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Transcriber's Note: The detailed map of the territory explored by Maj. Raynolds can be found at the David Rumsey Map Collection along with a plethora of other maps. Through the kind permission of Mr. Rumsey, I have been allowed to link directly to the copywrited image he and his associates have created by the restoral of the original map drawn by F. V. Hayden. You will find their work was superlative. This link will open a separate browser window which will allow the reader to follow along with the expedition's progress. When using the map viewer, it will be necessary to "zoom in" several times but, after doing so, you will be able to see the dotted line with dates indicating the expedition's route and camp sites. To open the map directly, please click on the following link (you may have to stop any "pop-up" blocker software you have running to see the resulting window):

Map of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers

Journal of Captain W. F. Raynolds, United States army, Corps of Engineers.



From July 15th to 22d inclusive, was spent at Fort Benton in preparations for the farther exploration of the Missouri, and the region between it and the Yellowstone.  The land party consisting of about 20 men in all, under command of Lieutenant Mullins, left camp on the 20th.  The boat for my detachment, who are to descend the river, was finished on the following day, and is a large flat-bottomed craft, 50 feet in length by 12 feet beam.  All the preliminaries having been arranged after a pleasant sojourn at Fort Benton, whose officers treated me with great courtesy and kindness, we left that post on Monday, July 23, at 9 a. m., after finishing our packing, settling bills, and receiving the mail we were to carry below, the order was given to cast off.  At first, by means of a small skiff, following the boat in which a high mast had been erected, I attempted to survey the course of the river upon the principle of the stadia.  The rapidity of the current, however, rendered it impossible to stop the boats, and also swept away our buoys, and I was at last compelled to reluctantly abandon the project.  The river surface was two feet above low water, and the channel well-defined.  It flows in a narrow bed, impinging alternately upon bluffs upon each side, in almost every case the opposite bank consisting of a small plateau elevated some 10 or 15 feet above the water's level.  These bottoms are usually covered with fine grass, with a few cottonwood trees, and it is in one of these that Fort Benton is located.  Beyond the bluffs the country appears to be an elevated and dry plain.  The Bear's Paw mountains came in sight about noon, and the general course of the river has been towards it, i. e.,

The tributaries of the Missouri passed to-day have not been numerous.  A few miles below Fort Benton the Shonkin joins it from the south, but of all Maria's river is by far the most considerable and important.  This is quite a pretentious stream, but not now sufficiently so to explain the doubt, which perplexed Lewis and Clark on reaching its mouth, as to whether it was not the Missouri itself.  In fact the volume of water in the main river was not very materially increased after the junction of the Maria.  Nevertheless there may have been great changes since the first decade of this century.  Below this the Little Sandy, a small stream, empties in from the northwest, and we halted for the night just below its mouth, at the point at which the river bends off to southeast to pass around the base of Bear's Paw mountains.  This may be
regarded as the northwest bend of the Missouri.  The river has lost its limpid blue color during the day, and below the Maria has assumed an appearance of ashy whiteness, although it is not yet muddy.

Our latitude to-night, as determined by north and south stars, is 48° 4' 38", and the distance travelled [sic] is estimated at 50 miles.

Tuesday, July 24.—We started at sunrise and made rapid progress throughout the day with the current, the course of the river being directly southeast.
Towards night we passed the mouth of the Judith, a handsome stream flowing through a wide bottom, and with more timber about it than has been previously seen since leaving Port Benton.  We encamped two miles below, upon the north
bank, at a point I believe to be the spot upon which the Blackfeet treaty of 1852 was negotiated.

The general character of the country has not greatly changed from that of the region through which we passed yesterday.   For the first 20 miles, however, the hills gradually increased in height and ruggedness, a yellowish-white sandstone showing itself, with strata of a darker and tougher rock running through or overlying it.  The sandstone is of course very susceptible to the action of the water and the elements, and has been thus cut into all conceivable shapes, picturesque and grotesque.  At a distance, with such aid as the fertile imagination can easily supply, these take on an endless variety of fanciful appearances, resembling in turn massive temples, vast colonnades, fortifications of titanic origin, or any of the mightier reliques of remote antiquity.  In most instances the overlying dark rock appear as the cornice of the ruins beneath, while over all reposes the thick bed of stratified earth that forms the surface of the plain above.

In some points the sandstone is broken by dikes of trap which, withstanding the exposure more effectively, is left in many places isolated like immense rocky walls piled up by human skill.  One of these singular formations was full 100 feet in height and 400 feet in length, and another was seen forming a distinct and nearly perfect horseshoe.  These extraordinary freaks of nature have surrounded us on both sides during our voyage to-day, and in point of scenery the journey has been exceedingly pleasant.

