|Route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition|
Cap ran well. He was a year and a half old. He was out of Ruby, F/Brit, and by my Ace dog. I picked him out of her first litter of 11, because he was a terror to the others. Pushing and growling to get a nipple, nothing slowed him down. He was one of the bigger pups, but, as a full-grown dog, he weighed between 35# and 38#. Such a pleasure to hunt and trial, I always knew, when we left the starting line, we had a chance to win, or, if hunting, we would find birds.
This field trial was unusual, because it was held in Asotin, WA. At the end of the Georgia trial season, well after all the states’ hunting seasons closed, I wasn’t quite ready to hang it up. Cap was winning, and I wanted to see just how good he was. My sainted wife and I boarded a Delta jet in Atlanta and flew to Spokane, WA to run a Northwest Region NSTRA field trial. We, the humans, missed the connecting flight in Minneapolis, but the cargo, Cap, made the connection, and blithely sailed on alone to Spokane. We spent the night in Minneapolis and were on the first flight out the next morning, arriving mid-morning in Spokane, eager to find and rescue the Capper. (Delta was very good about keeping us updated. We expected him to be boarded near the airport- their policy. Also, I put my cell number, in permanent ink on the outside of the kennel. Just in case.) When we got off the airplane, we were met by an employee, who asked us, “Are you Cap’s parents? Follow me!” I wondered if there was a problem. There was indeed. It seems she was the next person on the list to take Cap outside for a walk, and she was a little upset. She’d waited all morning, excited to get to play with him- and here we show up! We were in no hurry, at this point, so she got her wish. Cap was down in the bowels of the airport, in the Delta Operations Center, in a small room with water and comforter, and his kennel open. They’d been walking him and playing with him all night. I was very grateful for their concern. He commented to me, “Flying is a blast, Boss! We should do this more often.”
Later that day, we found the trial grounds, and prepared to have some fun. Cap did not disappoint. On one field, we didn’t do all that well. On the other, he had four birds and retrieves, and was in first place until the very end, when he was bumped to second place by another dog with a better run. We met some fine people and very nice bird dogs up there. After the trial in Asotin, WA, we drove to Lewiston, ID (just across the Snake River and state line from Clarkston, WA), and drove down the river valley a bit before climbing out up to the plains. Leaving the next day, I noticed an historical marker. It told the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corp of Discovery passing this very spot in 1805 going West (outbound), and 1806 going East (return). In fact, the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston received their names from the expedition. I was fascinated. I read their journals years before, and I noticed on many hunting trips and vacations the various historical markers nearby.
Over the last 30+ years, or so, I’ve covered a lot of this country with bird dogs in tow. I haven’t made it all the way to the Pacific, yet, or even into Oregon or California. I think Oregon will happen. I’d be very surprised find a California hunting license in my wallet. Maine calls to me, and I think, within a year or two, I will be following a Brit along a logging road in the northeast corner of Maine in October. I miss the Ruffed Grouse. The past few years have seen my guys concentrating on some “niche” birds, such as Blue Quail, Mearns Quail, Sharptail Grouse, Prairie Chickens, and Sage Grouse. Few of those prairie species live near the Great Northwoods, and I think it’s time I visited them again.
Looking at a map of 15 years of GPS waypoints, I noticed several clusters of points marking the map. One waypoint might mean a single, or it might mean coveys year after year. It might mean great Sharptail cover, or it might mean, “Here be Sage Hens!” Only I would remember all the points and what they mean. Some days, I will call up a random point, look at the data, and remember the day, the dog, the birds, my companion, and the point, shot, and retrieve. I can easily pass a lot of time doing just that. I call it research. My sainted wife calls it daydreaming.
I was doing some serious “research” a few years ago, when I noticed a definite pattern in my waypoints. Not all of them, certainly, but enough that I could make out a trend. Starting near Kansas City, a bunch of them worked their way north, up past St. Joe, Omaha, Sioux City, and Yankton, Pierre, up to Bismarck, and still further north and west to Poplar, Wolf Point, Billings and points west. The waypoints marked birds, dogs, motels, restaurants, and more birds. But, mainly, they marked bird work. Thirty-plus years of bird hunting loosely focused on what looked to be the Missouri River.
