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#25. Fort Benton Toward the Bitteroot River

Fort Benton Toward the Bitteroot River

On September 23, 1853 the surveying groups headed off in their separate directions. Lt. Saxton departed by keel-boat before sunrise; Mr. Culbertson headed for Washington, and Lt. Grover on a small craft to continue explorations of the Missouri. Stevens expressed praise for James Doty (8/17/1824-12/17/1918), who was in charge of treaties and treatment of Indians, who “had won very much upon me by his intelligence, his fidelity, his promptitude, and energy of character”. (Stevens 1853) Mr. Doty had served as secretary of the commission and had finished his year-long commitment to the effort. Prior to departing with his team shortly after sunrise, Stanley wrote: we felt that our short sojourn there [Fort Benton] had not only let us into the experiences and vicissitudes of life in a remote mountain post, surrounded by numerous Indians, and accessible to information from home but once or twice a year, but we felt also that we had made warm and fast friends of all the inhabitants of that region - voyageurs, Indians, and gentlemen of the fur Company[1]

“Teton Valley, General Reports Plate 28” by Del Stanley

The team was heading to ascend the Teton through the Teton Valley, hoping to travel 20 or more miles that day. They reached Prairie Lake late in the day and found plenty of good water but no wood for fires. Their guide, Baptiste Champaign, guided them to Sun river for a better camping site and they arrived after dark. They found excellent spring water and the Sun river was described as “exceedingly transparent and pure.” (Stevens 1853) His journal continues: I have travelled over this plateau between the Teton and Sun rivers on two other lines, and the view at almost any point of the plateau is exceedingly picturesque and suggestive. Whilst the eastern slope of the main chain from the Rocky mountains, so far as we are able to observe it in our day’s journey, has but little wood, there are large quantities of timer on the chains and mountains south of the Missouri, in the Bear’s Paw and on the Three Buttes. The various minor upheavals and swales of ground, which here and there dot the surface of the country, have connected with them some story of Indian war, wrong or suffering. This whole country was once occupied by the Snakes, and, in later times, by some of the tribes of the Flathead nation. It belongs now to the Blackfeet by conquest, as was stated in open council at Fort Benton in 1855, by the Pend d’Oreille chief, Alexander, who claimed it as the land of his fathers.[2]

September 23, 1853. As the group traveled up the valley of the Sun river, note was made of the lush grazing grasses and excellent soil. After 16 miles they continued up in the direction of Caddote’s Pass, locating a former encampment of Mr. Lander’s team.

“Approach to Caddote’s Pass”, General Reports Plate 29” by Del Stanley

Their journey continued for several days toward the Blackfoot prairie (as named by Lewis and Clark’s narrative). The 26th found them in a beautiful camp near the Cañon. They had traveled 30 days and while setting up their camp the saw a black bear and two cubs in the area. They felt positive they would have bear meat for their supper, but the bears eluded the trackers and made good their escape.

[1] “Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad”, Isaac Stevens, Page 117. [2] “Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad”, Isaac Stevens, Page 118.


Stevens, Isaac I. “Narrative of the Final Report of Explorations For A Route For A Pacific Railroad, Near The Forty-Seventh and Forty-Ninth Parallels of North Latitude, From St. Paul to Puget Sound, by Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of Washington Territory, 1855”. Published in 1859 by the Secretary of War, Honorable John B. Floyd.


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