"By Jove! Not a bit bad, Jess, come to think of it. But look at your Journal. You'll find that at precisely the first time they needed to ask her something they could not! The girl was very sick, from here to above the Great Falls. They thought she was going to die, and it's a wonder she didn't, when you read what all they gave her by way of medicines. She was out of her head part of the time. They never asked her a thing on the choice of these rivers!
"Well now, what did they do? They spent more than a week deciding, and it was time well spent. They sent out small parties up each fork a little way, and the men all thought the Marias, or right-hand fork, was the true Missouri. Then Clark was sent up the south fork, which was clearer than the other. He went thirty-five miles. If he had gone twenty miles farther, he'd have been at the Great Falls; and the Minnetaree Indians had told of those falls, and of an eagle's nest there, though they said nothing about the river to the north. Chaboneau had never been here. His wife was nearly dead. No one could help.
"Lewis took a few men and went up the Marias for about sixty miles. They came back down the Marias, and decided on the left-hand fork, against the judgment of every man but Clark.
"His reasoning is good. The men all pointed out that the right-hand fork was roily, boiling, and rolling, exactly like the Missouri up which they had come, whereas the other fork was clear. But Lewis said that this showed that the Marias ran through plains country and did not lead close to the Rockies, from which the water would run clearer; and they did not want to skirt the mountains northerly, but to cross them, going west.
"Lewis had an old English map, made by a man named Arrowsmith, based on reports of a Hudson's Bay trader named Fidler, who had gone a little south of the Saskatchewan and made some observations. Now look at your Journal, and see what Lewis thought of Mr. Fidler.
"The latter marked a detached peak at forty-five degrees latitude. Yet Lewis—who all this time has been setting down his own latitude and longitude from his frequent observations—makes the Marias as forty-seven degrees, twenty-four minutes, twelve and eight-tenths seconds. He says:
"'The river must therefore turn much to the south between this and the rocky mountain to have permitted Mr. Fidler to have passed along the eastern border of these mountains as far south as nearly 45 deg. without even seeing it.... Capt. Clark says its course is S. 29 W. and it still appeared to bear considerably to the W. of South.... I think therefore that we shall find that the Missouri enters the rocky mountains to the North of 45 deg. We did take the liberty of placing his discoveries or at least the Southern extremity of them about a degree farther North ... and I rather suspect that actual observations will take him at least one other degree further North. The general course of Marias river ... is 69 deg. W. 59'.'
"Lewis also figured that Fidler in his map showed only small streams coming in from the west, 'and the presumption is very strong that those little streams do not penetrate the Rocky Mountains to such distance as would afford rational grounds for a conjecture that they had their sources near any navigable branch of the Columbia.' He was right in that—and he says those little creeks may run into a river the Indians called the Medicine River. Now that is the Sun River, which does come in at the Falls, but which Lewis had never seen!
"Again, the Minnetaree Indians had told him, in their long map-making talks at the Mandan winter quarters, that the river near the Falls was clear, as he now saw this stream. The Minnetarees told him the Missouri River interlocked with the Columbia. And as he was now straight west of the Minnetarees, he figured that when they went hunting to the head of the Missouri, as they had, they couldn't have passed a river big as this south fork without mentioning it. And the Indians said that the Falls were a 'little south of the sunset' from the Mandans—and Lewis had his latitude to show he was still on that line and ought to hold to it.
"Lastly, he reasoned that so large a river must penetrate deeply into the Rockies—and that was what he wanted. He knew it could not rise in dry plains. So, relying on his Minnetarees and his horse sense, and not on Mr. Fidler, Lewis refused to go any farther north, because he could not figure out there a big river penetrating into the Rockies. He was absolutely right, as well as very shrewd and wise.
"Now, reasoning at first shot, the voyageurs would have gone up the Marias. Cruzatte especially, their best riverman, was certain the Marias was the true Missouri. They would then maybe have met the Blackfeet and would never have crossed the Rockies; which would have meant failure, if not death; whereas this cold-headed, careful young man, Meriwether Lewis, by a chain of exact reasoning on actual data, went against the judgment of the entire party and chose the left-hand fork, which we know is the true Missouri; and which we'll find hard enough to follow to its head, even to-day.
"Think over that, boys. Do you begin to see what a man must be, to be a leader? We have had plenty of Army men in Western exploration since then, plenty of engineers who could spell. But in all the records you'll not find one example of responsibility handled as quietly and decisively as that. You must remember the pressure he was under. It would have been so easy to take the united conviction of all these old, grizzled, experienced voyageurs and hunters.
"Well, if Clark and he argued over it, at least that is not known. But all the men took the decision of the two leaders without a whimper. I think the personnel of that party must have been extraordinary. And their leaders proved their judgment later.
"Now, with poor Sacagawea expected to die, and with all the responsibility on their shoulders, our captains acted as though they had no doubts. If they did have, Lewis solved it all when he ascended the Marias on his way home next year.
"Now the water was getting swift. They knew nothing of what was ahead, but their load was heavy. So now they hid their biggest boat in the willows on an island, at the mouth of the Marias, and dug a cache for a great deal of their outfit—axes, ammunition, casks of provisions, and much superfluous stuff. They dug this bottle shaped, as the old fur traders did, lined it with boughs and grass and hides, filled it in and put back the cap sod—all the dirt had been piled on skins, so as not to show. Stores would keep for years when buried carefully in this way.
"So now, lighter of load, but still game—with Cruzatte playing the fiddle for the men to dance of evenings—on June 12th they 'set out and proceeded on,' leaving this great and historical fork of the water road on the morning of June 12th, with Sacagawea so very sick that the captains took tender care of her all the trip, though they speak slightingly of Chaboneau, her husband, who seems to have been a bit of a mutt. One of the men has a felon on his hand; another with toothache has taken cold in his jaw; another has a tumor and another a fever. Three canoes came near being lost; and it rained. But they 'proceeded on,' and on that day they first saw the Rockies, full and fair! And three days later Lewis found the Great Falls, hearing the noise miles away, and seeing the great cloud of mist arising above the main fall.
"And then they found the eagle's nest on the cottonwood island, of which the Minnetarees had told them. And then Sacagawea got well, and gave the O.K. after her delirium had gone! And then every man, woman, and child in that party agreed that their leaders were safe to follow!
"It took them one month to get over that eighteen miles portage. That made five weeks they had lost here out of direct travel. But they never did lose courage, never did reason wrong, and never did go back one foot. Leadership, my boys! And both those captains, Lewis especially, had a dozen close calls for death, with bears, floods, rattlesnakes, gun-shot, and accidents of all kinds. Their poor men also were in bad case many a time, but they held through. No more floggings now, this side of Mandan—maybe both men and captains had learned something about discipline."
Their leader ceased for the time, and turned, hat in hand, to the ruined quadrangle of adobe, the remnants of old Fort Benton. The boys also for a moment remained silent. Jesse approached and touched the sleeve of his Uncle Dick.
"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," said he. "I can see how they all must have felt when they got here, where they could see out over the country once more. Do you suppose it was right here that they stood?"
John was ready with his copy of the Journal, which now the boys all began to prize more and more.
"Here it is," said he, "all set down in the finest story book I ever read in all my life. Captain Lewis and Captain Clark say they
"'stroled out to the top of the hights in the fork of these rivers, from whence we had an extensive and most inchanting view. The country in every direction about was one vast plain in which innumerable herds of Buffalow were seen attended by their shepperds the wolves; the solatary antalope which now had there young were distributed over its face, some herds of Elk were also seen; the verdure perfectly cloathed the ground, the wether was plesent and fair; to the South we saw a range of lofty mountains which we supposed to be a continuation of the Snow Mountains stretching themselves from S.E. to N.W. terminating abruptly about S.West from us, these were partially covered with snow; behind these Mountains and at a great distance a second and more lofty range of mountains appeared to strech across the country in the same direction with the others, reaching from West, to the N. of N.W.—where their snowy tops lost themselves beneath the horizon, the last range was perfectly covered with snow.'"
"Does it check up, boys?" Uncle Dick smiled. "I think it does, except that our old ruins are not right where they then stood on the Missouri. The river mouth is below here. There is a high tongue of land between the Teton River, just over there, where it runs close along the Missouri, two or three hundred yards away, but I hardly think that was where they stood.
"But though the works of man have changed many times, and themselves been changed by time, the works of God are here, as they were in June of 1805—except that the wild game is gone forever.
"Lewis or Clark could not dream that in 1812 a steamboat would go down the Ohio and the Mississippi; nor that some day a steamboat would land here, close to the Marias River.
"But after Lewis and Clark the fur traders poured up here. Then came the skin hunters and their Mackinaws, following the bull boats which took some voyageurs downstream. Then the river led the trails west, and the bull outfits followed the pack trains. So when the adventurers found gold at the head of the Missouri they had a lane well blazed, surely.
"Fort Benton was not by any means the first post to be located at or near this great point, the mouth of the Marias. In 1831 James Kipp, the father of my friend, Joe Kipp, put up a post here, but he did not try to hold it. The next year D. D. Mitchell built Fort McKenzie, about six miles above the Marias, on the left bank—quite a stiff fort, one hundred and twenty by one hundred and forty feet, stockaded—and this stuck till 1843. Then their continual troubles with the Blackfeet drove them out. Then there was Fort Lewis, in the neighborhood, somewhere, in 1845.
"Fort Benton was put up in 1850. And as the early stockades of Booneville and Harrodsburg and Nashville in Kentucky were on 'Dark and bloody ground,' so ought the place where we now are standing be called the dark and bloody ground of the Missouri River, for this indeed was a focus of trouble and danger, even before the river trade made Benton a tough town."
"Well, the glory of old Benton is gone!" said Rob, at last. "Just the same, I am glad we came here. So this is all there is left of it!"