I looked closer and more in depth, and I discovered a large amount of my hunting is/was done within an hour, or so, of the Missouri River and the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803. Thomas Jefferson was the President. We (United States) had just acquired the Louisiana Territory from France for the princely sum of $15,000,000. Don’t confuse the name of the newly acquired land with the present State. The newly-purchased territory ran from New Orleans all the way into Canada, north of Montana. Talk about not knowing what you’re buying! The country had no clue- many thought it was all desert. Jefferson bought 827,000 sq. mi. of territory from France- essentially, the entire Great Plains of the United States. This is now the bread basket of the world- the most fertile soil in the world, with topsoil loam, in places, 30’-50’ deep! In order to discover what he’d bought, he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on an expedition called the “Corps of Discovery”. They traveled mostly by boat, and mostly on the Missouri River. Some travel on the Mississippi, Snake, Columbia, Yellowstone, and Milk Rivers was required, too. They started in August 1803, barely two months after the approval of the purchase by Congress. They returned home in January 1807. Their journey is well chronicled by Lewis and Clark, in their diaries. They are funny, tragic, exciting, and amazing stories, all at the same time. The first time they saw a Grizzly (they thought it was a fable the Indians would tell them.) is a humorous account of being chased into the river to escape. They were very lucky to not be killed. It took 4 shots, at least, to bring the monsters down. This was out on the prairie, the native habitat of the Grizzly. There are many volumes written about this amazing journey, and I enjoy reading about it, again and again.
It was hot. Why I do this to myself, I don’t know. Well, I do know. It’s because I just spent all summer cutting grass, painting fence, training dogs, and other chores. Now, it was September, a month that only has a few things to recommend it- my bird hunting season starts, my birthday is this month, and it’s next door to October. On the first day of September, I turned the Beast to the north, loaded down with dogs and the camper. On the third day, I click the wisdom counter and age another year. On the 4th day of September, my season officially started with a dog on the ground in Montana. It was 45 degrees for the morning sunrise, 90 at 4pm, and 60 at sunset. It’s a climate we’ve learned to work with, incorporating a short nap scheduled at noontime, resting in the shade somewhere, windows open and breeze blowing through the truck. Then, in the afternoon, we put more dogs out as the temperature cools off, and the sun lowers towards the mountains.
This day, I put Ruby out on a likely looking patch of BLM grass, surrounded by cut wheat fields. We were north of Great Falls. Over the weekend, we competed in a field trail just off the end of the Great Falls Airport, and, now, we were off to do the real thing. A few hours north, the terrain is rolling to flat. The roads are gravel, the houses are few, and BLM, State Land, and Block Management land is plentiful. I look for BLM land while driving between Block Management areas. Today, Ruby took to the grass like a champ, and I followed her, not really knowing what was over the rise. She ran well, and, after 30 minutes, we’d worked our way to the southern end of the BLM patch, and made the turn west to loop around back to the truck. You never know what might happen on these casts. Many times, nothing happens- you just had a “nature walk”, as a friend refers to a dry cast on the prairie. But, as my ability to spot habitat improved, my nature walks turned into some really fine shooting. I watched Ruby swing by me and head for the top of a rise. Just as her rear end dropped out of sight at the top, her gait faltered. Something got her attention. A few seconds later, her pager went off on the GPS, and “something” just got my attention! I moved over the low rise to find her staunch, nose into the wind, just a few yards from some thick grass. “Easy, girl,” I said, just as 10 Sharptails rose up 20 yards away! Her retrieve was flawless. I shared some water and a little love, and she was on her way again. With a few more birds in the bag, we arrived back at the truck ready for a long drink and short nap in some shade. Another successful cast on the prairie- another waypoint marked, and another track chronicled and saved.
