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[photo] Lewis and Clark set up camp at a site in the center of this photo. The remaining ruts of the traivois trail can be seen on the hill in the far left, and Pataha Creek runs through the center of the photo.
National Register photo by Bob Beale

On their return from the Pacific Ocean in May of 1806, the Corps of Discovery entered the foothills of the Blue Mountains, a region of moderately steep rolling hills, cut by creek valleys, near an ancient American Indian trail. This road, sometimes referred to as the Nez Perce Trail, once extended from the mouth of the Walla Walla River in what is now South Central Washington to the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers in present-day Idaho. Many Plateau Indian groups, particularly the Nez Perce, Walla Wallas and Cayuse, used this road extensively. In late spring and early summer the trail provided access to salmon fishing spots on the rivers; in early fall it became a route to the highlands for deer and elk hunting. A frequent mode of transportation on this road was a travois, built with two long trailng poles, one on either side of a dog or horse, and attached in front with a makeshift collar. The poles were held together behind the animal with hides supported by short cross poles, forming a hammock or pocket on which possessions were carried. These devices were dragged over the trail, causing deep, parallel tracks to mark the earth. This accounts for the ruts visible on some of the eastern portions of the Travois Road today.

On May 3rd, the explorers set up camp for the night in a grove of cottonwood trees on Pataha Creek at the spot where the ancient Indian trail left the valley and went up the ridge to the higher plains. Earlier that day, at some considerable distance west of the campsite, Lewis and Clark were agreeably surprised when they met 11 Nez Perce men led by We-ark-koomt, known as Big Horn Chief, whom Clark wrote received that name "from the circumstance of his always wearing a horn of that animal suspended by a cord to his left arm." (DeVoto 1997, 370) Both Lewis and Clark specifically mention the surviving trail and campsite in their journals. Clark, for instance, wrote:

Close view of the travois ruts
National Register photo by Bob Beale

after meeting this Chief we Continued Still up the Creek bottoms N.75 E. 2 m. to the place at which the roade leaves the Creek and assends the hill up to the high plains: here we Encamped in a Small grove of Cotton trees which in some measure broke the violence of the wind. . .it rained, hailed, Snowed & blowed with Great Violence the greater portion of the day. . .the air was very cold. we divided the last of our dried meat at dinner when it was Consumed as well as the ballance of our Dogs nearly we made but a Scant Supper, and had not any thing for tomorrow. (Moulton 1991, 7: 204)

On the following day, May 4, Lewis stated: "Collected out horses and set out early; the morning was cold and disagreeable. we ascended through a high level plain to a ravine which forms the source of a small creek, thence down this creek to it's entrance into Lewis's river 71/2 ms. Below the entrance of the Kooskooske [Clearwater]." (DeVoto 1997, 371) In the years after Lewis and Clark, the Travois Road was used by fur trappers, traders, and other European Americans as well as being continually used by American Indians.

The Lewis and Clark Trail--Travois Road crosses U.S. Rte. 12 at Pataha Creek, 5 miles east of Pomeroy and 15 miles south of the Snake River. Because of farming along most of the trail, this quarter mile section is one of the last surviving portions of the entire trail.

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