Willow Creek Camp

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Willow Creek Camp (1805, 1806) - A Lewis and Clark Expedition Camp established in 1805 near present day Malmstrom Air Force Base, Cascade County, Montana. Named Willow Creek Camp after the nearby Willow Creek now the Box Elder Creek. Established as a rest and repair stop along the portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri and located between the Upper Portage Camp and Lower Portage Camp. Revisited and reused on the return trip in 1806.


Established on 28 Jun 1805 as a way stop for the portage crews. The stop was made necessary because the carriages transporting the dugout canoes were made from soft woods and tended to break down. The carriages were pulled by crewmen on the outgoing trip. The Willow Creek Camp had both water and timber for repairs.

Four trips were required to portage all the canoes and baggage from the Lower Portage Camp to the Upper Portage Camp. During the portages the crews experienced rain which turned the prairie into a muddy mess and delayed the transit as well as hail so large that it injured crew members. The Willow Creek Camp provided shelter, food and repair for the portage crews. By 30 Jun 1805 the Willow Creek Camp was no longer necessary.

The Return Trip

On the return trip there were fewer things to be portaged and fewer people to do it. Captain Lewis took a alternate route with four men to examine the headwaters of Maria's River. Clarke was exploring another route back via the Yellowstone River with a party of eleven people including Sacagawea. Fewer canoes needed to be portaged and this time there were horses to pull the carriages. Sergeants Ordway and Glass were responsible for the portage on the return trip.

On the 19 Jul 1806 first use of the Willow Creek Camp on the return trip was recorded when McNeal was treed by a bear there. On that date the retrieved canoes were all assembled at the Upper Portage Camp ready for the portage.

On the 21st July 1806 the portage of first two canoes was begun. Breakdowns of the carriages continued to slow progress. The Willow Creek Camp was used by the crews overnight to rest and repair the carriages. By the 24th four canoes and considerable baggage had been portaged.

On 26 Jul 1806 the last large canoe was moved from the Willow Creek Camp to Portage Creek and floated down to the Lower Portage Camp. It took eight men and a team of horses to move the large canoe through axel deep mud to the Portage Creek which was sollen with recent rains. With the removal of the last canoe from the Willow Creek Camp, the camp was abandoned.

Current Status

No visible remains. On private property, no public access.

Location: Near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Cascade County, Montana. Map point is approximate.

Maps & Images

Lat: 47.51721 Long: -111.08871

  • Multi Maps from ACME
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  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 3,300'

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