There is probably no better way to walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark as they descended into the Bitterroot Valley to meet the Salish in 1805 than to walk it with one of the men who helped track them down. Ted Hall, along with all the help he could round up, which was a lot, set out to “ground truth” the trail that Lewis and Clark took from the Missouri through the Rocky Mountains.
His first book on the subject, published by Stoneydale Press, is called “The Trail Between The Rivers” and describes the rigors and the joys of ground truthing the trail from the Missouri headwaters through the Rocky Mountains. Based on hard science and tons of research, it presents his view of the Corps’ actual trail, a view that subsequently continues to be confirmed. His second book, written at the urging of his publisher, Dale Burk, focuses in on the two days of travel, September 3 and 4, 1805, when the Corps of Discovery descended into the valley.
This work led to the formal re-establishment of the Descent Trail that runs from the top of the pass to the Indian Trees Campground.
Last week, as part of the Darby Adult Education program, Hall and his compatriot Blaine Furniss took the class out on a rainy day to walk down the trail about three miles and visit the “Witness Trees,” the trees that were living witnesses to the passage of Lewis and Clark.
Only about a quarter mile down the trail, Hall and Furniss believe they have found an old grove of “Witness Trees” that Sergeant Whitehouse refers to in his journal as a “thicket of young spruce.” It was a notable occasion because they had not found any game for two days and were ravenously hungry when they discovered a very large group of grouse in the thicket.
Furniss, a retired botanist, did the core sampling that helped determine the age of the trees. He said that you often hear people say, as they walking by trees that were here at the time, that they “wonder if someone from the Corps of Discovery might have actually touched this tree.”
“In this case, without food for two days and these guys chasing the whole bunch through the thicket,” said Furniss, “they probably touched most every one of these trees.”
Further down, near the bottom of the trail is a Ponderosa Pine that was alive at the time the Corps came through and, situated as it is on a small knoll that must be traversed, Hall is certain that many of the men and horses that came through that day must have brushed by it.
Furniss also identified plants, mosses and fungi along the trail.
While everyone absorbed the knowledge, both historical and biological, they also absorbed the woods. They had come not just to learn about the trail and the place and the trees, they had come, in a sense, just to be there. To stand alongside these ancient sentinels who have witnessed so many years here. The stately old trees sponsored a lot of conversation but they also sponsored a lot of quiet contemplation among the group.