Lewis and Clark . Living History . Animals Discovered

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Can you describe the expedition’s encounters with prairie dogs?

Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose

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They couldn’t believe the numbers of the prairie dogs that they were seeing
and then they couldn’t believe the lifestyle of the prairie dog and they went to
one of holes and they kept pulling up water, gallons and gallons and gallons of
water, and pouring it down that hole trying to force that prairie dog out of
there. Then they tried to dig down and get to the bottom of the burrow and force
the prairie dog out that way and, and, and neither method worked. The prairie
dog foiled them. Just like the coyote did.

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What about mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes, very troublesome. William Clark – innumerable entries. Twenty-six
different ways to spell the word mosquito, never once did he get it right. The
mosquitoes were there…what are you doing? I had something on here?
Mosquitoes, very troublesome. Yeah, of course, the Missouri River, the
mosquitoes were just killers. The mosquitoes, the, the captains had brears(?),
mosquito netting. It was the only defense they had. They had no offense at all
against these mosquitoes, who were the mortal enemies. Mosquitoes would get so
bad sometimes that you would, could not get your food into your mouth without a
mouthful of mosquitoes. They got so bad on some occasions that Lewis could not
raise and aim his rifle. Too many mosquitoes. He would just have to, to fire
it. Mosquitoes would drive them away from campsites on many occasions. They’d
have to go down river or up river to try to escape the mosquitoes. They picked
their campsites where they could get the most wind, with the hope that it would
drive the mosquitoes away.

What about grizzly bears?

Dayton Duncan
Dayton Duncan

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The, during the winter in North Dakota, the Hidatsas had told Lewis and Clark
about there’s this ferocious animal that lives where you’re gonna be going. It’s
a big bear, a bear the size that you’ve never seen, you know. Some of our
warriors have killed and look, we’ve got the claws, they’re big claws aren’t
they, and it’s a real mark of honor for us to kill one. Well, as they’re going
west into Montana they start seeing some big bear tracks, they think, “Hey, this
must be it.” But they’re more curious than frightened of it. And, as they came
into what’s now Montana, they saw a grizzly bear, and it was big, but they shot
it and killed it. And that night Lewis was writing in his journal, “Well, you
know, I can understand how the Indians with, armed as they are with just some
bows and arrows might be frightened of this monster. But in the hands of an
experienced woodsman with a good rifle, they’re nothing to be afraid of.” Well,
about 2 days later, they come across another grizzly bear and they fire 8 or 9
shots into it can’t kill it. It chases them off the, off the Plain and into the
river. They meet another one who chases some men up a tree. Everywhere they’re
going, they’re meeting these big grizzly bears that they just have trouble
killing. And finally, Lewis sits down one night to write in his journal, he
says, “I find the curiosity of our men with respect to this animal is pretty much
satisfied.”

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And bugs?
They, they were going through all sorts of hardships, you know. They were
fighting a river’s current. It was hot. It was tough going. And what do they
complain about? What every person who goes out and camps complains about – bugs.
Lewis said, “We have our great trio of pests, greater than ever poor Egypt ever
labored under.” There were gnats, always flying around their face. There were
prickly pear cactus who would puncture their moccasins and make going tough. But
mostly it was mosquitoes. And they struggled to try to even describe what they
are like. The dog was howling at night, you learned, because of the mosquitoes.
The men were always complaining about. They start off being, “The mosquitoes
were troublesome.” Then it says, “Mosquitoes, very troublesome.” Then,
“Mosquitoes, uncommonly troublesome.” Then, “Mosquitoes exceedingly
troublesome.” And finally, “Mosquitoes immensely numerous and troublesome.”
They were just, they were the bane of their existence.

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What about buffalo?
There’s, everyone has things that they would like to have been with on the
Lewis and Clark trail. I, there’s many of mine. To stand on a, on a hill on the
Great Plains and see ten thousand buffalo, as Clark said he saw at one time, is a
staggering thing, blanketing the Plains. When they’re snorting, you know, it
reverberates. The ground could shake from the number of buffalo they saw. It
was awesome, it was a paradise for them. It meant that you could eat and eat
hearty without any worry. It was a marker, I think, that they saw on the Great
Plains, of the wildlife that they saw. If you go on the Great Plains today, the
things that Lewis and Clark remarked the most on, are absent. Ten thousand head
of buffalo in one glance, elk living on the Plains. Grizzly bears were a Plains
animal. It was, it was bountiful in wildlife as today it is a desert of
wildlife, it is a bountiful today of growing food and of cattle, but it is a
desert of wildlife of what Lewis and Clark once saw.

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