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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Bighorn Sheep

The explorers heard about the bighorn sheep long before any of them ever saw one.

Capt. Clark, October 1, 1804 -- This Mr. Jon Vallie informs us that he wintered last winter 300 Leagues up the Chien (ed. – Cheyenne) River under the Black mountains, on the Mountains, great numbers of goat, and a kind of anamale with large circular horns, this animale nearly the Size of an [Small] Elk. [Argalea]

Six months and many miles later, Lewis sent Joseph Field up the Yellowstone river one morning.  He returned in the evening after going upstream 8 miles.

Capt. Lewis, April 26, 1805--he saw several of the bighorned anamals in the cou[r]se of his walk; but they were so shy that he could not get a shoot at them; he found a large horn of one of these anamals which he brought with him.

Capt. Clark, April 26, 1805--Joseph Fields discovered a large creek falling into the Yellowstone River on the S E. Side 8 miles up near which he saw a big horned animal, he found in the Prarie the horn of one of those animals which was large and appeared to have laid several years.

Above mouth of Musselshell River -

Capt. Lewis, May 25, 1805--as we ascended the river today I saw several gangs of the bighorned Anamals on the face of the steep bluffs and clifts on the Stard side and sent drewyer to kill one which he accomplished; Capt Clark and Bratton were on shore each killed one of these anamals this evening. The head and horns of the male which Drewyer killed weighed 27 lbs. it was somewhat larger than the male of the common deer; the boddy reather thicker deeper and not so long in proportion to it's hight as the common deer; the head and horns of are rema[r]kably large compared with other parts of the anamal; the whole form is much more delicate than that of the common goat, and there is a greater disparity in the size of the mail and female than between those of either the deer or goat. the eye is large and prominant, the puple of a deep sea green and small, the iris of a silvery colour much like the common sheep; the bone above the Eye is remarkably promenant; the head nostrils and division of the upper lip are precisely in form like the sheep. there legs resemble the sheep more than any other animal with which I am acquainted tho' they are more delicately formed, like the sheep they stand forward in the knee and the lower joint of the fore leg is smallest where it joins the knee, the hoof is black & large in proportion, is divided, very open and roundly pointed at the toe; like the sheep; is much hollowed and sharp on the under edge like the Scotch goat, has two small hoofs behind each foot below the ankle as the goat sheep and deer have. the belley, inerside of the legs, and the extremity of the rump and butocks for about two inches arround the but of the tail, are white as is also the tail exce[p]t just at it's extremety on the upper side which is of a dark brown. the tail is about three inches in length covered with short hair, or at least not longer than that of the boddy; the outher parts of the anamal are of a duskey brown or reather a leadcoloured light brown; the animal is now sheding it's winter coat which is thick not quite as long as that of the deer and appears to be intermixed with a considerable quantity of fine fur which lies next to the skin & conceald by the coarcer hear; the shape of hair itself is celindric as that of the antelope is but is smaller, shorter, and not compressed or flattened as that of the deer's winter coat is, I believe this anamal only sheds it's hair once a year. it has eight fore teeth in the under jaw and no canine teeth. The horns are la[r]gest at their base, and occupy the crown of the head almost entirely. they are compressed, bent backwards and lunated; the surface swelling into wavy rings which incircleing the horn continue to succeed each other from the base to the extremity and becoming less elivated and more distant as they recede from the head. the horn for about two thirds of it's length is filled with a porus bone which is united with the frontal bone. I obtained the bones of the upper part of the head of this animal at the big bone lick. the horns of the female are small, but are also compressed and bent backwards and incircled with a succession of wavy rings. the horn is of light brown colour; when dressed it is almost white extreemly transparent and very elastic. this horn is used by the natives in constructing their bows; I have no doubt but it would [make] eligant and usefull hair combs, and might probably answer as many valuable purposes to civilized man, as it does to the savages, who form their water-cups, spoons and platters of it. the females have already brought forth their young, indeed from the size of the young, I suppose that they produce them early in March. they have from one to two at a birth. they feed on grass, but principally on the arromatic herbs which grow on the clifts and inaccessable hights which they usually frequent. the places they ge[ne]rally celect to lodg is the cranies or c[r]evices of the rocks in the face of inacessable precepices, where the wolf nor bear can reach them and where indeed man himself would in many instancies find a similar deficiency; yet these anamals bound from rock to rock and stand apparently in the most careless manner on the sides of precipices of many hundred feet, they are very shye and quick of both sent and sight.