My hunt with Ruby occurred less than a mile from the track made by Lewis, as he and other men departed from the homeward trek in 1806 to see if the Marias River would go all the way to the northern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase (near the Canadian Border). They turned around to return to the main expedition after 3 days camping at what they called “Camp Disappointment”, since they realized the river would not go all the way. The local Blackfeet Tribe was becoming increasingly hostile to them. At the Two Medicine Fight Site, hostilities erupted over an attempt by the Blackfeet to steal guns, then horses. At least one Indian was killed (possibly two), as the Blackfeet made off with some horses. Lewis determined to get out of the area as fast as possible, so they drove their horses as hard as they could back to the Missouri, east of the Great Falls, and the safety of the Corps. As I hunt that area, I can see in my mind, the men riding hard, and looking over their shoulders, hoping to drop off into the Teton River bottom, cross over and up the other side before they were set upon by the Blackfeet. They made it safely.
Back when online meant AOL for email addresses, there was no social media, and everyone was gingerly tip-toeing around this newfangled Internet thing, I discovered a CompuServe site devoted to bird hunting. It was more a chat room, as we would refer to it now. A guy on there was encouraging bird hunters to go up to his father-in-law’s farm in Eastern Montana. He said they had pheasant, Huns, and Sharptail Grouse. We agreed on a price for a week (As I recall it was $200, about the price of one of my shotguns.), including a place to stay (the old farmhouse), and all the hunting we wanted on several thousand acres of river bottom. It was planted in wheat, and was cut by the time I arrived. It was bordered by the Missouri River to the north, sort of between Wolf Point and Poplar. To the south, he had wheat, already planted and cut, up on the flat prairie above the bottom. For several years, friends and I returned and hunted the farm. We got to know it very well. The current family homesteaded the land many, many years ago. Pictures of cowboys, and horses, dust, and family hang on the walls. The stories of survival in bad winters are still very real to them, now the third, fourth and fifth generation farmers/ranchers. My wife accompanied me on her first hunting trip to this farm. She shot her first pheasant there, over a point by Ruby (the first), my English Setter. After she shot that bird, I put it in her bird bag, and we continued on behind Ruby and Rocket, my Brittany male. I happened to look up at her back, as I was following, in time to see a rooster head slowly emerge from her bird bag and look underneath her arm to see where we were headed. All I could think was that bird was going to jump and try to make a break for it, and probably scare my wife to death! Trying to not laugh, I said, “Hey, honey, how about we stop and give the dogs a rest?” As I came up behind her, I reached over and eased the, now very alive, big rooster, out of her game bag, dispatched it, and re-deposited it back in her vest. Tragedy averted and a memory made. We still laugh about that to this day. Many fine days, we wandered the coulees, watching the dogs (pre-GPS) root out the Sharptails and Huns. One day, not far from the ancient Indian Buffalo Jump, on a trip that thankfully did not include my wife, my best dog, Ruby was gone. I buried her on the edge of a bluff over the Missouri, surrounded by wheat, grass, and birds. I haven’t been back.
In 1805 on the westward, outbound, journey, the Corps of Discovery passed no more than 1000’ from the old farmhouse on that Montana ranch, eager to get to the Rockies (which they had no idea were as big as they are) and the ocean beyond. In another journal entry, east of the farmhouse, they marveled at the confluence of the Yellowstone River, arriving from the south. They sent men a few days down the river that flows, now, through Glendive, Miles City, and beyond. Much farther down the Yellowstone River, Clark, on his return journey, wrote about Pompeii’s Tower, a large prominent rock, in his journal “The Indians have made 2 piles of Stone on the top of this Tower. The nativs have ingraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & year.” That bit of graffiti, left by Clark, is the only known visible evidence, of the entire journey, remaining today. Farther west from the Yellowstone Confluence on the Missouri, on the outbound leg, they stopped at the confluence of the Milk River. It got its name because of the grayish silt gathered from the soil in its 721 mile journey from the Rockies in northern Montana, into Canada, and back to the confluence with the mighty Missouri.
Near Wolf Point, MT, Clark killed the largest Grizzly that they encountered. Lewis’ note: “Capt. Clark & Drewyer killed the largest brown bear this evening which we have yet seen. it was a most tremendious looking anamal, and extreemly hard to kill notwithstanding he had five balls through his lungs and five others in various parts he swam more than half the distance across the river to a sandbar & it was at least twenty minutes before he died; he did not attempt to attact, but fled and made the most tremendous roaring from the moment he was shot.” The group encountered Grizzly starting around Mobridge, SD all the way through to their camp on the Clearwater River in Idaho. The majority were seen in Montana, along the Missouri River. They killed 43 of the monsters- many times in self-defense.
