On June 21, 1804, a few miles above the future site of Lexington, the Lewis and Clark Expedition faced rapids that "rored like an immence falls." Navigator Pierre Cruzatte selected their route, which was hardly an easy one. The men had to tow the keelboat and two pirogues of the expedition flotilla through swift and difficult water. They passed today's Sniabar Creek and a hairpin bend (later known as Camden Bend) that no longer exists although a portion of it is known today as Sunshine Lake. Capt. William Clark described the surrounding country as consisting of low bottoms covered with cottonwood and willow, and high bottoms supporting trees. Sgt. John Ordway, one of the journal keepers on the expedition, spent the day hunting with George Drouillard, the expedition's best hunter, and said, "I never Saw as fine Timbered land in my life nor Such Rich handsome bottom land." That night the party camped on the south shore not far from present-day Camden.
On June 22, the expedition got under way on a swiftly running river that had come up four inches overnight. it was also starting to get hot. Once again the men had to resort to the towrope, and Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse, another expedition journal keeper, said, "it can hardly be imagined the fatigue that we underwent." After moving beyond the site of Napoleon in the afternoon, the expedition passed between large islands on either side. Behind the larboard (left) island, a high bottomland prairie (today's Fire Prairie) stretched away to the south. Lewis was let out here and walked several miles. The men camped at the upper end of Fire Prairie opposite a large creek on the starboard (right) side they called "River of the Fire Prairie" or "Big Fire Prairie" Creek. it is today's Fishing River.
"...at day light a violent wind accompanied with rain cam from the W. and lasted about one hour, it Cleared away, and we Set out and proceeded on under a gentle breeze from the N.W. passed Some verry Swift water Crouded with snags, pass two large Island opposite each other, and immediately opposite a large & extensive Prarie on the Labd [larboard or left] Side, This prarie is butifull..." William Clark, June 22, 1804
Cruzatte and Labiche
Pierre (or Peter) Cruzatte was given the daunting task of finding the best way through a Missouri River current that roared like a waterfall. He was a one-eyed, nearsighted half-French and half-Omaha Indian who, along with another mixed-ancestry crewman, Fancois Labiche, were officially enlisted as privates with the expedition. The other eight Frenchmen were hired as engages but were not permanent members of the expedition. Both Cruzatte and Labiche were experienced Missouri River boatmen and both also acted as interpreters. Because of their skills on the river, the two were assigned to duty as bow men on the keelboat. It was their responsibility to pick out the best passages through the swift river currents. Cruzatte was also a fiddle player who entertained the men on many occasions. In Clark's later list of the fates of the men of the expedition, he noted that Cruzatte was "killed" by 1825-1828, while Labiche was listed as still alive and residing in St. Louis at that time.