The Battle at Two Medicine
I was pleased to find at this site a much more honest treatment of the eruption of violence that resulted in the deaths of two native people, the only Indians hurt or killed on the expedition. Obviously, it's appropriate that the interpretive signs here would have such details, but there really is no reason for the timidity in discussing this incident that is found almost everywhere else along the Trail--or the outright omission of it, in many cases.
There are three signs at this site, one giving a rather vague overview and two others presenting the expedition's view and the Indians'. First, the expedition's, with which more people are familiar.
The sign above includes, in addition to the text, a picture of Lewis and a sketch of the altercation. The text describes the incident: “After much talking and smoking tobacco, Lewis posted a guard and retired for the night. In the morning, Lewis and his companions’ weapons were taken, an act that gave the Indians power in their tribe. In the ensuing struggle, ‘a soldier stabbed a warrior . . . who fell dead. ’ ”
Lewis retrieved his rifle and tried to stop the theft of horses, and “as one turned to shoot, Lewis shot him in the stomach. Injured, but not willing to give up, the Indian raised and returned fire upon Lewis—the bullet whistled by his head.”
“Lewis and his men retreated after burning some of the Indians’ gear left at the camp” and after placing a “peace medal around the neck of the dead man so that ‘they would be informed who we were.’ ”
Another panel presents the incident from the native point of view, based on the first-hand testimony of “Wolf Calf, one of the Blackfeet Indian survivors” who rode away. This is the only mention of this person, or of the identity of the man who was stabbed, that I've seen anywhere in public Lewis and Clark interpretation of any kind.
The above text reads in part: “He [Wolf Calf] and his companions were both surprised and frightened when they saw Lewis and his men, but decided to act in a ‘friendly fashion.’ " Both parties camped together along the river. “The next morning, Joseph Field carelessly laid his gun aside” and one of the Indians took the weapon and others tried to take the horses. “Side Hill Calf was overtaken by Reubin Field and killed in the struggle. Another young Blackfeet man was shot in the stomach and what happened to him was unknown. The remaining men of the party rode quickly away.”
The sign also includes one of Karl Bodmer's paintings of a Blackfeet man and a rather faint and fuzzy photograph of Wolf Calf himself, who supposedly lived to be 100 years old:
The caption reads, "This picture of Wolf Calf, a Piegan Warrior, was taken in the late 1800s when he was almost 100 years old. Wolf Calf vividly remembered the meeting with Meriwether Lewis."
One other thing I found particularly interesting was the reminder that Lewis and his men took the time to burn some of the Indians' belongings before leaving the area, and to place the Peace Medal around the man's neck. This somewhat belies the dramatic headlong rush to escape that is presented in many other trail locations, as if they were immediately and hotly pursued.
[Photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2007.]