by Robert Carriker & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & uring five trying days on the Lolo Trail in June 1806, the single-file Lewis and Clark Expedition looked like a solemn procession. Beginning on June 29, however, their progress took on aspects of a triumphant parade.
To begin, just five miles into the day, the Lolo Trail dropped from the heights of the ridge to the river below. "When we descended," notes Meriwether Lewis approvingly, "we bid adieu to the snow." Near the river, the hungry men found, and ate, a deer that an advance party of hunters had killed and hung for them. Two miles farther and they could see, very plainly, the "old road" they had followed in September 1805. The road took the Corps of Discovery to a vast, grassy field that today is an attachment to the visitor's center at the summit of Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12. All of this took place before noon.
Seven miles below the meadow, the expedition reacquainted itself with Lolo Hot Springs, a warm-water oasis they had first encountered on the westward trek. This time, they stopped for the night and enjoyed the resort-like experience. William Clark estimated the temperature in the pools to be about the same as ones he had frequented in Virginia. He bathed for 10 minutes; Lewis timed his repose at 19 minutes. In addition, "both the Men and the indians amused themselves with the use of the bath this evening." Everyone slept that evening in present Missoula County, Mont., on the eastern side of the Bitterroot Range.
Clark's journal entry for June 30, 1806, gets right to the point with his first words: "Descended the mountain to Travellers rest leaveing those tremendious mountanes behind us -- in passing of which we have experiensed Cold and hunger of which I shall ever remember." One must read the journal of Lewis to realize that it took a full day of travel -- 32 miles, in fact -- to reach Traveler's Rest a little before sunset. Lewis tells of struggles, including his own mishap when his horse "sliped with both his hinder feet out of the road and fell." His journal entry for the day closes with the comment that "here we Encamped with a view to remain 2 days in order to rest ourselves and horses and make our final arrangements for Seperation." The important word in this statement is "Seperation."
So confident had Lewis and Clark become in their own judgment, and the abilities of the men they led, that on July 1 they unveiled a travel plan that divided the expedition into groups, each led by a captain, but with detached patrols under three sergeants. Everyone was to meet at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, approximately the location of the border between Montana and North Dakota, which was more or less 850 miles distant. From there, they would continue canoeing on the Missouri River to St. Louis. It was a bold plan, the purpose of which was to include in their final report to President Thomas Jefferson additional details by Lewis about an Indian path reputed to link the Lolo Trail with the Great Falls of the Missouri. Additionally, Clark would present new information about the previously unexplored Yellowstone River. Maybe the "Seperation" was foolhardy, since it put small units of men at risk from hostile tribesmen and treacherous natural elements. No matter -- the captains announced their decision and the enlisted men volunteered for one or the other of the patrols.
As arranged, on July 3, 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition divided. Lewis recorded the moment in his journal: "All arrangements being now compleated for carrying into effect the several scheemes we had planed for execution on our return, we saddled our horses and set out I took leave of my worthy friend and companion Capt. Clark and the party that accompanyed him. I could not avoid feeling much concern on this occasion."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his concludes our weekly series on the adventures of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Washington and Idaho. Westbound installments appeared in The Inlander for 16 weeks (Aug. 18-Nov. 30, 2005). When the Corps of Discovery took to the field on March 23, 1806, after wintering in Oregon at Fort Clatsop, a new series of 15 articles resumed on the same date in The Inlander, only 200 years later.
From Traveler's Rest, Meriwether Lewis and his men passed through Missoula, followed the Indian's "buffalo road" to Lewis and Clark Pass, and finally reached Great Falls. During a subsequent side trip, Lewis and some of his men came to blows with the Blackfoot Indians, killing two. They returned to the Missouri River and hastily paddled east. Clark and his men, meantime, followed the expedition's western route in reverse back to the Three Forks of the Missouri.
They crossed Bozeman Pass to reach the Yellowstone River, and, on Aug. 3, merged into the Missouri River. Clark moved on, slowly, until Aug. 12 when Lewis caught up to him. The expedition entered St. Louis on Sept. 23, 1806.
Robert Carriker has directed eight National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on the Lewis and Clark expedition and is author of Ocian in View! O! the Joy. When he's not out retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery, he teaches history at Gonzaga University.