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Lewis and Clark Camp at Slaughter River
Photo from National Register collection,
by David G. Conklin, Montana Department of Fish and Game
Photo courtesy of Discovering Lewis and Clark

The Lewis and Clark Camp at Slaughter River was one of the few sites used by the explorers on both their outgoing and return trips. The party first camped here on May 29, 1805. Here they discovered the remains of over 100 buffalo, which the explorers assumed were killed at a buffalo jump. Indians in the high Plains used jumps to kill buffalo before the advent of steel-tipped arrows, lances and rifle-muskets. The Indians would entice a herd near the edge of a butte, eroded cliff or river gorge and then instigate a stampede that forced the buffalo over the edge. Lewis explained:

. . . for this purpose one of the most active and fleet young men is scelected and disguised in a robe of buffaloe skin, having also the skin of the buffaloe's head with the years and horns fastened on his head in form of a cap, thus caparisoned he places himself at a convenient distance between a herd of buffaloe and a precipice proper for the purpose.the other indians now surround the herd on the back and flanks and at a signal agreed on all shew themselves at the same time moving forward towards the buffaloe; the disguised indian or decoy has taken care to place himself sufficiently nigh the buffaloe to be noticed by them when they take flight and runing before them they follow him in full speede to the precipice.the decoy in the mean time has taken care to secure himself in some cranney or crivice of the clift which he had previously prepared for that purpose. the part of the decoy I am informed is extreamely dangerous, if they are not fleet runers the buffaloe tread them under foot and crush them to death, and sometimes drive them over the precipice also, where they perish in common with the buffaloe . . . (DeVoto 1997, 121)

The explorers wrongly attributed this jump to some Blackfeet Indians, whose two-week-old campsite was found earlier in the day. The buffalo had simply drowned in the river and piled up on the bank when the ice broke. The presence of these buffalo was the inspiration for naming the nearby creek Slaughter River (now Arrow Creek). The party arrived again at Slaughter River on July 29, 1806, just two days after Lewis's struggle with the Piegans, a Blackfoot tribe, at Two Medicine Fight Site. While at this campsite the explorers killed a wolf, an elk, two beavers and nine Audubon bighorn sheep.

The Lewis and Clark Camp at Slaughter River is located in Montana 40 miles south of Big Sandy on the north bank of the Missouri River approximately of a mile upstream from the mouth of Arrow Creek. For information on river trips that include this campsite, visit Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures.

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