Sacajawea and the Lewis & Clark Expedition
The earliest familiar history for the Greater Ruby Valley lies with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, which was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. Their perilous journey lasted from May 1804 to September 1806, reaching this valley the summer of 1805. It is the young Shoshone woman, Sacajawea, whose place in local history precedes that of the expedition. A large bronze statue commemorating Sacajawea stands in front of the pavilion at the Madison County Fairgrounds.
- July 25, 1805: the Corps reached the Missouri’s three forks (now Three Forks, Montana) and gave them names: the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin, after the President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of the Treasury, respectively. After considerable exploration, they picked the fork that proved to be the main branch — the Jefferson — and pressed southwest on it. At these forks, the Corps was encamped precisely where Sacajawea’s people had been five years earlier, when the Hidatsa attacked and she was kidnapped at the age of 12. She was later purchased by Charbonneau. As the Corps were in desperate need of horses, and needed to learn where to cross the Rockies, they sought her people, the Shoshone Indians.
- August 8: Sacajawea was excited to recognize her first familiar landmark — the “Beaver’s Head“, which was her tribe’s summer camp on the river that runs to the west beyond the mountains. That landmark is where the name “Beaverhead” originated, and why the landmark is called “Beaverhead Rock” to this day. (On the right, about 10 miles west of Twin Bridges, Hwy 41)
- August 11: Lewis spotted an Indian on a horse, and believed he was a Shoshone. When he hailed him, the Indian disappeared into the bushes.
- August 13: the expedition’s advance party met some Shoshones. After glimpsing a few, then giving them gifts, a party of 60 warriors galloped up. After convincing the young men that they were peaceful, the white men were greeted with hugs by their commander, Chief Cameahwait. It was the Shoshones’ first encounter with white people. Lewis advised Cameahwait several times that the main party of the Corps included a young Shoshone woman. When Sacajawea was finally called in to interpret, it turned into a joyful reunion, for…
“The Great Chief of this nation proved to be the brother of the woman with us…” wrote Clark.
Go West Young Man, Go West
M adison County was one of the 9 original counties established in Montana Territory in February of 1865. The town of Sheridan was one of the earliest towns to incorporate in 1893. Ruby Valley lies between the two first Territorial Capitals of Montana: Bannack, to the south in Beaverhead County, and Virginia City which is the county seat of Madison County. A series of major mining discoveries in the western third of the state starting in 1862 found gold, silver, copper, lead, coal (and later oil) that attracted tens of thousands of miners to the area. The richest of all gold placer diggings was discovered at Alder Gulch, where the town of Virginia City was established.
Towns in the Greater Ruby Valley
(Much of the following information came from Cheney’s Names on the Face of Montana, Mountain Press Publishing Company)
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