Wednesday, July 25.— Two miles below camp we came into the region of the "bad lands" of the Judith.  These resemble those with which we became so disagreeably familiar along the Powder, and consist of high clay bluffs washed into deep ravines and steep slopes, the strata of earth running horizontally and being easily distinguished by their different colors.  Over all lies the dark rock that capped the sandstone as described yesterday, and still supports the upper soil.  It would apparently be impossible to approach the river from the banks among these "bad lands", and equally impossible to construct a road over them that would withstand the action of the water.  The bluffs, generally slope sharply to the river's edge, and only occasionally is a level spot to be found at their foot, and even these are wholly destitute of timber and of all fuel save driftwood.

Below Cow island, however, a change took place in the nature of the country.  The hills, whose sides and summits are covered with pine, recede, forming a well-defined bottom in which cottonwood tree in small quantities again appear.  There is thus abundant fuel at this point along the river banks, while many of the pines would furnish passable lumber.  Navigation is, however, embarrassed by numerous rapids, and for a voyage up stream it would be indispensable to have vessels of light draft and strong motive power.  Boats drawing two feet could now ascend without difficulty, two and a half feet being the least water yet found.  At low water no vessel drawing over 18 inches could pass.  Navigation would also be decidedly improved by the removal of a number of large boulders from the river's bed.  We encamped at night upon the north bank after a day's voyage of about 50 miles.

Thursday, July 26.— To-day the nature of both the river and its banks have undergone a great change.  The stream is commencing to assume the appearance of the Lower Missouri, and the water is fast taking on its proverbially muddy appearance.  The hills continue to recede, and the pines upon their summits are being replaced by the familiar burned brown grass.  The valley is wider and contains more timber, while the immediate river banks are sharply cut and perpendicular, the strata showing the deposits of successive overflows.  Game has been abundant.  Yesterday mountain sheep were seen among the "bad lands", and to-day deer and elk have been started at almost every turn of the river.  A few buffalo bulls have also been visible, but no large bands, notwithstanding the fact that a few years since this was one of their great feeding grounds.  We encamped at night upon the north bank near the point at which the river bends off to the south to receive the Muscleshell.

Friday, July 27.—At 10 a. m. to-day we reached the mouth of the Muscleshell, and I halted to obtain observations for time and circummeridian observations on the sun for latitude.  The Muscleshell, at its mouth, gives no evidences of draining the immense region it does, as it is not more than 30 feet wide and one or two feet deep at this point, its banks being muddy and the bed of the stream, therefore, difficult to cross.  Its valley is wide and well covered with young cottonwood trees.  It is a favorite resort for the Indians, a large band of whom have but just left it.

After a two hours' halt, we continued our descent of the stream until we reached the point at which the river resumes its eastward course, and here we stopped for the night.  Our observations at both extremes and the middle of the Muscleshell bend of the Missouri should locate it accurately in latitude.

The valley of the river continues to widen, the hills receding and becoming lower, while the cottonwoods are vastly more abundant.  Just below the Muscleshell, however, some of the " bad land " bluffs again appeared.

Saturday, July 28.—Our progress to-day has been decidedly intermittent.  Shortly, after starting a furious wind compelled us to lay by for over an hour.  This was shortly followed by a shower which prevented the topographer from attending to his duties, and we were, therefore, again compelled to halt.  At 10 ½ a. m., however, we got under way and made an excellent run, reaching in the afternoon a point within sight of, and a few miles from, the Round Butte, which is considered half way between Forts Benton and Union.  Here we halted to kill buffalo, of which a large herd was in sight.

We have passed no streams of special consequence to-day, Quarrel river being the most pretentious of any.  The mouths of all the tributaries of the Missouri in this region are dry and closed with a sand bar from two to four feet above the present river level, and this is even true of the gullies, which do not now run down to the water's edge.  The country in our immediate vicinity consists of wooded points and " bad land" bluffs, the latter being whiter and more washed, but of less height, than those seen above.

At sundry points in the perpendicular banks of the river, I noticed large cottonwoods with their bark and roots imbedded from four to six feet below the surface of the plain, proving that the soil which the river was now washing away had also been deposited there by it during the lifetime of the tree.

Sunday, July 29.—We passed the day as usual without moving.

Monday, July 30.—An early start was effected this morning, it being my wish to reach the mouth of the Yellowstone by next Saturday evening, and we made a successful run of over 50 miles.  At one point passed we landed two men who had come with us from Fort Benton for this purpose, who propose to remain there through the winter hunting wolves.  As the nearest post is Fort Union, which is fully 200 miles distant, they plainly have no especial dread of Indian hostilities.

