Rocky Mountain High
After a canoe capsizes, the first sight of the mountainous “snowey barrier” lifts the corps’ spirits
In may 1805, the corps crossed from North Dakota into present-day Montana. While the expedition was traveling upriver, one of the canoes capsized; Sacagawea, on board with her infant son, single-handedly saved much of the canoe’s contents, including journals and medicines. A grateful Meriwether Lewis named a river after her. Later that month, Lewis and Clark first saw the Rocky Mountain chain, which they would have to cross to reach the Pacific.
May 14, 1805 [Capt. Meriwether Lewis]
We had been halted by an occurrence, which I have now to recappitulate, and which altho’ happily passed without ruinous injury, I cannot recollect but with the utmost trepidation and horror; this is the upseting and narrow escape of the white perogue It happened unfortunately for us this evening that Charbono was at the helm of this Perogue, in stead of Drewyer, who had previously steered her; Charbono cannot swim and is perhaps the most timid waterman in the world; perhaps it was equally unluckey that Capt. C. and myself were both on shore at that moment, a circumstance which rarely happened; and tho’ we were on the shore opposite to the perogue, were too far distant to be heard or to do more than remain spectators of her fate; in this perogue were embarked, our papers, Instruments, books medicine, a great part of our merchandize and in short almost every article indispensibly necessary to further the views, or insure the success of the enterprize in which we are now launched to the distance of 2200 miles. surfice it to say, that the Perogue was under sail when a sudon squawl of wind struck her obliquely, and turned her considerably, the steersman allarmed, in stead of putting her before the wind, lufted her up into it, the wind was so violent that it drew the brace of the squarsail out of the hand of the man who was attending it, and instantly upset the perogue and would have turned her completely topsaturva, had it not have been from the resistance mad by the oarning against the water...they suffered the perogue to lye on her side for half a minute before they took the sail in, the perogue then wrighted but had filled within an inch of the gunwals; Charbono still crying to his god for mercy, had not yet recollected the rudder, nor could the repeated orders of the Bowsman, Cruzat, bring him to his recollection untill he threatend to shoot him instantly if he did not take hold of the rudder and do his duty.
May 16 [Lewis]
The loss we sustained was not so great as we had at first apprehended; our medicine sustained the greatest injury, several articles of which were intirely spoiled...the ballance of our losses consisted of some gardin seeds, a small quantity of gunpowder, and a few culinary articles which fell overboard and sunk, [Sacagawea] to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution, with any person onboard at the time of the accedent, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard.
May 26 [Capt. William Clark]
I took one man and walked out this morning, and ascended the high countrey to view the mountains which I thought I Saw yesterday....I crossed a Deep holler and assended a part of the plain elevated much higher than where I first viewed the above mountains; from this point I beheld the Rocky Mountains for the first time with Certainty....whilst I viewed those mountains I felt a Secret pleasure in finding myself So near the head of the heretofore Conceived boundless Missouri; but when I reflected on the difficulties which this Snowey barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific Ocean, and the Sufferings and hardships of my Self and party in them, it in Some measure Counter ballanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them; but as I have always held it little Short of Criminality to anticipate evils I will allow it to be a good Comfortable road untill I am Compelled to believe otherwise.
May 29 [Lewis]
Last night we were all allarmed by a large buffaloe Bull, which swam over from the opposite shore and coming along side of the white perogue, climbed over it to land, he then alarmed ran up the bank in full speed directly towards the fires, and was within 18 inches of the heads of some of the men who lay sleeping before the centinel could allarm him or make him change his course.... The next morning we found that the buffaloe in passing the perogue had trodden on a rifle....it appears that the white perogue, which contains our most valuable stores, is attended by some evil gennii.