On April 7, 1805, the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan, where they had spent the winter, and headed west. They had with them the best maps available. On all of them the land which Lewis and Clark were headed toward was indicated by a massive, blank space and the word, “Unknown.” From that moment forward every river and stream they explored, every tortuous trail they traveled, every bend in the path, was new. They had no idea of what was to come, or what to expect.
After months of exhausting travel, moments when the pain was near unbearable, and with the needed cooperation of the crew members they made it to the Pacific Ocean. They left Fort Clatsop near the Pacific Ocean on March 24, 1806, and started back to St. Louis.
It was on their way back that Lewis was accidentally shot while hunting for elk on August 11 in western North Dakota. The bullet entered his left hip about an inch below the hip joint. It missed the bone and passed through the back part of his right thigh. He was dressed in a brown leather outfit and it is believed that he was shot by mistake for an elk.
Sergeant Gass helped him take off his clothes and Lewis dressed the wound himself as best he could. The wound bled considerably but it was fortunate that no bone or artery had been hit. He had a high fever and was very uncomfortable during the night.
On the 12th they were able to overtake Clark who had earlier arrived back at the Missouri River below the mouth of the Yellowstone. Lewis told Clark that he had been shot and that he would be well in twenty to thirty days.
The “Corps of Discovery” left South Dakota on October 14, 1804. They returned on August 21, 1806, and camped near the state line. On their journey they had suffered countless hardships. For the first time they carried the flag of the United States of America across the plains and Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Now they were coming home where they would be welcomed and honored for what they had accomplished. The written record of their travels and the specimens which were sent back to Washington proved to be invaluable. Their travels provided Jefferson, politicians, and all the citizens with a better understanding of this great country.
With the current of the river pushing them toward home, they were often able to cover forty to fifty or more miles a day. They often did not even stop to hunt in order to get back to St. Louis sooner.
They arrived in Lyman County on August 27th and camped on an island at the lower end of Big Bend. Lewis took a walk that evening and later had a bad nights rest.
On the 28th they passed the White River and halted below Bull Creek. Several waded up the White River a few miles and on return told Clark “. . . that they found it two feet deep and two hundred yards wide. At this time the water was nearly as white as milk.”
Clark climbed the highest bluff to view the surrounding plains. He wrote: “I had a view of the greatest number of buffalo that I had ever seen. I must have seen near 20,000 of them feeding on the plain.”
On the morning of the 30th Clark observed several men on horseback on the Bijou Hills.
It was not long before about two hundred Teton Sioux gathered on the shore. Clark and three Frenchmen in a canoe went to a sand bar near the east shore so they could be heard across the channel. These were the same Teton Sioux who attempted to rob and detain them near Ft. Pierre in 1804.
Several Sioux swam out to the canoe. One could understand Pawnee and the interpreter with Clark was very good with the language. Clark would later that day write in his diary: “I told this man to inform his nation that we had not forgot their treatment as we passed up this river and that they had treated all the white people who had visited them very badly.”
They continued down the river about six miles and camped on a large sand bar near “Hot Springs Island” between Gregory and Charles Mix counties. Two sentinels were placed on guard duty for protection that night. On their return to St. Louis in 1806 it was their only camp in Gregory County.
Early the next morning they were all wet and disagreeable. During the night the wind had shifted to the NW and it rained with hard claps of thunder and much lightning. The strong wind was so violent that they had difficulty keeping their canoes and Perogue from being blown away from camp. At four that afternoon they passed “The Tower” just south of the Nebraska state line. They had traveled seventy miles on the 31st.
At 11:00 AM on September 4, 1806, they left South Dakota. On September 20th in Missouri they saw a cow on shore and gave a thunderous cheer. They were finally returning to the settlements.
They, with their Newfoundland dog which Lewis purchased for $20 in Philadelphia in 1803 reached St. Louis on Tuesday, September 23, 1806. Many thought that they had all died somewhere in the vast wilderness.
They were heroes and all were treated as such. Even Lewis’ dog “Seaman.”
Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on September 18, 2019