Sunday, October 1, 2017

Finding the Falls: To Great Falls Montana

May 29, 1805
We left our explorers sailing upstream on the Missouri and anticipating the "great falls". The near capsize that occurred in our last post was not the only near-disaster that they faced.
Seaman experienced a serious bite from a beaver that he was trying to catch.
Clark himself was nearly struck by a rattlesnake.
Perhaps the most scary event was when a bison swam across the Missouri climbed over the white pirogue which was tied up for the night and ran into the encampment. It came close to trampling sleeping men before Seamon chased it away.

"Last night we were all allarmed by a large buffaloe Bull, which swam over from the opposite shore and coming along side of the white perogue, climbed over it to land,   he then allarmed ran up the bank in full speed directly towards the fires, and was within 18 inches of the heads of some of the men who lay sleeping before the centinel could allarm him or make him change his course,   still more alarmed, he now took his direction immediately towards our lodge.....when he came near the tent, my dog saved us"

Luck was on their side. 

We met Seaman at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls.

June 2, 1805
The journey continues.
The trip up the Missouri is long.
The men were bruised and footsore. Walking in the river in bare feet and moccasins was wearing them down. The mud was at times so thick that it pulled the moccasins from their feet.
They did not expect to have to travel so far to find the falls.

The Marias and the Missouri. Which was the correct path to follow?
This evening the explorers came to an unexpected fork in the road. Near what later became Fort Benton Montana they found another river and could not readily determine which of the forks was the Missouri. The right fork came from the northwest. It was a deep muddy river with turbulent water flowing quickly. It looked like the Missouri that they had been following for more than 2000 miles. The troops were sure that this was the path they should continue.
The left fork flowed from the southwest. It was shallower, clearer and wider.

The Corps of Discovery spent 9 days at this encampment which has come to be known as Decision Point. They sent small crews up both rivers to take measurements and bring back findings. They sent bands of men out over land to explore the surrounding terrain.
Finally each Captain took a small party and set out up a branch of the fork  Lewis to the northwest, Clark to the southwest.
Making a wrong choice at this juncture would cost them time and might put them in the Rocky Mountains when Winter set in, a potentially fatal turn of events.

"Capt. C and myself concluded to set out early the next morning with a small party each, and ascend these rivers until we could perfectly satisfy ourselves...we agreed to go up those rivers one day and a halfs march or further if it should appear necessary to satisfy us more fully of the point in question"

The captains each independently decided that the left fork that rose from the southwest was the Missouri River. Lewis was so sure that he named the right hand fork the Marias River after one of his cousins.
The men, one of them an expert riverman, did not agree. They did however have faith in their Captains and agreed to follow them.
The Captain's preceded cautiously but without wasting any time.
They lightened their load by leaving one of the pirogues and a lot of heavy gear including beaver traps, blacksmith tools, pelts and several kegs of food and black powder. They buried them in a cache and marked nearby trees so they could locate the supplies on the return trip.

June 10,1805
William Clark lead the boats upriver.
Meriwether Lewis and a small party walked ahead and 3 days later heard the roar of the falls. 
The base of what used to be the Great Falls
"I had proceded on this course about two miles...whin my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water"

He was thrilled to reach the base of the "sublimely grand specticle".
That joy was short lived.
Upon exploring the river Lewis found that the Great Falls was the first of five that they would need to go around.
The Hidatsa had told them that the falls were a half day portage. The task before them would prove to be much more difficult.
The land near the falls was a series of high cliffs and deep ravines covered with loose rock and prickly pear cactus.
Expedition members would need to carry all of their boats and baggage around them.
The portage would take 28 days.

September 18, 2017
Decision Point. 
We were thrilled to be able to stand on the bluff and look out at the two rivers, to imagine the Captains standing there in their own time. 

Fred climbing the hill to Decision Point.
This is a beautiful place. Low brown hills are dotted with sage brush. The only trees in the area are near the rivers. 
Decision Point is BLM land. 
It is undeveloped except for the dirt road, a few interpretive signs and one plowed field in the distance. It is easy to believe that this is the way the land looked when Captains Lewis and Clark stood on this very spot.

September 20, 2017
Great Falls
The Falls are different now than what were seen by the Corps of Discovery. Five dams control the flow of water through Great Falls, covering one of the falls which was only 6 feet in height. 

Lewis and Clark expedition marker at the base of the Great Falls.
We can see the rock ledges that the water would have cascaded over in Lewis and Clark's time but it has been diverted through the power plants. The course of the river here is said to be otherwise unchanged. There is a Rivers Edge Trail that follows the Missouri and affords great views of the water. We took advantage and walked a portion of it.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Giant Springs State Park tells the story of overcoming the obstacle of the falls, It is an amazing story. 

This is how big a dugout canoe really is.

