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The Great Falls

The Mandan had told Lewis and Clark they would reach a great falls further up the Missouri. On June 13th, 1805 Meriwether Lewis reached this thundering cascade. Journal

"I saw the spray arise above the plain like a column of smoke ... which soon began to make a roaring too tremendous to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri."

He had figured on a half day to portage around the falls, but further exportation dashed Lewis' hopes. Not one, but five falls blocked the next seven miles up river.

June 20th
"We all believed we are about two enter on the most perilous and dificuelt part of our voyage."

Captain Clark, using a sextant and a rod, employed geometry to measure the falls. Using his surveyor's tools, Clark measured the falls to be a height of 97 feet and 3/4 inches. Recent electronic measurements record the height of the falls as 96 feet.

Great Falls

Stretched to the limits of endurance, the men pushed and dragged heavy loads uphill to the prairie. They grabbed at bunches of grass or rocks to anchor themselves with one hand while straining at tow cords with the other. Moccasins, even double-soled, did not stop Prickly pear cactus spines from lancing their feet. The Corps wore through their moccasins every two days.

Wether extremes took their toll on the men. Blazing heat, torrential downpours - and worse. A sudden storm of egg size hail bombarded the men, who were traveling nearly naked, on the open plain. Bleeding and bruised, they straggled back to camp.

Black Eagle Falls  26 feet
Crocked Falls  19 feet high
Rainbow Falls 44 feet 6 inches
Colter Falls 6 feet 7 inches
Bicentennial reenactment 
Bicentennial reenactment
The corps made carts with Cottonwood rounds for wheels and for the next three weeks they portaged their boats and equipment eighteen miles overland around the falls. The portage was the most grueling stretch of the journey that the expedition had faced so far.
They resumed their up river journey on July 15, 1805.  Journal

Iron Boat

While most of the crew lugged canoes and supplies around the falls, a select group worked on the 36 foot long, 4.5 feet wide iron boat. The frame weighed less than 200 pounds, but Lewis estimated it could carry 8,000 pounds of cargo. They lashed wooden braces to the frame and sewed elk and buffalo hides together to make a covering.
At first, the finished 'Experiment" flared "like a perfect cork on the water," but then it began to leak at the seams. Lewis had planned to seal the seams with pine tar pitch. Unfortunately, he could not have planned for the lack of pine trees along the Great Falls riverbanks. As a substitute, he created his own seam sealer from tallow, beeswax and charcoal. Disappointed, the men made two cottonwood dugouts to carry their gear instead.

Partial small model of the steel boat frame

Bicentennial reenactment

Two years ago
Five years ago


The Confluence

Fortunately I didn't get caught in this downpour
One half of a to be very large dump truck bed.
The Corps of Discovery reach the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone April 25th, 1805

Confluence of Missouri and Yellowstone

On their return trip in 1806 Clark explored along the Yellowstone while Lewis explored north of the Missouri. They agreed to met at the confluence. 

Clark reached the confluence first where mosquitos proved too much for him. He moved several miles down stream leaving a note for Lewis on a tree branch much to Lewis' dismay.

Five years ago


Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We stayed at the Juniper Campground in the north unit. Nice pull through spaces scattered among the Cottonwoods along the Missouri River. (first come) Seven dollars night with senior pass. There is an abundance of wildlife and breath taking vistas.

The Little Missouri River runs through the park
American Bison

bison bison every where
Park entrance station. You might be a little close
Bison wallow

Cannon ball concretions

Off we go for a 10k hike. Twice we waited for bison to meander off the trail.

Yes we climbed up from way down there.

Fabulous hike

Two years ago


Fort Mandan

The Corps of Discovery had expected to reach the Pacific before the fall of 1804. On November 2nd they reached the Mandan village and with winter was closing in, decided to winter over here. Lewis and Clark had their men fell Cottonwood trees along the river, using them to build triangular Fort Mandan. The winter was spent repairing equipment, making new, processing dried meats, etc and preparing specimens and notes to send back to Jefferson. Hunting and wood gathering were never ending tasks. On April 6th the Missouri was ice free and the Corps of Discovery headed West again.

How the Mandan Village might have looked

The enlisted men's rooms, their were three, look very comfortable
until you realize there were around 40 men in three rooms.
I was told there were lofts, but still very tight.
Enlisted men's quarters
A way to pass the long winer nights
Lewis and Clark's quarters

Guard room
The Mandan traded food for blacksmithing services.
 Six Cottonwood canoes were hewed in preparation
for their spring travels