September 7, 1833
6 September: In the morning, clear and pleasant. At 7:30, 67°F [19.4°C]. Men were put to work on the saw, and seven men [were] sent into the forest to cut wood for our mackinaw boat. Nearby Mr. Bodmer began a view of the fort.
Because we have now decided not to travel to the falls of the Missouri but to proceed down to Fort Union as soon as our boat is finished, I excerpted the description of the falls from Mr. Mitchell’s diary. It reads verbatim as follows:
Made an early start [in] the morning in order that we might have the more time to examine the falls; about 10:00 A. M. we were apprised of their proximity not only by the roaring of the water but [also by] the dense columns of foggy vapor, which rose towering far above the high rocky cliffs of the Missouri.[Page 2:257] We approached the first, or lower, fall from the northeast side of the river, but was [sic] much chagrined to find that the high perpendicular cliff precluded the possibility of having a near and satisfactory view of them. This fall is stated by Lewis and Clark to be the highest of any on the Missouri. It presents a grand and imposing appearance but is less handsome than several of the succeeding ones; on the south side of the river, the water pitches over a perpendicular rock the whole height of the falls, while on the north side, about two-thirds of the water starts off from the pitch and falls by a regular descent of about twenty-five degrees, till it approaches the lower extremity, where it falls over a rock, similar to that on the north side, though as near as I could judge of not more than onethird of the height. After leaving the fall, we proceeded along the bank of the river for about a mile and a half, when we came in full view of the second fall. I was much struck with the beautiful appearance which it first presents, and my admiration increased as I approached; for me, I have no hesitation in stating this to be the handsomest of them all.
The fall is something in the shape of a horseshoe, though there is [sic] many abrupt angles in the curve; it is perfectly abrupt and of a uniform height. Extending from the south side about two-thirds of the way across the water, all pouring in toward the center, where it rolls and pitches about in foamy eddies as white as snow. Notwithstanding, there is a perpendicular ledge of rock, which runs round the whole width of the river. The fall only extends from the south side, about two-thirds of the way round [sic] the circle—the remainder appears in former times to have fallen over toward the center in the same manner—but is now separated by a small island or strip of low scrubby trees and bushes, which grow immediately on the brink of the falls, which has driven the water off to the left, until it has forced a passage along the shore and falls by regular descent, until it mingles again with the main channel about 200 yards below. It was [a] matter of much astonishing [sic] to me that the high spring and summer floods has [sic] not long since swept away this diminutive little island and precipitated it into the foaming water below—or rather, it was a matter of surprise how it now could have been formed. But long may it stand, waving its green boughs proudly above the foaming surge, as it adds greatly to the beauty of the scenery. I lingered for several hours near this fall and felt as if I should never tire in gazing at it. The third fall is situated about 400 yards above the second. But a very short bend in the river prevents it from being seen, until you approach within 50 or 60 paces of it. This fall is second only in height to the first but infinitely superior in point of beauty. It is a perpendicular pitch of upwards of 20 feet and extends in a straight line across the river. The surface of the rock appears to be of a uniform level, and the water falls off with great regularity.
The fourth is only a fall of 6 or 8 feet and very much like the one first discuted [sic, discussed?], with the difference that, in place of running straight across the river, it runs rather diagonally—the south side being probably 50 or 60 yards higher up the river, than that of the north.
The fifth and last fall is not so high as the first and third. It is very much like the third, running in a straight line across the river—though the fall is not perpendicular, being broken by a bench or ledge of rock about halfway—this bench is about 4 feet wide, and after sustaining the rush of the foaming waters, dashes it in broken columns below.[Page 2:258]
The season of the year gave a peculiar beauty to this fall; the ice, which had floated down in large masses during the commencement of the winter, had pitched over the fall, and lodged on the bench—so that the first fall of water was entirely concealed by a curtain of ice, except in some places where a projecting crag or point of rock broke the column of water and dashed it forward in a horizontal position, which, coming in contact with the curtain of ice, broke through and, spouting out in many fantastic streams, darted forward beyond the lower ledge and fell in the foaming eddies below.
The river for some considerable distance, say 10 miles below the falls, is one continued rapid also between each of the falls. In these rapids there was no appearance of ice, and we found ducks and geese in great abundance, but above the upper fall, commencing at the very brink of the rock, the river was frozen over three foot [sic] thick. Here the river entirely changes its character: the banks are low and level, the current very gentle, or hardly perceptible, and in fact in many places looks more like a lake than a river. I crossed about 3 miles above the falls and found the river near 800 yards wide.
At noon, 72°F [22.2°C].
I deeply regretted not being able to see the falls described here, but the principal chief of the Piegans told Mr. Mitchell, when asked regarding our safety on such a journey, that the Piegans would do us no harm, but he could not vouch for the Blood Indians and Blackfoot. In any case our horses would be in great danger, and these horses belonged to the company; I would have to pay for them. Besides, I had no interpreter, and there would be just a few of us. Because I would not have been able to stay there long in any case, and thus could not make any natural history collections or observations, and because the Rocky Mountains were also inaccessible for so few persons, I decided to ask Mr. Mitchell to expedite the building of our mackinaw boat. He immediately took the necessary measures.
Any day one could expect to be attacked again by the Assiniboines, and probably with a more serious attack against the fort, and thus we were not able to go very far afield. We were all the more sensitive about this captivity and the consequent loss of precious time, so that I had to hasten my departure as much as possible. We had learned as much as possible about the Indians of this region and had succeeded in making an interesting collection of portraits and drawings of them. If we waited longer, our journey downriver would turn out to be cold and unpleasant, [and] we could not stay here all winter long; [we did] not [want] to arrive in St. Louis too late next spring. Our journey downriver [at this time] was dangerous, too, but we planned to take advantage of the nights to evade the Assiniboines, who were now our enemies. Weighing all these considerations, we tried to hasten our departure as much as possible.
Since our food supplies were now very bad, Mr. Mitchell sent a good hunter, Loretto, with a man and packhorses to get fresh meat for us.[Page 2:259] For a long time we had had nothing other than old, tough, dried meat morning, noon, and night; in the morning, coffee with it and some bread; in the evening, tea with some bread; and at noon, corn boiled in the meat broth. But now this, too, was all gone, and we had nothing but old, hard meat. This way of life cannot be beneficial to one’s health for very long, and this also greatly contributed to our desire to leave [this] post isolated among dangerous, untrustworthy Indians.
In the afternoon Mr. Bodmer drew Marcereau’s wife, a Shoshone Indian woman with a strikingly black color. She seemed to have a liver ailment, and since then she is said to have become blacker. Dreidoppel had gone out to hunt. He [went] upriver toward the woods but found nothing worthy of note. I went onto the prairie and saw an uncountable number of grasshoppers (Gryllus), some of which were engaged in mating.M52Grasshoppers are said to have been especially abundant
this year. The whole earth seemed alive with them. They flew around in all directions, particularly the variety with black wings bordered in white. The grass of the prairie was completely dry and burned yellow. The yellow plant of the Syngenesia, which is used here for venereal diseases (Brachyris euthamiae Nutt. ?), was now in full bloom. The evening was calm and not cool, very pleasant; at ten o’ clock, heat lightning and [a] distant thunderstorm.