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The Walla Wallas and Nez Perces

Winter on the Expedition

The Walla Wallas and Nez Perces, page 2

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Aided by directions from some of the Native Americans along the Colombia River, the Lewis and Clark Expedition next reached the territory of the Walla Wallas. As they journeyed, despite the fact that most of the expedition's medicine had been lost in the incident with the nearly capsized boat, Clark became famous among the Native Americans for being a great medicine man and healer. Native people flocked continually to the expedition's campsite now, asking for help with everything from their sore backs to their eye problems. By the time the expedition reached the Walla Wallas, these people were greatly looking forward to receiving this now-famous healer.

Communication with the Walla Wallas proved a challenge, since the Lewis and Clark Expedition had no interpreter who could speak the Walla Walla language. The Walla Wallas, however, did have a Shoshoni prisoner who spoke Walla Walla and whom Sacajawea could talk to. So the complicated chain of communication went like this: Lewis and Clark spoke English to one of the expedition's English and French speakers, who translated the message into French for Charbonneau, who communicated the message to Sacajawea, who then relayed the message to the Shoshoni prisoner, who finally conveyed it to the Walla Walla chieftains. Thus once again Sacajawea proved to be a critical link in the success of the mission. By dealing with the Walla Walla through this complex communication chain, the expedition managed to greatly improve its supply of food. Spirits rose; it began to look like they might make it back east alive after all.

The expedition spent May and June of 1806 back in Nez Perce country. Unfortunately, the Shoshoni horses the expedition had left with the Nez Perce had largely scattered, and rounding them up took a long time. Meanwhile, Jean Baptiste ("Pomp"), who had amazingly endured rigors terrible for a grown man let alone an infant, finally came down with his first major sickness: a sore throat. Without medicine, which Charbonneau's incident in the boat had lost, the disease threatened the baby's life. Sacajawea and Clark tried all kinds of herbal remedies on the child however, and he miraculously recovered by the end of May.

On June 10, 1806, the expedition left the Nez Perce region. Now, they approached the Bitterroot mountains once again. Crossing for the second time, the group made it out of these mountains intact on June 29, 1806. Following this, Lewis and Clark decided to divide the party to do some quick exploring before heading home. Clark's group, which included Sacajawea and Charbonneau, would try to continue back the way they came, along the Yellowstone River, while Lewis's group would explore the Marias River. The plan was for both groups to meet in North Dakota.


Going upstream on the Columbia, against the current, the expedition moved slowly. This provided time for Lewis to get involved in some mischief. On the way to Walla Walla territory, Lewis convinced an uncooperative tribe to help the expedition by throwing an artillery fuse into the campfire—this caused an explosion and a tower of flame—and claiming to be a powerful sorcerer. The frightened Indians then were willing to offer help and trade with the expedition. Later, when Lewis's dog was stolen by another tribe along the way, he organized a group of the expedition's men to go on a rescue mission!

Meanwhile, Sacajawea's husband Charbonneau continued causing problems for the expedition, slowing them down. Charbonneau, inexperienced with horses, even lost two of the expedition's precious animals. Sacajawea, though burdened with Jean Baptiste, more than compensated for her husband's blundering ways. During the travels through Walla Walla and Nez Perce areas, Sacajawea was constantly gathering roots and other edible things, including fennel and yampa roots. Many of the sick men on the expedition started feeling better as Sacajawea helped add variety to their diets. Even Lewis, normally rather cold towards Sacajawea, noted in his journal that she had proven very helpful yet again.

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