The valley through which we have passed to-day is not greatly changed from that above, although it is wider, while the hills continue to lessen in height, and the timbered points are becoming bolder.  Snags in the river are getting more numerous rapidly, and to avoid them and the frequent sandbars requires skill and steadiness of navigation.  The water in the river continues to fall, but has not yet settled into its regular low-water channel.

Tuesday, July 31.—The country surrounding us to-day is the same as that through which we passed yesterday, and a description of its characteristics would thus be mere repetition.  We halted at noon a mile above the mouth of Big Dry creek, which I visited.  As its name indicates, it is the mere dry bed of a stream that plainly drains a large area of territory, and at certain seasons must be filled with a great volume of water.  I have not been able to hear, however, of but one person that ever saw any water within its banks.  The channel is 87 paces in width; between the growth of willows the distance is 330 paces, while the banks proper are full 600 paces apart.  The stream, however, can have but little fall, as no hills are visible up its valley.

Our progress in the afternoon was retarded by a gale, which compelled us to tie up for two hours, but we finally reached and halted for the night at El Paso Point, the limit of steamboat navigation on the Missouri until 1859, when the Chippewa forced its way up to within 20 miles of Fort Benton.

Wednesday, August 1.—Our voyage to-day has been rendered slow and uncomfortable by high easterly winds, accompanied by rain storms, which have chilled the atmosphere and necessitated frequent halts.  The valley of the river continues without special change, and we have stopped for the night, after descending but a short distance, a few miles above the mouth of Milk river.  We passed in the afternoon a party of five men erecting cabins and preparing to spend the winter here trapping for wolves.

Thursday, August 2.—Westerly gales to-day compelled us to halt after another short run, although our progress was very rapid until we stopped.   We passed the mouth of Milk river early in the day, but as the Missouri is here very wide and shallow, and its deepest channel is quite narrow, and runs to the north of a large island, we were unable to obtain a close view of its important tributary.  The day has been cold and raw, and considerable rain fell last night.

Friday, August 3.—The night was very cold for the season, rendering blankets indispensable, but the day broke clear and beautiful, and has so continued.  We effected a prompt start, and have made an excellent run, although we halted early with the hope of securing game.  In this we were disappointed, however, and as the Crows are just south of us, and the Assiniboines to the north, it is probable that we shall obtain no more fresh meat, as these tribes
scour the hunting grounds most thoroughly.

The country below Milk river has become much more level than we found it above, and consists as a general rule of undulating prairie, stretching off uninterruptedly to the horizon.  The river is wide, shallow, and greatly obstructed by snags and sand-bars.  Several times in the course of the day our boat, which draws only 10 inches of water, has grounded, and rendered it necessary that all should jump overboard to get her off.  Our pilot is experienced and careful, and I do not believe that it would have been possible to avoid the bars.  For this reason I question if a boat drawing 18 inches of water would find it possible to navigate the Missouri at this time.  However, the water is now falling rapidly, and has not yet cut out the channel to the depth it will possess at its lower stage.

Saturday, August 4.—We managed to make fair progress to day, notwithstanding the wind compelled an hour's additional halt at noon, and we stopped for the night at the upper end of the long northeast stretch above the Big Muddy.  In the afternoon navigation was rendered very uncomfortable work by a heavy rain, while the wind made it impossible to obtain a satisfactory meridian altitude of the sun.

The country continues unchanged, timber lining the banks of the river, and prairie hills reaching away into the distance.  Early in the afternoon, however, a few " bad land" hills were observed to the south, distant some ten miles from the river.

Sunday, August 5.—We did not move to-day, a fierce gale, as well as my inclination, forbidding it.

Monday, August 6.—The night was cold and attended by a very heavy dew, but the day has been calm and beautiful.  We started promptly and halted for noon between Fort Stuart and the mouth of the Big Muddy.  The latter is now a very insignificant stream, containing but little water.  Fort Stuart is an old trading post of Clark, Premo & Co., now abandoned, that firm having been merged into the American Fur Company.  Our afternoon's progress was excellent, notwithstanding another gale, and we halted for the night just below the mouth of the Little Muddy.

On the south bank of the river above Fort Stuart, and on the north bank below the Big Muddy, " bad land " bluffs again are seen, their horizontal strata being yellow, red, and black, the latter indicating the reappearance of the lignite.  The red strata is plainly of burnt material.

Tuesday, August 7.—After a run retarded by winds and rain, rendering one halt and considerable trouble necessary, we reached Fort Union at 3 p. m.  We found that Lieutenant Maynadier had been there a week awaiting our arrival, and we shall be compelled to halt now until rejoined by Lieutenant Mullins.

Lieutenant Maynadier's report of his explorations along the Yellowstone will be found in the Appendix.