"Yes, all there is left of the one remaining bastion, or corner tower. It was not built of timber, but of adobe, which lasted better and was as good a defense and better. Many a time the men of Benton have flocked down to meet the boat, wherever she was able to land; and many a wild time was here—for in steamboat days alcohol was a large part of every cargo. The last of the robes were traded for in alcohol, very largely. And by 1883, after the rails had come below, the last of the hides were stripped from the last of the innumerable herds of buffalo that Lewis and Clark saw here, at the great fork of the road into the Rockies; and soon the last pelt was baled from the beaver. If you go to the Blackfeet now you find them a thinned and broken people, and the highest ambition of their best men is to dress up in modern beef-hide finery and play circus Indian around the park hotels.
"Well, this was their range, young excellencies, and this was the head of the disputed ground between the Crows, Nez Perces, Flatheads, and Shoshonis, all of whom knew good buffalo country when they saw it.
"And yet, what luck our first explorers had! They surely did have luck, for they had good guidance of the Minnetarees among the Mandans, and then, from the time they left the Mandans until the next fall, beyond the Three Forks of the Missouri, they never saw an Indian of any sort! At the Great Falls, a great hunting place, they found encampments not more than ten days or so old, but not a soul.
"Thus endeth the lesson for to-day! I'm sorry we haven't a camp to go to to-night instead of a hotel, but I promise to mend that matter for you in a day or so, if Billy Williams is up from Bozeman with his pack train, as I wired him. I said the fifteenth, and this is the thirteenth, so we've two days for the Falls. I wish we didn't know where they were! I wish I didn't know the Marias isn't the Missouri. I wish—well, at least I can wish that old Fort Benton was here and the whistle of the steamboat was blowing around the bend!"
"Don't, sir!" said Rob. "Please don't!"
"No," said John. "To-day is to-day."
"All the same," said Jesse, "all the same——"
AT THE GREAT FALLS
"The only thing," said Jesse, as the three young companions later stood together on the bank of the river, looking out; "the only thing is——"
He did not finish his sentence, but stood, his hands thrust into the side pockets of his jacket, his face not wholly happy.
"Yes, Jesse; but what is the only thing?" John smiled, and Rob, tall and neat in his Scout uniform, also smiled as he turned to the youngest of their party. They were alone, Uncle Dick having gone to town to see about the pack train. They had walked up from their camp below the flourishing city of Great Falls.
"Well, it's all right, I suppose," replied Jesse. "I suppose they have to have cities, of course. I suppose they have to have those big smelters over there and all those other things. Maybe it's not the same. The buffalo are not here, nor the elk—though the Journal says hundreds of buffalo were washed over the falls and drowned, right along. Then, the bears are not here any more, though it was right here that they were worst; they had to fight them all the time, and the only wonder was that no one was killed, for those bears were bad, believe me——"
"Sure, they must have been," assented John. "There were so many dead buffalo, below the falls, where they washed ashore, that the grizzlies came in flocks, and didn't want to be disturbed or driven away from their grub. And these were the first boats that ever had come up that river, the first white men. So they jumped them. Why, over yonder above the falls were the White Bear Islands; so many bears on them, they kept the camp so scared up all the time, they had to make up a boat party and go over and hunt them off. They used to swim this river like it was a pond, those bears! They kept the party on the alert all day and all night. They had a dozen big fights with them."
"Humph!" Jesse waved an arm to the broad expanse of flat water above the great dam of the power company. "Is that so? Well, that's what I mean. Where's the big tree with the black eagle's nest? How do we know this is the big portage of the Missouri at all? No islands, no eagle. Yet you know very well it was the sight of that eagle's nest that made Lewis and Clark know for sure that they were on the right river. The Indians didn't say anything about the Marias River being there at all; they never mentioned that to either Clark or Lewis when they made their maps in the winter with the Mandans. But they did mention that eagle nest on the island at the big falls—they thought everybody would notice that—and when you come to think of it, that did nail the thing to the map—no getting around the nest on the island at the falls.
"Oh, I suppose this town's all right, way towns go. Only thing is, they ought not to have spoiled the island and the eagle nest with their old dam. How do we know this is the place?"
"Well, we'll have to chance that, Jess," said Rob. "Quite a drop here, anyhow, all these cascades. If we'd brought the Adventurer all the way up the river from Mandan, and got to the head of the rapids, I guess we'd think it was the place to portage."
"Yes; and where'd we get any cottonwood tree around here, to cut off wheels for our boat wagon?" demanded John. "Eighteen miles and more, it was, that they portaged, after they'd dug their second big cache and hid their stuff and covered up the white perogue at the head of their perogue navigation (they'd left the big red perogue at the Marias).
"And it took them a solid month to do that eighteen miles. The little old portage right here was the solidest jolt they'd had, all the way up the river to here—two thousand five hundred and ninety-three miles they called it, to the mouth of the Medicine River; which means the Sun River, that comes in just above the falls. Portage? Well, I'll call it some portage, even for us, if we had to make it!"
"Huh! Dray her out and put her on bicycle wheels and hitch her to a flivver and haul her around—two or three whole hours! Mighty risky and adventurous, isn't it? I want my bears! Especially I want my eagle! I've been counting on that old black eagle, all the way up, cordelling from the mouth of the Yellowstone."
"Well," resumed Rob, "at least they've named the Black Eagle Falls here after him. They've honored him with a dam and a bridge and a power house and a smelter and a few such things. And if we'd got here a little earlier—any time up to 1866 or 1872, or even later, maybe, we'd have seen Mr. Eagle, and he'd have shown us that this was his place."
"I know it!" broke in John. "You didn't get that from the Journal. That's another book, later."
[Footnote 2: Trail of Lewis and Clark, Olin D. Wheeler, 1904.]
"Well, it said that Captain Reynolds of the army saw that eagle nest on the cottonwood tree on the island in 1866, and he thought it like enough was Lewis's eagle. And then in 1872 T. P. Roberts, in his survey, was just below those falls, and a big eagle sailed out from its nest in the old broken cottonwood, on the island below the falls, and it tackled him! He says it came and lit on the ground near him and showed fight. Then it flew around, not ten feet away, and dropped its claws almost in his face. He was going to shoot it. One of his men did shoot at it. Well, I suppose some fellow did shoot it, not long after that. I'd not like to have the thought on my mind that I'd been the man to kill the Meriwether Lewis black eagle." Rob spoke seriously, and added:
"Yet in Alaska the government pays a fifty-cent bounty on eagle heads, and they killed six thousand in one year—maybe several times that, in all, for all I know—because the eagles eat salmon! Well, that didn't save the salmon. The Fraser River, even, isn't a salmon river any more; and you know how our canneries have dropped."
"Poor old eagle!" said Jesse. "Well, for one, I refuse to believe that this is the Big Portage. Nothing to identify it."
"Not much," admitted Rob. "Not very much now. The falls that Roberts named the Black Eagle Falls are wiped out by the dam. The island is gone, the cottonwood is gone, the eagle and his mate are gone. That's the uppermost fall of the five. It's inside the city limits, where we are now."
"She was just twenty-six feet five inches of a drop," said the exact John. "Clark measured them all, the whole five of them, with the spirit level. They call the little fellow, only six feet seven inches, the Colter Falls, after John Colter, one of the expedition—only Lewis and Clark didn't name it at all, for Colter hadn't become famous then as the discoverer of the Yellowstone.
"Lewis liked the big Rainbow Fall about the best of the lot—it was so clean cut, all the way across the river. He named that one, and it stuck. He named the Crooked Falls, too, and that stuck. It must have been natural for somebody to name the Great Falls, because the drop there is eighty-seven feet and three-fourths of an inch, as Clark made it with his little old hand level. But they didn't name the big fall, though they did the Crooked, which is only nineteen feet high."
"Lewis saw the rainbow below this fall," said Jesse. "Of course, that's why he named it. We could go down the stair easily and see it, if we wanted to. If it's the same rainbow, and if it's still there, the only reason is they couldn't melt up the rainbow and sell it, somehow. I don't want to see it. I don't care about all the smelters. I want my old cottonwood tree and my island and my eagle!
"I wonder who killed the eagle!" he went on. "Probably he threw it in the river and let it float over the falls. Maybe some section hand stuck a feather of that eagle in his hat and called it macaroni! For me, I'm never going to shoot at an eagle again, not in all my life."
"Nor am I," nodded Rob, gravely.
"Neither shall I," John also agreed.
"Well, at least the rainbow is left," said Rob, at length, "and the Big Spring that Clark found is still doing business at the edge of the river below the smelter above the Colter Fall—cold as it was one hundred and sixteen years ago, and more than a hundred yards across. Nature certainly does things on a big scale here. What a sight all this must have been to those explorers who were the first to see it!
"But, so far as that goes, talking of changes, I don't think the general look and feel of this portage has changed as much as lots of the flat country away down the river—Floyd's Bluff, or the Mandan villages, lots of places where the river cut in. Here the banks are hard and rocky. They can't have altered much. It was a hard enough scramble over the side ravines, when we were coming up from camp, wasn't it, even if we didn't have dugout canoes on cottonwood solid wheels and willow axles—breaking down all the time?"
"But, Rob, a month—a whole month!" said John. "That must have made them worry a good deal, because now it was the middle of summer, and they didn't know where they were going or how they would get across."
"They did worry, more than they had till then. Now, I think they must have had quite a lot of stuff along, all the time. They had whisky, for instance—they drank the last of it right here at the Great Falls, and Uncle Dick says that was the first time Montana went dry! They had a grindstone. And they had an iron boat—or the iron frame of a boat—brought it all the way from Harper's Ferry, in Virginia, where Lewis had it made.
"That boat was the only bad play they made. She was Lewis's pet. I don't know why they never set her up before, but, anyhow, they did, at the head of the falls here. She had iron rods for gunwales, and they spliced willows to stiffen her. She was thirty-six feet long, and four and one-half feet beam, a couple of feet deep, and would carry all their cargo, while a few men could carry her. You see, Lewis had the skin-boat coracle in mind before he left Washington.
"Well, Lewis wanted elk-hides for his boat, and the elk were scarce; he had his men out everywhere after elk-hides. He got twenty-eight hides, and took off the hair, and that wasn't enough; so he took four buffalo-hides to piece her out. And then she wouldn't do! No. Failure; the first and only failure of a Lewis and Clark outdoor idea.
