Iowa History Project
MAKING OF IOWA
HOW LEWIS AND CLARKE FARED
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
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
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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