In 1806, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and other members of the “Corps of Discovery,” made their return from the West Coast of North America, over the Continental Divide, on their way back to Saint Louis. In approaching the Divide, they relied heavily upon the knowledge and physical guidance of the Nez Perce or Nimiipuu. On July 3, Lewis and Clark divided the Corps, in order to explore different areas. Lewis and his party travelled east along what we now know as the Big Blackfoot River. The Nez Perce guides told the party that the river was the Cokahlarishkit, as Lewis rendered it, or “the River of the Road to Buffaloe” (better transcribed as Qoq’áax ‘í skit and translated as “buffalo road”).
On July 6, 1806, Lewis notes that the party crossed the North Fork of the Big Blackfoot. He describes it as 45 yards wide, deep, rapid, and turbid. He notes the squirrels, goats, deer, curlews, woodpeckers, plovers, robins, doves, hawks, sparrows and duck in the area. He also remarks on the cottonwoods and pines.
He notes, too, that the Corps was wary of meeting parties of the Blackfoot tribes or their allies. The Blackfeet, or Niitsitapiiksi (“Real People”), reside on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. At the time of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the Blackfeet largely controlled Nez Perce and other Plateau people’s access to the bison of the Plains
I spend a great deal of time near the North Fork of the Big Blackfoot, as our family cabin is in the area. And, indeed, I drive along the main river, via Highway 200, to visit friends on the Blackfeet Reservation or on the Canadian reserves. The North Fork remains the powerful river described by Lewis over two hundred years ago. And the drainage remains a lively place, populated by all of the flora and fauna recorded by Lewis and many other plants and animals as well (including trout). It is a particularly pretty place during the fall. For this reason, I share a few pictures taken during my latest visit (the trout picture was taken my by friend, Bill Gregory).