"Well, Lewis was fair enough, though it mortified him to lose days and days on his pet boat. They sewed the skins with edged awls, and that cut the holes rather big, so when the hides dried and shrunk, the threads didn't fill the holes any more. He had no tar to pay the seams with, or he'd have been all right. They tried tallow and ashes, but it wouldn't work. For a few minutes she sat high and light; then the filling soaked out. Poor Lewis!—he had to give it up. So they buried her, somewhere opposite the White Bear Islands, I suppose, where they had their camp."
"Yes, and then Clark had to go and hustle cottonwood for some more dugouts, and cottonwood was a long, long way off," contributed John. "Oh, they had their troubles. Hah! We complained, coming up Portage Creek, and over the heads of the draws, trying to find their old portage trail. What if we'd been in moccasins? What if we'd been packing a hundred pounds or dragging at a hide wagon rope? And what if the buffalo had cut up the ground in rainy times, so it dried in little pointed lumps like so many nails—how'd that go in moccasins? Well, they had to lie down and rest, it was so awfully hard on them. But they never a one flickered, leader or enlisted men, and they put her through!"
"It was a whole month?" queried Jesse.
"Yes," John informed him, referring to the Journal once again. "It was June 14th when Shields came back downstream from Lewis, and told Clark's boat party that they had found the falls, and it was July 15th when they got their new canoes done and started off up the river."
"And I'll bet they were fussed up about things," said Jesse. "Must have been scared."
"No, I don't think they were," said Rob. "Well, anyhow, in one month they had surveyed and staked out their portage trail around the big falls, had cached their heavy stores, had built new boats, had killed all the meat they could use, and had proceeded on. They now knew that they were almost to the western edge of the buffalo. On west, as I expect Sacagawea also told them, they might have to come to horse meat and salmon. That didn't stop our fellows. They proceeded on."
"Time they did!" said Jesse.
"Yes. They had been away from St. Louis just a year and two months, when they left the Falls, here. Let's have a look at the map."
They sat down, here on the bank of the great river, on the edge of the great modern town, in sight of many smelter smokes, and bent over the old maps that William Clark had made with such marvelous exactness more than a hundred years ago.
"She seems to go in long sweeps, the old Missouri," said John, pointing with his finger.
"First we went almost west, to Kansas City, Missouri. Then almost north, to Sioux City, Iowa. Then northwest to Pierre, South Dakota, and then north to Bismarck, North Dakota. Then she runs strong northwest to the Yellowstone, and then straight west to here. From here she takes one more big angle, and runs almost south to the Three Forks."
"Look it!" pointed Jesse. "She starts below Forty, at St. Louis, and goes north almost to Forty-nine, and then she drops down again to Forty-five at the Three Forks. And Lewis had observations on latitude and longitude right along. Wonder what he thought!"
"He did a great deal of thinking," said Rob. "He had the conviction that so great a river must run deep into the Rockies—he insisted on that. Then he had the Indians at Mandan to give him some local maps. And he had Sacagawea, worth more than them all for local advice in a tight place where no one else had been ahead. It's wonderful, if you study it, to see how he made all those things work together, and how he used his brains and his reason all the way across. Even about his pet portable boat, he didn't sit down and cry. He did the next thing."
"And proceeded on!"
"And proceeded on, yes."
"Well," concluded Jesse, "even if my eagle and my island are gone, I suppose I'll have to admit that this place is the real portage. They saw the Rockies right along now. They threw those canoes into the high, too!"
"Tracking and poling, pretty soon now, and a fine daily average," nodded Rob. "And now I don't suppose that we need just feel that we've funked anything by not sticking to our boat all the time, and taking a pack train here; because Clark or Lewis, or both of them, and a good many of the men, walked a lot of the time from here, hunting and scouting and figuring on ahead."
"That's so!" said Jesse. "Where were their horses all the time?"
"None above the Mandans," said Rob; "maybe not that far. They started with two, and picked up one, and one died—that's the record up to the Sioux. But beyond the Mandans they hoofed it, or poled and paddled and pulled. They couldn't sail the canoes—they gave that up. And now both their perogues were left behind. So when they left the old eagle on his broken tree, and the savage white bears all along here, and the rattlesnakes and everything else that tried to stop them here, they drew their belts in and threw her in the high—that's right, Jess."
"And speaking of the portage," he continued, "Uncle Dick told me to get a wagon and follow down as close as we could to our camp and get our stuff all up to a place above the White Bear Islands, and go into camp there until he came in with Billy Williams and the pack horses, from his ranch on the Gallatin, near the Forks. So that's a day's work, even with a flivver—which I think we'll use part way. Time we set out and proceeded on, fellows."
They turned away from the Great Falls of the ancient river, in part with a feeling of sadness. Jesse waved his hand toward the Black Eagle Falls.
"The only thing is——" said he.
The others knew Jesse was wishing for the wild days back again.
READY FOR THE RIVER HEAD
The young explorers, used as they were to outdoor life, had no difficulty in getting their outfit up a long coulee to the level of the prairie, where a small car quickly carried them into and beyond the city to a point where another gradual descent led down to the point usually believed to be that where the "White Bear" camp of Lewis and Clark was pitched above the falls. Here the great river was wide and more quiet, as though making ready for its great plunges below. Not far from the railway tracks they put up their temporary camp, as the pack horses had not yet arrived.
"The reader will suppose one hundred years to have elapsed!" said Jesse, sarcastically. "All right; but I want something besides fried eggs and marmalade."
"Easy now, Jess," rejoined his older friend. "Leave that to Uncle Dick. He told me he was going to get us some sport within ten days from here—fishing, I mean—trout, and even grayling. Of course, at this season there'd be nothing to shoot. Lewis and Clark killed all sorts of game at all sorts of seasons, but they had to do that to live. They had thirty-two people in their party, all working hard and eating plenty. They would eat a whole buffalo every day, or a couple of elk, so somebody had to be busy. It would have taken a lot of fried eggs and marmalade to put them up and over those rapids. But as you say, we've got to suppose a hundred years to have elapsed, so we don't kill a buffalo every day."
"I could eat half of one, any day!" said John. "I get awfully hungry, just from fighting the mosquitoes."
"I'll bet they were bad enough. The old Journal says more about mosquitoes than any other hardship. Even Gass in his journal tells how bad they were here at the Great Falls—I think they feared them more than they did the white bears or the rattlesnakes; and they had plenty of them all. In one day Lewis was chased into the river by a grizzly, charged by three buffalo bulls, and nearly bitten by a rattler!"
"Must have been a busy day!" said John.
"Well, I expect every day was busy for them. For instance, when they got to this camp for the upper headquarters, they had to build two more canoes, ten miles above here. That made eight in all for the thirty-two people, or four to a canoe. I don't think they ever carried that many with their cargo; and they had quite a lot of cargo, even then. They were eating pork on the Continental Divide—their last pork!"
"No," said Jesse, "they never did all ride at once. First one captain went ahead on foot, then the other. You see, they got into mountain water pretty soon now. They used the tow line a great deal, or poled the boats rather than paddled. Comes to getting a heavily loaded boat up a heavy river, you've got to put on the power, I'm telling you."
"Yes, sir," nodded Rob. "They knew they had to travel now. About all they had to go on was the girl Sacagawea's word that pretty soon they'd come to her people.
"So they set out from here on July 15th, the very day that we will, if we get off to-morrow; only it took them one year more to get here than it did us. And two men were in each canoe—not enough to drive her, they found. And Lewis and the girl walked on this side the river, and after a while Clark walked on the other side—all on foot, of course. He had Fields and Potts and his servant York with him—all alone in the Indian country, of which not one of them knew a foot.
"And now," went on Rob, "they were once more against that same old very risky proposition of a divided party, part in boats and part on shore. I tell you, and we ought to know it, from our own experiences up North, that that's the easiest way to get into trouble that any wilderness travelers could think up. They simply had marvelous luck. For instance, after Clark left them above here, on July 18th, he never saw them oftener than once a day again until July 22d, and that was away up at the head of the big Canyon.
"To the Three Forks was two hundred and fifty-two and one-half miles, as Clark called it, though engineers now say it is only two hundred and ten miles. He walked clean around the big Canyon of the Missouri at the Gate of the Mountains—below Helena, that is—and never saw it at all! Now if you say he walked the whole ten days from the head of the falls to the Forks, and say it was only two hundred and ten miles and not over two hundred and fifty, that's over twenty miles a day, on foot, in the mountains, under pack and a heavy rifle, in moccasins, and over prickly-pear country that got their feet full of thorns. Clark pulled out seventeen spines, broken off in his feet, one day when he stopped.
"Now that takes good men to do that. Not many sportsmen of to-day could do it, I know that. And yet, after four days' absence spent in this wild country where they were the first white men, they met again at the head of the Canyon below the Forks, just as easy and as natural as if they had telephoned to each other every day! I call that exploring! I call those chaps great men!"
"Reader will suppose one hundred years to have elapsed," drawled Jesse, again. "I'd telephone Uncle Dick now, if I knew where he was."
"Leave him alone," said John. "I give him till to-morrow. It was only a week ago he got word through to Billy Williams, in the Three Forks Valley, to come on with his horses."
"Well," said Jesse, "if I'm not to have half a buffalo to-night, and if Cruzatte, the bow man, isn't here to play a jig for us, I'll see what I can do about some fried eggs and marmalade."
"And I'll like to get a leg over leather once more," said John. "I'm looking for horses now, same as Lewis and Clark did along in here for a few weeks."
The young travelers did not have so long to wait as they had feared. That very night, as they sat about their fire on their bed rolls, talking of their many trips together, they heard in the darkness not far away the tremulous note of a screech owl, repeated again a moment later. Jesse stopped talking, turning his head. Rob laughed: "That's Uncle Dick now!" he said, in a low tone; and answered with an owl call just like the one they had heard. They heard a laugh in the dark, and from behind the tent stepped Uncle Dick.
"How!" said he.
"How!" said each of the boys gravely. Rob made the Indian sign of "sit down"—his fist struck down on the robe that was spread by the little fire.
Their companion sat down, not saying a word. Pretty soon he began to talk in "sign talk," the boys all watching closely.