Capt. Clark, May 25, 1805--I walked on shore and killed a female Ibi or big horn animal in my absence Drewyer & Bratten killed two others, this animal is a species peculiar to this upper part of the Missouri, the head and horns of the male which Drewyer killed to day weighed 27 lbs. it was somewhat larger than the mail of the Common Deer; the body reather thicker deeper and not so long in proportion to it's hight as the common Deer; the head and horns of the male are remarkably large compared with other parts of the animal; the whole form is much more delicate than that of the common goat, and there is a greater disparity in the size of the mail and female than between those of either the deer or goat. the eye is large and prominant, the puple of a deep sea green and small, the iris of a silvery colour much like the common Sheep; the bone above the Eye is remarkably prominant; the head nostrils and division of the upper lip are precisely in form like the sheep. their legs resemble the sheep more than any other animal with which I am acquainted tho' they are more delicately formed, like the sheep they stand forward in the knee and the lower joint of the fore leg is smallest where it joins the knee, the hoof is black and large in perpotion, is divided, very open and roundly pointed at the toe; like the sheep; is much hollowed and Sharp on the under edge like the Scotch goat, has two small Hoofs behind each foot below the ankle as the goat Sheep and Deer have. the belley, iner side of the legs, and the extremity of the rump and buttock's for about two inches 1/2 around the but of the tail, are white as is also the tail except just at its extremity on the upper side which is of a dark brown. the tail is about 3 inches in length covered with short hair, or at least not longer than that of the body; the outer part of the animal are of a duskey brown or reather a lead coloured light brown; the animal is now Sheding its winter coat which is thick not quite as long as that of the Deer and appears to be inter mixt with a considerable quantity of fine fur which lies next to the Skin and concealed by the coarcer hair; the shapes of hair itself is cylindric as that of the Antilope is, but is smaller, shorter and not compressed or flattened as that of the deers winter coat is. I believe this animal only sheds it's hair once a year. it has Eight fore teeth in the under jaw and no canine teeth. The Horns are large at their base, and occupy the crown of the head almost entirely, they are compressed, bent backwards and lunated; the surface swelling into wavey rings which incircleing the horn continue to succeed each other from the base to the extremity and becomeing less elivated and more distant as they receed from the head. The horn for about two thirds of its length is filled with a porus bone which is united with the frontal bone (Capt Lewis obtained the bones of the upper part of the head of this animal at the big Bone Lick in the State of Kentucky which I saw and find to be the same in every respect with those of the Missouri and the Rockey Mountains) the horns of the female are small, but are also compressed and bent backwards and incircled with a succession of wavy rings. the horn is of light brown colour; when Dressed it is almost white extreamly transparent and very elastic. this horn is used by the natives in constructing their bows; I have no doubt of it's elegance and usefullness in hair combs and might probably answer as maney valuable purpoces to civilized man, as it does to the native indians, who form their water cups, spoons and platters of it. the females have already brought forth their young, indeed from the size of the young, I suppose that they produce them early in March. they have from one to two at a birth. they feed on grass, but principally on the arramatic herbs which grow on the clifts and inaxcessable hights which they frequent most commonly, and the places they generally collect to lodge is the cranies or c[r]evices of the rocks in the face of inaccessable precepices, where the wolf nor Bear can reach them, and where indeed man himself would in maney instances find a similar deficiency; yet those animals bound from rock to rock and stand apparently in the most careless manner on the Side of precipices of maney hundred feet, they are very shy and quick of both sent and sight. The flesh of this animal is dark and I think inferior to the flesh of the common Deer, and superior to the antilope of the Missouri and the Columbian Plains.

 
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