by Robert Carriker & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen the Lewis and Clark Expedition transitioned from the Snake River to the Clearwater River at today's Clarkston, Wash., on May 5, 1806, they entered the traditional homeland of the Nez Perce tribe. Each day through May 13, the Corps of Discovery traveled in an easterly direction until, as Sergeant John Ordway put it, "we are now as near the Mountains as we can git untill Such times as the Snow is nearly gone off the mountains as we are too eairly to cross."
During their wanderings across the Nez Perce territory, Lewis and Clark took every opportunity to meet with tribal leaders. From May 10 to May 12, for example, the expedition camped with Broken Arm, one of the four great chiefs of the Nez Perce. Later, the other headmen of the tribe -- Cut Nose, Red Grizzly Bear and the One-Eyed Chief -- joined the conversation. The chiefs asked the explorers, "Why are you here in our country?" To that query, Lewis spoke eloquently about how the United States government wished to establish trading houses among the western tribes. But, he cautioned the Indian leaders, trade will come only after tribes have made peace with each other. The meeting ended with what historians have irreverently called "The Lewis and Clark Traveling Show," a practiced routine to awe the Indians they counseled with along the trail: "we amused ourselves with shewing them the power of magnetism, the spye glass, compass, watch, air-gun and sundry other articles equally novel and incomprehensible to them."
The next morning, the Indian leaders met among themselves "with rispect to the subjects on which we had spoken to them yesterday." William Clark understood the result was favorable and that the Nez Perce "had only one heart and one tongue on this Subject." Broken Arm used a unique tribal protocol to bring finality to the discussion. The chief "thickended the soope in the kettles and baskets of all his people," using flour pounded from dried wild vegetables. Then he invited all men who would "abide by the decrees of the council to come and eat." He asked those "as would not be so bound to shew themselves by not partaking of the feast." One of the expedition men maneuvered close enough to observe the proceedings and he told Meriwether Lewis that "there was not a dissenting voice" and "all swallowed their objections if any they had, very cheerfully with their mush."
At this point, the Indian leaders invited Lewis and Clark into their tent. The headmen wanted to inform the captains not only of their decision to cooperate with the Great Father, but also "that there were many of their people waiting in great pain at the moment for the aid of our medicine." According to Lewis, "it was agreed between Capt. C. and myself that he should attend the sick as he was their favorite physician while I would [stay] here and answer the Chiefs." So it was that Clark became "closely employed" with about "40 grown persons" in need of medicine and Lewis spent his afternoon responding to the chiefs and "smoking the pipe."
The Corps of Discovery moved into a "permanent camp" on May 14. Lewis thought the chosen site "a very eligible spot for defence." In addition, "we are in the vicinity of the best hunting grounds from indian information, are convenient to the salmon which we expect daily and have an excellent pasture for our horses." "In short," he concluded, "as we are compelled to reside a while in this neighbourhood I feel perfectly satisfyed with our position." Here the Corps of Discovery will remain until June 10, a period of 28 days. Expedition journals confer no name on this camp, the third-longest used by the Corps of Discovery. In the 20th century, historians coined the term "Camp Choipunnish" for the site, though today the location near present Kamiah, Idaho, is commonly called Long Camp.
Set free to pasture, the stallions -- "stone horses" in the terminology of the times and a reference to the male testicles -- became unruly. Lewis attempted to trade the stallions to the Indians for "mears or geldings but they will not exchange altho' we offer 2 for one." There remained two solutions to the problem. Sgt. Ordway documented one: "we eat several of our stud horses as they have been troublesome to us." The alternate solution was to castrate the stallions. George Drouillard, the expedition's man of all trades, gelded two of the animals but yielded to an Indian who offered to perform the task in the Nez Perce way. The Indian method produced less swelling in the horses, though it let more blood. Lewis thought the Indian practice ineffective, yet on subsequent days the animals treated by the Indian recovered easily while one of Drouillard's horses died in pain. Later, Lewis admitted that "the indian method of gelding is preferable to that practiced by ourselves."
NEXT WEEK: Food becomes scarce for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
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.