FIRST ACROSS THE CONTINENT
The Story of The Exploring Expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1804-5-6
By Noah Brooks
Chapter I — A Great Transaction in Land
The people of the young Republic of the United States were greatly astonished, in the summer of 1803, to learn that Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, had sold to us the vast tract of land known as the country of Louisiana. The details of this purchase were arranged in Paris (on the part of the United States) by Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe. The French government was represented by Barbe-Marbois, Minister of the Public Treasury.
The price to be paid for this vast domain was fifteen million dollars. The area of the country ceded was reckoned to be more than one million square miles, greater than the total area of the United States, as the Republic then existed. Roughly described, the territory comprised all that part of the continent west of the Mississippi River, bounded on the north by the British possessions and on the west and south by dominions of Spain. This included the region in which now lie the States of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, parts of Colorado, Minnesota, the States of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, a part of Idaho, all of Montana and Territory of Oklahoma. At that time, the entire population of the region, exclusive of the Indian tribes that roamed over its trackless spaces, was barely ninety thousand persons, of whom forty thousand were negro slaves. The civilized inhabitants were principally French, or descendants of French, with a few Spanish, Germans, English, and Americans.
The purchase of this tremendous slice of territory could not be complete without an approval of the bargain by the United States Senate. Great opposition to this was immediately excited by people in various parts of the Union, especially in New England, where there was a very bitter feeling against the prime mover in this business,—Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States. The scheme was ridiculed by persons who insisted that the region was not only wild and unexplored, but uninhabitable and worthless. They derided "The Jefferson Purchase," as they called it, as a useless piece of extravagance and folly; and, in addition to its being a foolish bargain, it was urged that President Jefferson had no right, under the constitution of the United States, to add any territory to the area of the Republic.
Nevertheless, a majority of the people were in favor of the purchase, and the bargain was duly approved by the United States Senate; that body, July 31, 1803, just three months after the execution of the treaty of cession, formally ratified the important agreement between the two governments. The dominion of the United States was now extended across the entire continent of North America, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Territory of Oregon was already ours.
This momentous transfer took place one hundred years ago, when almost nothing was known of the region so summarily handed from the government of France to the government of the American Republic. Few white men had ever traversed those trackless plains, or scaled the frowning ranges of mountains that barred the way across the continent. There were living in the fastnesses of the mysterious interior of the Louisiana Purchase many tribes of Indians who had never looked in the face of the white man.
Nor was the Pacific shore of the country any better known to civilized man than was the region lying between that coast and the Big Muddy, or Missouri River. Spanish voyagers, in 1602, had sailed as far north as the harbors of San Diego and Monterey, in what is now California; and other explorers, of the same nationality, in 1775, extended their discoveries as far north as the fifty-eighth degree of latitude. Famous Captain Cook, the great navigator of the Pacific seas, in 1778, reached and entered Nootka Sound, and, leaving numerous harbors and bays unexplored, he pressed on and visited the shores of Alaska, then called Unalaska, and traced the coast as far north as Icy Cape. Cold weather drove him westward across the Pacific, and he spent the next winter at Owyhee, where, in February of the following year, he was killed by the natives.
All these explorers were looking for chances for fur-trading, which was at that time the chief industry of the Pacific coast. Curiously enough, they all passed by the mouth of the Columbia without observing that there was the entrance to one of the finest rivers on the American continent.
Indeed, Captain Vancouver, a British explorer, who has left his name on the most important island of the North Pacific coast, baffled by the deceptive appearances of the two capes that guard the way to a noble stream (Cape Disappointment and Cape Deception), passed them without a thought. But Captain Gray, sailing the good ship "Columbia," of Boston, who coasted those shores for more than two years, fully convinced that a strong current which he observed off those capes came from a river, made a determined effort; and on the 11th of May, 1792, he discovered and entered the great river that now bears the name of his ship. At last the key that was to open the mountain fastnesses of the heart of the continent had been found. The names of the capes christened by Vancouver and re-christened by Captain Gray have disappeared from our maps, but in the words of one of the numerous editors(1) of the narrative of the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark: "The name of the good ship 'Columbia,' it is not hard to believe, will flow with the waters of the bold river as long as grass grows or water runs in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains."
(1) Dr. Archibald McVickar.
It appears that the attention of President Jefferson had been early attracted to the vast, unexplored domain which his wise foresight was finally to add to the territory of the United States. While he was living in Paris, as the representative of the United States, in 1785-89, he made the acquaintance of John Ledyard, of Connecticut, the well-known explorer, who had then in mind a scheme for the establishment of a fur-trading post on the western coast of America. Mr. Jefferson proposed to Ledyard that the most feasible route to the coveted fur-bearing lands would be through the Russian possessions and downward somewhere near to the latitude of the then unknown sources of the Missouri River, entering the United States by that route. This scheme fell through on account of the obstacles thrown in Ledyard's way by the Russian Government. A few years later, in 1792, Jefferson, whose mind was apparently fixed on carrying out his project, proposed to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia that a subscription should be opened for the purpose of raising money "to engage some competent person to explore that region in the opposite direction (from the Pacific coast),—that is, by ascending the Missouri, crossing the Stony (Rocky) Mountains, and descending the nearest river to the Pacific." This was the hint from which originated the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark.
