Lolo, Montana, has been a bucket-list destination for my husband Bert for quite some time, but the urge to see it was heightened by his reading of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose. So, at long last, we arrived the night before, had a BIG dinner at Lolo Creek Steak House, and got an early start on our journey across the Lewis and Clark Trail at Travelers’ Rest.
Now a National Historic Landmark and the only archaeologically verified Lewis and Clark campsite in the world, Travelers’ Rest was the camping area for the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and 1806. The Holt Visitor Center and Museum houses artifacts and room-like vignettes indicative of the time.
Volunteers offer information on many of the artifacts and point out notable details. But the Visitor Center can be explored on your own. Major events are outlined from the time Lewis and Clark arrived in the Bitterroot Valley in September, 1805 (exhausted and hungry but spared from death by the hospitality and generosity of the Bitterroot Salish) all the way to the time of their departure along what is now known as Lolo Trail towards the Pacific Ocean. At the time of arrival, the party included Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, 26 army troops, Clark’s slave York, Interpreters Charbonneau and Sacajawea and their infant son Baptiste, and two fellow Shoshonis. They rested a day and a half at the small flat they called “Traveler’s Rest.”
Quotes from primary sources such as this one celebrating the kindness of strangers (the Salish) line the walls of the Visitor Center:
“they received us in a friendly manner. they appeared glad to See us. they Smoaked with us, then gave us a pleanty Such as they had to eat, which was only Servis berrys and cheeries pounded and dryed in Small cakes. Some roots of different kinds.”
Well-preserved artifacts housed in glass cases enable even the youngest visitors to get a feel for life in the early 1800s.
And room settings, like this one in a teepee and the one below that Bert is examining, show the living quarters and how various life functions such as cooking, metalwork, garment creation, etc., would have been conducted.
Outside, a half-mile Loop Trail marks notable finds. (And for young visitors, a Trail Adventure brochure serves as a scavenger hunt marked with nine notable sites along the way.)
One area marks where researchers have discovered the remains of fire-cracked rock, charcoal, and lead indicating that there had been intense heat as a result of a hot-burning fire, evidence of a working encampment.
One of the greatest finds, however, was the evidence of a “trench-like disturbance in the soil” indicating a sink or latrine, a find that helped to authenticate the spot as the Lewis and Clark encampment.
Even though there is a tipi set up on the Loop Trail, the Visitor Center brochure says that “it is unlikely that the Expedition had any tent material by the time they reached Travelers’ Rest, with Lewis and Clark sleeping in a tipi and the rest of the party sleeping in the open or under makeshift lean-to’s.” But we loved the setting anyway!
The expedition left Travelers’ Rest on September 11, 1805, following the land route toward the Pacific, but returned in 1806. From June 30 to July 3, the group “rested” for the last time prior to leaving Travelers’ Rest on July 3, 1806.
Without the support of the local community, the exact location of Travelers’ Rest might not have been discovered. But now, with the support of Montana State Parks and the Travelers’ Rest Preservation and Heritage Association, this well-preserved, beautiful site welcomes all of us to consider how early explorers paved the way for future settlements.
(And, I must admit, I’m so glad my husband wanted to stop here!!!) Let the Sams’ exploration of the Lewis and Clark Trail begin!
Travelers’ Rest State Park
6717 Highway 12 West
Lolo, MT 59847
Lolo Creek Steak House
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