We saw our first dugout canoe built to the specifications that the explorers would have used. That word, canoe, does not paint the correct verbal picture.
These things are massive.
They are trees, two to three feet in diameter and about 15 feet long. Yes the insides are "dug out" leaving the wood about 2 1/2 inches thick. The front and back are tapered to a point but they are TREES. 
I can't imagine moving them dry, let alone when soaked with water. 
The Interpretive Center has a full sized exhibit of the men pushing and pulling one uphill. It was our first realization of the grueling work that the portage around the Great Falls entailed.
The Captains scouted the land near the falls on both sides of the river, mapping out the most level path and marking it with stakes.
The path was 18 miles long.
They made another encampment along the river at the top of the path, the Upper Portage Camp.
The Lower Portage Camp stayed the same. It was as close to the base of the falls as they were able to travel in the current.
They built a trailer of sorts to move the canoes on. The wheels were made of log rounds from a large tree.
They used ropes for pulling.
They used poles for pushing.
They used wheel chocks and pins to keep from sliding backward.
The process to move one canoe was to wrangle it onto the trailer and tie it down.
One group of me tied ropes around themselves and tied them to the trailer to pull and climb bent over using rocks and grass and sage to pull themselves and the canoe along.
Another group of men followed pushing poles under the wheels and up to help move them along chocking the wheels at each revolution so as not to lose ground.
They did this in mocassins, their boots were long gone. 
Over prickly pear cactus with sharp thorns 2 inches long.
Bitten constantly by mosquitoes and gnats.
For 18 miles.
6 times.
Our forefathers were tough and they knew how to get a job done.

Captain Clark supervised the move from the Lower Portage Camp.

Captain Lewis and a small group of men stayed at the Upper Portage Camp assembling the frame of the iron boat that he had designed and had built in Harpers Ferry. They had carried the "dismantilable" boat frame anticipating a time when the heavier boats would not be able to continue.
The Iron Boat was needed to replace the remaining pirogue that would be left at the base of the falls.
The men assembled the frame, lashed flexible sticks to it for support and covered the outside with elk skins. The skins were sewn together to make them fit closely. 
The project went smoothly until this point. The final step needed was to seal the sewn seams with pitch from pine trees. 
There were no pine trees anywhere near them. 
Lewis had never considered that the trees that are so common in the east would not be available when they needed them.
He made a concoction of beeswax and other available substances but it did not work. 
The collapsible boat sank, Lewis' great experiment had failed. It was a devastating event made even worse by the amount of time and effort expended in the attempt.
The men found 2 large trees and worked to dig out 2 more canoes in order to continue the journey.

September 21, 2017

Great Falls is a large city by Montana standards. 

Charlie Russell, Artist of the American West

We spent a day at the C M Russell Museum enjoying Charlie Russell's western art that was inspired by the time he spent in this part of Montana. It is a fantastic experience to study his paintings and to recognize the backgrounds as landscape we had recently driven through. Russell was an imaginative artist working in oils and watercolors. He was also a sculptor. The museum contains many "smalls" that tell his story. There are letters to friends with whimsical illustrations and multimedia sculptures of animals and fanciful creatures that he made as gifts for friends. 

Fort Benton on the other hand is quite small. 

Historic Buildings in Fort Benton
It is a historic city, most of the buildings on Main St have markers noting their inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. 
The fort itself is interesting but a quick visit.
More interesting is the Levee walk on the other side of main street that leads to the Old Fort Benton Bridge. The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic but is great for walking. A local Eagle Scout made and installed benches and picnic tables on the bridge for public use. 

Old Fort Benton Bridge and the Levee Walk
The best part of the Levee walk is the statue and story of Shep.
Shep is a collie mix dog who came to live at the Fort Benton train station. His person, a sheepherder, became ill and died. Shep stayed outside the hospital while he was ill and followed his body to the train station when it was shipped back east for burial. Shep met the train 4 times every day for 6 years looking for his friends return. He became known to the conductors and was loved by townspeople who cared for him but left him to his vigil. Shep became a local celebrity but resisted overtures of friendship and was content to call the depot his home. 

He was buried on a bluff above the depot. A statue of him was placed in a park along the river, near the Grand Union Hotel. 
Fort Benton is also home to famed Hornaday bison. The 6 specimens were collected by conservationist William Temple Hornaday who took them to Washington to be displayed at the Smithsonian where they were exhibited for 65 years. The Hornaday bison were an example that Hornaday and contemporaries Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir could point out in there efforts to conserve the species. 

Hornaday Bison
Hornady's efforts are regarded as being responsible for saving the buffalo from extinction.
The Hornaday Bison made their way back to Montana and are now on display at the Museum of the Northern Great Plains. You might recognize the great bull. He is pictured on the great seal of the Department of the Interior and on the badge of the National Park Service.

We spent a week in Great Falls watching the wild fires and smoke conditions further west on the Lewis and Clark Trail. Snowfall in the mountains has helped to subdue the fires somewhat but the early arrival of cold weather brings other problems when you are driving a 40 foot bus.
We have decided to forego the rest of the Lewis and Clark Trail for now and to start heading south. 
Our house has wheels and they can turn in any direction. 
Tomorrow we head south, loving the flexibility of our lifestyle.

Upper Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center. We followed the Missouri River 2285 miles from St Louis.

Decision Point Overlook
11 miles North of Fort Benton on US 87 at the confluence of the Missouri River.
Watch for signs, they are small

Old Fort Benton
1900 River St.
Fort Benton, Montana

Museum of the Northern Great Plains
1205 20th St
Fort Benton, Montana

Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center
701 7th St
Fort Benton, Montana

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center
4201 Giant Springs Rd
Great Falls, Montana

Great Falls 
can be viewed from Montana Power Company at Ryan Dam Park
Ryan Dam Rd
Great Falls, Montana

Charles M Russell Museum
400 13th St North
Great Falls, Montana