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Lewis & Clark Expedition: Book to tell tribes' side of the story

Lewis & Clark Expedition: Book to tell tribes' side of the story

Shook in Spokane
Shook in Spokane

PABLO - The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been awarded a $7,000 grant by the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission to produce a 30-page, richly illustrated book that tells the story of a portion of the expedition through the eyes of Salish elders.

The tribes say the book will tell a side of the expedition that is often glossed over, ignored or misrepresented. And it will "enrich our collective knowledge" for future generations, according to their grant application.

On Sept. 4, 1805, a band of about 400 Salish was encamped at what is now known as Ross's Hole on the east fork of the Bitterroot River, harvesting chokecherries, pasturing horses and planing on the annual buffalo hunt that fall. The area is known by the Indians (translated from Salish) as Great Clearing.

Their scouts spotted a group of strange men approaching, which proved to be the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"The expedition's stock was exhausted and the people gifted them with a dozen of their 'elegant horses,' as Clark described them. In return, the Salish accepted seven lame animals and a few small gifts," the narrative says. The tribe also gave the strangers food from their dried stores, robes and a dozen pack saddles.

"The Salish horses may well have saved the lives of at least some members of the expedition," the tribal narrative says, quoting both the Lewis and Clark account of the encounter and subsequent events.

As the expedition moved west into Idaho, it ran into winter weather and ran out of food. They killed and ate the horses - "horse beef" as Clark recorded. For more than a week they lived on the horse meat.

The book will recount, in the words of nine Salish elders, this crucial encounter: "How the members of the tribe perceived the group of strangers and how elders of later generations came to understand the expedition and its ultimate meaning to the tribes."

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and tribal consultants will provide a significant share of the cost - an estimated $43,500 of the total, with most going to book design, including a review of text and art by the Salish Elders Advisory Council, and book design and layout.

The $7,000 grant will pay for printing, artwork and additional editing.

"In preservation of oral tradition this project brings together a culturally inclusive, historically accurate telling of tribal legacy for the enjoyment of all future generations, tribal as well as nontribal," the narrative says.

The Salish-Kootenai grant is only one of some $155,000 in grants recently awarded to local communities, nonprofit groups and tribal nations by the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission, according to Clint Blackwood, executive director.

A significant portion of the total grant awards went toward tribal projects.

The Blackfeet Tribe received a $15,000 grant for construction of a multifunctional tourist/visitor center on U.S. Highway 2 between East Glacier and Browning that will house an extensive exhibit presenting the Tribe's encounter with the expedition on the Marias River.

Blackfeet Community College received a $10,000 grant to prepare five tribal college students to participate in three symposiums about the relationships of the Blackfeet and the expedition.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at

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