By Michael Howell
If you are attempting to walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as they traveled west through what is now Montana and Idaho, when you come to the confluence of Moose Creek and the North Fork of the Salmon River you have a choice to make. You can head up the Moose Creek drainage, as a majority of scholars suggest in “The Mystery of Lost Trail Pass,” a book published in February 2000 following a conference of experts held in Salmon, Idaho. Or, you can go up the North Fork of the Salmon River, as Ted Hall from Darby suggests. In that case you will arrive at a supposed campsite in a meadow near Coulter Creek where Hall believes he has found other indications that it may indeed be the “lost campsite” where the Corps of Discovery slept the night before descending into Ross’ Hole, near present day Sula, where they parlayed with the Flathead Indians on September 4, 1805.
The two proposed trails split at Deep Creek. Hall says that his proposed route is based primarily on his engineering experience, his analysis of the maps produced by Clark and the journals of various Corps members. He said the compass readings associated with Clark’s map are accurate but the distances recorded between compass readings could vary depending on a variety of factors. If you allow for an overestimation of the length of an arduous hike, he claims, you take off from a different point on the second compass reading of the day on September 3rd. If you stop a little short of the distance that most scholars accept and which accounts for the proposed trail up Moose Creek, you end up taking Hall’s proposed route. A route that he will tell you matches the Corps’ compass directions “forwards and backwards” from that point and most of the distance estimates.
Hall’s proposed route also includes a long ridge that the Corps had to surmount and follow for a while at compass heading N 32 W. In the journals we learn that they literally pushed the horses up the mountain slope. At least one tumbled down and almost died. Clark’s compass reading associated with the arduous climb and trek along the ridge is N 32 W. Hall points out that this is the only ridge in the entire area that runs along that direction line.
Dan Hall (not related), who joined Ted Hall and a small group of interested people last Saturday, July 20, to visit the campsite, called the evidence concerning the 32 degree ridge “the most compelling evidence” in favor of Ted Hall’s proposal. The fact that Dan Hall found Ted Hall’s version worth consideration means a lot.
Dan Hall, of Western Cultural, Inc., a cultural resource management service, led the interdisciplinary team that verified and validated the actual location of the Travelers’ Rest campsite along Lolo Creek that has since become a state park. In that case the investigation utilized an interdisciplinary approach that included historic research, ethnographic research, geophysical investigations including magnetometer survey, electromagnetic conductivity survey, mercury vaporizer analysis, metal detector surveys, and historic archaeological investigations.
In that case the investigation yielded the only hard evidence to be found at any proposed campsite along the Lewis and Clark Trail – a button, a trade bead and some molten lead. Part of the evidence also included the military protocol for encampment prescribed by Baron von Steuben, the presence of fire hearths from the proper time period as evidenced by the carbon 14, and the presence of the latrine confirmed by the remote sensing and mercury vaporizer analysis. Mercury in the latrine was due to the use of mercury by the Corps members to treat intestinal ailments
The Missoula Historic Preservation Advisory Commission recognized the contributions of this project to historic preservation during their Year 2001 Missoula Historic Preservation Awards and Dan Hall was recognized for Excellence in the Area of Individual Contribution to Historic Preservation for the efforts at Travelers’ Rest.
Ted Hall is hoping that the same techniques might be applied to this campsite. He has found evidence of fire rings laid out in a row that may meet von Steuben’s prescriptions. He thinks he may also have found a latrine and perhaps some trees stripped bare and propped against another huge tree that may have been used to tie a horse string.
Another piece of evidence is the compass heading when the corps left the campsite on the morning of September 24. It was N 10 W. That is the only open direction out of the meadow, which is surrounded by otherwise steep mountainsides.
Hall states that in his investigation of the area he bypassed the meadow a number of times because it is off the creek and elevated a bit. He notes that in the Journals of John Ordway it is referred to as a “cove.” Hall says the dictionary definition of cove is “a sheltered area between woods” or a “nook.” So he has decided to call the meadow “Ordway’s Cove.”
Ted Hall relies heavily on Clark’s map and the journals in his interpretation of their trail. He quotes from an unpublished manuscript titled “Lost with Lewis and Clark: a Mystery Solved,” written in 1930 by Martha Plassman. Plassman presents data from a field investigation done by a Mr. James West Gallogly in 1830 in which it is noted that the opening to Moose Creek was blocked with dense growth. Gallogly surmised that the Corps went to the left at Moose Creek and proceeded up the North Fork of the Salmon River. This supports Ted Hall’s version of events.
But most of all, Hall relies on “ground-truthing.” He has been to Ordway’s Cove “less than twenty times, but over a dozen.” He has walked both proposed trails several times. He invites you to do the same. He’s convinced that if you do, you will come to appreciate his point of view.
Hall joked that there was another Hall, Private Hugh Hall, who served on the Corps of Discovery and may very well have built a latrine that another Hall, Ted Hall, thinks he may have found. And now there is a third Hall, Dan Hall, who may provide the proof.
As passionate as he is about his possible “discovery,” after a long hike down into, and then out of, Ordway’s Cove, Ted Hall shrugs and says, “Everybody’s got their own opinion.” He invites everyone to take a hike or two and form their own opinion. But he is hoping in the end for scientific validation.