• Red cliffs descend into the water of Bighorn Canyon

    Bighorn Canyon

    National Recreation Area MT,WY

Timeline The Bighorn Expedition of 1863

Spring 1863 - Captain James Stuart leads a party of 15 men from Bannack, Idaho Territory (present day southwestern Montana) to explore and prospect the headwaters of the Yellowstone and adjacent territory.

May 5th - party reached mouth of the Bighorn River. Several members pan for gold on sand bars in the river. They find up to fifty colors of gold in every pan. Henry Geery nearly drowns when he goes swimming in the Bighorn and is swept into a whirlpool at the river’s confluence with the Yellowstone.

May 6th - five men are detailed to cross the Bighorn, survey a town-site and ranches. They locate a town-site of 640 acres which they name Big Horn City and 13 ranches of 160 acres each.

May 8th - the party travels along the west side of the Bighorn following the same trail pioneered by the Raynolds Expedition of 1860. Two men from the party are sent to prospect on the Little Bighorn. Numerous signs of Indians are seen throughout the area.

May 9th - the party sees thousands of buffalo on the hills five to ten miles back from the Bighorn. The remains of what is assumed to be a Sioux burial are found in a tree.

May 11th - the party crosses to the east side of the Bighorn where the travel is much easier. While crossing the river, they sight three people riding horses, but are unable to catch up with them. Several months later, they discover that one of these riders was John Bozeman.

May 12th - the party fords Soap Creek. Soon afterward they sight the mouth of Bighorn Canyon. They make camp at the mouth of Lime Kiln Creek. Several of the party begin to prospect on the sand bars and along the banks of the Bighorn, they find float gold.

May 12th 11:00 p.m. - The camp comes under attack by Indians, first with shotgun blasts then arrows. Seven men are wounded, two mortally. Six of the seven wounds are caused by gunshots, the other by an arrow. The attack lasts several hours until the early morning.

May 13th - the party makes a decision not to attempt a return to Bannack through Crow country. They decide to head due south, parallel to the canyon and return by way of South Pass and Fort Bridger. Abandoned all supplies and equipment - with the exception of five to six days rations - in order to outpace Indians. Ephraim Bostwick who is badly wounded commits suicide

May 14th - the party rides 20 miles in a southwesterly direction. While they are making camp Henry T. Geery accidentally triggers a shotgun while unpacking some blankets, the blast shatters his left shoulder, he then committed suicide. The party then travels another 3 miles to make a new camp.

May 15th - the party travels through Garvin Basin and sights Devil Canyon. They are fooled by the rugged terrain into believing it is just a few miles to open country. After traveling 20 miles, the party is still stuck amid the canyon area.

May 16th - in the morning they reach the top of Devil Canyon. Make their way around Medicine Mountain through deep snow drifts.

May 17th - May 28th - head due south over these ten days. On the 28th they arrive at the Oregon Trail near Pacific City.

June 22, 1863 - the party returns to Bannack. In the words of Stuart they are “so dilapidated (sic) generally, that scarcely anyone knew us at first.”

Did You Know?

View of the monocline looking north from Dryhead

Over the past 65 million years, with a dramatic increase the last 5 million years, 5800 to 7500 feet of rock layers have eroded off the top of Bighorn Canyon. More...