62. Sun River joins the Missouri
(view southeast, down the Sun)
fter passing the series of waterfalls during his walk of 14 June, Lewis spied a river he surmised to be the one the Hidatsas called Mah-pah-pah,-ah-zhah, “Medicine River” (today called the Sun River). He strode down from the low hills on the north (left in photo) side of the Missouri and headed toward the bend, “near which there was a herd of at least a thousand buffaloe.” Just after he shot one, he was startled by a grizzly bear only twenty steps away. The bear charged him, and Lewis, having carelessly neglected to reload his rifle, resorted to a defensive strategy he had been prepared to use since shortly after the expedition entered the grizzly's home ground. He hurried to the river, wading in “to such debth that I could stand and he would be obliged to swim,” and turned to defend himself with his espontoon.
The bear followed him to the bank and then, for reasons “misterious and unaccountable,” suddenly spun around and ran away. “So it was,” Lewis concluded with satisfaction, “and I felt myself not a little gratified that he had declined the combat.”
En route back to camp, Lewis was threatened by an animal he could not identify (possibly a wolverine) and a short time later was rushed by three bull bison. The day’s “succession of curious adventures wore the impression on my mind of inchantment,” he mused. “It now seemed to me that all the beasts of the neighbourhood had made a league to distroy me.” After a hearty supper and a good night’s rest, Lewis awoke to find a large rattlesnake sunning itself on a tree just ten feet away.
In this photo, the Missouri flows from right to left, and the Sun River joins it from the northwest. The mountains at the center of the hazy horizon are the Highwoods, flanked by the overlapping Big Belt Mountains at right.
From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark
Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press.