S E V E N T H O F A N O N G O I N G S E R I E S
Boats of the expedition
The two pirogues had a flat bottom and were The keelboat carried 12 to 14 tons of supplies
made of planking and was widest near the bow. and men. It was 55 feet long and 8 feet wide, had
They were powered much the same as the keel- 22 oars, a 32-foot sailing mast and 12 poles. It used
boat, using oars, a mast and rudder. a tiller or rudder. A swivel cannon was placed on
The Red Pirogue was 41 feet long, 9 feet wide
at the bow and had seven rowing positions. It
could carry nine tons of supplies.
the bow. The keelboat also carried two smaller guns
called blunderbusses near the cabin at the stern
and lockers for storage that also served as walkways
The men built 16 canoes from whatever trees
The White Pirogue was 35 feet long, 5 feet for poling.
wide with six rowing positions and carried eight It had a total carrying capacity of 12 to 14 tons. were handy. Ten were made of cottonwood and six
tons. Because it was easier to navigate and more A combination of efforts moved the boat up- from ponderosa pines. It was backbreaking work
stable, it carried the journals, medical supplies The Mandan and Hidatsa Indians stream. This included sailing when the wind was using axes to dig out the cottonwood trees. The
and sextant. taught the expedition how to build right; rowing; towing, where the men waded in the cottonwood dugouts were about 30 feet long and
and use bullboats. Bullboats were cold water or walked along shore pulling with ropes; weighed around 2,000 pounds. The Nez Perce in
made by lashing willow branches to- and poling the boat forward. Idaho taught them how to hollow out pine trees
gether with sinew in the shape of a Poling involved six men on each side, each using fire and chipping.
teacup and then covering them with starting in the front of the boat and placing a
buffalo hide. Bullboats were used long pole against the river bottom, then
to shuttle people and sup- “walking” it to the rear, where they would
plies across the river and pick the pole up and go to the
for short trips. They front to start over. They
were either paddled had to be careful not
or poled. to bonk the other
polers behind them
on the head.
The corps occasionally
used log rafts when hunters
needed to cross a stream too
RIGHT: Re-enactors sail a half-size keelboat to deep to wade or too swift to
celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lewis’ arrival swim across.
near Cincinnati, Ohio. The dog is a Newfoundland On the return trip, Lewis
named Seaman; Lewis took a Newfoundland by used three rafts to ferry sup-
the same name on the original trip. plies across the Clark Fork
Keelboat photo by Patrick Reddy of the Cincinnati Enquirer;
pirogue and canoe illustrations based on models by Richard Research by Larry
Boss, exhibited at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center; Winslow; graphic by Také
dugout and raft illustrations based on historical photos. Uda, Great Falls Tribune
Array of watercraft ferried explorers across nation
By LARRY WINSLOW and 40 to 45 men headed up the After reaching the Shoshone Indians up into several groups.
Tribune Assistant City Editor Missouri River. and trading for horses, the remaining Sgt. John Ordway and others re-
Constantly hitting “sawyers” (trees dugouts were filled with rocks and trieved the sunken dugouts and made
When most of us think of the Lewis under the water), covering 10 miles sunk to preserve them for use on the their way back to the Great Falls where
and Clark Expedition, we think of a was a good day. If there was a head- return trip. they retrieved the White Pirogue. The
couple dozen men and an Indian wom- wind, they were lucky to make two After a difficult trek across the Bit- Red Pirogue at the Marias was unuse-
an paddling up the Missouri River in miles. terroot Mountains the expedition able.
dugout canoes. During the 1804-05 winter at the reached the Clearwater River. There Meanwhile, Clark’s party made its
Actually, the water portion of the Mandan villages in North Dakota, the the Nez Perce Indians showed them way overland to the Yellowstone River,
expedition began in Pittsburgh in 1803 corps made six dugout canoes from how to build canoes from ponderosa where it made two dugouts and lashed
and included five types of watercraft, cottonwood trees. The Indians showed pines using fire to hollow out the them together.
25 in all by the time they reached the them how to make small bullboats centers. Sgt. Nathaniel Pryor and three crew-
Pacific. that could carry people and cargo. be a half-day portage around a water- With five new dugouts, they made men followed with a couple dozen
Capt. Meriwether Lewis sailed down As the 1805 winter ice broke up, the fall turned out to be an arduous weeks- 20 miles a day in swift current, shoot- horses which were stolen. The men
the Ohio River with a keelboat and a keelboat and its crew were sent back long portage of pushing and pulling ing rapids and quickly reached the made two small bullboats which they
large pirogue, picking up expedition to St. Louis with animal and plant the six 2,000-pound dugouts overland Columbia River where they were able paddled several hundred miles to the
co-leader William Clark and members specimens for President Jefferson. around five waterfalls. to trade for a few more stable Indian Missouri.
of the Corps of Discovery. The rest set out westward with the After the portage, Lewis had a canoes. After rendezvousing at the Missouri
By the time they reached winter two pirogues and six dugout canoes. chance to tr y his iron boa t After spending the winter of 1805- and Yellowstone rivers, the now-
quarters at Camp River Dubois, they The larger Red Pirogue was damaged “experiment” to replace the White 06 at the mouth of the Columbia experienced rivermen were eager to
purchased another smaller pirogue. and left at the Marias River. The smaller Pirogue, but lacking proper sealant, it River, the expedition retraced its route get home and covered more than 80
In May 14, 1804, what we consider White Pirogue was left at the Great sank. The expedition built two more with three Indian canoes and three miles a day, arriving in St. Louis on
the “real” expedition got under way Falls of the Missouri. cottonwood dugouts to replace the pine dugouts. Sept. 23, 1806, with the White Pirogue
when the three heavily loaded boats What Lewis and Clark thought would iron boat. Back in Montana the expedition split and the five dugouts.