by Robert Carriker & r & As Meriwether Lewis crossed Lemhi Pass for his third and final time, on Aug. 25 and 26, 1805, he came in close contact with the Shoshone Indians who were assisting him. He observed, among other things, that because the Shoshone "possess an abundance of horses, their women are seldom compelled like those in other parts of the continent to carry burthens on their backs." The women "have their children with equal convenience," he added. "One of the women who had been assisting in the transportation of the baggage halted at a little run about a mile behind us, and sent on the two pack horses which she had been conducting by one of her female friends. I enquired of Cameahwait the cause of her detention, and was informed by him in an unconcerned manner that she had halted to bring fourth a child and would soon overtake us; in about an hour the woman arrived with her newborn babe and passed us on her way to camp apparently as well as she ever was."
William Clark, having earlier crossed to the Shoshone camp on the Lemhi River, spent several days in late August examining the Salmon River. According to the Shoshone leader, Camheahwait, the river would eventually join other rivers that ended at "the great lake where the white men lived," but the passage would be difficult. Clark reconnoitered the river -- which he named for his co-commander -- for several days to see conditions firsthand. In the end, he came to the conclusion that the rapids of the river were too treacherous for travel by canoe and the canyon walls were too steep to follow on shore.
Clark reunited with Lewis at the Shoshone camp on Aug. 28. He did not, however, return empty-handed. Accompanying him was Old Toby, whose services he had secured. Shoshone geographers had earlier indicated to both Lewis and Clark that a second way to get to the great lake was to use the "very bad" road of "the Pierced nosed Indians" across mountains. Swooping Eagle, whom the explorers always referred to as Old Toby, knew the road of the Nez Perce through the Bitterroot Mountains, and he agreed to assist the explorers as a guide.
Sergeant John Ordway felt hopeful when he learned that Old Toby predicted that in "about 15 days we could go to where the tide came up and Salt water." Private Joseph Whitehouse harbored fears: "the Natives tells us that we cannot find the ocean by going a west course for Some of them who are old men has been on that a Season or more to find the ocean but could not find it, and that their was troublesome tribes of Indians to pass. that they had no horses but would rob and Steal all they could and eat them as they had nothing as it were to eat. the country verry mountaineous and no game."
Twenty-nine horses was "not a Sufficint number for each of our Party to have one, which is our wish," but it was all Meriwether Lewis could barter from the Shoshone. William Clark characterized the herd as "indifferent, maney Sore backs and others not acustomed to pack." Nevertheless, the Corps resumed their westward movement on the afternoon of Aug. 30 after a respite of 19 agreeable days with Sagacawea's people, the Shoshone Indians. They proceeded 12 miles the first day out, and on the last day of the month they picked up the pace enough to travel 22 miles.
Next Week: Lewis goes silent -- and a mountainside "as steep as the roof of a house"
Robert Carriker has directed eight National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on the Lewis and Clark expedition and is author of Ocean in View! O! the Joy. When he's not out retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery, he teaches history at Gonzaga University.