A Formidable Anamal

After a winter of waiting, the corps leaves Fort Mandan and heads warily into bear country

Reconstruction of Fort Mandan, Lewis & Clark Expedition
Reconstruction of Fort Mandan, Lewis & Clark Expedition Wikimedia Commons

Before breaking their winter camp to resume their journey up the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark pack their journals and various specimens—including antelope hides, rabbit skeletons, "four liveing Magpies" and one prairie dog—to send by barge to President Jefferson in Washington, D.C. by way of St. Louis. Soon, the remaining expedition members would encounter their first grizzly bears, which they would call "white" or "brown" bears, and which they had heard about from Mandan and Hidatsa Indians.

April 3, 1805 [Capt. William Clark]
We are all day ingaged packing up Sundery articles to be Sent to the President of the U.S.

April 7 [Capt. Meriwether Lewis]
Having on this day at 4 P.M. completed every arrangement necessary for our departure, we dismissed the barge and crew with orders to return without loss of time to S. Louis....we were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civillized man had never trodden; the good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine.

April 11 [Clark]
Set out verry early I walked on Shore, Saw fresh bear tracks.

April 13 [Lewis]
We saw also many tracks of the white bear of enormous size, along the river shore and about the carcases of the Buffaloe, on which I presume they feed. we have not as yet seen one of these anamals, tho' their tracks are so abundant and recent. the men as well as ourselves are anxious to meet with some of these bear. the Indians give a very formidable account of the strengh and ferocity of this anamal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six eight or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party. the savages attack this anamal with their bows and arrows and the indifferent guns with which the traders furnish them, with these they shoot with such uncertainty and at so short a distance, that they frequently mis their aim & fall a sacrefice to the bear. two Minetaries were killed during the last winter in an attack on a white bear. this anamall is said more frequently to attack a man on meeting with him, than to flee from him. When the Indians are about to go in quest of the white bear, previous to their departure, they paint themselves and perform all those supersticious rights commonly observed when they are about to make war uppon a neighbouring nation.

April 14 [Clark]
We Saw two white bear running from the report of Capt. Lewis Shot, those animals assended those Steep hills with Supprising ease & verlocity. they were too far to discover their prosise Colour & Size.

April 17 [Lewis]
Tho' we continue to see many tracks of the bear we have seen but very few of them, and those are at a great distance generally runing from us; I thefore presume that they are extreemly wary and shy; the Indian account of them dose not corrispond with our experience so far.

April 18 [Clark]
Two men went up the river to Set their beaver traps they met with a Bear and being without their arms thought prodent to return &c.

April 29 [Lewis]
Set out this morning at the usual hour....about 8 A.M. we fell in with two brown or [white] bear; both of which we wounded; one of them made his escape, the other after my firing on him pursued me seventy or eighty yards, but fortunately had been so badly wounded that he was unable to pursue so closely as to prevent my charging my gun; we again repeated our [fire] and killed him....it's colour is yellowish brown....this anamal appeared to me to differ from the black bear; it is a much more furious and formidable anamal, and will frequently pursue the hunter when wounded. it is asstonishing to see the wounds they will bear before they can be put to death.

April 30 [Clark]
I walked on Shore to day our interpreter & his Squar [Sacagawea] followed, in my walk the Squar found & brought me a bush Something like the Current, which She Said bore a delicious froot and that great quantites grew on the Rocky Mountains, this Srub was in bloom has a yellow flower with a deep Cup, the froot when ripe is yellow and hangs in bunches like Cheries, Some of those berries remained on the bushes.

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