One thing that’s cool about teaching History is that I get to talk about BIG stuff. Things that change the world. Columbus. The election of Lincoln. Moon Landing. Stuff like that.
But…there are things that changed the world, that many people don’t know about.
Lewis and Clark’s decision at the Marias River is one of those moments.
The Corps of Discovery—all thirty something of them—never think it was two dudes and a chick (as I tell my students—which is what I thought most of my life because no one ever taught me differently)—had struggled their way Upstream (that’s a discussion for another day) toward the Great Falls.
Now they had maps. Sort of. Made by the natives. Stories told by the natives. Information about possible friendly tribes ahead.
Why was that important?
They needed help. Horses if possible and certainly food and supplies to trade for. (That too is a comment for another day).
So they were looking for the Great Falls on the river knowing that not too far beyond were peoples who might help them.
Then…shriek of horror. The river split!
They’d had no warning. All the other rivers they’d known a bit about. But this was not mentioned in any story, map or anything.
What were they to do?
If they went the wrong way, they might not reach those tribes before winter. They might not find the waterway across the mountains to the sea. (Well, THAT didn’t exist so oh well…of course they don’t know that yet.)
They scouted the area for 10 days going up and down both rivers hoping to figure out which way was correct.
Interestingly, everyone said go right. Lewis alone, said left. And as proof of his leadership, despite everyone’s feeling they should go right, they went left.
He was correct in his choice.
Here’s the significance:
IF Lewis and Clark had gone up the Marias instead of following the Missouri…it is most likely they would have died. Violent tribes lived that direction and would not have helped them and lost, they might have starved.
Significance: BECAUSE the Corps survived and brought back grand tales of open, fertile land, beaver friendly natives, navigable rivers—they opened the West decades sooner. And with the expansion of the new United States, many people and their ideals of freedom would spread. Bringing with it the conflict of slavery. Destroying the native lifestyles—eventually. Calling for the land hungry and oppressed of the world (think Europe) to come and find a new life.
All at that moment. All on that ground. All for the world to see and only a few to visit.