Smoke Signals

Nov/Dec 2011



Staff Writer



































































































































Prelude to A September Remembered


I'm sending you a letter, rather than an article of a short "jaunt", trying to be correct after all the e-mail that has taken place over another word many of us have used in the past.

This is to inform you of an area that you may want to look at for a possible "jaunt", and a good time for planning would be in mid-September, read on and I think you'll agree.

In the last few years when reading an article, journal or book of historical value, (usually F&I War to Fur Trade period), I write down not only the year, but also the date, weather conditions if mentioned and any little information that may be of interest if you get a chance to visit the area. Just a brief note works, kept in a small 3 ring note book, that way you can move the page to general region or category (periods are shown with each) that are labeled or ear marked, rather than by number or alpha, (makes it easier to find filed in this manner).

A half dozen years ago my wife found a complete set of the Lewis & Clark Journals, ( 7 ) books plus the ( 8th) binder has all the maps. I had read at them, but really haven't had the time with work and other projects to get serious about what was recorded, to the point of putting one's self in their place and really studying each paragraph as I have done on so much of this time period. As you continue on reading this letter you'll see why such information is so important.

Last August, a year ago, some friends from Missouri stopped by to visit and we talked of another river trip, have done many by canoe and wasn't really interested until they brought up the fact that canoes weren't really correct for the area wanting to travel, and had tried a dugout, which was unstable. They had built one bateau, a small French boat that traveled the Missouri rivers and adjoining waterways from Canada to south of St. Louis for decades.

My first thinking was at the time knowing very little of this craft, other than what was being discussed, a flat bottom barge that's slow, hard to move around whether in the water or on ground, a big heavy tub.

Since that time I have talked to several owners of bateau's, read about them and called a builder in Canada, (see last issue of T&LR that had so much trouble getting to everyone, article "Bateau in the Fur Trade" by Leonard Conley, maybe this boat slowed things down). As mentioned in article there are several different styles or shapes, from bulky to streamlined, and what I am told by the users of this craft, its all in how much "rocker" is built in, as to how it will handle in various waters and weather conditions.

After our discussion of another river trip, we needed a date, I grabbed my notebook and looked at the area being talked about, and low and behold Lewis & Clark where there in September of 1804. That seems late in the year to all of us, but if they did it, we can give it a shot, our trip is only a week long and we know the way home, I hope!

Plans are made and we have stayed in contact as the time draws near, I get the easy part, bring the camp mess for 6 hungry men, keep personal gear light as possible, smoothbore with dozen loads of shot, few round balls and pickup Out of State Small Game/Fishing permit. I've been packed since getting home from the Western Nationals, primed and waiting, (this part drives my wife nuts, she has all these really important little duties for me to do, you know, weed the flowerbeds, trim this - trim that, COME ON SEPTEMBER).



Sept. 19, '97

Get an early start from Green Mountain, CO I drove to Chadron, NE met group from Missouri with bateau, visited Museum of the Fur Trade, new director was gone that has replaced Charles E. Hanson, Jr. Seems to be some internal problems with the Hanson's and the direction of the museum, according to some locals we talked to in a  town at eatery. They did not think too much of what was going on, and how the sons have treated their parents. Hope the rest of the trip goes better than what has happened so far.

Spent very little time site seeing, more of watching the clouds, listening to weather reports and driving to our pre-arranged spot for starting our 5-6 day "jaunt" on the Upper Missouri, have been as far north as Ft. Benton, MT and as far south as to the Mississippi on the Missouri, and south down the Mississippi to Ft. de Chartre, IL.

Have never been on this small section of the Missouri, but if like much of the Missouri River area, we can expect to be having cold rain off and on for this time of the year. With this trip all that is left is going from Ft. Benton west, (from what we understand some parts of the Columbia are the hardest do to wind), this would make a complete journey of several trips from Ft. De Chartre, IL to the coast by water and a little walking (damn the portages).

Sept. 20th

Make contact with our people in Ft. Pierre, (Chouteau) SD, we will put the bateau in at this point and they will take the two trucks and trailer down to take out point at Ft. Randall Dam.

