Around August 1st, the expedition finally reached the Three Forks. They spent two days there, the men making clothes or hunting, Lewis making celestial observations and Clark recuperating from fever, frequent chills and constant pains in his muscles. Lewis proposed the establishment of a fort at the Three Forks, at the far-western limit of Louisiana, where the rivers and creeks teemed with beaver. The fact that it was almost three thousand miles up the Missouri River from St. Louis and the nearest civilization did not bother him one bit-there was plenty of timber and “the grass is luxouriant and would afford a fine swarth of hay.”
Sacagawea informed Lewis that the expedition camp was precisely on the spot where the Shoshones had been camped five years ago when a raiding party of Hidatsas discovered them. The Shoshones had retreated three miles upriver and hidden in a wood, but the Hidatsas had found and routed them, killing four men, four women, a number of boys, and making prisoners of four boys and all the remaining women, including Sacagawea.
“I cannot discover that she shews any immotion of sorrow in recollecting this event,” Lewis concluded his journal entry relating Sacagawea�s story, “or of joy in being again restored to her native country; if she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere.”
The Corps of Discovery was becoming a walking hospital. Captain Clark�s intestinal problems had disappeared, but he had developed a tumor on his ankle, which was very swollen and inflamed and gave him considerable pain. Sergeant Gass, Charbonneau, and four or five of the enlisted men had various indispositions. Everyone was more or less exhausted most of the time but, that afternoon, August 7th, Sacagawea again gave the men a much needed lift. As Lewis put it, “The Indian women recognized the point of a high plain to our right which she informed us was not very distant from the summer retreat of her nation on a river beyond the mountains which runs to the west.” She said that the Shoshones called the hill the “Beaver�s Head” from a supposed resemblance of it�s shape to the head of a Swimming beaver. “She assures us that we shall either find her people on this river or on the river immediately west of it�s source.”
If Lewis ever interviewed Sacagawea about her people, he didn�t consider it important enough to put in his journal. If he ever asked her what the country beyond the Divide was like, he didn�t write about it. Clarks asking her how to say “white man” in Shoshone was the full extent of the captains� interrogation of the most valuable intelligence source they had available to them.
On August 11th, they marched for five miles when suddenly Lewis squinted, looked again, took out his telescope, and saw for sure “an Indian on horse back about two miles distant coming down the plain towards us.” His dress was Shoshone. “His arms were a bow and a quiver of arrows, and was mounted on an elegant horse without a saddle.” They got to within 100 yards when the Indian “suddenly turned his hose about, gave him the whip, leaped the creek and disapeared in the willow brush in an instant and with him vanished all my hopes of obtaining horses for the present.”
On Tuesday morning, August 13, 1805, Lewis set out early, heading west on a plain, heavily used Indian trail. At nine miles, Lewis saw two Indian women, a man and some dogs. Again, the Indians ran when Lewis got within 100 yards. After less than a mile, topping a rise, the party came on three Indian women, one 12 year old, one a teen, and the third elderly, only 30 yards away. At first, Lewis laid down his rifle and advanced. The teen ran off, but the old woman and child remained. Seeing no chance to escape, they sat on the ground and held their heads down; to Lewis it looked as though they had reconciled themselves to die. After what the Shoshones had to endure from all the neighboring tribes, what would have made them think anything different of these strangers.
He approached and took the elderly woman by the hand, raised her up, said “tab-ba-bone” (supposedly meaning “white man” in Shoshone) and rolled up his shirtsleeve to show her his white skin. From their packs he gave the woman some beads, a few moccasin awls, a few mirrors, and some paint. His skin, the gifts and his friendly attitude, were enough to calm her down.
Through Drouillard�s sign language, he asked her to call the teen back, fearing that the girl would alarm the main body of Shoshones. The old woman did as asked and when the girl reappeared, Lewis gave her some trinkets and painted the “tawny cheeks” of the women with some vermillion. Lewis then told them, through Drouillard, that he “wished them to conduct us to their camp that we wer anxious to become acquainted with the chiefs and warriors of their nation.” They did as requested and the group set off, the Indians leading.
