|DAWN AMONG THE COTTONWOODS, The 'Pettyauger' Builders Camp Winter 1805 |
The first rays of the sun sparkle on frosted branches as the men of the Corps of Discovery labor to build the 'pettyaugers' that will move them and their baggage upriver after the spring thaw. On February 28, 1805 Captains Clark and Lewis had moved a detachment of fifteen men under the command of Sgt. Patrick Gass upriver to build a number of pirogues or, as Joseph Whitehouse referred to them in his journals, 'pettyaugers'. These pirogues were hewn from large cottonwood logs. Probably due to the building of the fort and the constant need for firewood to supply the various Mandan villages in the vicinity, it was necessary for the men to go upriver about five miles to find the size timber that was necessary. Cottonwood is a softwood but has little grain and in it's green state, is very heavy and wet. This makes it a difficult wood to work and the journals mention frequent trips back to the fort to have the tools re handled and repaired. Sgt. Gass, clad in a blanket coat and fur trimmed 'Canadian cap', visits with a Mandan warrior who has stopped by the camp while out hunting. Incredibly hardy, the Mandan seemed indifferent to the cold. He has freed his arm from his buffalo robe to make the sign for 'travel'. A member of the expedition, somewhat less hardy warms himself by a fire. At this point in the journey much of the men's clothing was probably in it's final stages of wearability. There were a limited quantity of the watch or blanket coats that were issued to the men for guard duty. Camping out and being away from the shelter of the fort, it's likely that this small detachment of men were issued all that were expendable. These coats were made from white, 'point' blankets with blue stripes, collars and fold-down cuffs. The 'points' were stripes that indicated the quality and size of the blanket. The US military specified that blanket coats be made of two and a half or three point blanket material. The coat was trimmed with blue ribbon and blue buttons and had two 'roses' at the hips. These 'roses' were made of cloth gathered into a roseate or rose pattern and sewn to the coat. Many of the men in the painting wear the issue linen fatigue shirt over or under what is left of various pieces of uniforming. The man with the adze in the pirogue has on his full dress uniform coat under the remnants of his fatigue shirt. The man rim lit by the rising sun has on a much prized possession; a fatigue jacket. These short jackets were a recently designed garment and were very popular with soldiers lucky enough to be issued one. He's also crafted a pair of mittens from an old blanket. Both these men wear comfortable, warm fatigue caps. Military regulations specified that each man make his own and they were to be made from scraps of old uniform cloth. Various tools were required for constructing the pirogues. In addition to felling axes that actually dropped the trees, there were specific tools needed to create the final shape. The man in the pirogue is swinging an adze which chips the wood away from the roughly hollowed out interior. Smaller hand adzes might have been used to finish this area. His partner, with his back to the viewer. is shaping the gunwale with a drawknife. Two of the men are shown with broad axes. These were used to make flat surfaces and were of various sizes, shapes and weights. The handles were often offset so the workmen's knuckles kept clear of the surface of the wood. After working steadily through the end of February and into March the men manhandled the six finished pirogues about a mile and a half to the Missouri River where three were floated down to Ft. Mandan. The other three had to be carried the rest of the way due to ice choking the river. Once there, they were corked, pitched and tarred and prepared for the journey ahead.