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The ExpeditionYellowstone River ReturnFrancois Larocque
Dangerous Assignment
Abominable Country

Larocque's Yellowstone Journey

Map showing Larocque's travel times and distances down the Yellowstone
The locations of Larocque's recorded campsites are indicated by dates.
The estimated overland mileages from Pryor's Creek
to the Missouri, totaling 280 miles (174 km), are parallel
to the river but cut across many of the river's bends.

arocque's narrative of his journey down the Yellowstone river in the early fall of 1805 is problematic at several points. He wrote that at about 10:00 a.m. on September 15, on the east side of Pryor's Creek at its confluence with the Yellowstone, he passed "a whitish perpendicular Rock on which is painted with Red earth a battle between three persons on horseback and 3 on foot." But there is no perpendicular rock at or near that location today, and no evidence there ever was one. At 2:00 p.m. the same day he arrived at "a high hill on the side of the river called by the natives "Erpian Macoliť." Whether or not this place was identical with the "remarkable rock" Clark was to call Pompy's Tower cannot be known, Link to aerial photo of Yellowstone Badlandsbut the latter does not fit today's definition of hill--small heap or mound." It is possible, even likely, that Larocque did indeed see an Indian pictograph near Pryor's Creek,1 but we are disposed to conclude that he wrote these journal entries some time later, that he confused the two landmarks in his mind, and that the "whitish perpendicular Rock" he mentioned is actually Pompy's Tower.

The following day, September 16, Larocque and his companions arrived at "the Rocks of the large Horn [Bighorn] River" at 8:00 p.m. On the seventeenth they passed through "a most abominable country and often despaired of being able to get clear of [the] place." On the southeast side of the Yellowstone, beginning about four miles below the Bighorn, there is a five-mile stretch where the terrain is rough, to be sure, but not so much so as to evoke such plaints as he uttered on that single day. And there are nearly a dozen other places along the same side of the Yellowstone that would have been at least equally as difficult, though he mentions only one. Perhaps the explanation is that Larocque wrote of his Yellowstone journey some time after it was over, and that his recollections were imperfect--not surprising, considering all the new experiences he had undergone in a strange and danger-ridden land. Why he didn't return by the route Sheheke had mapped for Clark can only be imagined.

--Joseph Mussulman

1. In 1876 Lt. James Bradley, descending the Yellowstone from the vicinity of today's Billings, Montana, observed: "At the point where the road ascends from the Clark's Fork bottom, the rocks are lavishly adorned with Indian hieroglyphics, some of them graven deeply in the face of the rock at a considerable height above the ground and in places difficult of access." Journal of James H. Bradley, in Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, Vol. II (Boston: J. S. Canner, 1966), 165.

Dangerous Assignment
Abominable Country

From Discovering Lewis & Clark ®, http://www.lewis-clark.org © 1998-2014
by The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota.
Journal excerpts are from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary E. Moulton
13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001)