A Note from Cottonwood Corners

Fivemile Creek is located on the west side of the river just above the Lyman County line directly across from Bijou Hills.  This prominent landmark served countless river travelers as a reference point as they traveled up and down the Missouri River.

Bond’s Ferry was located at this point.  It was established in 1878 by E. M. Bond and operated for several years for the benefit of the Bijou settlement.

Early on Wednesday, September 12, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition woke to a cold and dark morning with a raging northwest wind.  They found themselves in a narrow channel between a sand bar and the west shore where the current was unusually swift.  Although they struggled all day to advance up the river, they were only able to progress four miles against the current and head wind.

The men waded in the water up to their necks.  It drizzled all day and it was far from being a happy occasion.

In his diary for that day, Sergeant Ordway wrote:  “The wind sifted since last night to the North.  Set off as usual and proceeded on Slowly.  The current swift and wind a head wind . . . we had Some difficulty owing to the river being Shallow.  the Boat wheeled Several times and creened on hir Side So that we were obledged to Spring out and hold hir from oversetting.  We hunted for the channel and were forced to turn back some distance and take another channel.”

They had passed a long range of black bluffs on the south side of the river.  The country was all hills and prairie with few trees where they discovered a large prairie dog town.

That evening they camped in Brule County a short distance above the Lyman-Gregory County line.  One can only imagine the frustration and discouragement that they experienced that day.  Realizing that their journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back would require them to travel many miles, they were only able to advance four miles up the river that day.  The expedition when completed had traveled over eight thousand miles.

Thursday, September 13th was another cold drizzly day; however, they were able to travel twelve miles before camping that evening.  Captain Clark wrote in his diary:  “Musquitors verry bad, wors than I have Seen them.”  Later that same day he made another notation in his diary regarding those pesky mosquitos: “muskeetors verry troublesome.”

Sergeant Ordway and a small group camped in Lyman County that evening while the main party stayed on the opposite shore in Brule County.  Perhaps they thought that the mosquitos would not be as bothersome in Lyman County!

On Friday, September 14th, the drizzly weather continued and conditions were most disagreeable.  The river was wide and so shallow that they had to get out of their boats and drag them over the many sandbars.  Later, they would pass the source of those sandbars which was causing them so much trouble.

Captain Clark walked along the west shore looking for a volcano which was thought to be in the area.  Later, it was determined that the information which had been given to them earlier was the “burning bluff” in Gregory County which they had passed earlier.

While looking for the volcano, Clark saw and shot what he thought was a goat.  Because it was peculiar to the area, he took great pain in describing it fully and accurately.  What he described in his diary was the first scientific description of the pronghorn, often incorrectly called an antelope.  The first reference in the journals to the pronghorn was on September 3; however, it was described more fully on September 14.  That day they had traveled from Bon Homme to Running Water.  It was during this time that they were trying to locate Shannon who had gotten separated from the group on September 2.

They had advanced nine miles on the 14th and camped that evening below the mouth of Bull Creek.  It was here where Shannon spent a miserable week, starving on wild grapes.

On Saturday, September 15th, they passed the mouth of the White River and stopped to explore it.  The captains went up the river a short distance and found it interesting.  They decided to send two of their party up the river to make and record their observations.  Gass and Fields went up the river eight miles and camped for the night.

The White River rises in northwestern Nebraska, near Crawford, and enters South Dakota near the southwest corner of Shannon County, running northeast through Shannon and Washington counties.  It then turns due east to the Missouri.  It traverses the Bad Lands and takes its name from the milky color of the water due to the white volcanic ash carried from the Bad Land region.

It is this ash and sediment which created many of the sandbars above Landing Creek.  Photographs from outer space reveal a sharp contrast in the color of the water in the Missouri and White rivers.  The color of the Missouri River below that point closely resembles the color of the White River before it empties into the Missouri.

The Badlands extends along both sides of the White River for miles.  The main portion being confined within about thirty townships.  The origin of this area is a matter of interesting speculation.  In the picturesque language of Dr. O’Hara, the “Badlands are the last piece of cake on the platter, doomed to be eaten up by the voracious appetite of time.”




Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on August 18, 2021

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