Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This day in history - June 13, 1805

 June 13th, 1805 - Meriwether Lewis and other companions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition become the first white men to discover the Great Falls of the Missouri River

We heard it before we saw it. An unmistakable roar of water filling  our ears and getting louder as we are getting closer. We have finally found the great river falls the Indians had warned us about during our winter with them at Fort Mandan.  Many evenings the Mandan Indians had drawn on the dirt what we were up against. Those drawings did not in any way prepare us for the majestic wonder of the land we were about to see. 
Captain Lewis and his dog, Seaman are steps ahead of us while myself and Silas Goodrich follow along with York, Captain Clark's black slave. Our purpose was to find these great falls  as well as to determine if the Missouri River did indeed continue on towards the West. Captain Clark decides he will stay back on the river with the rest of the expedition and waits for word from us.

 Earlier this week we had come to a fork in the river and it was unclear which direction to take. Making the wrong decision would be fatal to the expedition and failure was not an option. President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned Captain Lewis and Captain Clark to explore and establish a river route to the Pacific Ocean. A journey to the unknown that no other white man had ever taken before. Jefferson took personal interest in the members of what he called the Corps of Discovery. He made it clear that the explorers are to be educated men who are proficient in botany, zoology and as well as astronomy. appointed by Jefferson because I am an accomplished cartographer. I compile and sketch maps. He insisted that all members journal their personal observations and describe in great detail their findings. 
We hike on and the sound of the thunderous water got louder and louder. So loud that the earth felt as it was vibrating. Plumes of what looked like smoke rising up into our view ahead dancing in the horizon. The sounds were unlike anything we had ever heard. Lewis stopped and waited for us to catch up. When the four of us caught up to the Captain and his dog, I look ahead and am enthralled by what I see. The noon day sun is shining down in such a way vibrant colors are weaving in and out of the rising sprays of water. We continue on towards the sound and mist and scramble down a hillside. We walk through a  short grove of trees and into a small clearing and stop short. 
The sight before us is of remarkable splendor and one that will always stay with me to the end of my days. Before us is a sheet of water the width of the mountain. Rolling cascades of water flowing over the cliff of the mountain beating the bottoms edge. The noise is so great we cannot hear each other shout and the spray of the water covering us in a drizzle like rain refreshingly cool on our hot sun baked skin. 
I am in awe of the natural wonder in front of me and pull out my sketch pad and colored pencils from my haversack. I sketch the waterfalls onto paper for Thomas Jefferson to see but I can do it no justice. The beauty is too great to transpose onto paper. 

It should be noted that York, Captain Lewis's slave, is the first black man to see the falls. As far as Seaman, the dog, he too might be the first dog to view the falls as well but tough to say since dogs weren't good about keeping observations at that time in history! 

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