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The story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition—the tedious trip up the Missouri to its sources, the hazardous passage across the Rockies and the long descent of the Columbia River to the Pacific—has become an important part of our American heritage. After many months of preparation, the "Corps of Discovery" left Wood River, near St. Louis, on May 4, 1804. By early autumn, they had reached present-day South Dakota and were pushing upstream to winter among the Mandan villages, a short distance north of modern Bismarck, North Dakota. The journey had been eventful, horses had been lost and there were contacts with the Sioux but all had been well-managed and the expedition proceeded smoothly.

On September 19, 1804, the travelers entered the area that 150 years later was to become the Big Bend Reservoir. After passing "Les trois rivieres des Sioux," Campbell Creek, Crow Creek and Wolf Creek on modern maps, and threading through a channel blocked by many sand bars and islands, the expedition camped for the night at the foot of the Grand Detour, the great horseshoe loop that forms the downstream limit of the Big Bend of the Missouri.

The following morning the expedition journal reports that, "... we despatched two men with our only horse across the neck, to hunt there and await our arrival at the first creek beyond it. We then set out with fair weather and the wind from S. E. to make the circuit of the bend," camping for the night after a journey of twenty-seven miles.

Here they were joined by "Captain Clark, who early this morning had crossed the neck of the bend ... at the narrowest part the gorge (the neck) is composed of high and irregular hills of about 180 or 190 feet in elevation; from this descends an unbroken plain over the whole of the bend ... Great numbers of buffaloe, elk, and goats (antelope) are wandering over these plains, accompanied by grouse and larks. Captain Clark saw a hare also, on the Great Bend. Of the goats killed to-day, one is a female differing from the male in being smaller in size; its horns too are smaller and straighter, having one sharp prong, and there is no black about the neck. None of these goats have any beard, but are delicately formed, and very beautiful."

During the night, "Between one and two o'clock the sergeant on guard alarmed us, by crying that the sandbar on which we lay was sinking. We jumped up, and found that both above and below our camp the sand was undermined and falling in very fast. We had scarcely got into the boats and pushed off, when the bank under which they had been lying fell in, and would certainly have sunk the two periogues (canoes) if they had remained there. By the time we reached the opposite shore the ground of our encampment sunk also. We formed a second camp for the rest of the night, and at daylight proceeded on to the gorge or throat of the Great Bend, where we breakfasted. A man, whom we had despatched to step off the distance across the bend, made it 2000 yards; the circuit is 30 miles. During the whole course, the land of the bend (north of the Missouri) is low, with occasional bluffs; that on the opposite side, high prairie ground and long ridges of dark bluffs."

The following morning, September 22, the expedition was detained by thick fog. After a late start, they continued upstream, passing Cedar Island "... deriving its name from the quantity of the timber. On the south side of this island is a fort and a large trading-house built by a Mr. Loisel who wintered here during the last year in order to trade with the Sioux, the remains of whose camps are in great numbers about this place. The establishment is 60 or 70 feet square, built with red cedar and picketed in with the same materials."

On Sunday, September 23, the travelers moved on upstream around timbered islands and sand bars as they passed into the upper reaches of the Big Bend. "The country, generally consists of low, rich, timbered ground on the north, and high barren lands on the south; on both sides great numbers of buffaloe are feeding. In the evening three boys of the Sioux nation swam across the river and informed us that two parties of Sioux were encamped on the next river, one consisting of 80 and the second of 60 lodges, at some distance above. After treating them kindly we sent them back with a present of two carrots of tabacco to their chiefs..."

The following day brought the expedition to the mouth of the Teton or Bad River at the modern city of Fort Pierre, the northern end of the Big Bend Reservoir. As they approached the Bad River, the Sioux stole a horse from one of the expedition hunters, the first incident of their troubled visit to the Sioux in this neighborhood.

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Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008