Late in September of 1805 Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their corps of discovery had just overcome (with the help of Indians) perhaps the most significant obstacle of their historic journey. Their men had been on a forced march with little food over unforgiving terrain in the
. As they descended the mountains the captains had reason to believe that they were within a couple of weeks from reaching the Bitterroot Mountains Pacific Ocean thus accomplishing one of the main goals of the expedition. However, while lodging with a group of Nez Perce Indians as they made preparations for their trip down the Columbia River to the ocean most of the men became ill. It was some kind of gastrointestinal malady possibly caused by bacteria on some fish they had eaten.
military expedition was totally isolated, completely surrounded by Indians, and due to illness had a much reduced ability to defend itself. Had the Nez Perce killed the men, which they easily could have done, they would have taken possession of an impressive cache of supplies and weapons giving them valuable goods to trade as well as armaments that would have shifted the balance of power in the region. The Nez Perce were one of a number of tribes that did not have direct access to European or American goods. Had they taken the expeditions supplies they would have come into possession of the most powerful concentration of weapons (air-gun, small cannon, etc.) west of the U.S. Mississippi river at that time. It would have allowed them to better defend themselves against raids by other tribes such as the Blackfoot Indians (who had access to firearms) as they made their trips to hunt in the buffalo country each year thus expanding their power, influence, and access to important resources.
The Nez Perce, however, did not attack them. According to the oral tradition among the Nez Perce, there were deliberations about what to do with these white men. As they discussed the merits of killing them and taking their weapons an older woman named Wetxuuwiis (wet-COO-ees), discouraged the men from killing the travelers explaining to them that these men were from a people who had once helped her. Some years earlier this woman was captured by Blackfoot Indians who sold her to Canadian traders that took her as far east as the
Great Lakes where she lived among them for some time before escaping and finding her way back home. She saw this as an opportunity to show gratitude for the kindness that she had been shown by the white men who treated her much better than the Blackfoot had.
To what extent the entire course of American and thus world history was altered by the simple kindness that a few white traders showed to a single Indian woman far from home will never be known. Every one of our actions and words ripples through the world in unpredictable ways. The smallest things can change history forever and it is a marvelous thing that the Lord works through all of those human decisions, good and bad, to ultimately accomplish His purposes. There are no accidents and no such thing as luck. One of the great comforts of the Christian life is that this life and everything in it has significance and purpose. As believers we can look back upon the tapestry of history that led to the particular circumstances of our salvation and know that it wasn’t an accident. For “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”