Archive - Meriwether Lewis at Great Falls

June 05, 2016


Each Sunday we present a notable item from our archives. This EPOD was originally published June 13, 2005

Referred by: Rod Benson, Helena High School
Summary author: Rod Benson

Title of painting: The Arrival of Captain Lewis at the Great Falls of the Missouri, June 13, 1805
by Charles Fritz - Oil on Canvas 42" x 65"

On the morning of June 11, 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis and four men set out from a fork in the Missouri River (now referred to as Decision Point) near Loma, Montana in search of the great waterfalls that the Indians told them to expect. Clark stayed with the main party and attended to Sacagawea, who was ill. The significance of finding the falls is that it would confirm that they had taken the correct fork in the river. Fritz’s painting shows Captain Lewis as he first gazed upon what we now call The Great Falls on June 13, 2005 (200 years ago today). Lewis wrote the following about the discovery in his journal (his spelling errors are included here):

"I had proceed on this course about two miles with Goodrich at some distance behind me whin my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a collumn of smoke which soon began to make a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri. Here I arrived about 12 Oclock. From the reflection of the sun on the sprey or mist which arrises from these falls is a beautifull rainbow produced which adds not a little to the beauty of this majestically grand senery."

The Great Falls (shown in the painting) were actually the first of five waterfalls encountered by the explorers as they journeyed through an 18-mile stretch that included the area now occupied by the city of Great Falls. Although each of the waterfalls has its own name (Great Falls, Crooked Falls, Rainbow Falls, Colter Falls, Black Eagle Falls), the set of five waterfalls is referred to as the Great Falls of the Missouri. Each of the falls results from the presence of an especially tough layer of sandstone unit in the Cretaceous Kootenai Formation.

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