Interestingly, the the normal range and habitat of the Grizzly Bear is on the prairie, in the river bottoms. There was a hit movie, The Revenant, about Hugh Glass, back in the early 1800’s, and his mauling by a Grizzly, and his subsequent survival. The movie showed a lot of mountains, etc. The actual, historical spot of the mauling is 15 miles south of Lemmon, SD (on the border with ND). It’s 500 miles to the Rockies from there, but only 60 miles from where The Corps of Discovery sighted their first Grizzly. I always thought Grizzlies were in the mountains, but now I see that’s where they were pushed. As their population recovers and increases, they are moving out of the mountains and out on to the prairie, once again. I hunted up against the Front Range in northwest Montana a few years ago, north and west of Great Falls. The little town I stayed in had to shut down their municipal golf course for 3 weeks that year due to a sow and 3 cubs that hung around the area. Another time, a few years later, Bob joined me to hunt the area. Our plan was to bird hunt a few days, then go just inside the Front Range and fly fish a few rivers to cool down and give the dogs a break. One day, I finished early on the prairie. Bob was hunting a different area. It was hot, so I loaded the dogs and we drove 50 miles to the mountains, to an area I’d heard held Ruffed Grouse. It had a nice trout stream, as well. It was a beautiful drive across the prairie, looking at the imposing line of mountains coming up. The road kept heading directly into the flat wall of mountains, until, finally, I saw a canyon and the road joined a nice-sized creek. Driving the gravel road, I saw the cold, clear creek water and knew this would be some good fishing, but first I wanted to check out some likely Ruffed Grouse habitat. As I drove, I became uncomfortable. I stopped several times to water the dogs, and each time I was nervous. The day was sunny and clear. It had cooled to the 70’s with just a light breeze, but I was uneasy about something. Finally, I turned around and headed back downhill. I pulled into an empty Forest Service Campground, on the creek but still in the mountains, to let the dogs out and cool them down in the water. Once again, I was nervous, impatient with the dogs, and looking over my shoulder. After just a few minutes, I loaded them in the crates, slammed the tailgate, and drove out of the campground to the main gravel road out of the mountains. I felt relieved to get out of there. It was a creepy, hair-rising-on-the-back-of-the-neck kind of experience. I’m not normally so sensitive to my surroundings, and the experience impressed me. I met Bob that night at the campground and told him he could go fishing, but I would not set a foot in those mountains until something changed.
After the trip was over, two incidents occurred that year within a few miles of my episode. The first one was a mauling of a Forest Service bear biologist. As I read it, she was in a creek, facing upstream, standing still, when she was attacked by a bear from behind. She never heard him coming. She managed to get her bear spray out and spray the bear (and herself). Finally, the bear left. The biologist recovered. The second incident occurred well out on the prairie, not far from the road I drove to access the mountains. A pheasant hunter’s German Shorthair came flying back to him out of a brushy area. Hot on the dog’s tail was a Grizzly. The dog ran up to the hunter and through his legs. The bear looked up, lost the dog, but saw the hunter (I’m sure she said, “You’ll do!”) and attacked. The hunter shot the bear three times and it turned and ran back the way it came. Authorities were called and found a dead sow Grizzly near a tree with some cubs at the top. Sadly, none of the parties (bear, dog, hunter) did anything wrong, and three cubs were orphaned.
My point is: the Grizzlies are moving back out on to the plains. It might be a good thing to take some precautions. We can debate the gun versus bear spray issue all day. What I know is: I can, for sure, cover an area with that spray and not miss, and it works. (I carry both handgun and bear spray, but have made up my mind that I’m reaching for the spray first.)
Father east, along the Missouri River and the path (both out and back) of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, some of the finest bird hunting in the country borders the river. North Dakota wheat supports good populations of Pheasant, Sharptail Grouse, and Hungarian Partridge. Then, the river bends south headed for South Dakota.
