Lewiston-Clarkston to Tri-Cities
October 23, 2001
On October 10, 1805 the Corps of Discovery crossed into what is now the state of Washington. They marveled at the spectacular vistas that, if we keep one eye closed, looks much the same as when Lewis and Clark traveled through this area. I have studied Lewis and Clark’s route through Washington for several years now and have become aware of the lack of attention to their journeys from the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers at Clarkston, Wa. to Sacajawea State Park just east of Pasco, Wa. There are books and articles by the thousands on just about every mile of their adventure, but very little is written on their trek across Washington, first by water in 1805 (westbound) and by land in 1806 (eastbound).After talking and working with the Washington State Dept. of Tourism this past summer (1998) I have decided to do a history on the expedition through Washington and the following is condensed from a future book of mine entitled “The Columbia River Connection: Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail”.
October 10, 1805 – the Corps enter Washington: “a fine morning loaded and set out at 7 oclock…arrived at a large Southerly fork or Lewis’s River (the Snake)…” This fork was called Tsceminicom (sign-MIN-ikum) by the Nez Perce, who wintered at this warm and sheltered canyon. Tsceminicom is where the Clearwater and Snake rivers meet: the Clearwater flows into the Snake from the West as the Snake makes its way from the North heading for the mighty Columbia.The Captains chose for their first campsite a location just north of the confluence, which is now near a copse of trees and a large stack of lumber. The scenery changed drastically from the rugged mountains and the Ponderosa pines to a treeless expanse of velvety canyons and short grassy hills. Their arrival here soon attracted the curiosity of the Indians who came from all directions to see these strangers. “Along the Snake Country the water about the forks is an open Plain on either Side I can observe at a distance…a high ridge of Thinly timbered Country the water of the South fork is a greenish blue, the North as clear as cristial…”. This night is spent with their new Indian friends and discussing the river that lay before them. Little did they know that the next 120 miles would be the most difficult to navigate since their portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri! They traveled 60 miles this day.
October 11, 1805 – “a cloudy morning We set out early and proceeded on…” The first point of interest came after about 8 miles west of their October 10th campsite.This was a village site of the Alpaweyma band of the Nez Perce at the mouth of Alpowai Creek. Here Clark says “we came to at Some indian lodges and took brackfast…” which consisted of, no not ham and eggs with a large orange juice, but rather dried salmon and Dog!Years later emigrants traveling along the Oregon trail would write in their diaries of having to eat the pet dog, and you will recall Maricus Whitman eating his daughters (Clarissa) dog on his midwinter journey back east to save his mission at WallaWalla. Sorry Rover! This was the first experience they had with dog meat and it would prove to be a staple of their diet until their return trip in 1806 back through the Bitterroots. After “brackfast” Lewis and Clark hired three Palouse Indians to guide them through the rapid and swift running water of the Snake River. “The Country on either Side is an open plain level and fertile after assending a Steep assent of about 200 feet not a tree of antykind to be Seen on the river…the day worm.” That night they camped near two Indian lodges at the mouth of Alomta Creek, a favorite fishing site of the Almotipu band of Nez Perce. This is near the present town of Almota, Washington, where Henry H. Spalding, the son of Henry and Eliza Spalding, owned a hotel for several years. Henry was the first male born to American citizens in the Pacific NW. He is buried at the Spalding Cemetery with his wife and two of their children, both dying in their infancy. This day they traveled 30 miles.
Sorry, your browser doesn’t support Java(tm). October 12, 1805 – “a fair Cool morning we Set out at 7 o’Clock and proceeded on…” Where Deadman Creek meets the Snake River, Clark notes “here the country assends with a gentle assent to the high plains and the River is 400 yards wide…” After bouncing through long and dangerous rapids the Indians told them that there was more to come; “verry bad about two miles in length and maney turns necessary to Stear Clare of the rocks…” As it was now getting late they decided to set up camp below the mouth of Alkali Flat Creek which is near the town of Riparia, just west of Little Goose dam.Their campsite was at the head of Texas Rapids which is now below the backwater of Lower Monumental dam. Clark writes “Country as yesterday open plains no timber of any kind…The hills or asscents from the water is faced with a dark rugged Stone…” These open plains were about 200 feet above the river on each side and the lack of timber was a result of their now being in the arid Great Columbia Plain. The dark rugged stone is basalt (molten lava) which extends for hundreds of miles and are several hundred feet thick. The men were tired and soaked to the skin. The Texas Rapids could wait until tomorrow! Again, 30 miles were navigated through this swirling, boiling river.
