September 1805 the Lewis & Clark Expedition was struggling to get over the Bitterroot Mountains before they starved. Captain William Clark and six men were sent ahead of the main Corps to hunt for food because none could be found in the dense forest they were traveling through. These men came onto the Weippe Prairie September 20, 1805 where they found 3 Nez Perce boys. Clark gave the boys ribbons to take back to the village and announce their arrival. The Nez Perce supplied food to the starving men and Clark sent food back for Lewis and the others still on the mountain trail.
Clark was guided down to the Koos-koos-kie River (Clearwater River) where he met Chief Twisted Hair and they camped for the night. “I am verry sick to day and puke which relive me.” Taken from William Clark Journal September 21, 1805.
Local legend tells that he cut down a tree on this side of the river but found the grain to be twisted, so abandon it and continued down to the confluence of the North Fork and Clearwater Rivers. The men crossed the Clearwater River, went down a short distance and found many large pines that would make good canoes so decided that is where they would camp. They then returned to the village on the Weippe Prairie to meet Lewis and his group.
“Septr. 25th I with th Chief & 2 young men went down to hunt timber for Canoes--- proceeded on down to the forks 4 miles N 70° W 2 miles S. 75° W 2 miles, halted young men Cought 6 sammon, the forks nearly the same size, Crossed the South fork & found Timber large Pine in a bottom Processed up the South Side 3 parts of Party Sick Capt Lewis verry sick hot day\"Clark\'s journal.
Despite the sickness they had to cope with because of the different food they were eating, the Corps spent 2 ½ weeks making 5 canoes. The Nez Perce showed them how to burn out the logs which saved time. The trees they cut down were thought to be 4 to 5 feet in diameter.
“Friday 27th. A fine warm morning. All the men, who were able were employed in making canoes. About 10 o’clock the men came in who had gone to look for horses, he had found one of them and killed a deer. I feel much relieved from my indisposition.” Taken from journal of Patrick Gass.
The Nez Perce originally discussed killing these strange men with their heads on up-side-down, but an old Nez Perce woman who had been helped by white settlers ask that they be spared. (The Corps heads seemed up side down because they had more hair on their chins than the top of their heads.)
The Corps left their horses with Chief Twisted Hair to care for over the winter and started down the Clearwater River for the Pacific Ocean.
The return trip in 1806 brought the Corps of Discovery up the Clearwater River to Canister Creek (Jacks Creek at Lenore, Idaho) near where they had camped the year before. They went up onto the Camas Prairie (south side of the Clearwater River), down to the Creek Small (Little Canyon Creek at Peck, Idaho) then up across the prairie and down into the Nez Perces’ Camp (Kamiah, Idaho). The Corps camped down and across the river (Long Camp) to wait for the snow to melt enough to allow passage across the mountains. “Tuesday 24th … The day keeps cloudy, and the mosquitoes are very troublesome…” Taken from Gass journal June 24, 1806.
They first started out to cross the Bitterroots June 14th, but had to turn back because the snow made it too difficult to find the trail. “Tuesday June 17th 1806 …This mountain we ascended about 3 miles when we found ourselves invelloped in snow 8 to 12 feet deep even on the South Side of the mountian. I was in front and Could only presue the derection of the road by the trees which had been peeled by the nativs for the iner bark of which they Scraped and eate…” Clark journal.
The Corps camped on the prairie until June 24th then tried again with 3 Indian guides. This time they were successful at crossing the Bitterroot Mountains and were well on their way back through the Louisiana Territory, to the United States and home.
The Nez Perce Indians were invaluable to the Corps of Discovery on their trip west to the Pacific Ocean and on the journey home. “Tuesday May 27th 1806…Hohâstillpilp told us that most of the horses we saw runing at large in this neighborhood belonged to himself and his people, and whenever we were in want of meat he requested that we would kill any of them we wished; this is a piece of liberallity which would do honour to such as bost of civilization; indeed I doubt whether there are not a great number of our countrymen who would see us fast many days before their compassion would excite them to a similar act of liberllity.” Taken from the Captain Lewis journals.