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Meriwether Lewis Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains

These selections from Meriwether Lewis' journal describe the crossing of the Rocky Mountains, a particularly hazardous stretch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and William Clark to explore the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase, recently acquired from France. Lewis and Clark followed the path of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers through eleven present-day states to the Pacific Ocean. Both Lewis and Clark, along with several other members of the "Corps of Discovery," recorded their impressions of the expedition's often-perilous journey in carefully detailed journal entries. Captain Meriwether Lewis was Jefferson's private secretary and the official leader of the Expedition.

September 09, 1805

the point of the Missouri where this Indian pass intersects it, is about 30 miles above the gates of the rocky Mountains, or the place where the valley of the Missouri first widens into an extensive plain after entering the rockey Mountains. the guide informed us that a man might pass to the missouri from hence by that rout in four days ... we called this Creek Travellers rest.

September 10, 1805

(we called the Eastern fork of Clarkes river.)(This "eastern fork" was Hellgate River.)
the Indians were mounted on very fine horses of which the Flatheads have a great abundance; that is, each man in the nation possesses from 20 to a hundred head.
the sun was now set, two of them departed ... and the third remained, having agreed to continue with us as a guide, and to introduce us to his relations whom he informed us were numerous and resided in the plain below the mountains on the columbia river, from whence he said the water was good and capable of being navigated to the sea; that some of his relation[s] were at the sea last fall and saw an old whiteman who resided there by himself and who had given them so handkerchiefs such as he saw in our possession. he said it would require five sleeps

September 18, 1805

Cap Clark set out this morning to go a head with six hunters. ... this morning we finished the remainder of our last coult. we dined & suped on a skant proportion of portable soupe, a few canesters of which, a little bears oil and about 20 lbs. of candles form our stock of provision, the only recources being our guns & packhorses. ... there is nothing upon earth ex[c]ept ourselves and a few small pheasants, small grey Squirrels, and a blue bird of the vultur kind about the size of a turtle dove or jay bird. ... used the snow for cooking.

September 19, 1805

Fraziers horse fell from this road in the evening, and roled with his load near a hundred yards into the Creek. ... this was the most wonderful escape I ever witnessed ... we took a small quantity of portable soup, and retired to rest much fatiegued. several of the men are unwell of the disentary. brakings out, or irruptions of the Skin, have also been common with us for some time.

September 20, 1805

This morning my attention was called to a species of bird which I had never seen before. ... I have also observed two birds of a blue colour both of which I believe to be of the haulk or vulter kind.
... I larnt that one of the Packhorses with his load was missing ... The load of the horse was of considerable value consisting of merchandize and all my stock of winter cloathing.
saw the hucklebury, honeysuckle, and alder common to the Atlantic states, ... a growth which resembles the choke cherry bears a black bury with a single stone of a sweetish taste, ...

September 21, 1805

we killed a few Pheasants, and I killed a prarie woolf which together with the ballance of our horse beef and some crawfish which we obtained in the creek enabled us to make one more hearty meal, not knowing where the next was to be found. ... I find myself growing weak for the want of food and most of the men complain of a similar deficiency, and have fallen off very much.

September 22, 1805

the pleasure I now felt in having tryumphed over the rockey Mountains and decending once more to a level and fertile country where there was every rational hope of finding a comfortable subsistence for myself and party can be more readily conceived than expressed, nor was the flattering prospect of the final success of the expedition less pleasing.

Source | University of Nebraska, The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, September 9-22, 1805,
Creator | Meriwether Lewis
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Meriwether Lewis, “Meriwether Lewis Describes Crossing the Rocky Mountains,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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