"Me. Gone. Two sleeps. I come here, now, me. Sun comes up. We go. We. Cross water. Horse—four. Ah! Two——"
Uncle Dick broke out laughing. John shook his fingers, loosely, to say, "What's that?"
"That's what I don't know!" Uncle Dick said, laughing again. "I don't know what the sign is for 'mule.' It isn't elk, or deer, or wolf, or buffalo. Oh, of course, split fingers over another finger—that means 'Ride horse.' But that does not mean 'mule'! And if I put on ears, how'd you know I didn't mean 'deer with-big-ears,' or 'mule deer,' and not 'mule'? The Indians had mule deer, but they didn't have mules!"
"Yes, they did!" said Jesse. "The Journal says they bought one mule of the Shoshonis, away west of here!"
"Does it? I'd forgotten. Well, I'd like to know where those people got that mule out here, in 1805! I'd have been no more surprised to see a mastodon really walking around out here. Of course, you know that President Jefferson wrote Lewis not to be surprised if he did see the mastodon still living in this unknown country. You see, all of them knew about the mastodon bones found in the Big Lick, Kentucky. They didn't know a thing about this new world we'd just bought of Napoleon, mastodons, mules, and all.
"Well, anyhow, Billy Williams has his camp five or six miles from here, across, and he has four saddle broncs and two perfectly good mules for the packs—one plumb black and one plumb white—both ex-army mules and I suppose fifty years or so old. I think old Sleepy, the white one, is the wisest animal I ever saw on four legs—I've been out with Sleepy before, and with Billy, too. Good outfit, boys—small, no frills, all we need and nothing we don't.
"I've left our outboard motors here in town with a friend. Most wish we hadn't brought them around. But we'll see how much time we have when we get done projecting around at the head of the river.
"I can promise you some knotty problems up in there. To me, what's ahead of us in the next two weeks was the most exciting part of the whole Lewis and Clark trip across."
"But, Uncle Dick, you promised us some sport—fishing, I mean—trout and grayling."
"Jesse," said his uncle, "yes, I did. And being a good Indian myself, I'm going to keep my word to the paleface. We'll take a week off with Billy's flivver, if Billy's mules connect with the flivver; and I'll promise you, even now, hard hit as every trout water is all through here, the finest trout fishing—and the only grayling fishing—there is left in all America. How does that strike you?"
"Good! Where's it going to be?" demanded Jesse.
"Never you mind. That's a secret just yet. Billy knows."
"And we don't have to suppose a hundred years have elapsed?"
"No! Now turn in, fellows, or Billy'll think we're lazy in the morning."
THE PACK TRAIN
Before sunup Rob had the camp fire going, while Jesse brought in water and wood and John bent over his cooking. Uncle Dick walked up the river to where he had landed his boat the evening previous, and dropped down closer to the camp. The day still was young when the tent was struck and everything packed aboard the boat, which presently landed them on the farther shore, ready for the next lap of their journey and the new transportation that was now in order.
They were met by their new companion, the young rancher, Billy Williams, who had struck his own camp and brought the animals down to meet them. They found him a quiet, pleasant-spoken young man of perhaps thirty, lean and hardy, dressed much like a farmer except that he wore a pair of well-worn, plain, calfskin chaps to protect his legs in riding—something in which the boys could not imitate him, for they were cut down to their Scout uniforms; which, however, did very well.
They shook hands all around, the young rancher quietly estimating his young charges, and they in turn making up their opinions regarding him, which, needless to say, were not unfavorable, for none were quicker than they to know a good outdoor man when they saw him.
"So this is old Sleepy?" said Jesse, going up to the sleek big white mule that stood with drooping head, the stalk of a thistle hanging out of a corner of his mouth. "He's fat and strong, isn't he? What makes him look so sad? And aren't you afraid he'll run away? He hasn't even a halter on him."
"No, he won't run away," replied Billy. "You couldn't drive him away from the packs. He always comes up every morning to be packed, and he always stands around like he was going to die—but he isn't. Sleepy'll live another hundred years, anyhow.
"I never hobble or tie or picket Sleepy at night; he sticks close to old Fox. That's my horse, the red one. You'd think Fox was going to die, too, but he isn't. He used to be a cow horse; and a mean one, too, they say; but all at once he reformed and since then he's led a Christian life, same as Sleepy.
"About that thistle. Sleepy is very fond of thistles—he'll stop the whole train to eat one. Usually he carries one hanging in his mouth, so's to eat it when he gets hungry. He's a wise one, that mule. I'll bet you, an hour before camp to-night you'll see him wake up and get frisky; all his tired look is just a bluff. And I'll bet you, too, you can't manage to ride ahead of Sleepy on the trail. He never will take the last place on the trail."
"Why, how's that?" said Jesse. "I should think he'd like to loaf behind, if he's so wise."
"No, Sleepy has got brains. He knows that if he gets a stone in his foot, or if his pack slips, a man is his best friend. So he just goes ahead where folks can see that he's comfortable. You can't ride ahead of him; he'll gallop on and won't let you pass him; so don't try.
"Nigger, that other mule, doesn't care—some one'll have to keep him moving. I usually carry a little rubber sling shot in my pocket, and when Nigger gets too lazy and begins to straggle off I turn around and peck him one with a pebble. Then you ought to see him get into his place and promise to be good!
"I've got quite a pack train, at home on the Gallatin, but your uncle said this was all I was to bring. Can we take all your stuff?"
Uncle Dick smiled at that and showed him the four rolls, neat and compact. "The robes make most of the bulk," said he.
"Yes. Well, I hope they can keep warm in July," said Billy.
"But we like 'em," said Jesse. "It's more like the old times."
"Yes. Well, I hope you've got some mosquito bar. We've still got a few old-time mosquitoes in the valley; but in a week or two now they'll all be gone."
"Trust these boys to have what they need, and no more," said Uncle Dick. "Now fall to and get on the loads while I take back my borrowed skiff."
Billy looked at the boys dubiously. "Well, I'll make it the 'lone packer' hitch," said he.
"Oh, they'll help you," said Uncle Dick. "They can throw almost any diamond, from the 'government' hitch down to the 'squaw' hitch. You see, we've lived up North a good deal, and learned to pack anything—man, dog, or mule."
"So? Well, all right." He turned to Rob. "Better take off side," he said; "the mules are more used to me for near side. I never blindfold them."
They began with Sleepy, and soon had two packs in the sling ropes, a third on top, with all ready to lash. Rob asked no questions, but went on, taking slack and cinching at the word. Billy laughed.
"Tried you on the old U. S. hitch," said he. "None better. Set?"
"Cinch!" Rob put his foot against Sleepy's far side and drew hard. In a jiffy the ropes flew into the tight diamond and Billy tied off. "She's a good one!" intoned Rob. Billy laughed again.
"I guess you've been there before," said he.
"How about you boys—can you all ride? My saddle stock's all quiet, far as I know, but——"
"I think we can get by," said Rob. "We're not fancy, but we can ride all day."
"Well, you try out the lengths of the stirrup leathers for yourselves, and I'll lace them for you. First let's get your loose stuff in the panniers on Nigger—I brought along one pair of kyacks, for it's easier to carry the cooking stuff and the loose grub that way than it is to make up packs in the mantas every day."
John, who was cook for that week, now began to open and rearrange his kitchen pack; and Rob was standing off side, ready to handle the lash rope, when all at once they heard a snort and the trampling of hoofs.
They turned, to see Jesse just manage to get his seat on one of the horses, which plunged away, his head down, bucking like a good fellow. For a moment or so Jesse hung on, but before anyone could mount and help him he was flung full length, and lay, his arms out, motionless. It all happened in a flash.
They ran to him. At once Rob dragged him up, sitting, in front of him, and dragged his shoulders back, pressing his own knee up and down the boy's spine. He saw that no bones were broken, and was using some revival methods he had learned on the football field.
"Ouch! Leggo!" said Jesse, after a little. "What's the matter?"
Rob let him up. He staggered around in a circle two or three times, dazed. "Gee!" said he, laughing at last. "Where'd I drop from?" Then they all laughed, very gladly, seeing he had only been stunned by the fall.
"All right, son?" asked Billy, coming to him anxiously. "I'm sorry! I didn't know——"
"My fault, sir," said Jesse, stoutly. "I admit it. I ought to have known more than to mount any Western horse from the right side and not the left. My fault. But, you see, I had the laces loose on the stirrup, so I just thought I'd climb up on the other side and try the length there."
"You're right—that's not safe," said Billy. "I never knew that cayuse to act bad before. Are you afraid of him now?"
"Naw!" said Jesse, scoffing. "Bring him over—only fasten that leg leather. I'll ride him."
"Better let me top him off first."
"No, sir! He's in my string and I'll ride him alone!"
Billy allowed him to try, since he saw that the horse was now over his fright, but he mounted his own horse first and rode alongside, after he had the stirrup fixed. To the surprise of all, the horse now was gentle as a lamb, and Jesse kicked him in the side to make him go.
"Horse is a funny thing," said Billy. "He ain't got any real brains, like a mule. He gets scared at anything he ain't used to, and he can't reason any. Now look at Sleepy!"
That animal did not even turn his head, but stood under his pack with eyes closed, taking no interest in their little matters.
They had all the saddles ready and the last rope cinched by the time Uncle Dick returned. He rebuked Jesse for a "tenderfoot play" when they told him what had happened, much annoyed. "I'm responsible for you," said he, "and while I'm willing you each should take all fair chances like a man, I'll not have any needless risks. Learn to do things right, in the field, and then do them that way always. You know better than to mount a horse on the off side. That's an Indian trick, but you're not an Indian and this isn't an Indian horse."
Jesse was much crestfallen for being thrown and then scolded for it.
"Is he hurt any?" asked Uncle Dick of Rob, aside.
Rob shook his head. "I don't think so. Just knocked the wind out of him. He was lying with his eyes wide open. He's all right."
"On our way!" exclaimed Uncle Dick. They all swung into saddle now, Billy leading, old Sleepy next to Fox, the place he always claimed; then Uncle Dick, Jesse, John, and Rob, Nigger coming last, poking along behind, his ears lopping. In a few moments they all were shaken into place in the train, and all went on as usual, the gait being a walk, only once in a while an easy trot.