Shack, Brit/male, and I left our other hunting friends, and headed out to explore a vast Montana Block Management area. It was hard up against North Dakota, and it produced all the species, every year. Today, I headed out to the edges, just to see what was there. Shack and I drove oil service roads to the turn-arounds, then back to an intersection, and off again in another direction. Finally, we spotted a good patch of grass with a pond. I put him down and he took off. I moseyed over to the pond to look for tracks. I made it half way around the water. I saw Hun tracks, Sharptail tracks, and a larger track I didn’t recognize. Suddenly, Shack’s pager went off. I checked the GPS, and noted he was 350 yards to the East. I climbed a small hill that gave me a view well into North Dakota, and there he was- a small, white dot stopped in the Sage. The ground was hard with minimal brush, so it wasn’t long before I came up behind him. I moved a little off to the right to get a clear path to shoot, and to let him see me coming. His mouth was moving just a little. He was “eating scent”. That was a sure sign the birds were close. I scanned upwind, took a step, and 10 Sage Grouse lumbered into the air. I thought, “How can someone miss a bird that big?” Shack was on the dead bird immediately. I chuckled a little and gave him some encouragement, when he looked somewhat surprised at the size of it, but I didn’t move toward him. He struggled a bit, but finally got the big bird off the ground and brought it to my hand. Sage Grouse are big, majestic birds. They are fun to see walking through the sage, heads moving above the tops of the bushes. A big Boomer (male) is the monster of the Prairie Grouse. They are just as big (and heavy) in the game bag on that long walk back to the truck, and they just don’t taste good. In Montana and Wyoming, at least, they are plentiful, especially Wyoming. I’ve bagged my share, and enjoy going along with friends to hunt them, but I’m not tempted to harvest them anymore. A few waypoints in the list point to Sage Grouse. When I go back to those areas, occasionally I will slide in there to put a new pup on a different bird, and it’s always good for a little comic relief to see how they react to the earth-shaking launch of a grumbling of Sage Grouse.
On November 2, 1804, the (Lewis and Clark) expedition stopped for the winter. Just southeast of present-day Stanton, ND, Lewis wrote, “This place we have named Fort Mandan in honour of our Neighbours.” Clark “fixed on a place for to build a fort and Set to work.” As described by Gass, “the huts were in two rows, containing four rooms each, and joined at one end forming an angle. When rasied about 7 feet high a floor of puncheons or split plank were laid, and covered with grass and clay; which made a warm loft. The upper part projected a foot over and the roofs were made shed-fashion, rising from the inner side, and making the outer wall about 18 feet high. The part not inclosed by the huts we intended to picket. In the angle formed by the two rows of huts we built two rooms, for holding our provisions and stores.” After the winter, they departed for the Pacific on April 7, 1805.
A few miles north of Bismarck, ND is the “Double Ditch Site”- actual evidence of Indian occupation and a large town as far back as 1350 B.C. Clark noted “an old Village on the S. S. and the upper of the 6 Villages the Mandans occupied about 25 years ago this village was entirely cut off by the Sioux & one of the others nearly, the Small Pox distroyed great Numbers.” Smallpox, introduced during the American Revolution (approx. 1775) by French/British soldiers operating with eastern tribes, went on to decimate the western tribes. Some accounts say 80% of the Native Americans died from smallpox and whooping cough for the children. Whole tribes vanished. By 1793, Captain George Vancouver, sailing along the coast of, now, Washington and Oregon, wondered where all the people were. They found villages empty. There was plenty of food and clean water, but the entire section of the country was devoid of human life. He wrote, “By some event, this country has been considerably depopulated, but from what cause is hard to determine.” Vancouver wrote. All the evidence, he believed, indicated “that at no very remote period this country had been far more populous than at present.” Smallpox and Whooping Cough wiped them out.