I am very interested in this type of craft, have traveled mostly by canoe the last few years, last trip did my back in and sold both canoes. Last summer I found it easier to row, sitting with upper body straight than paddling and leaning to one side or the other. Bad back, steel pin, etc. really sucks for this sport anymore, then being 20 lbs. plus over weight and over 50 doesn't help either, trying to think of all the excuses I can as we watch the white caps.

Oh, its starting to sprinkle, make that drizzle, rain, breakout the oilskins.

Our vehicles leave and we load the bateau, finish changing behind some vehicles in the parking lot, (we're not coming back, so you do what you got to do). Say good bye to some new friends, they take pictures as we disappear out of sight, (don't think they got us behind the cars), finally we're going down the river and its only 10:30 am.

We take a break around noon, the bateau is not as fast as a canoe, but moves better than I had thought with the flatness of the bottom of these vessels and rowing seems much like any other small boat of this design, not bad. We could carry much more than is loaded, we're pretty light with just bedrolls, a change of clothes, weapons, etc. per man and 2 five gallon water kegs, one camp mess for all.

Still overcast and damp, could be a wet camp, did I pack enough greasewood!

Deane and Glen Campbell, brothers from Mountain View, MO are one team of rowers and Tom Crandell from Washington, MO is our look out, they have worked together before and do very good. I'm sure with a little practice and paying attention to each other, Fred Liley and yours truly will sync together soon, as a rowing team for this little boat, John Lyle is our person that does the steering and he's having fun telling us what to do, thinks he has to yell because of the distance between us. Tonight I have to measure the distance, think I can tame him down a little, if the oar is long enough, wouldn't that be interesting?

(please excuse the lack of using the correct terms for our positions in the bateau, not a seaman).

We had figured 30-35 miles a day, with somewhere around 175-180 miles total, would be 5 days maybe 6 if we get behind one day on the river, nice workout for a week trip without any problems to really slow us down. By canoe and depending on the time of the year, water, etc. this is an average days work for modern day people. A few days will tell the tale of what a flat bottom craft like the bateau will do, the rocker that this has may make the difference. Surprisingly these boats are very stable, one can move around getting water, a snack, etc. without the feeling of possibly getting wet, like in some canoes.

We have made around 26 miles according to the markers left by the Corp. of Engineers earlier this summer, when we decide to call it a day. A little short but we'll gain some extra miles and should work out even, by the end of the week, you know "plans are only made to be broken", think Beckworth said that / he's said it all.

Find that this small craft is very heavy and would be hard for two to handle if on a narrow path in a portage situation.

Sept. 21st

Had a good evening meal, and rest for a wet camp, this morning a fast cup of coffee and some left over bannock, we're going to make those extra miles today, James. This is a great time of the year for such a trip, if you don't mind the daily showers, not many bugs and no float trips going by, we have not seen anyone on the water, just a few old gentlemen fishing from the bank and you could sure tell they were Native Americans from their features and color of their well weathered skin. Think I read in the L&C journal of their wet camps, we were thinking it was just this year being as wet as its been.

This whole area is Indian Agency property on the east side of the river and several spots on the west side too, have to be careful at what mile marker your at, when setting up camp or we could have a real living history experience.


Yesterday we started out at Ft. Pierre, have traveled past several markers of the Lewis & Clark journey in Sept. 1804, (main reason we wanted to go at this time of the year, as mentioned before). They were on this section of river from Aug. 28, 1804 through Sept. 22, 1804 according to the information found in literature gotten from US Parks Service, so we're only a few years late, but its still a good feeling to know we are following their footsteps, backwards! They covered the same distance we are going, in 26 days, we will do it in 5 or 6 days. Oh, they went up river, we're going down river, that does make a difference even Mr. Beckworth would have to agree to that one.

This is part of the Missouri River drainage, better known in history as the Louisiana Purchase, a land deal of 1803 and probably the most famous land purchase in the world. The actual mapping of the region was long in coming, not until the expedition of Lewis & Clark was anything charted and then it took from 1804 to 1806. Not considered completely explored for several decades after that according to government reports.

The French explored the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, trapped the waters and founded fur trading posts up and down these routes to a new land. Thanks to the original discovery by Jolliet and Father Marquette in 1673 and the fur trade posts of the 1750's, this region became the grand opening point that Bourgmont, LaSalle, the la Verendrye's, Astor, Lisa and others were looking for, the beginning of the American Fur Trade.

