Lewis and Clark had expected a friendly reunion. Not so much!

Time Before Now – May 1806 U.S. Attorney for Kentucky, Joseph H. Daveiss, began writing President Thomas Jefferson, warning him former vice president Aaron Burr,  famous for having shot Alexander Hamilton, was also up to no good in Mexico.  Britain’s great war hero, Horatio Nelson, (right) was laid to rest in a state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and 36-year-old  Ludwig von Beethoven composed his lesser-known Fourth Symphony.  Congress approved funding for America’s first National Road.   The 650-mile route from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, wasn’t begun until 1811 and the American tradition of construction delays followed  shortly thereafter.

 May 9, 1806

On this day Lewis and Clark, looking to renew a warm friendship with the man Captain Clark had described as cheerful and sincere, were bewildered by a cool reception and a feud brewing between two chiefs.

They’d come to retrieve the horses left with Nez Percé elder, Twisted Hair, seven months earlier on their way to the Pacific.  The less than cordial tone this time made for an uneasy reunion.

The chief was was camped with family members near present day Orofino, Idaho,  gathering roots of the Common Camas or quamash.  An important part of the native diet, quamash may have been a life-saver for the Corps in their first meeting with Twisted Hair. (Above, detail from 2006 bronze)   

On their way west in late September, 1805, the explorers stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains into the chief’s camp near starvation.  Ravenous, the men had eaten large amounts of cured salmon and camas root given them by their hosts.  Camas bulbs, nutritious when withered, were consumed roasted or boiled and may have been used to preserve the fish given the members of the expedition.   While saved from hunger, most of the men fell ill with a severe digestive disorder. (Right, camas bloom)

In addition, Twisted Hair had been invaluable, producing maps of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers and helping select the location for what Clark labeled the “canoe camp.”  There, they’d found timber suitable for making dugouts that would take them to the Columbia River.  

Despite their continued intestinal distress, by October 6 the Corps managed to produce five large hand-hewn “perogues.”    Before leaving, they branded their horses, buried their saddles and promised Twisted Hair two guns and ammunition as payment for their safe keeping.  The next day they had launched the little flotilla into Clearwater River.

So what had changed?  Upon their return in early May Lewis reported “we met the Twisted hair and a party of six men. . . the Twisted hair received us very coolly an occurrence as unexpected as it was unaccountable to us.  [H]e shortly began to speak with a loud voice and in a angry manner”   A squabble then arose between Twisted Hair and a second chief, identified by Lewis as Cutnose. “[W]e readily discovered that a violet [violent] quarrel had taken place between these Cheifs but at that instant knew not the cause; we afterwards learnt that it was on the subject of our horses.” 

Depiction of Nez Percé village at the time of Lewis and Clark

That night, the two chiefs set up separate camps on opposite sides of the Corps’ encampment, but eventually joined the captains at their campfire.  Cutnose was not shy about airing his grievance, calling Twisted Hair “an old man” and charging that the expedition’s horses had been “ill used” by Twisted Hair’s people.  The basis of his complaint, however, appeared to be anger the senior chief had been put in charge of the horses and particularly envious of the two guns the older man was going to receive.  

None the less, Lewis reported that 21 of their horses were rounded up by Twisted Hair and his two sons and that “[T]he greater part of our horses were in fine order. [F]ive of them appeared to have been so much injured by the indians riding them last fall that they had not yet recovered and were in low order.  [T]hree others had soar backs. [W]e had these horses caught and hobbled.”

Having apparently smoothed over the disagreements between the two, the Corps remained with the Nez Percé another two weeks waiting for the snow to melt in the higher elevations.  In the interim Lewis negotiated agreements for trade and settlement with the senior chief.  Twisted Hair asked only that the Nez Percé be furnished ammunition in the future.  Armed only with pre-industrial weapons, the tribes had become extremely vulnerable to rivals who had received guns and powder from the French trappers and Britain’s Hudson Bay Company.

The Corps set out along the south fork of the Clearwater River on May 23.  They wouldn’t reach St. Louis for another five months. They had been gone two years, four months and 10 days and traveled 8,000 miles. 

The unusually convivial relationship between the explorers and the native people of Idaho was commemorated with bronze sculpture by Native American sculptor, Doug Hyde,(above) entitled “Hospitality of the Nez Percé.” (Right)  Installed in Boise in 2006, it portrays, Lewis, Clark, Twisted Hair and the chief’s eight-year old son, Lawyer.  Lawyer preceded the famous Chief Joseph as leader of the Nez Percé. 

Relationships between the explorers and the Nez Percé were so convivial, in fact, that Captain Clark reportedly left behind a son, “Daytime Smoker.”  Known as Tzi-Kal-Tza Clark, he would eventually be swept up in the Nez Percé War of 1877.  Chief Joseph and the “non-treaty” Nez Percé were decimated by the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry as they attempted to escape into Canada.  Daytime Smoker (left) was imprisoned in Oklahoma, where he died in 1878 or ‘79 at age 72.

Little else is known of Chief Twisted Hair or Cutnose apart from the Lewis and Clark journals.  

The Lewis and  Clark canoe camp is now part of the Nez Percé National Historical Park at Spalding, Idaho.  A short interpretive trail leads visitors through the site where the Corps of Discovery hewed boats. The park also includes trails through Buffalo Eddy petroglyphs, Whitebird and Bear Paw Battlefields.   Dogs are welcome on the trails but must be leashed at all times.  

Admission to the park is free and the visitor center (above)  is open year round.   The center’s summer hours are  8 to 4  Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Winter hours are 8:30 to 4:00, Tuesday through Saturday.  For more information go to Nez Percé National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service), e-mail Nez Percé National Historical Park, write Nez Percé National Historical Park, 39063 US Hwy 95, Lapwai, ID 83540-9715 or call (208) 843-7001.

Face masks may still be required where physical distancing cannot be maintained and in all National Park Service buildings and facilities.  Click on the website       listed above the most current information.

© Text Only – 2021 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.