirogues was also cached at the Marias.
The Corps of Discovery continued on about 50 miles until they encountered the Great Falls of the Missouri. The other pirogue was cached at the Lower Portage Camp because it was too big and heavy to portage around the waterfalls and it would be too big for the much smaller rivers above the falls. The collapsible, iron-framed boat had been carried along to replace the pirogues. It would be light but capable of hauling a large load of men and equipment. When that boat would not stay afloat, it was discarded.
Once again, men were sent upriver to where cottonwood trees were found that were adequate for making dugout canoes from. Two canoes were made at this place which is about eight miles beyond the Upper Portage Camp. When The Expedition continued their travels toward the western sea, they were using eight canoes.
The Expedition worked its way up the Missouri River to the Three Forks where the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson Rivers join to form the Missouri River. From the Three Forks they followed the Jefferson since it appeared to go west into the mountains while the other two went in a more southerly direction.
As they progressed along the upper reaches of the Jefferson River near the mouth of the Big Hole River (Lewis’ Wisdom River), they encountered an area of rapids that gave them particular trouble. While they were camped drying wet baggage, they cached one of the canoes there since they had used their supplies down to the point they could continue with one less canoe. Some fifty miles farther up the Jefferson, near its source, the Expedition cached their canoes at Camp Fortunate then traded for horses to cross the Rocky Mountains.