After two miles, 60 warriors, mounted on excellent horses and armed for war with bows and arrows, plus three inferior rifles, came on at full speed. When they saw Lewis�s party, they halted. Rather than assuming a defensive position, Lewis laid down his rifle, picked up his flag, and following the old woman who was guiding them, slowly advanced toward he knew not what. A man Lewis assumed was the chief rode in the lead. He halted and spoke with the old woman who told him they were white men and showed the presents which had been given. This broke the tension and the chief and warriors dismounted.
The chief advanced saying “ah-hi-e, ah-hi-e,” which Lewis later learned meant “I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced” The chief put his left arm over Lewis� right shoulder and applied his left cheek to Lewis� right, continuing to say the word “ah-hi-e.” The warriors and Lewis� men came on, “and we wer all carresed and besmeared with their grease and paint till I was heartily tired of the national hug.” The first meeting between the Shoshones and Americans went better than Lewis could have dared to hope. He had been exceedingly lucky. The war party had ridden out in response to the alarm given by the man who had fled earlier that day. The warriors expected to find Blackfeet and might have attacked if not for the old woman.
Lewis lit and passed the pipe and after smoking several rounds, he distributed presents. Lewis learned that the chiefs name was “Ca-me-ah-wait”. He spoke with his warriors and the entire party set out for the main Shoshone camp. When they reached the camp, on the east bank of the Lemhi River, about 7 miles north of todays Tendoy, Idaho, Lewis was ushered into an old leather tepee (the only one the band had left after the Blackfoot raid) and ceremoniously seated on green boughs and antelope skins, where they smoked the ritual pipe. Women and children gathered around, eager to see the “children of the Great Spirit.” Lewis distributed the presents that he had left, to the delight of the Shoshones. One warrior later described the mirrors as “things like solid water, which were sometimes brilliant as the sun, and sometimes showed us our faces.”
In the evening, Lewis strolled down to the Lemhi River and found it a rapid, clear stream about 40 yards wide and three feet deep. Through Drouillards signs, Lewis inquired about the course of the stream. Cameahwait replied that a half-day�s march north it joined with another, twice as large, coming in from the southwest, forming today�s Salmon River. After further questioning, Cameahwait said there was little timber along the river below, the river was “confined between inaccessible mountains, was very rapid and rocky, so much that it was impossible for us to pass either by land or water down the river to the great lake where the white men lived as he had been informed.” Cameahwait was referring to the traders who called at the mouth of the Columbia River, and his description of the Salmon River was as accurate as it was unwelcome. It confirmed what Lewis feared the most, there was no all-water route across the continent. But Lewis dared to hope that it was untrue and the Shoshones were only trying to detain them for trading purposes. In fact, as Lewis should have known from Sacagawea, it was time for Cameahwaits� band to cross the Divide and meet with the other Shoshones and Flatheads to go on the buffalo hunt in the Missouri River region.
That night, the Shoshones entertained Lewis and his party with a dance that lasted almost till dawn. At midnight, “I grew sleepy and retired to rest leaving the men to amuse themselves with the Indians…I was several times awoke in the course of the night by their yells but was too much fortiegued to be deprived of a tolerable sound nights� repose.”
The party stayed at the Lemhi camp for a few days hunting and questioning the Indians about the country to the west. Lewis told Cameahwait that he wanted the band to cross Lemhi Pass with him, bringing thirty horses, to meet with Clark and the main party at Three Forks and help bring their baggage back over the pass and down to the Indian camp, where “we would then remain sometime among them and trade with them for horses.” Cameahwait agreed and after he “made a lengthy harrangue to his village,” he told Lewis that everything was settled and they would start out in the morning.
In the morning, after a meager breakfast, a crisis. The warriors would not move, despite Cameahwaits� urgings. Lewis asked what the problem was and was told “that some foolish persons among them had suggested the idea that we were in league with the Pahkees (the Shoshone word for Atsinas) and had come on in order to decoy them into an ambuscade where their enemies were waiting to recieve them.” Lewis told Cameahwait that he forgave the warriors their suspicion as they did not know the “white man”. Lewis threatened that if they did not help with the portage, no white man would ever come to bring them arms and ammunition. Then he challenged their manhood, saying “I still hope that there were some among them that were not afraid to die.” This ploy seemed to work and off they went.