"We set out and proceeded on under a gentle breeze," quoted John.
"Reader will suppose one hundred years to have elapsed," began Jesse, trying to be funny.
"Jess," said his uncle at that, "rather you'd not poke fun at the Journal, or at our trip. I want you to take it seriously and to feel it's worth while."
"I'm sorry, sir," said Jesse, presently, who was rather feeling disgraced that morning. "I won't, any more. I'm glad we've got horses."
"Now I want you to remember that when Captain Clark and his three men came in here, on foot, they found an old Indian road, marked plain by the lodge poles. They went up Little Prickly Pear Creek, over the ridge and down the Big Pear Creek.
"You see, Clark was hunting Indians. He wanted horses; because he could see, even if the Indian girl had not told him, that before long they must run their river to its head, and then, if they couldn't get horses, their expedition was over for keeps. They all were anxious now.
"Billy, all I have to say about the road is that we'll make long days; and we'll keep off the main motor roads all the way when we get toward Marysville and Helena, over east and south—no towns if we can help it. It's going to be hard to dodge them."
"Pretty hard to help it, that's no lie," said Billy. "This country's all settled now. They been running a steamer up and down the Canyon above the Gate of the Mountains. You folks going to take that trip? Want to see the big dam at the head, at the old ferry?"
Uncle Dick turned in his saddle, to see what the boys would say. John made bold to answer.
"Well, I don't know how the other fellows feel," said he. "Of course, we know the Gate is a wonderful spot, where the two ranges pinch in; and the five miles above, they all say, is one of the greatest canyons in America—river deep, banks a thousand, fifteen hundred feet——"
"Sure fine!" nodded Billy, who had dropped back alongside.
"Yes, but you see, we've been in all sorts of canyons and things, pretty much, first. Now, way it seems to me is, anybody can go, if it's a steamboat trip. And if there's dams, she isn't so wild any more. We'd rather put in our time wilder, I believe."
The others thought so, too. "Besides, we're following Clark now," said Rob, "and he never saw the Gate at all, famous as it got to be after Lewis described it. Lewis went wild over it."
"Let's sidestep everything and get up to the Forks," voted John. "I didn't know this river was so long. We've got to hustle."
"I've got another book," said Uncle Dick, slapping his coat pocket. "It covers the trail later on—1904. To-night in camp, I'll show you something that it says about this country in here at the head of the Missouri River.
"You maybe didn't know that Helena, on below us, used to be Last Chance Gulch, where they panned $40,000,000 of gold—and had a Hangman's Tree until not so very long ago, where they used to hang desperadoes.
"And off to Clark's right, when he topped the Ordway Creek divide, was where Marysville is now. They only took $20,000,000 out of one mine, over there! And so on. Wait till to-night, and I'll let you read something about the great gold mines and other mines in this book. I told you the Missouri River leads you into the heart of the wildest and most romantic history of America, though much of it is slipping out of mind to-day."
[Footnote 3: The Trail of Lewis and Clark; Olin D. Wheeler, 1904.]
And that night, indeed around their first pack train camp fire, with the light of a candle stuck in a little heap of sand on top a box, he did read to an audience who sat with starting eyes, listening to the talks of gold which were new to them.
"Listen here, boys," he said, after they had traced out the course of the day and made the field notes which served them as their daily journals. "Here's what it says about the very country we're in right now:
"'Gold was discovered in Montana in 1852 and the principal mining camps of the early days were, in the orders of discovery and succession, Grasshopper Gulch—Bannack—1862; Alder Gulch—Virginia City—1863; Last Chance Gulch—Helena—1864; Confederate Gulch—Diamond City—1865. Smaller placers were being worked on large numbers of streams, many of them very rich, but the four here named were those which achieved national renown from the vast wealth they produced and from various incidents connected with their rise and fall. In 1876 there were five hundred gold-bearing gulches in Montana....
"'The California gold wave reached its zenith in 1853. What more natural than that the army of miners, with the decadence of the California fields, should search out virgin ground?...
"'When Captain Clark crossed the divide between Ordway's and Pryor's Creeks he had at his right-hand the spurs of the Rockies about Marysville, where one mine was afterward to be located from which more than $20,000,000 of gold was to be taken. As he proceeded across the prickly-pear plains toward the Missouri, he came in sight of the future Last Chance Gulch, whereon Helena, the capital of the state, is located, and from whose auriferous gravels the world was to be enriched to the amount of $40,000,000 more.
"'From the gravel bars along the Missouri and its tributaries gold dust and nuggets running into millions of dollars have been taken, and the total production from placer mining through Montana, including hydraulic mining, from 1862 to 1900 was, probably, not far from $150,000,000, the total gold production from the state being reckoned at about $250,000,000.
"'On July 23d the narrative mentions a Creek "20 yards wide" which they called Whitehouse's Creek, after one of their men. This stream was either Confederate or Duck Creek. The two flow into the Missouri near together—the U. S. Land Office map combines them into one creek. If Confederate Creek—this was the stream above the mouth, in the heart of the Belt Mountains.
"'This gulch is said to have been discovered by Confederate soldiers of Price's army, who, in 1861-62, after the battles of Lexington, Pea Ridge, etc., in Missouri, made their way to Montana via the Missouri River and Fort Benton. On their way to Last Chance Gulch they found "color" near the mouth of this creek. Following up the stream, they found the pay dirt growing richer, and they established themselves in the gulch, naming it Confederate; and within a short time Diamond City, the town of the gulch, was the center of a population of 5,000 souls.
"'Confederate Gulch was in many respects the most phenomenal of all the Montana gulches. The ground was so rich that as high as $180 in gold was taken from one pan of dirt; and from a plat of ground four feet by ten feet, between drift timbers, $1,100 worth of gold was extracted in twenty-four hours. At the junction of Montana Gulch—a side gulch—with Confederate, the ground was very rich, the output at that point being estimated at $2,000,000.
"'Montana Bar, which lies some distance up the gulch and at considerable of an elevation above it, was found in the latter part of 1865 to be marvelously rich. There were about two acres in reality, that were here sluiced over, but the place is spoken of as "the richest acre of gold-bearing ground ever discovered in the world." I quote A. M. Williams, who has made a special study of these old gulches:
"'"The flumes on this bar, on cleaning up, were found to be burdened with gold by the hundredweight, and the enormous yield of $180 to the pan in Confederate and Montana Gulches was forgotten in astonishment, and a wild delirium of joy at the wonderful yield of over a hundred thousand dollars to the pan of gravel taken from the bedrock of Montana bar."'
"'From this bar seven panfuls of clean gold were taken out at one "clean-up," that weighed 700 pounds and were worth $114,800. A million and a half dollars in gold was hauled by wagon from Diamond City to Fort Benton at one time for shipment to the East. This gulch is reputed to have produced $10,000,000, from 1864 to 1868, and it is still being sluiced.
"'Some very large gold nuggets were found in this region. Many were worth from $100 to $600 or $700. Several were worth from $1,500 to $1,800; one, of pure gold, was worth $2,100 and two or three exceeded $3,000 in value.'"
The boys sat silent, hardly able to understand what they had heard. Billy Williams nodded his head gravely.
"It's all true," said he. "When I was a boy I heard my father tell of it. He was in on the Confederate Creek strike. He helped sluice five thousand dollars in one day, and they didn't half work. He said it was just laying there plumb yellow. They thought it would last always; but it didn't.
"You see, I was born out here. My dad was rich in the 'sixties, then he went broke, like everybody. When he got old he married and settled. He took to ranching and hunting, and I've taken to ranching. Times are quieter now. They weren't always quiet, along this little old creek, believe me!"
"Gee!" said Jesse, rubbing his head, which had a bump on it, "I'd like to pan some gold!"
"I expect you could," said Billy. "Might get the color, even now, on the Jefferson bars, I don't know. Of course, they've learned how to work the low-grade dirt now—cyanide and dredges and all. It's a business now!
"Yes, and when we get along a day or so farther, beyond the Forks, I'll locate a few more spots that got to be famous for reasons that Lewis and Clark never dreamed. From the head of the Canyon up the beaver swarmed; this was the best beaver water in America, and known as such. That was the wealth those boatmen understood. No wonder Lewis thought it would be a good place for a fort. And the traders did build a fur post at the Forks, in 1808. And the Blackfeet came. And they killed poor old Drewyer and a lot of others of the fur traders. Oh, this was the dark and bloody Blackfeet ground, all right."
"Tell us about it, Uncle Dick!" Jesse was eager.
"Wait, son. We are still on foot with Clark, you know, and we don't know where the boats are, and we haven't found any Shoshonis and we've not too much to eat. Wait a day or so. We've only done about twenty-five miles, and that's a big day for the packs—not a much faster rate than Clark was marching. He nearly wore out himself and his men, on that march. I fancy not even York, his cheerful colored man, came in that night as frisky as old Sleepy."
"That's right," said John. "It was just as Mr. Williams said—he freshened up and came in playing, kicked up his heels when his load was off, and bit me on the arm and kicked old Nigger. And there he is now, with another thistle saved up!"
AT THE THREE FORKS
Something of the feverish haste which had driven Capt. William Clark, when, weary and sore-footed, he and his little party has crowded on up along the great bend of the Missouri and into the vast southerly dip of the Continental Divide, now animated the members of the little pack train, which followed as nearly as they could tell the "old Indian road" which Clark had followed. They felt that they at least must equal his average daily distance of twenty-one miles.
Keeping back from the towns all they could, though often in sight or hearing of the railway, they passed above the Gate of the Mountains and the Bear Tooth Rock, and skirted the flanks of the Belt range, which forked out on each side of the lower end of that great valley in which Nature for so long had concealed her secrets of the great and mysterious river.
A feeling almost of awe came over them all as they endeavored to check up their own advance with the records of these others who had been the first white men to enter that marvelous land which ought to be called the Heart of America, hidden as it is, having countless arteries and veins, and pulsing as it is even now with mysterious and unfailing power—the most fascinating spot in all America.
