Thursday, July 11, 2013

Road to the Buffalo

On July 7, 1806, Meriwether Lewis and nine members of the Corps of Discovery ascended to the Continental Divide on their journey east from the Pacific Ocean...

On the afternoon of July 6, 2013, my party and I followed in their footsteps.

Splitting up the Corp

 "Traveling east from their winter on the Pacific Ocean, co-commanders William Clark and Meriwether Lewis stopped near present day Lolo, Montana... the two captains divided the Corps of Discovery into two groups, hoping to explore more country before returning to the United States."

Following the Road to the Buffalo

"On July 3, 1806, Lewis and his party of nine men set out for the Missouri River. Unsure of the best route across the mountains, Lewis consulted with his Nez Perce guides, who told him about the Road to the Buffalo. This ancient trail, they said, would lead the Corp quickly across the Continental Divide to the Missouri River." 

"On July 6, 1806, Lewis and his men traveled swiftly east along the Blackfoot River... The road was easy to find. The Corps members merely followed the deep ruts made by generations of Indian hunters and their travois."

Coming behind them some two hundred years later, I did the same.

"the road which they [the Nez Perce] shewed me... would lead up the East branch of Clark's river and a river called Cokahlarishkit or the river of the road to the buffalo and thence to... the falls of the Missouri where we wished to go. they alleged that as the road was a well beaten track we could not now miss our way." 

~ Meriwether Lewis, July 3, 1806

During our hike, I thought a lot about those men who journeyed so far, long ago. One in particular was on my mind, George Drouillard, the half-Shawnee hunter and guide who helped the Captains communicate with the Native Nations they encountered, and often kept them from starving as well by his hunting skill. I'd read a fictional account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from Drouillard's point of view (SIGN TALKER by James Alexander Thom), so it's no surprise this story-loving history geek was pretty well stoked to be walking in the footsteps of this man, seeing what he saw, feeling the pressing down heat of the July sun on my head and shoulders as surely he felt it. Drinking in the views. Wondering if the next clump of brush along the rutted Buffalo Road concealed a napping grizzly bear (it didn't, thankfully).

The elevation at the top of the pass is 6000 ft. I was definitely feeling both the heat and the thin air on this hike, but the views were well worth it.

Enjoying the view from not quite the top. Photo by Jim Benton.

fueling up before the attempt

I'm a great fan of William Clark but he didn't pass this way. George Drouillard did.

Gracie and Argus, taking a water break.

The top of the pass, view to the eastern Rocky Mountain Front

Upon reaching the top of Lewis & Clark Pass on July 7, Lewis exultantly wrote that they were "passing the dividing ridge between the waters of the Columbia and Missouri Rivers."

Your turn. Have you walked in the footsteps of a historical person you admire? Tell me about it in the comments!


  1. I love places that connect me to history, so I can understand what this experience must have meant to you. I had a similar feeling at Gettysburg and Appomattox, at the Alamo, and in the library of James Madison where he researched history as he drafted our Constitution. In a different sense, I felt the weight of history at the Coliseum in Rome.

    1. There are places that resonate with history. Those you mentioned certainly do. I've been to Jerusalem, Masada, various places in Israel, but never to Rome.

  2. I got to go on a trip to Europe with my mom and the most surreal thing was to stand in the amphitheatre in Ephesus, on or near the spot where Paul stood and preached. I cannot believe I was there!! Then I climbed the steps and found a spot in the higher seats and wondered who sat there over the centuries.
    It was a powerful moment.

    1. I have a great affection and appreciation for Paul. I can only imagine how you felt in that moment!

  3. It's been over ten years since I was in Montana. Seeing this pictures just makes me want to breathe deeply!