On the morning of August 17, 1805, Lewis and his party met up with Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery at Three Forks. Cameahwait gave Clark their �national hug� and festooned his hair with shells. In the midst of the excitement, one of the Shoshone women recognized Sacagawea. Her name was, Jumping Fish, she had acquired her name on the day that Sacagawea was taken prisoner, because of the way she had jumped through a stream in escaping the Hidatsas. The reunited teens hugged and cried and talked, all at once.
At 4:00 pm, Lewis called a conference. Dispensing with Drouillard and the sign language, he decided to use a translation chain that ran from Sacagawea, speaking Shoshone to the Indians and translating it into Hidatsa, to Charbonneau, who translated the Hidatsa into French, to Private Francis Labiche, who translated from French to English.
Scarcely had they begun the cumbersome process when Sacagawea started to stare at Cameahwait. Suddenly recognizing him as her brother, “she jumped up, ran and embraced him, and threw her blanket over him and cried profusely.” What a piece of luck that was. No novelist would dare invent such a scene. As James Ronda writes, “the stars had danced for Lewis and Clark.”
When Sacagawea recovered herself, the council began-although it was frequently interrupted by her tears. The captains expanded on what Lewis had already told Cameahwait. They explained “the objects which had brought us into this distant part of the country,” in the process making it appear that the number one object was to help the Shoshones by finding a more direct way to bring arms to them. In the process, “we made them sensible of their dependance on the will of our government for every species of merchandize as well for their defence and comfort.” But this could not be accomplished without Shoshone horses, or without a guide to take them over the Nez Perce� trail. Cameahwait agreed to help the expedition.
“Every article about us appears to excite astonishment in their minds,” Lewis wrote: the appearance of the men, their arms, the canoes, York, “the segacity of my dog”-all were objects of admiration. Lewis shot his air gun, which the Indians immediately pronounced “great medicine”. Adding to their joyous mood, the hunters brought in four deer and a pronghorn. After the feast, the captains asked Cameahwait for more information “with rispect to the country.” He repeated what he had already told Lewis, who by now was convinced of the truth of his description.
By August 24th, Lewis was once again on the road, this time with 18 of his own men, Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and Drouillard, 9 horses and a mule, and Cameahwaits� band. He gave Charbonneau some articles to trade for a horse for Sacagawea, which was done, He was still going to need more horses, most of the baggage was being carried by the Shoshone women, but Lewis was happy to be moving again.
His joy didn�t last long, the next day when the hunters brought in 3 deer and the party stopped for lunch, Charbonneau had some news. He casually mentioned to Lewis that he expected to meet Cameahwaits� band coming over the Lemhi Pass on their way to the buffalo country. He explained that Sacagawea had overheard Cameahwait tell some of his young men to tell the band to meet him the next day, so they could reunite the band and they would go to the buffalo hunt. If that happened, Lewis and his men would be left high and dry, halfway up the Lemhi Pass, with only a dozen or so horses and no guide for the Nez Perce trail.
Lewis was furious, but instead of directing his anger at Cameahwait, he cussed Charbonneau, who had been in possession of the information for some hours before telling Lewis. Then he called Cameahwait and the two lesser chiefs for a smoke and a talk. He told the Indians, had they not promised to help, “I should not have attempted to pass the mountains but would have returned down the river and that in that case, they would never have seen anymore white men in their country.” In truth, he was going to try and get over
those mountains come hell or high water, a resolution he frequently put in his journal. He instructed the chiefs that “they must never promis us anything which they did not mean to perform.” He then told the chiefs to send a young man over the pass to the village to tell the people to stay there until they arrived.
The two lesser chiefs spoke up and said that it had not been them who instructed the band to cross to the Missouri River side of the Pass. Cameahwait had done it and they had not approved of his actions.
“Cameahwait remained silent for sometime,” Lewis wrote; “at length he told me that he knew he had done wrong but that he had been induced to that measure from seeing all his people hungry, but as he had promised to give me his assistance he would not in future be worse than his word.” His people were starving and the buffalo country was not much more than a days march away. Other bands of Shoshones were already meeting with the Flathead villages to go on the hunt. But he had given his word, and Lewis shamed him into keeping it.
Eventually, the captains bought 29 horses, but, as James Ronda puts it, “The Shoshonis had proven to be better Yankee traders than the Americans.” When Clark examined the horses in his coral, he found them to be “nearly all Sore Backs (and) several Pore and young.” The captains had bought the castoffs of the Shoshone herd.