How the elk came to be known by the name “wapiti” is little known, lost in the dust of time. However, there is a story worth repeating that might shed some light on the subject.

During the episode we call the “Lewis and Clark expedition, Lewis or Clark was trekking along a riverbank, somewhere in what we now call Montana, in company of an Indian guide. As they trekked, from time to time they would encounter some large animals that would dash off in alarm.

As these large animals would make their escape, they would scramble head long through the willows lining the riverbank. Lewis or Clark, whichever one it was at the time, heard the noises of willows slapping the rumps of the large animals making this sound: Wappity, wappity, wappity! Hearing this sound, Lewis or Clark asked his Indian guide, “What is that noise?” Whereupon, the Indian guide replied, doubtless while considering his client’s intelligence, “Wappity!”

Later Lewis or Clark made an entry in the daily log thus: “Today we encountered several large animals along the riverbank, which our Indian guide has informed me are called ‘wapiti’ (spelling errors are commonly found in the old records).

So today, one can only wonder if Lewis or Clark had simply asked his Indian guide the question only slightly differently, like, “what are those large animals?” he might have learned that the animals were called “elk”!  
Dick Wells

 Dick Wells

How the Elk Got Its Name

 Dick Wells
Dick Wells
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