Sunday, in the traditional Chinookan plankhouse draped with cedar boughs and animal hides, Gold told of how the Nez Perce tribe initially considered massacring Lewis and Clark’s group to acquire their rifles, hatchets and luggage. But when the tribal council discussed killing them, a female elder recounted how French fur traders once had helped her return home safely after she’d been kidnapped by another tribe as a girl. She convinced the rest of the council to take in the starving travelers, who had resorted to eating crows, coyotes and even their own candles while crossing the Bitterroot range in the Rockies.
“I don’t think Lewis and Clark ever knew how close they came to ending their journey at the foot of the Rocky Mountains,” Gold said.
The expedition encountered trouble on the Columbia River in their dugout canoes, which capsized at least once a day. Then the group would spread its sodden belongings along the riverbanks to dry, not realizing the Native custom of spreading out gifts on the ground as a friendly gesture when passing through another tribes’ territory, Gold said. As a result, Lewis and Clark angrily complained in their journals about “thieving” Indians.
The misunderstandings abounded. For instance, the Natives would catch salmon, dry the fish and pound it into a highly concentrated powder meant to be eaten a couple of spoonfuls at a time, Gold said. However, ravenous members of the expedition gobbled down the powder until they were sick and then decided the salmon was bad. So the men switched to dog meat. They had no interest in the clams, sea vegetables, roots or plants the natives offered them, either, which puzzled tribe members who could tell the men were sickly.
And throughout the trip, Lewis and Clark tried to do business only with male Natives, Gold said.
When they finally returned home, Gold noted, President Jefferson rewarded everyone in the expedition with a land grant — except for York, Clark’s male slave, and Sacagawea, the Lemhi Shoshone teenage girl who’d served as the group’s guide and interpreter.