"Here they passed!" Uncle Dick would say. "Sometimes Clark met them, or hung up a deer on the bank for them. Always in the boats, or on shore when she was walking, the Indian girl would say that soon they would come to the Three Rivers, where years ago she had been captured by the Minnetarees, from the far-off Mandan country. 'Bimeby, my people!' I suppose she said. But for weeks they did not find her people."
"Was Clark on his 'Indian road' all the time?" asked Rob.
"He must have been a good deal of the time, or rather on two branches of it. That's natural. You see, this was on the road to the Great Falls, and the Shoshonis, Flatheads, and Nez Perces all went over there each summer to get meat. The Flatheads and Nez Perces took the cut-off from east of Missoula, direct to the Falls—the same way that Lewis went when they went east. They came from the salmon country west of the Rockies. So did the Shoshonis, part of the time, but their usual trail to the buffalo was along the Missouri and this big bend. Their real home was around the heads of the river, where they had been driven back in.
"But they were bow-and-arrow people, while the Blackfeet had guns that they got of the traders, far north and east. Two ways the Blackfeet could get horses—over the Kootenai Trail, where Glacier Park is, or down in here, where the Shoshonis lived; for the Shoshonis also had horses—they got them west of the Rockies. So this road was partly war road and partly hunting road. I don't doubt it was rather plain at that time.
"When the first fur traders of the Rocky Mountain Company came in here, right after Lewis and Clark came back and told their beaver stories, the country was known, you might say. It was at the Three Forks that Colter and Potts, two of the Lewis and Clark men, were attacked by the Blackfeet, and Potts killed and Colter forced to run naked, six miles over the stones and cactus—till at last he killed his nearest pursuer with his own spear, and hid under a raft of driftwood in the Jefferson River.
"And when the fur men came up and built their fort, they had the Lewis and Clark hunter Drewyer to guide them at first. But the Blackfeet made bitter war on them. They killed Drewyer, as I told you, not far ahead of us now, at the Forks. And they drove out Andrew Henry, the post trader. He just naturally quit and fled south, over into the Henry's Lake country, in Idaho, and kept on down the Snake there, till he built his famous fort in there, so long known as Fort Henry. Well, he came in this way; and on ahead is where he started south, on a keen lope.
"Can we get across, south from here, into Henry's Lake, Billy?" he asked.
"Easy as anything," said Billy, "only the best way is to go by car from my place. Lots of folks go every day, from Butte, Helena, all these towns all along the valleys. Perfectly good road, and that's faster than a pack train."
"That's what I have been promising my party!" said Uncle Dick. "But they shall not go fishing until they have got a complete notion of how all this country lies and how Lewis and Clark got through it."
"They hardly ever were together any more, in here," said Rob. "First one, then the other would scout out ahead. And they both were sick. Clark was laid up after he met the boat party at the Forks, and Lewis took his turn on ahead. What good sports they were!"
"Yes," said John, "and what good sports the men were! They'd had to track and pole up here, all the way from the Falls, and at night they were worn out. Grub was getting scarce and they hadn't always enough to keep strong on. And above the Forks they had to wade waist deep in ice water, for hours, slipping on the stones, in their moccasins, and their teeth chattering. I'll bet they hated the sight of a beaver, for it was the beaver dams that kept all the shores full of willows and bayous, so they couldn't walk and track the boat, but had to take to the stream bed. Why, the beaver were so bad that Lewis got lost in the dams and had to lie out, one night! And he didn't know where his boats were, either."
"Well, that's what brought in the first wave of whites," said Uncle Dick—"the beaver. Then after they had got the beaver about all trapped out, say fifty years, in came the placer mines. Then came the deep lode mines—silver and copper. And then the farmers. Eh, Billy?"
"Sure," said Billy. "And then the tourists! Lots of folks that run dude ranches make more than they could raising hay. The Gallatin Valley, above me, is settled solid. It's the finest black-land farm country in all the Rockies, and pretty as a picture. So's the Beaverhead Valley, and all these others, pretty, too. Irrigation now, instead of sluices; and lots of the dry farmers from below go up to Butte and work in the mines in the wintertime—eight or ten thousand men in mines there all the time."
"And all because we'd bought this country from Napoleon!" said John.
"I'm reading about that," said Billy. "I've got lots of books and maps, and, living right in here, I've spent a lot of time studying out where Lewis and Clark went. I tell it to you, they just naturally hot-footed it plumb all through here, one week after another. They did more travel, not knowing a thing about one foot of this country, and got over more of it, and knew more about it every day, than any party of men since then have done in five times the time they took."
"And didn't know where they were, or what would be next," assented John. "Those chaps were the real, really real thing!"
In this way, passing through or near one town after another, traveling, talking, hurrying, too busy in camp to loaf an hour, our young explorers under their active leaders exceeded the daily average of William Clark to the point where, above the present power dam, the valley of the Missouri opens out above the Canyon into that marvelous landscape which not even a century of occupancy has changed much, and which lay before them, wildly but pleasingly beautiful, now as it had for the first adventurers.
"And it's ours!" said Rob, jealously. He took off his hat as he stood gazing down over the splendid landscape from the eminence which at that time they had surmounted.
"Down near the power dam, somewhere," said Billy, "is where Clark must have struck into the river again from the trail he'd followed. He was about all in, and his feet in bad shape, but he would not give up. Then he lit on out ahead again, and was first at the Forks."
"Why, you've read the Journal, too!" said John, and Billy nodded, pleasantly.
"Why, yes, I think every man who lives in Montana ought to know it by heart. Yes, or in America. I'd rather puzzle it all out, up in here, than read anything else that we get in by mail.
"My dad was all over here in early days. Many a tale he told of the placers and the road agents—yes, and of the Vigilantes, too, that cleaned out the road agents and made it safe in here, to travel or live."
"Was your father a Vigilante, sir?" asked Jesse.
"Well now, son," grinned Billy, "since you ask me, I more'n half believe he was! But you couldn't get any of those old-time law-and-order men to admit they'd ever been Vigilantes. They kept it mighty secret. Of course, when the courts got in, they disbanded. But they'd busted up the old Henry Plummer's gang and hung about twenty of the road agents, by that time. They was some active—both sides."
At last the party, after a week of steady horse work, pitched their little camp about mid-afternoon at the crest of a little promontory from which they commanded a marvelous view of the great valley of the Three Forks. On either hand lay a beautiful river, the Gallatin at their feet, a little town not far, the Jefferson but a little way.
"I know where this is!" exclaimed John. "I know——"
"Not a word, John!" commanded Uncle Dick. "Enjoy yourselves now, in looking at this valley. After we've taken care of the horses and made camp, I'll see how much you know."
SUNSET ON THE OLD RANGE
They completed their camp on the high point which they had reached. Billy brought in Nigger's panniers full of wood for the cooking fire, and they had water in the desert bag which always was part of their camp equipment, so they needed not seek a more convenient spot; nor would they have exchanged this for any other.
"We've seen many a view, fellows," said John, as the three stood near the edge of the little promontory almost in the village, "but of them all, in any country, all up this river, and all the way north to Kadiak Island, or to the Arctic Circle—nothing that touches this."
They had hurriedly finished their evening meal. Their robes were spread on the ground, their guns and rod cases lay at the saddles or against the panniers. Their maps, journals, and books lay on the robes before them. But they all turned to take in the beauties of the summer sunset now unfolding its vast screen of vivid coloring in the West. Thence they looked, first up one valley and then another, not so much changed, in spite of the occasional fields.
"Of course," said John, after a time, "we know this spot, and know why you and Mr. Billy brought us here. It's the Fort Rock of Meriwether Lewis—it couldn't be anything else!"
Uncle Dick smiled and nodded.
"That's what she is," nodded Billy. "Right here's where Cap'n Lewis stood and where he said was a good place for a fort—so high, you see, so no Indians could jump them easy. But they never did build the first fur fort here; that was higher up, on the Jefferson, little ways.
"Up yonder's the Gallatin—we're up her valley a little way. My ranch is up in ten miles. Yonder used to be quite a little town like, right down below us. Yon's the railroad, heading for the divide, where we came over from Prickly Pear. Other way, upstream, is the railroad to Butte. Yon way lies the Madison; she heads off southeast, for Yellowstone Park. And yon's the main Jefferson; and the Madison joins her just a little way up. And you've seen the Gallatin come in—the swiftest of the three.
"Now what would you do, if you was Lewis?" he added. "And which way would you head if you wanted to find the head of the true Missouri and get on across the Rockies?
"You see, we're in a big pocket of the Rockies here—the great Continental Divide sweeps away down south in a big curve here—made just so these three rivers and their hundred creeks could fan out in here. She's plumb handsome even now, and she was plumb wild then. What would you do? Which river would you take?"
"I'd scout her out," said John.
"They did. You look in your book and you'll find that, while Lewis was in here Clark was nigh about forty miles above here; he plumb wore his men out, twenty-five miles the first day above the Forks, twelve miles the next. That was up the Jefferson, you see; they picked it for the real Missouri, you see, because it was fuller and quieter.
"They didn't waste any time, either of them, on the Gallatin. That left the Madison. So Clark comes back down the Jefferson and they forded her, away above the Forks—no horses, on foot, you see—and near drowned that trifling fellow Chaboneau, the Indian girl's husband.
"Then Clark—he wasn't never afraid of getting lost or getting drowned, and he never did get lost once—he strikes off across the ridges, southeast, heading straight for the Madison, just him and his men, and I'll bet they was good and tired by now, for they'd walked all the way from Great Falls, hunting Indians, and hadn't found one yet, only plenty tracks.
"So he finds the Madison all right, and comes down her to the Forks. And there—July 27th, wasn't it, the Journal says?—he finds Lewis and all eight of the canoes and all of the folks, in camp a mile above the Forks, just as easy and as natural as if they hadn't ever known anything except just this country here. Of course, they had met almost every day, but not for two days now.
"By that time they had their camp exactly on the spot where that Indian girl had been captured by the Minnetarees six or eight years earlier. She'd had a long walk, both ways! But she was glad to get back home! Nary Indian, though now it was getting time for all the Divide Indians to head down the river, over the two trails, to the Falls, where the buffalo were."
