On May 24, 1806, Clark faced his most vexing case, an Indian man who had, over a period of three years, "lost the use of all his limbs and his fingers are Contracted. We are at a loss to deturmine what to do for this unfortunate man." In the morning, Meriwether Lewis informed Clark that he was "confident that this would be an excellent subject for electricity" -- a reference to Benjamin Franklin's early experiments with the use of voltage to treat paralysis. He had to admit, however, with "much regret that I have not in my power to supply it." Clark proscribed a program of "Sefere Swetts" for the man. Happily, after three treatments in which the man sat in an enclosed 4-foot-deep hole lined with heated rocks, the "sick Chief is fast on the recovery, he can bear his weight on his legs, and has acquired a considerable portion of strength."
"One of our men Saw a Salmon in the river to day," Clark reported on May 26, "and two others eat of Salmon at the near Village." After nearly a month of waiting for the spring salmon run to begin, that welcome prospect seemed finally near. Rather than wait, the captains decided to be pro-active and on May 27 ordered Sergeant John Ordway to cut across the plains to Lewis's River -- today's Salmon River -- where he would "precure Some Salmon on that river, and return tomorrow if possible." Ordway would, in fact, be absent for a week, not returning to camp until June 2.
Relying on his three Indian guides, Sgt. Ordway, accompanied by privates Peter Weiser and Robert Frazier, followed today's Lawyer Creek going west. They spent their first night in an Indian village waiting out a thunderstorm before continuing on in the morning. Ordway, third in command of the overall expedition, is respected by historians for being the only member among seven journalists to write an entry for each of the 863 days of travel by the Corps of Discovery. Unfortunately, Ordway lacked a descriptive writing style, with the result that his route is not always clear. It is certain, however, that his small party reached a powerful river on May 28 after an arduous trip down steep bluffs. They saw a big horn mountain sheep and 14 deer, but no salmon. Ordway believed he was on a fork of Lewis's River, though he almost certainly had reached the main Salmon River.
Being unsuccessful in locating salmon, Ordway led his group up and over a height of land -- today's Wapshilla Ridge -- after which a trail took them down, according to Ordway, "the worst hills we ever saw a rode made down." This time the watercourse he intercepted was the Snake River. Again, because of imprecise statements, Ordway could have come down by Cottonwood Creek, by Cave Gulch, or even by China Garden Creek. In any case, at the moment Ordway could not comprehend that by having climbed over Wapshilla Ridge his expedition had moved from the Salmon River to the Snake River. He had been only nine miles from the confluence of the two rivers -- a point approximately 50 miles upstream from today's Clarkston, Wash. -- but he didn't know it. Only on the return trip would it become evident to Ordway that he had visited two rivers, one a tributary of the other. Entering an Indian camp on the Snake River, the headman welcomed the travelers to his lodge. Dinner consisted of a roasted salmon so large that the famished men could not eat even one-quarter of the fish.
The next day, May 30, Ordway and his men waited patiently while Indians snared salmon with dip nets "in the whorls & amp; eddys" of the river. When Clark took Ordway's report about his experience, the captain wrote in his journal that at the fishery "there is a very considerable rapid, nearly as Great from the information of Sergt. Ordway as the Great falls of the Columbia," meaning Celilo Falls. That afternoon, Ordway "purchased as many Salmon as we thought was necessary to take home and hung them up." Alas, on the morning of May 31, Ordway awoke to discover that "Some of the young Indians Stole Some of our fish and went away in the night." Ordway renegotiated for 17 more salmon and, leaving the guide behind, "followed back the same road we went on." Once again, Ordway crossed Wapshilla Ridge, returning to the Salmon River. Almost immediately the hazy map of the Nez Perce country that Ordway had imagined in his mind's eye cleared. n
Next week: Expedition members prepare for their return to the Lolo Trail.
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.