July 7, 2017 - Waterford City, North Dakota
By meriwether, Jul 11 2017 10:16PM
It happened on August 11, 1806, not too far from where I am writing this in Kill Deer, ND . . . Meriwether Lewis was shot in the butt. You may remember that I mentioned in a previous Update that the Corps of Discovery had divided into separate parties on their return to the United States in 1806: Lewis and 9 men were returning by way of the Missouri and exploring the Marias River in the process, while William Clark with the rest of the Corps was down on the Yellowstone exploring that major tributary of the Missouri. The idea was for the Corps to reunite somewhere around the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. On the day before this joyous reunion occurred, it happened.
Meriwether and Frenchman Pierre Cruzatte went ashore to hunt after espying a herd of elk. Pierre . . . or St. Peter as the men liked to call him . . . was one of the best river men in the Corps of Discovery, but probably not the best shot. Problem was, he just couldn’t see that well . . . blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other. They shot one elk and then separated to shoot another. Just as Lewis was about to discharge his rifle, a bullet tore through his left thigh just below the hip joint. Lewis cried out, “Damn you - you have shot me!” But after hearing no response from Pierre after repeated calls, he feared it was an Indian attack. Limping back to the canoes in severe pain, he sent out the men in preparation to give battle and save Cruzatte. But not long after, the men returned having seen no Indians, but with them was none other than St. Peter, who swore up and down that he had shot at an elk, and not wanting to admit what everyone knew: with his poor eyesight, he had mistaken Lewis for the elk!
The next day the two parties of the Corps of Discovery were joyously reunited after a separation of over four weeks. But Captain Clark was extremely alarmed when he saw what had happened to Captain Lewis. William Clark would dress his co-captain’s wounds daily, and for the next couple of weeks, Meriwether Lewis would spend most of his time lying on his stomach in the bottom of a canoe as the Expedition raced down the Missouri River toward their celebrated homecoming in St. Louis.
I bade goodbye to Montana after almost three weeks of cycling in Big Sky Country, and crossed the state line into North Dakota. And now I’m roughly following the course of the Missouri River once again as I did 12 years ago, except heading in the opposite direction. The Missouri River . . . The Big Muddy . . . that roiling, powerful, 2,341 mile long major tributary of the Mississippi that drains the whole of what used to be the Louisiana Purchase from the Rocky Mountains eastward. It was the road of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and now my road of sorts, at least for a time.
I dropped down into the the Missouri’s valley to visit Fort Union - a fascinating National Historical Site that I had visited on my Lewis and Clark Ride in 2005. Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the Upper Missouri established in the 1820’s at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. (And yes, it was Astor who gave his name to Astoria, Oregon.) Thousands of plains Indians from 5 major tribes would congregate around the fort each year, set up their tipi’s, and spend weeks there trading their furs for European manufactured items. It was a place of peaceful trading, gaming, and a mingling of cultures - Native American, American, French, and English. The fort there today is a reconstruction, but some of the original foundations are still visible - a neat place to visit!
But i paid the price for that visit . . . for if you drop down into the valley, then you must climb up out of the valley, and it is a major climb. The Missouri has cut its meandering channel over the centuries, changing its course and cutting new channels numerous times . . . and the valley is expansive, sometimes miles across. Doing these climbs in 90 degree plus temperatures is just draining. and I try to remind myself: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Some of you may wonder what I’m thinking about while riding all these miles. Thank goodness for my iPhone - although I curse it regularly. Often I’ll be listening to NPR while I’m riding, specifically WNYC out of New York. And then there is my Audible app. I just finished my Audible book “The Nazis Next Door”, a fascinating account of how thousands of Nazis and war criminals were allowed into the United States after WW II through the cooperation of the CIA and FBI, because they were supposedly anti-communist and willing to save their skins by working for our government against the Red Menace. And now currently listening to Dead Wake -The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania. Also excellent, although I’m just at the start.
So there you have it. Miles and miles in the saddle, and ear buds in my ear - a way to pass the time as this country passes beneath my wheels.