The dung of the buffalo, exposed for many years to the action of sun, wind, and rain, became as dry and firm as the finest compressed hay. As "buffalo chips," in these treeless regions, it was the overland emigrants' sole dependence for fuel.
The explorers now approached a wonderful pass in the Rocky Mountains which their journal thus describes:
"A mile and a half beyond this creek [Cottonwood Creek] the rocks approach the river on both sides, forming a most sublime and extraordinary spectacle. For five and three quarter miles these rocks rise perpendicularly from the water's edge to the height of nearly twelve hundred feet. They are composed of a black granite near their base, but from the lighter color above, and from the fragments, we suppose the upper part to be flint of a yellowish brown and cream color.
"Nothing can be imagined more tremendous than the frowning darkness of these rocks, which project over the river and menace us with destruction. The river, one hundred and fifty yards in width, seems to have forced its channel down this solid mass; but so reluctantly has it given way, that during the whole distance the water is very deep even at the edges, and for the first three miles there is not a spot, except one of a few yards, in which a man could stand between the water and the towering perpendicular of the mountain. The convulsion of the passage must have been terrible, since at its outlet there are vast columns of rock torn from the mountain, which are strewed on both sides of the river, the trophies, as it were, of its victory. Several fine springs burst out from the chasms of the rock, and contribute to increase the river, which has a strong current, but, very fortunately, we were able to overcome it with our oars, since it would have been impossible to use either the cord or the pole. We were obliged to go on some time after dark, not being able to find a spot large enough to encamp on; but at length, about two miles above a small island in the middle of the river, we met with a place on the left side, where we procured plenty of light wood and pitch pine. This extraordinary range of rocks we called the Gates of the Rocky Mountains."
Some of Captain Clark's men, engaged in hunting, gave the alarm to roving bands of Shoshonee Indians, hunting in that vicinity. The noise of their guns attracted the attention of the Indians, who, having set fire to the grass as a warning to their comrades, fled to the mountains. The whole country soon appeared to have taken fright, and great clouds of smoke were observed in all directions. Falling into an old Indian trail, Captain Clark waited, with his weary and footsore men, for the rest of the party to come up with them.
The explorers had now passed south, between the Big Belt range of mountains on the cast and the main chain of the Rocky Mountains on the west. Meagher County, Montana, now lies on the cast of their trail, and on the west side of that route is the county of Lewis and Clark. They were now-- still travelling southward--approaching the ultimate sources of the great Missouri. The journal says:--
"We are delighted to find that the Indian woman recognizes the country; she tells us that to this creek her countrymen make excursions to procure white paint on its banks, and we therefore call it Whiteearth Creek. She says also that the Three Forks of the Missouri are at no great distance--a piece of intelligence which has cheered the spirits of us all, as we hope soon to reach the head of that river. This is the warmest day, except one, we have experienced this summer. In the shade the mercury stood at eighty degrees, which is the second time it has reached that height during this season. We camped on an island, after making nineteen and three quarters miles.
"In the course of the day we saw many geese, cranes, small birds common to the plains, and a few pheasants. We also observed a small plover or curlew of a brown color, about the size of a yellow-legged plover or jack-curlew, but of a different species. It first appeared near the mouth of Smith's River, but is so shy and vigilant that we were unable to shoot it. Both the broad and narrow-leaved willow continue, though the sweet willow has become very scarce. The rosebush, small honeysuckle, pulpy-leaved thorn, southernwood, sage, box-elder, narrow-leaved cottonwood, redwood, and a species of sumach, are all abundant. So, too, are the red and black gooseberries, service-berry, choke-cherry, and the black, yellow, red, and purple currants, which last seems to be a favorite food of the bear. Before camping we landed and took on board Captain Clark, with the meat he had collected during this day's hunt, which consisted of one deer and an elk; we had, ourselves, shot a deer and an antelope."