"That's a story, Billy!" said Jesse. Billy stopped, abashed, forgetting how enthusiasm had carried him on.
"Go ahead," said Uncle Dick.
"Well, you see, I read all about it all, and I get all het up, even now," said Billy; "me raised right in here, and all."
"No apologies, Billy. Go on."
"Well then, by now Clark, he was right nigh all in. His feet was full of thorns and he had a boil on his ankle, and he'd got a fever from drinking cold water when he was hot—or that's how he figured it. Nothing had stopped him till now. But now he comes in and throws down on a robe, and he says, 'Partner, I'm all in. I haven't found a Indian. But I allow that's the branch to follow.'
"He points up the Jefferson. Maybe the Indian girl said so, too, but I think they'd have taken the Jefferson, anyhow. They all agreed on that.
"Now I've heard that the Indian girl kept pointing south and saying that over that divide—that would be over the Raynolds Pass—was water that led to the ocean. I don't know where they get that. Some say the Indian girl went up the Madison with Clark. She didn't; she was with Lewis at the boats all the time. Some say that Clark got as far south as the canyon of the Madison, northwest of the Yellowstone Park. He didn't and couldn't. Even if he did and was alone, that wouldn't have led him over Raynolds Pass. That's a hundred miles, pretty near.
"I wonder what would have happened to them people, now, if they all had picked the wrong branch and gone up the Madison? If they'd got on Henry's Lake, which is the head of one arm of the Snake, and had got started on the Snake waters—good night! We'd never have heard of them again.
"But I don't think the Indian girl knew anything much about the Snake, though her people hunted all these branches. Her range was on the Jefferson. She was young, too. Anyhow, that's what they called the Missouri, till she began to peter out. That was where they named this place where we are now. They concluded, since all the three rivers run so near even, and split so wide, they'd call them after three great men, Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin. But that wasn't till two weeks after they'd left the Forks. Most folks thought they'd sprung the names as soon as they seen the Forks, but they didn't.
"Lots of people right in here, too, even now, they think that Lewis and Clark wintered right here at the Forks or on up near Dillon. I've heard them argue that and get hot over it. Some said they wintered on an island, near Dillon. Of course, they allow that Lewis and Clark got across, but they say they was gone three years, not two. That's about as much as the old Journal is known to-day!
"Me living in here, I know all the creeks from here to the Sawtooth and Bitter Roots, and my dad knew them, and I'll tell you it's a fright, even now, to follow out exactly where all they went, or just how they got over. The names on most of their creeks are changed now, so you can't hardly tell them. About the best book to follow her through on is that railroad man, Wheeler. He took a pack train, most ways, and stayed with it.
"People get all mixed up on the old stuff, because we travel by rail now, so much. For instance, Beaverhead Rock—and that's been a landmark ever since Lewis and Clark come through—is disputed even now. You can start a fight down at Dillon any time by saying that their Beaverhead Rock is really Rattlesnake Rock—though I'll have to own it looks a lot more like a beaver than the real rock does. That real one now is mostly called the Point of Rocks.
"That's the way it goes, you see—everything gets all mixed up. The miners named a lot of the old Lewis and Clark streams all over again. Boulder Creek once was Frazier's Creek; Philosophy Creek they changed to Willow Creek, just to be original. The Blacktail, away up in, was first named after McNeal, and the North Boulder, this side of there, was first called after Fields. The Pipestone used to be the Panther. You know the Big Hole River, of course, where Butte gets the city water piped from—used to be fine fishing till they spoiled it by fishing it to death—well, that was called Wisdom River by Lewis. And I think if he'd been right wise, he'd have left his boats at the mouth and started right up there, on foot, and not up the Jefferson. She was shallow, but if he'd only known it, she'd have led him to the Divide easier than the way they went, and saved a lot of time. But, of course, they didn't know that."
"Go on, Billy, go on!" said Rob, eagerly. "You're the first man I ever knew who'd actually been over this ground in here. All we've done has been to read about it; and that's different. A country on a map is one thing, but a country lying out of doors on the ground is different."
"I'll agree to that," said Billy. "If you ever once figure out a country by yourself, you never get lost in it again. You can easy get lost with a map and a compass.
"Well now, the miners changed more names, too. It was on Willard's Creek, named after one of the Lewis and Clark men, that they found the gold at Bannack camp. They called that Grasshopper Creek and left poor Willard out. And then they called the Philanthropy River, which comes in from the south, opposite to the Wisdom—Lewis called them that because Thomas Jefferson was so wise and so philanthropic, you know—well, they changed that to the Stinking Water!
"Yet 'Philanthropy' would have been a good name for that. On one of the side creeks to it they found Alder Gulch in 1863; and Alder Gulch put Montana on the map and started the bull outfits moving out from Benton, at the head of navigation. That's where Virginia City is now. Nice little town, but not wild like she was.
"Now, the old trail—where the road agents used to waylay the travelers—led from Bannack to the Rattlesnake, down the Rattlesnake to the Jefferson, down the Jefferson to the Beaverhead Rock, then across the Jefferson and over the Divide to Philanthropy. And that was one sweet country to live in, in those days, my dad said! The road agents had a fine organization, and they knew every man going out with dust. So they'd lay in wait and kill him. They killed over a hundred men, that way, till the Vigilantes broke in on them. The best men in early Montana were among the Vigilantes—all the law-and-order men were. But right from where we're standing now, on the Lewis Rock, you're looking over one of the wildest parts of this country, or any other country. You ought to read Langford's book, Vigilante Days and Ways. I've got that in my library, up at my ranch, too."
"You know your part of this country mighty well, Billy," said Uncle Dick, after a time. "I've known you did, for a long time."
"I love it, that's all!" said the young ranchman.
"Now what shall we do, sir?" he added, after a time; "go on up to my ranch, or go on to the mouth of the Columbia River, or go to the true head of the Missouri River, or go back to Great Falls—or what?"
"What do you want to do, Billy?"
"Anything suits me. Barring the towns, I can go anywhere on earth with Sleepy and Nigger, and almost anywhere on earth with my flivver. I wouldn't stay here for a camp, because it's not convenient. The mosquitoes are about done now, and the camping's fine all over. Fishing's good, too, right now; and I know where they are."
"I'll tell you," said Uncle Dick; "we'll move up one more march or so, to the Beaverhead Rock. We'll camp there, and make a little more medicine before we decide.
"I came here"—he turned to the others—"to have you see the sunset, here on the old range. Are you satisfied with the trip thus far?"
"We'd not have missed it for the world," said Rob, at once. "It's the best we've ever had. In our own country—and finding out for ourselves how they found our country for us! That's what I call fine!"
"Roll up the plunder for to-night," said Uncle Dick. "The sunset's over."
NEARING THE SOURCE
"Well, Jesse, how'd you sleep last night?" inquired Billy in the morning, as he pushed the coffee pot back from the edge of the little fire and turned to Jesse when he emerged from his blankets.
"Not too well," answered Jesse, rubbing his eyes. "Fact is, it's too noisy in this country. Up North where we used to live, it was quiet, unless the dogs howled; but in here there's towns and railroads all over—more than a dozen towns we passed, coming up from the Great Falls, and if you don't hear the railroad whistles all night, you think you do. Down right below us, you can throw a rock into the town, almost, and up at the Forks there'll be another squatting down waiting for you. All right for gasoline, Billy, but we're supposed to be using the tracking line and setting pole."
"Sure we are—until we meet the Shoshonis and get some horses."
"Well, I don't want to camp by a railroad or a wire fence any more."
"No? Well, we'll see what we can do. Anyhow, one thing you ought to be glad about."
"Why, that you don't have to walk down into that ice water and pole a boat or drag it for two or three hours before breakfast. Yet that's what those poor men had to do. And three times they mention, between the Forks and the mountains, the whole party had to wait breakfast till somebody killed some meat. Anyhow, we've got some eggs and marmalade."
"Well, they got meat," demurred Jesse, seating himself as he laced his shoes.
"Thanks to Drewyer, they usually did. He got five deer, one day, and about every time he went out he hung up something. I think he'd got to the front in the party now, next to Lewis and Clark. Chaboneau they don't speak well of.
"Shields was a good man, and the two Fields boys. But, though Clark was mighty sick, and Lewis got down, too, for a day or so, in here, they were about the best men left. The others were wearing out by now.
"You see"—here Billy flipped a cake over in the pan—"they couldn't have had much wool clothing left by now—they were in buckskin, and buckskin is about as good as brown paper when it's wet. They had no hobnails, and their broken, wet moccasins slipped all over those slick round stones. You ever wade a trout stream, you boys?"
"I should say so!"
"Well, then you know how it is. While the water is below your knees you can stand it quite a while. When it gets along your thighs you begin to get cold. When it's waist deep, you chill mighty soon and can't stand it long—though Lewis stripped and dived in eight feet of water to get an otter he had shot. And slipping on wet rocks——"
"Don't we know about that! We waded up the Rat River, on the Arctic Circle."
"You did! You've traveled like that? Well, then you can tell what the men were standing here. They hadn't half clothes, a lot of them were sick with boils and 'tumers,' as Clark calls them. Some were nearly crippled. But in this water, ice water, waist deep, they had to get eight boats up that big creek yonder—beaver meadows all along, so they couldn't track. Sockets broke off their setting poles, so Captain Lewis, he ties on some fish gigs he'd brought along. One way or another, they got on up.
"They now began to get short rations, too. At first they couldn't get any trout, or the whitefish—those fish with the 'long mouths' that Lewis tells about. I'll bet they never tried grasshoppers. But along above here they began to get fish, as the game got scarcer. Lewis tells of setting their net for them."
"You certainly have been reading that little old Journal, Billy!"
"Why shouldn't I? It's one great book, son. More I read it, the more I see how practical those men were. Now, those men were all fine rifle shots, and they'd go against anything, though along here there wasn't many grizzlies, and all of them shy, not bold like the buffalo grizzlies at the Falls. But they didn't hunt for sport—it was meat they wanted. Once in a while a snag of venison; antelope hard to get; no buffalo now, and very few elk; by now, even ducks and geese began to look good, and trout.