Jean-Baptiste Truteau was here at a site near present day Fort Randall Dam, you have probably read about his "Ponca House" that operated in 1794-95. How about Regis Loisel and his "Cedar Fort" of 1800, just above Fort Randall Reservoir or his friend Pierre-Antoine Tabeau, friend to both Lewis and Clark.

Folks this place is full of history, famous trappers and travelers have walked, hauled, poled or paddled up and down the streams as well as the River Missouri, this place is exciting when you think about it.

Better continue with our trip, think you got the idea by now, I'm trying to keep fired up, the Campbell boys just smile, been here, done that, right. Deane, "Bite Me".

Sept. 22nd

Another good camp, cool damp weather so far, we are doing fine with our schedule and take a break and float for a while, Deane pulls out his journal and reads to us.

Friday, September 7, 1804, the party has reached a point (near present day Fort Randall Dam), Clark sees a land mark, he describes it; "Cap Lewis & myself walked up to the top which forms a Cone and is about 70 feet higher than the high lands around it and the base is 300 foot." Later he calls it "Tower Rock".

Wet camp.

Saturday, September 8, 1804, fighting wind and rain they pass Ponca House and continue on into the reservoir area and camp at Big Cedar Island, 17 miles from the Tower.

Sunday, September 9, is not mentioned, September 10 the expedition finds a fossil remains of a great "lizard", it is noted for future study.

Try and dry out, wet camp.

Tuesday, September 11, Pvt. Shannon returns to camp, missing since August 26, when he went to find run away horses.

Wednesday, September 12, northwest winds and rain make travel difficult, have trouble staying afloat

Wet camp.

September 13 cold and wet, Friday the14th Captain Clark shoots an antelope, first one to be examined by the party, he calls it a goat. Camp near Bull Creek (will become first Brule Indian Agency site).

September 15 they get to American Crow Creek, the 16th they're at Corvus Creek, they call the camp, "Plomb" camp, because of the wild fruit growing there.


Monday, September 17, Lewis remarks of barking squirrel, they spend the day trying to dig them out, the large number has kept the grass cut like a "bowling green in fine order."

September 18 was a short day, only making a few miles and setting up camp. Everything wet.

September 19 they made rapid progress passing out of the reservoir area and into the Big Bend country before nightfall.

From this point they traveled north, wintering with the Mandan in central North Dakota, and moving on to the Pacific the next spring.

* * *

By now we are getting so relaxed that we need to go to shore, start a fire, have some edibles and coffee to wake everyone up, then get this bateau down the river, we wasted an hour dreaming.

Just realized why we're so relaxed, the sun came out.

Sept. 23rd and Sept.24th

On the afternoon of the 24th we have gotten very still as we float, nobody speaks for an hour as our minds go over what has been seen and what has happened in this area in a time long gone, fortunes made and lost, all the people that have given their lives in the region, we know their spirits observe our small group passing by these special landscapes, cliffs and backwashes, almost eerie.

After a period Fred points to some muskrats swimming along the bank and we return to our century in the blink of an eye, brother that was different.

Its starting to drizzle again.


This is the best day of the trip, clear sky, a pretty blue and no clouds, comfortable temperature and our gear is drying out. When coming into Ft. Randall Dam it makes us think of what Deane had read a few days before, "damn we're here and so were they".

We have had a good trip with questionable weather for this time of the year, some good camps (ones that were dry) and camp sites with the kind of history that makes you dream of the ones that have traveled before us, waking with a jerk, at the sound of "INDIANS", no its one of Lewis' barking squirrels. To bad the boys from the Baker Party missed this short 6 days on the River Missouri.

In trying to keep this short, I left out that the area does have small game, along with turkey and the usual deer popping up when not expected.

We did get several trout, saw rabbits and a few quail, but we were not comfortable with shooting in the area or making a lot of noise, Indians you know. Remember your wet weather gear.

Sept. 26th

The morning was spent packing and saying our good byes until the next adventure has been planned, then its the long drive home with a lot of different things to ponder in ones mind as the miles tick away, think I'm getting a cold. A September relived.



* * *

* If you find a spelling error, just think of a few of Mark Twain’s statements on this subject;  

  • its a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.” 

  • never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

 Thanks for your time. Buck Conner  



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