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Lewis and Clark
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Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Beaverhead Rock State Park

Location: Madison County at the edge of the Beaverhead County line, on the north, or west, bank of the Beaverhead River, along Mont. 41, about 12 miles southwest of the city of Twin Bridges and 14 miles northeast of Dillon. Direct access to the rock is possible only by a rough, ranch-type road. This is an undeveloped, unsigned state park.

Always a locally prominent landmark, this massive stone outcrop was a major milestone to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as it had long been to the Shoshonis. A flurry of anticipation passed through the expedition on August 8, 1805, when Sacagawea recognized it in the distance and said that the summer retreat of her people, the Shoshonis, was not far to the west. By this time, the explorers were worn out from navigating the troublesome Jefferson-Beaverhead River. Even worse, they were virtually lost and were anxiously seeking the tribe, from which they hoped to obtain horses and guides to cross the mountains to the Pacific.

Beaverhead Rock
Beaverhead Rock, Mont. Sacagawea's recognition of this landmark assured the expedition that the Shoshonis, her people, would probably soon be encountered. (National Park Service (Grant, 1952).)

Beaverhead Rock
Beaverhead Rock. (National Park Service (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial).)

That night, camp was made about 7 miles northeast of the rock. The next morning, Lewis and three men set out overland in search of the Indians, left the river, and traveled behind the rock. On the next day, the 10th, the main, or boat, party, under Clark, passed the rock on its river side. Three days later, on the 13th, Lewis and the advance party made contact with the Shoshonis. Because of the separation of the expedition at Travelers Rest, Mont., on the return trip, only the Clark segment passed Beaverhead Rock, in July 1806.

Considerable confusion exists about the identity of Beaverhead Rock because some writers and the local populace have given the name to what Lewis and Clark called Rattlesnake Cliffs, about 25 miles to the southwest, and have designated Beaverhead Rock as "Point of Rocks." To further complicate the matter, Rattlesnake Cliffs bear a closer resemblance to a beaver's head than does Beaverhead Rock. The cliffs, in contrast to the rock, are closer to the river, are almost perpendicular, and extend along both sides of the stream.

Mont. 41 crosses from the south to the north side of the Beaverhead River close to the rock and skirts its eastern side. Part of the property in the vicinity is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and the remainder is held by private owners. Unfortunately, recent rock and gravel removal operations by one of the latter at the base of Beaverhead Rock have threatened its integrity. The surrounding area, however, has changed little since the days of Lewis and Clark.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004