"The ducks and geese and cranes were all through here—breeding grounds all along. That was molting time and they caught them in their hands. They killed beaver with the setting poles, and one day the men killed several otter with their tomahawks, though I doubt if they could eat otter. You see, as Clark's notes say, the beaver were here in thousands. I suppose when so big a party went splashing up the creek the beaver and otter would get scared and swim out to the main stream, and there some one would hit them over the head as they swam by."
"One thing," said Jesse, "I don't think they flogged any of the men any more. I don't remember any since they left the Mandans."
"Maybe they didn't need it, and maybe their leaders had learned more. Ever since Lewis picked the right river at the Marias forks, I reckon the men relied on him more. Then, he'd be poking around shooting at the sun and stars with his astronomy machines, and that sort of made them respect him. Clark was a good sport. Lewis, I reckon, was harder to get along with. But they both must have been pretty white with the men. They tell of the hardships of the men, and how game and patient they are—not a whimper about quitting."
"I know," said Jesse, hauling out his worn copy of the Journal from his bed roll and turning the leaves; "they speak of the way the men felt:
"'We Set out early (Wind N.E.) proceeded on passed Several large Islands and three Small ones, the river much more Sholey than below which obliges us to haul the Canoes over those Sholes which Suckceed each other at Short intervales emencely laborious; men much fatigued and weakened by being continually in the water drawing the Canoes over the Sholes, encamped on the Lard Side men complain verry much of the emence labour they are obliged to undergo & wish much to leave the river. I passify them, the weather Cool, and nothing to eate but venison, the hunters killed three Deer to day.'
"Anxious times about now, eh? But still, I don't think the leaders ever once lost their nerve. Here's what Lewis wrote about it:
"'We begin to feel considerable anxiety with rispect to the Snake Indians. if we do not find them or some other nation who have horses I fear the successful issue of our voyage will be very doubtfull or at all events much more difficult in it's accomplishment. we are now several hundred miles within the bosom of this wild and mountanous country, where game may rationally be expected shortly to become scarce and subsistence precarious without any information with rispect to the country not knowing how far these mountains continue, or wher to direct our course to pass them to advantage or intersept a navigable branch of the Columbia, or even were we on such an one the probability is that we should not find any timber within these mountains large enough for canoes if we judge from the portion of them through which we have passed. however I still hope for the best, and intend taking a tramp myself in a few days to find these yellow gentlemen if possible. my two principal consolations are that from our present position it is impossible that the S.W. fork can head with the waters of any other river but the Columbia, and that if any Indians can subsist in the form of a nation in these mountains with the means they have of acquiring food we can also subsist.'"
"No wonder the men wanted horses now—they knew the river's end was near. And yet they were four hundred miles, right here, from the head of the Missouri!" Billy had his Journal pretty well in mind, so he went on frying bacon.
"Why, what you talking about, Billy? They made the Forks by July 27th, and by the end of August they were over the Divide, headed for the Columbia!"
"Sure. And at the Two Forks, where the Red Rock River turns south, the other creek—Horse Prairie Creek that they took—only ran thirty miles in all. The south branch was the real Missouri, but they kept to the one that went west. That was good exploring, and good luck, both. It took them over, at last."
"But, Billy, everybody knows that Lewis and Clark went to the head of the Missouri."
"Then everybody knows wrong! They didn't. If they had they'd never have got over that year, nor maybe ever in any year. I tell you they had luck—luck and judgment and the Indian girl. Sacagawea kept telling them this was her country; that her people were that way—west; that they'd get horses. For that matter, there were strong Indian trails, regular roads, coming in from the south, north and west; but it wasn't quite late enough for the Indians to be that far east on the fall buffalo hunt at the Great Falls. It took them more than a month to figure out the trail from here to the top. But if they had started south, down the Red Rock——"
"Tell me about that, Billy."
"We're working too hard before breakfast, son! Go get the others up while I fry these eggs. If we don't get off the Fort Rock and on our way, somebody'll think we're crazy, camping up here."
Soon they were all sitting at breakfast around the remnants of the little fire, and after that Billy went after the horses while the others got the packs ready.
Jesse was excitedly going over with Rob and John some of the things which Billy had been saying to him. Uncle Dick only smiled.
"First class in engineering and geography, stand up!" said he, as he seated himself on his lashed bed roll. The three boys with pretended gravity stood and saluted.
"Now put down a few figures in your heads, or at least your notebooks. How high up are we here?"
"Do you mean altitude, or distance, sir?" asked Rob.
"I mean both. Well, I'll tell you. Our altitude here is four thousand and forty-five feet. That's twenty-five hundred and twenty feet higher than the true head of the Mississippi River—and we're not to the head of the Missouri by a long shot, even now.
"And how far have we come, say to the Three Forks, just above here?"
"That's easy," answered John, looking at his book. "It's twenty-five hundred and forty-seven miles, according to the last river measurements; but Lewis and Clark call it twenty-eight hundred and forty-eight miles."
"That's really of no importance," said Uncle Dick. "The term 'mile' means nothing in travel such as theirs. The real unit was the day's work of 'hearty, healthy, and robust young men.' One set of figures is good as the other.
"Still, it may be interesting to see how much swifter the Missouri River is than the Father of Waters. From the Gulf of Mexico to the source of the Mississippi is twenty-five hundred and fifty-three miles. Up our river, to where we stand, is just six miles short of that, yet the drop is more than twenty-five hundred feet more. One drops eight and a quarter inches to the mile, and the other nineteen inches to the mile.
"But understand, we're talking now of the upper thread of the Mississippi River, and of the Three Forks of our river—which isn't by any means at its head, even measuring to the head of the shortest of the three big rivers that meet here. Now, add three hundred and ninety-eight miles to twenty-five hundred and forty-seven miles. See what you got?"
"That's twenty-nine hundred and forty-five miles!" exclaimed John. "Is it that far from the head to St. Louis?"
"Yes, it is. And if you took the Lewis and Clark measurements to the Forks it would be thirty-two hundred and forty-seven miles.
"And if we took their distances to the place where they left their canoes—that's what they called Shoshoni Cove, where the river petered out for boats—we'd have three thousand and ninety-six miles; two hundred and forty-seven miles above here, as they figured it, and they weren't at the summit even then. Now if we'd take their probable estimate, if they'd finished the distance to the real head of the Missouri, we'd have to allow them about thirty-two hundred and forty-nine miles plus their overrun, at least fifty miles.
"Yes, if they'd have gone to the real source, they'd have sworn it was over thirty-three hundred miles to St. Louis, and over forty-five hundred miles to the Gulf. The modern measurements make it forty-two hundred and twenty-one miles.
"So, young gentlemen, you can see that you are now coming toward the head of the largest continuous waterway in the world. It is five hundred miles longer than the Amazon in South America, and more than twelve hundred miles longer than the river Nile, in Africa.
"Now, Meriwether Lewis did not know as much about all these things as we do now, yet see how he felt about it, at his camp fire, not so far from here:
"'The mountains do not appear very high in any direction tho' the tops of some of them are partially covered with snow, this convinces me that we have ascended to a great hight since we have entered the rocky Mountains, yet the ascent has been so gradual along the vallies that it was scarcely perceptable by land. I do not believe that the world can furnish an example of a river runing to the extent which the Missouri and Jefferson's rivers do through such a mountainous country and at the same time so navigable as they are. if the Columbia furnishes us such another example, a communication across the continent by water will be practicable and safe.'
"Class dismissed. I see Billy has got the horses." The boys put away their maps and rolled their beds.
All of the party being good packers, it was not long before they had left their camp ground on the knoll and were off upstream once more, edging the willow flats and swinging to the ford of the Madison, which they made with no great danger at that stage of the water. Thence they headed back for the Jefferson fork, having by now got a good look at the great valleys of the Three Forks.
"Which way, sir?" asked Billy now of their leader. "Shall we stop at the real headquarters camp of the Three Forks, just about a mile up—where the Indian girl told them she had been taken prisoner when she was a child?"
"Too near town!" sung out Jesse, who overheard the question. "Let's shake the railroad."
"She's right hard to shake, up in here," rejoined Billy. "Off to the right is the N.P., heading for Butte, up the Pipestone. We couldn't shake the left-hand branch of her this side of Twin Bridges, and that's above the Beaverhead Rock. From there upstream to Dillon, along the Beaverhead River, there isn't any railroad. We can swing wide, except where she canyons up on us, and may be get away from the whistles. Only, if we go as far as Dillon, we hit the O.S.L. She runs south, down the Red Rock, which is the real Missouri River. And she runs up the Big Hole, which the Journal calls the Wisdom River. And there's a railroad up Philosophy Creek, too——"
"And up all the cardinal virtues!" exclaimed Uncle Dick. "I don't blame the boys for getting peeved. Now, we don't care for canyon scenery so much, nor for willow flats with no beaver in them. I would like the boys to see the Beaverhead Rock and get a general notion of how many of these confusing little creeks there were that had to be worked out.
"I'd like them, too, to get a general idea of the old gold fields. We're right in the heart of those tremendous placers that Lewis and Clark never dreamed about. I'd like them to know, on the ground, not on the map, how the old road agents' trail ran, between Bannack and Virginia City. I'd like them to get a true idea of how Lewis and Clark worked out their way, over the Divide. Lastly, I'd like them to see where the true Missouri heads south and leaves the real Lewis and Clark trail.
"Now, what's the best point to head for, Billy, for a sort of central camp? I don't think we can do more than go to the summit, this trip. What do you say?"
"Well, sir, I'd say the Shoshoni Cove, where they left their canoes and took horses, would be about the most central point for that. That'll bring us to the last forks—what they call the Two Forks."
"But how about the Beaverhead Rock?"
"We ought to see that," said Rob, at the time. "That's as famous as a landmark as almost anything on the whole river."
"We can get in there easy enough and get out," said Billy. "It's just a question of time on the trail. Taking it easy, give us a week, ten days, on the way to the Cove, taking in the Rock for one camp. It's not half as far by land as it is by water."