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Winding River

View of Camp Disappointment
Camp Disappointment.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

" ...adieu to this place which I now call camp disappointment...."

- Lewis
26 July 1806

On July 22, 1806, Lewis halted his northward exploration of the Marias River here. It was not the natural boundary for the Louisiana Purchase he had hoped for. He had also hoped to find an easy portage route between the Marias and Saskatchewan rivers. Such a route would have allowed America to divert Canadian fur trade into American territory at the Missouri River. It was not to be. Dreary weather and gloomy prospects gave this camp its name.

Lewis and the nine men with him camped here for three days before beginning their return to the Missouri. It was a risky stay as they were deep in the land of the Blackfeet. In fact, the next day, they encountered eight Blackfeet warriors and shared a camp with them. Unfortunately, Lewis also shared the fact that Americans would trade with all the tribes in coming years, including enemies of the Blackfeet. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the most powerful coalition in Montana at the time. The prospect of American rifles in the hands of their enemies threatened their dominance of the area and their existence.

Early the next morning, Lewis woke to the sounds of struggle. The warriors and expedition members fought for possession of the Corps' rifles and horses. Two of the warriors were killed in the only fatal encounter of the expedition.

Lewis compounded the gravity of the situation:

"While the men were preparing the horses I put four sheilds and two bows and quivers of arrows…on the fire, with sundry other articles…I also retook the flagg but left the medal about the neck of the dead man, that they might be informed who we were."

The other Blackfeet survived to return to their tribe, and it is thought that this encounter had lasting consequences. George Drouillard, present at this fight, was one of three expedition members to return west after the expedition only to die in later conflicts with the Blackfeet.