|Cap and me|
I looked for Cap. The GPS was beeping, arrow pointing due South, 250 yards. The particular Hunter Walk-In Area was way out, generally west of Pierre- a little dot on the state map of areas. But, it was a honey hole. Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens just loved this grassy little spot, surrounded by crops and rangeland. It wasn’t hard to imagine that there were two leks on the parcel, Dancing Grounds for the Sharptail Grouse and Booming Grounds for the Prairie Chickens. The parking spot was just off the gravel county road, and we could see some trees (!) indicating water to the east, grassy hills to the south, and cut grass that was baled extending to the north. Upon first sight, this little piece wouldn’t draw one out of a hundred bird hunters. We were lucky to obtain some advanced information about the area (read: someone told us.). Earlier, our party of 6 hunters left the trucks, divided into two groups and walked along, generally following 3 dogs. My wife and I started out together, down a grassy slope with only Cap on the ground. He ran like only a master in his element could run. He worked at speed today. The grass was only mid-calf high, the temperature was just above freezing with a north wind of 10 mph, under clear, blue skies. Runny noses and numb fingertips always make for excellent bird hunting. Cap worked farther and farther away, down into the draw, then to the creek bottom and then he cut right, to the south, and disappeared. His GPS pager beeped, so I told my wife, “He’s on point! Let’s hurry down there. There will be something there.” By the time we found him in the small creek bottom, he was still intense- tail at 12 o’clock, eyes glazed, and eating scent. I knew a bird was in front of him in the cattails. The problem being there were pheasant here, as well. Pheasant season was closed. Usually, it’s not a problem, but hen pheasant, to the untrained eye, can look a lot like a Sharptail Grouse when they come busting out of the grass. Hens are usually quiet, but Sharps are normally chuckling. I told Shelby, my friend’s wife (they just joined us), to go in and I’d be right behind her to call out if it was a hen pheasant, but it was probably a Sharptail or Chicken. She walked up in front of Cap, gun ready, and the big bird came boiling out of the brush and headed directly away from her- a perfect set up. Her gun came up, and she leaned into the gun. Her first Sharptail. “No,” I yelled! “Hen! Hen! Don’t shoot!” She pulled back just as the bird started chuckling at us, and I realized my mistake. It was a dream set-up, over my best dog, and I blew the call. I’m not real sure Shelby has forgiven me to this day. I got a scathing glance from Cap, too, but he’s seen me do dumber things in his 10 years, and he just put his nose in the air and started working the creek.
It took all of 5 minutes, or less, and his pager went off again-250 yards away. I didn’t have him in sight, although there was nothing growing higher than a clump of bushes right on the fence marking the edge of the area. I hurried along, knowing there were birds in here. Singles aren’t common with Sharptail Grouse, unless they’d been broken up earlier, and I knew we were the first on that piece of ground that day. I had my GPS in my right hand, walking fast, and I must have walked right past him. I went up a grassy slope, and the needle turned 90 degrees and pointed back down the hill right at the clump. By now, he’d been on point for quite a while. Time expands when a dog is pointed. 2 minutes seem like 20 to me. I scanned the brushy area, and noted the boundary line fence. I looked over the fence, too, hoping to not see him on the other side, and thankfully it was pretty bare over there with no dog. I moved on down the hill into a classic loafing area for Sharps- bushy brush surrounded by tall grass, all of it swaying in the breeze. I still couldn’t see anything of him, though, not his brown head or white-tipped tail. Finally, Sarah, from the other group, pointed and said, “There he is!” I saw him. Head high, tail high, staunch. He was right where I’d been looking. He was downwind of the brush pile. I could see into it now, and the dirt was tramped down from birds. I walked up, offset to the right, and kicked the shrubs. Nothing came out. “OK,” I said, giving him the release command. He went in to high gear; nose down, tail flailing away. Then, just on the edge of some knee-high thick grass, he froze. “Got ‘em,” I thought! 10 Sharptails rose up trying to catch that stiff wind. 9 of them made it, and Cap brought me the one that stayed behind. “What a good job, Cap,” I told him! And he took off again. I watched him, quartering the wind. I checked where everyone was, and took a step- right next to a Prairie Chicken! There was no doubt it was a Chicken, he was close enough to fan my face as he struggled for altitude. The gun came up, and the sun hit my eyes, the wind threw me off, those cheap shells had slow primers, a dog ate my homework, I whiffed both shots on a straight line, going away bird! Worse, it was right in front of my 5 hunting partners.
