Iowa History Project








While Lieutenant Pike was talking with the Indians, locating imaginary forts, and taking notes along the Mississippi on the eastern boundary of what is now Iowa, Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clarke - or Captain Clarke we may call him - were far up the Missouri.  They had passed Iowa, and were in a region wilder than any seen by :lieutenant Pike on the Upper Mississippi.

The two officers had been instructed by Congress and by President Jefferson to ascend the Missouri to its source, if possible, and if they could reach the Pacific Ocean they might return by way of Cape Horn.  They had under them twenty-seven men.  Not all were soldiers, for this was not a military expedition, like Pike's.  There were some soldiers, and the other were trappers, hunters, scouts, interpreters and men of habits peculiarly suited for service on such a trip.

Two horses were taken.  They were led or ridden along the banks, and when the hunters obtained game these horses were useful as pack animals.  Hunters were sent out each day, if practicable, to forage for provision.

One large keel boat and two smaller boats termed pirogues were employed to transport the party up stream.  The members spent the winter of 1803-1804 in camp at Wood River, opposite the mouth of the Missouri, because Spanish officials, not having been notified of the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France, and from France to the United States, would not allow them to proceed within the interior.

But on May 14, 1804, the expedition was permitted to set forth.  Quite a fleet this must have been - three boats loaded with hardy soldiers and adventurers.  The soldiers were armed with the blunderbusses of the army, and the hunters and the other men had long rifles.  The army uniform - rather more splendid than that of to-day - and the buckskin and fur caps of the trapper rubbed side by side.

It took over two months to ascend as far as the southwest corner of what is to-day, Iowa.  On July 18 the keel boat and the two pirogues glided past what is now the state line, and were between Nebraska and Iowa.  The river was falling, and the water was so muddy that Captain Lewis states it caused boils to become epidemic among the members of the expedition.  Wild geese and deer were numberous, and sweet flag growing along the banks was gathered in quantities.

The current of the river was swift, the channel not deep, and the progress of the boars was slow.  It was hard work sailing, poling, rowing or hauling by ropes.

Captain Lewis in his narrative remarks about the extraordinary number of snakes - particularly rattle snakes - seen during the first part of the voyage.  The land and cliffs on either side of the river seemed swarming with venomous reptiles.

July 31, and the two days following, the expedition waited for Indians to send representatives, so that a council might be held.  Lewis and Clarke, like Pike, had been instructed to meet the Indians and explain matters to them.  While waiting a beaver was captured alive by one of the trappers, and brought to the camp.  Within a short time it was quite tame.  The two horses disappeared July 31.  It was thought they had been stolen by Indians.  A man also was missed and it was the opinion he had deserted.  August 2 delegates from the Otoes and the Missouris approached, and it was arranged a council should be held on the next morning.

The council occurred near the camp, in what is now Nebraska.  From the event arose the name Council Bluffs, applied to our Iowa city.  But eh council actually was held west of the Missouri, and some distance away from what now is Council Bluffs.  The Missouri River changes its channel so frequently, and the sandy soil enables it to shift its course so easily, that the country as seen by Lewis and Clarke in 1804 was somewhat different from the country of the same vicinity to-day.

Having talked with the Indians, the party started again, stopping for camps in Harrison County, passing Soldier River, the Little Sioux River, the Pelican's Island, where vast numbers of this bird were found.  One pelican was killed here whose pouch held five gallons of water.  Lewis says this island was two miles beyond the mouth of the Little Sioux.

Now the expedition camped for three nights in Monona County.  The last camp was at Booge Lake.  Then the boats crossed the line into Woodbury County, and camp was made near Crooked Lake.

Below here a few miles, in Nebraska, was a unique grave which was visited by the members of the expedition.  A noted Omaha chief, leader of a band of Omahas, whose village was in Iowa not far above the mouth of Floyd River, was buried on the top of a high hill.  He had said he wanted "to watch the traders."  Therefore, sitting upright, astride his favorite horse, he was interred here to oversee the surrounding country.  He had been such a terrible chief that the Indians were afraid of him even after he was dead.  His name was Blackbird.

The expedition was now nearing the mouth of the Big Sioux River.  Beyond that the land on the right would no longer be what is now Iowa.  But August 20, before reaching this point, Sergeant Charles Floyd died.  He was buried on the crest of a great bluff in Iowa, and over him was erected a cedar post, bearing his name, and the date.

The bluff was called Floyd Bluff.  A little below is Sergeant Bluff (Sergeant's Bluffs).  Both are name in rememberance of this soldier.  About a mile above the bluff, where the grave is, is Floyd River.  By 1839 the cedar post had fallen.  It was replaced, but in time this mark also disappeared.

August 21 the site of Sioux City was reached, and passing the mouth of the Big Sioux, or Calument River, the expedition exchanged Iowa for Dakota.


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