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[photo] Rotating views of Lemhi Pass
Photos courtesy of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and National Historic Landmarks collection

In mid-August 1805, Lewis and three other members of the Corps of Discovery had left the main group behind in search of native inhabitants of the area, heading toward Beaverhead Rock. On August 12, this small group came to Lemhi Pass, a two-mile span stretching across the present-day border between Montana and Idaho. Nestled among these mountains and bridging the gap between the ranges of the Rockies, Lemhi Pass maintains its unobtrusive, yet momentous, place in our nation's history. As they ventured westward, the party came across some of the most imposing landscapes that they had ever encountered--peaks upon jagged peaks as far as the eye could see. The crossing of this pass--the Continental Divide, a ridge extending North and South along the Rocky Mountains' Beaverhead Range--would prove one of the greatest achievements of Lewis and Clark's expedition to the West Coast. The first Americans to do so, the crew officially left United States territory, journeyed into disputed lands claimed by various European powers and reaffirmed their desire to reach the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and his men also came to the westernmost reaches of the now less than mighty Missouri River. Writing in his journal that day, Lewis recorded the significance of the area and the event:

[photo] A source of the Missouri River as discovered by Lewis and Clark
National Park Service photo, courtesy of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site

. . . the road took us to the most distant fountain of the waters of the Mighty Missouri in surch of which we have spent so many toilsome days and wristless nights. thus far I had accomplished one of those great objects on which my mind has been unalterably fixed for many years, judge then of the pleasure I felt in all[a]ying my thirst with this pure and ice-cold water . here I halted a few minutes and rested myself. two miles below McNeal had exultingly stood with a foot on each side of this rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri. after refreshing ourselves we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow . . . here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia river . . . (DeVoto 1997, 188-189)

The two groups of explorers reunited shortly after, camping briefly at Traveler's Rest before continuing on their westward journey.

Lemhi Pass, a National Historic Landmark, is located 12 miles east of Tendoy off ID 28, in Beaverhead and Salmon National Forests, and marks the boundary between Idaho and Montana. The Forest Service has signs at Lemhi Pass during the summer months, to help tell the story of the pass. Please call 406-683-3900 or 208-768-2500, or visit the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest's website for further information. You can also download (in pdf) the Lemhi Pass National Historic Landmark nomination.

Lemhi Pass is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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