By now, it was time to head for the truck, so my wife and I started the long trek back across the creek and up the grassy hill to the road. We separated by about 50 yards, as I elected to check out an area not on a direct line to the truck. I looked up the hill and kept an eye on my wife as we moved generally in the direction of the truck. Then, I saw Cap lock up 30 yards in front of her. She looked up and waved me over to her. “No,” I shouted “Do it like you’ve seen me do it a hundred times.” So, she walked by Cap, ready to shoot. I was close enough to get a picture to I laid my gun in the grass, and reached for my camera. Just as I straightened up, two Sharptail flushed less than 5 feet away. I dropped the camera, and I reached for my shotgun, but the birds were long gone by then. My wife was still moving to her birds. I frantically looked for my dropped camera. She walked right into the center of a Sharptail chorus! 15 birds got up all around her, lead flew and I prayed for good shot, but they chuckled off over the horizon. I guess she did exactly as she’s seen me do a hundred times. I didn’t get the picture. Aside from one unlucky Sharptail, We did very little damage that morning, although we saw numerous Sharptail Grouse and one very lucky Prairie Chicken. There were very few situations that I did not muddle up that morning in South Dakota. I found myself as the outcast. At least until lunch on the tailgate came around.
In Ft. Pierre, SD, just across the Missouri River from Pierre, the State Capitol, the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered the Lakota Sioux. Captains Lewis and Clark designated a sand bar thirty yards in front of the mouth of the Bad River as the place for the council. A shade was erected near a staff flying the United States flag. At about 11:00a.m. Grand Chief Black Buffalo, Chief Partisan, Chief Buffalo Medicine, and about sixty members of the Teton band of the Lakota Nation arrived for the council. Ordway wrote they “came flocking in from both sides of the [Bad River].” The meeting did not go well. The Bad River confluence with the Missouri is marked today with a small park. In 1804, it was a major meeting place for the Sioux. Clark wrote, “As soon as I landed the pirogue, three of their young men seized the cable. The chief’s soldier hugged the mast, and the second chief [Partisan] was very insolent both in words and gestures . . . declaring I should not go on, stating that he had not received presents sufficient from us. His gestures were of such a personal nature, I felt myself compelled to draw my sword, and made a signal to the keelboat to prepare for action. At this motion Captain Lewis ordered all men under arms in the keelboat. Most of the warriors appeared to have their bows strung and took out their arrows from the quiver. Grand Chief Black Buffalo then took hold of the rope and ordered the young warriors away.” Black Buffalo saved the day for the expedition. They came very close to being attacked by an overwhelming number of Lakota Sioux.
Today, just upstream from Pierre, is a dam on the Missouri, forming Lake Oahe, a huge watershed for the surrounding states. Pheasant and Sharptail Grouse are abundant along the shores of the lake, all the way to North Dakota. Going southward on the river, from Pierre, it bends to the east, then south, all the way to the Nebraska border, then east again, then south to the Iowa/Nebraska border, and down along the Kansas and Missouri border.
I had numerous hunting adventures, on both sides of the river over the years. In Nebraska field trials, Pheasant and quail, Iowa Pheasant, and Kansas Quail and Pheasant over 30 years and numerous dogs, we followed almost the same course as Lewis and Clark. Their expedition was significant in its impact on the country, and on the Indigenous population. They discovered many unknown species, including the Grizzly Bear and the Prairie Dog. At the time considered, by some, as a failure, since they did not find a water route to the Pacific, we can now see how they impacted not only the local tribes of Indians, but also the national consciousness about the size and scope of the young country. Settlers and explorers began the drive to the West.
On a somewhat less important scale, my travels through the areas along their route produced memories of vast, hot, cold windy, hilly, flat prairies covered by young and old dogs, long tails and short tails looking for the Prairie Grouse. Appreciating what the men endured, I now can stop and look around, and remember the escape from the Blackfeet, the encounter with the Lakota Sioux, the salvation by the Clatsop tribe, and the acceptance by the Mandan. I can also visualize their concern with the loneliness and vastness of plains, and, most of all, their complete self-dependence.