NewsMontana News


A Look Back: Lewis reaches the Great Falls of the Missouri on June 13, 1805

Posted at 4:19 PM, Jun 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-13 18:19:08-04

Meriwether Lewis reached the Great Falls of the Missouri River exactly 214 years ago.

On June 13, 1805, Lewis came across “the grandest sight” he “ever beheld” during his expedition with William Clark and the Corps of Discovery in the early 19th century.

Lewis’ journal entry (courtesy of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center) from June 13, 1805 reads:

“They left camp at sunrise and ascending the river-hills went for six miles in a course generally southwest, over a country which, though more waving than that of yesterday, may still be considered level. At the extremity of this course they overlooked a most beautiful plain, where were infinitely more buffalo than we had ever before seen at a single view…Finding that the river here bore considerably to the south, and fearful of passing the falls before reaching the Rocky mountains, they now changed their course to the south,…Captain Lewis had gone about two miles, when his ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water, and as he advanced a spray, which seemed like a column of smoke, and vanished in an instant. Toward this point he directed his steps; the noise increased as he approached, and soon became too tremendous to be mistaken for anything but the Great Falls of the Missouri. Having traveled seven miles after first hearing the sound, he reached the falls about twelve o’clock. The hills as he approached were difficult of access and 200 feet high. Down these he hurried with impatience; and, seating himself on some rocks under the center of the falls, enjoyed the sublime spectacle of this stupendous object, which since the creation had been lavishing its magnificence upon desert, unknown to civilization.”

It would take the expedition a month to portage around the Falls.

You can read more about the Great Falls of the Missouri River, and the present-day dams, here.

The date coincides with this weekend’s 30th annual Lewis and Clark Festival at Gibson Park in Great Falls.

The Beyond the Dam Race is also Saturday, June 15 with races over Black Eagle and Rainbow dams. You can visit here for more information or to register.