Neither Empty Nor Unknown – Montana Before Lewis and Clark
Frequently called the Corps of Discovery, the Corps of Northwest Discovery, and various other titles, the tendency is to assume that what the members of the expedition saw they discovered. A fundamental truth exists: they relied on information provided to them by Native Americans about what awaited them up river such as the location of the River That Scolds All Others that Lewis dubbed the Milk, the Musselshell River, the Great Falls of the Missouri, and the three forks of the Missouri-all landmarks that assured the Captains they were on course. These are just some of the instances where Native Americans contributed to the success of the expedition.
The implication is clear-the land “purchased” by the United States was not undiscovered. William Clark wrote after meeting the Salish at Ross’s Hole: “I was the first white man who ever wer on the waters of this river.”(Moulton, Vol. 5, p. 187) This simple sentence touches on a fundamental fact-Native Americans were the first to explore the terrain the Lewis and Clark Expedition traversed and they shared that knowledge-the land was neither empty nor unknown.
Back to Timeline |
Top of Page