May 28, 1833
28 May: In the morning, overcast sky, calm, cool weather. Very early, they began loading the keelboat from our steamboat, and already before eight o’clock this task was finished and they sent the vessel off.M82At 7:30, 60°F [15.6°C]. It is 15 miles from our night quarters to the Big Bend. At first we had willows and cottonwood forest to our right, bluffs to the left. On their map Lewis and Clark indicate three creeks before Big Bend, all on the left bank, but they are insignificant and all dry now. Somewhat farther on, a large island, which has emerged since the time of Lewis and Clark, appears to the right. To the left there are extensive prairie hills on which the black streak in the middle is visible from a distance. Farther on, several of the distant hilltops have cedar thickets rather high up. Gradually these hills take on a different appearance: they are higher; their tops overgrown with cedars; rougher and more barren; various kinds of ravines between them. On the right bank, tall cottonwood forest with a dense undergrowth of tall willows. Somewhat farther along this bank, a border of tall cottonwoods, [and] behind them the vast prairie.
To the left, rain came up, which did not last long. We were stranded here for half an hour, and after they had taken soundings, [we] moved on. Little Soldier had overburdened his stomach yesterday and was sick today; he was given medicine. At noon he felt better. At twelve o’clock, 63°F [17.2°C]. Warm and pleasant in the afternoon. Extensive and level alluvial soil now to the left, with a steep, uniform shore for a great distance, like a fortress. Half an hour later, we passed the Assiniboine, which was aground in a wrong channel. Opposite us, along our bank, there is a beautiful green prairie with short oak trunks and thickets of ash, also buffalo berry. Here Picus erythrocephalus [is] very abundant.
At one o’clock we halted at the prairie to the left, and our crew cut a large pile of wood.
Behind a A small creek, which was now dry, emptied here into the Missouri. I followed its bed, which was deep and covered along both banks with old trees about 40 to 50 feet high: oaks, ashes, and elms. There were birds here in large numbers, especially very numerous Fringilla erythrophthalma (which likes to creep about in the thickets), Sylvia aestiva, and Muscicapa ruticilla (which were chasing each other with their beautiful tails spread out).[Page 2:97] Rumex [— —] blossomed in the creek; on the prairie beside it, the beautiful Tradescantia virginica, with [its] three petals, which bloomed close together in the most beautiful blue, red, and beautiful violet-red. In general I have found that very many flowers in these extensive prairies have violet-red blossoms, frequently with blue variants and viceversa. In the walls of the creek, one found the same layers and variety of rock of which the black streak from the prairie hills seems to consist; it seems to contain iron.
From here we sailed straight across the river to an island with narrow-leaved willows and cottonwoods. The green prairie beyond was very hospitable. The Assiniboine came steaming up behind us. We [presently] saw an unusual hill chain lying before us at a right angle; before the prairie lying between us, the river turns to the right and makes the large curve that is called Big Bend. If one continues directly across the hill chain, one again comes upon the river after 1 1/2 miles, whereas on the river the steamboat travels 25 miles. The unusual hill chain comes to an end at Big Bend. The large peninsula formed by the river is low and has borders of willow and cottonwood. On the other side, the bank soon becomes higher; bluffs, which are only unimpressive gray chunks of clay, begin; in the ravines dividing them [are] stubby cedars and deciduous bushes. This bank now has a somewhat sterile, naked appearance. The river is broad and beautiful. According to Lewis and Clark, it is 1,200 miles from the mouth of the Missouri to Big Bend. The hills to the right now become increasingly higher, rough, and wild. [They are] full of ravines [and] have no striking domes; their color [is] brownish gray and spotted with green. Before them, in the river, [is] an extensive sandbar. To the left, on the edge of the prairie, we saw several antelope, which our clamor soon frightened away. During the winter these animals are said to be very numerous here. Somewhat farther, as we followed the curve of the river, a vast, attractive view into the wilderness opened up. On the right bank, green trees; behind them, a level, green prairie and then the extensive hill chain, now green, now dark gray, now violet colored, illuminated by individual bright flashes of sunlight. Tall cottonwood forests appeared on the left bank, after the bare, high rim of the prairie had come to an end, with an almost impenetrably dense thicket of narrow-leafed willows before it. We continued to sail until dusk and put in at an island on the right bank.
In the evening Little Soldier felt a little better; he sat with us in the cabin by the fire and smoked his pipe and passed it around to us. While smoking, the Indians draw the smoke into their lungs and suck it in with relish; I think this may be the cause of their many chest diseases. Their tobaccoM83Called kinnikinnick. in this region is the bark from the red willow (Cornus sericea), which is strong; mixed with tobacco, [it is] a very pleasant smoke.M84According to Say (see Major Long’s Expedition, vol. 2, p. 58) they also occasionally smoke the leaves of arrowwood (Viburnum) when they do not have red willow. [For] their hide tobacco pouches, they often [use] an entire animal, with head, teeth, and four feet, the tail cut open, attractively and colorfully decorated; they also always have a pointed instrument of wood for tamping and cleaning the pipe. The two wives and the three children of our Indian did not enter the cabin. They were now in mourning, but they ate their meal with relish [and] slept or rested afterward, wrapped in their buffalo hides, and took turns inspecting each other’s heads for certain uninvited guests.