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Deadly Crossing: The Bitterroots
August 25-October 07, 1805
Snow began to fall as the expedition set off for the Continental Divide. Game was scarce in the Rockies, and food supplies ran low. But finally the expedition reached the divide and passed over the other side, down into the Bitterroot Valley.
There the Americans met a band of Flathead Indians and bought more horses for the journey across the Bitterroot Mountains. Crossing this range of the Rockies fully tested the expedition's endurance.
After 11 days in the Bitterroots, the horses were near starvation, the men—who resorted to eating three of the colts—not much better. Emerging from the mountains, they made contact with the Nez Perce and procured from them dried fish and roots.
The captains then set up camp on the banks of the Clearwater River, a branch of the Snake River, itself a branch of the mighty Columbia. There they hollowed five dugouts. The Rockies were behind them, the Pacific in front.
On October 7 they broke camp and started down the Clearwater. At last the expedition had a river's current at its back.