On the afternoon of April 27, the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered a village of the Walla Walla Indians about 15 miles below where the Snake River merges with the Columbia River. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark knew the "Wallahwallahs" slightly, inasmuch as the expedition had spent a night with the tribe in mid-October of 1805 during their westward journey. Chief Yellippit, who presided over the 15 lodges, invited the expedition to remain with his people for three or four days, assuring them, said Lewis, that "we should be furnished with a plenty of such food as they had themselves; and some horses to assist us on our journey." In addition, the Indians revealed to the captains that opposite their village, at the mouth of the Walla Walla River, a trail began that continued uninterrupted to the merge of Clearwater River and the Snake River. According to the Indians, the road abounded with deer for food and grass for the horses. Clark calculated that such a path "would Shorten the rout at least 80 miles." Actually, the short cut would save the expedition approximately 155 miles, but 80 seemed enough to excite the interest of the captains.
Buoyed by the prospect of saving time, Lewis and Clark eagerly arose on April 28. Good things began to happen early. In the morning, Yellippit "brought a very eligant white horse to our camp and presented him to Capt. C." Clark reciprocated by offering his sword and 100 rifle balls, plus powder. The chief also allowed the expedition to borrow canoes, which they used to ride herd on their horses as they swam them from the north bank of the Columbia to the south side. Good fortune continued when, upon reaching the south bank, "we found a Shoshone woman, prisoner among these people by means of whome and Sahcahgarweah we found the means of conversing with the Wollahwollahs."
One source of conversation was with Indians who requested medical assistance: "one had his knee contracted by the rheumatism, another with a broken arm & amp;c." Clark, who acted as the expedition's medical officer, placed the broken arm in a splint and sling and did what he could to relieve the pain of the other man. Additional tribesmen sought relief from sore eyes. Clark thought the constantly blowing sand on the plains most likely caused the disorder. He had no remedy other than "Some eye water" from the expedition medicine chest.
The busy day ended with a spectacular dance. The fiddlers among the expedition members "played and the men amused themselves with dancing about an hour. we then requested the Indians to dance which they very Cheerfully Complyed with; ... the whole assemblage of indians about 350 men women and Children Sung and danced at the Same time."
The following day, a cadre of expedition men, joined by Walla Walla Indians, transported baggage across the Columbia. Clark, meanwhile, continued to practice medicine and, by skillful trading, the expedition horse herd increased to 23 young animals. With preparations complete, on April 30 the Corps of Discovery, assisted by a Walla Walla guide, resumed their journey to St. Louis by following the shortcut recommended by Yellippit. The Nez Perce volunteer guide continued on as well.
A fork in the road on May 1 created a rift between the Walla Walla guide and the Nez Perce man. One branch would have "plenty of wood water and only one hill" and the other would not. Contradictory opinions "perplexed us a little" admitted Clark. "Some words took place between these two men," after which, according to Clark, the Walla Walla Indian mounted his horse and rode off. This unsettled both Lewis and Clark so they dispatched a man to go after the guide and inform him "we believed what he said." When the guide returned, the Nez Perce man separated himself from the unit. Strangely, on the morning of May 3 the Walla Walla guide "reather abruptly" detached himself from the expedition.
However, in a constantly changing cast of characters on the shortcut road, that afternoon the Corps of Discovery met up with Bighorn, a Nez Perce chief, and 10 of his men. Clark recognized Bighorn as a man who had traveled a portion of the Snake River with them in the fall of 1805, and "I believe was very instremental in precureing us a hospital and friendly reception among the nativs." Surely he would lead the Corps of Discovery the rest of the way to the Clearwater River.
NEXT WEEK: The Corps returns to the Nez Perce homeland.
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.