October 13, 1805 – The corps awakens to a “windey dark raney morning The rain commenced before day and Continued moderately…” Before departing, Captain Lewis scouted the entire length of the rapids. With the Indian pilots guiding the canoes (dugouts) through two miles of rapids, they made it again without incident. Are these guys good or what? They proceeded on for another two miles or so before they encountered another series of whitewater rapids, which would bring them to the mouth of the Tucannon River. When looking at the Snake River today, it is impossible to visualize the mile after mile of rapids the Corp of Discovery had to negotiate and as William Clark noted “we should make more portages if the Season was not So far advanced and the time perious to us.” Throughout, the country remained much the same, all high dry prairie and rolling, wrinkled hills. After passing the Tucannon River, on their larboard side (left) the Snake becomes crowded with rough basalt rocks which created another rapid four miles in length and here the river was compressed into a narrow channel of about 20 yards wide! After shooting these rapids, they came to the mouth of a very large river on their starboard side (right) which they named Drewyer’s River in honor of George Drouillard, a civilian member of the Expedition. We now know this river as the Palouse and at the mouth is Lyon’s Ferry State Park, which at that time was a very large Palouse Indian village. Authors note: the Mullan Military Road also came through this area, in the 1860’s, as it wound itself along the river and heads northeast towards the Spokane River.In 1964, when the railroad built a bridge over the river, a Jefferson Peace Medal was found in a cemetery which had been given to Chief Kepownkon by Lewis and Clark. This medal can be seen at WSU in Pullman, Washington. About one mile up the Palouse River from Lyon’s ferry bridge is Marmes Rock Shelter where deposits of human bone were found and which date back 10,000 years! Artifacts such as weapon points, bone needles and alivella shells were also found. Lewis and Clark saw no Indians here so proceeded down the Snake, when suddenly two Palouse appeared on horseback. The Indians followed the corp to their next campsite which is near Ayer, Washington on the south side of the Snake. Another physically exhausting day had ended with the corp traveling only 23 miles.
October 14, 1805 – “A verry cold morning wind from the West and Cool…” At this point you begin to wonder if the men, upon awakening, felt the same passion and sense of adventure that had marked each of their pervious mornings, knowing that more rapids and the cold, numbing dampness was once again waiting for them! After two and a half miles they came upon one of the few landmarks that impressed them enough in this area to name it. Now Monumental Rock just NE of Magallon, Washington, Lewis writes “a remarkable rock very large and resembling the hill (hull) of a ship.” Lower Monumental Dam takes its name from this landmark which is on the South side of the Snake River. After a distance of 12 miles the head of a rapid appears, larger and more dangerous then ANY of the prior rapids they had encountered! It just doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for the expedition! This newest challenge was at least three miles in length and it is here that the odds finally caught up with the corp. Three of the dugouts got stuck and the fourth hit a rock. Disaster struck at pine rapids where the river was parted by a rock island. The dugout that “drewyer” (Drouillard) was steering struck a large rock and sank, the men scrambled onto the rocky isle but lost some of their equipment. Another canoe was sent to rescue both the men and whatever supplies could be salvaged. Patrick Gass says “all wet and some articles were lost. We halted on an island to dry the baggage having come 14 miles.” This island was at the Pine Tree Rapids, just downstream from Burr Canyon and now inundated by Lake Sacajawea. Thus ended the most exciting day they had since leaving their camp at Tecmincum.
October 15, 1805 – This morning was “fair…after a Cold night. Some Frost and ice.” Hunters were sent out and the baggage continued to dry while at the same time Captain Lewis scoured the plains and saw at a distance of about 60 miles a mountain range we know as the Blue Mountains. Within a period of less then forty years the great migrations to the “West” would bring the pioneers by the tens of thousands across these same mountains along what was to become the Oregon Trail.The hunters came back with no food and with Captain Lewis pointing the way, the Corp of Discovery set out once again. After traveling several miles they were again approached by the Palouse Indains near a basin where the water was quiet and resembled a lake. Here again they warn the corp of the dangerous rapids ahead! Would these rapids never come to an end? Will they accompany us all the way to the Ocean? These must have been some of their thoughts as they listened to the Palouse! This was to be a short day, as they hadn’t left their prior camp until 2 PM and daylight was nearly gone. It was decided to make camp at Rattlesnake Flats which is at the head of the perilous Fishhook Rapids. Again they were on the starboard side (right) of the great Snake River. Captain Lewis would later enter this comment into his journal…”we only made 20 miles today owing to the detention in passing rapids &c.”
It took the Corp of Discovery five days to travel, with the current, a distance of less than 120 miles; whereas on the 10th of October they literally flew 60 miles down the Clearwater River!
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Coming back to the tripI suppose this stretch of the Snake River is considered as insignificant to most writers and readers as it appears that not much happened during this part of the grand adventure. However, the Corp of Discovery definitely would state otherwise!