But the story-teller should not forget to mention that hardy and adventurous explorer, Jonathan Carver. This man, the son of a British officer, set out from Boston, in 1766, to explore the wilderness north of Albany and lying along the southern shore of the Great Lakes. He was absent two years and seven months, and in that time he collected a vast amount of useful and strange information, besides learning the language of the Indians among whom he lived. He conceived the bold plan of travelling up a branch of the Missouri (or "Messorie"), till, having discovered the source of the traditional "Oregon, or River of the West," on the western side of the lands that divide the continent, "he would have sailed down that river to the place where it is said to empty itself, near the Straits of Anian."
By the Straits of Anian, we are to suppose, were meant some part of Behring's Straits, separating Asia from the American continent. Carver's fertile imagination, stimulated by what he knew of the remote Northwest, pictured that wild region where, according to a modern poet, "rolls the Oregon and hears no sound save his own dashing." But Carver died without the sight; in his later years, he said of those who should follow his lead: "While their spirits are elated by their success, perhaps they may bestow some commendations and blessings on the person who first pointed out to them the way."
Chapter II — Beginning a Long Journey
In 1803, availing himself of a plausible pretext to send out an exploring expedition, President Jefferson asked Congress to appropriate a small sum of money ($2,500) for the execution of his purpose. At that time the cession of the Louisiana Territory had not been completed; but matters were in train to that end, and before the expedition was fairly started on its long journey across the continent, the Territory was formally ceded to the United States.
Meriwether Lewis, a captain in the army, was selected by Jefferson to lead the expedition. Captain Lewis was a native of Virginia, and at that time was only twenty-nine years old. He had been Jefferson's private secretary for two years and was, of course, familiar with the President's plans and expectations as these regarded the wonder-land which Lewis was to enter. It is pleasant to quote here Mr. Jefferson's words concerning Captain Lewis. In a memoir of that distinguished young officer, written after his death, Jefferson said: "Of courage undaunted; possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction; careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline; intimate with the Indian character, customs and principles; habituated to the hunting life; guarded, by exact observation of the vegetables and animals of his own country, against losing time in the description of objects already possessed; honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves—with all these qualifications, as if selected and implanted by nature in one body for this express purpose, I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him."
Before we have finished the story of Meriwether Lewis and his companions, we shall see that this high praise of the youthful commander was well deserved.
For a coadjutor and comrade Captain Lewis chose William Clark,(1) also a native of Virginia, and then about thirty-three years old. Clark, like Lewis, held a commission in the military service of the United States, and his appointment as one of the leaders of the expedition with which his name and that of Lewis will ever be associated, made the two men equal in rank. Exactly how there could be two captains commanding the same expedition, both of the same military and actual rank, without jar or quarrel, we cannot understand; but it is certain that the two young men got on together harmoniously, and no hint or suspicion of any serious disagreement between the two captains during their long and arduous service has come down to us from those distant days.
(1) It is a little singular that Captain Clark's name has been so persistently misspelled by historians and biographers. Even in most of the published versions of the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the name of one of the captains is spelled Clarke. Clark's own signature, of which many are in existence, is without the final and superfluous vowel; and the family name, for generations past, does not show it.
As finally organized, the expedition was made up of the two captains (Lewis and Clark) and twenty-six men. These were nine young men from Kentucky, who were used to life on the frontier among Indians; fourteen soldiers of the United States Army, selected from many who eagerly volunteered their services; two French voyageurs, or watermen, one of whom was an interpreter of Indian language, and the other a hunter; and one black man, a servant of Captain Clark. All these, except the negro servant, were regularly enlisted as privates in the military service of the United States during the expedition; and three of them were by the captains appointed sergeants. In addition to this force, nine voyageurs and a corporal and six private soldiers were detailed to act as guides and assistants until the explorers should reach the country of the Mandan Indians, a region lying around the spot where is now situated the flourishing city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. It was expected that if hostile Indians should attack the explorers anywhere within the limits of the little-known parts through which they were to make their way, such attacks were more likely to be made below the Mandan country than elsewhere.
The duties of the explorers were numerous and important. They were to explore as thoroughly as possible the country through which they were to pass; making such observations of latitude and longitude as would be needed when maps of the region should be prepared by the War Department; observing the trade, commerce, tribal relations, manners and customs, language, traditions, and monuments, habits and industrial pursuits, diseases and laws of the Indian nations with whom they might come in contact; note the floral, mineral, and animal characteristics of the country, and, above all, to report whatever might be of interest to citizens who might thereafter be desirous of opening trade relations with those wild tribes of which almost nothing was then distinctly known.
The list of articles with which the explorers were provided, to aid them in establishing peaceful relations with the Indians, might amuse traders of the present day. But in those primitive times, and among peoples entirely ignorant of the white man's riches and resources, coats richly laced with gilt braid, red trousers, medals, flags, knives, colored handkerchiefs, paints, small looking-glasses, beads and tomahawks were believed to be so attractive to the simple-minded red man that he would gladly do much and give much of his own to win such prizes. Of these fine things there were fourteen large bales and one box. The stores of the expedition were clothing, working tools, fire-arms, food supplies, powder, ball, lead for bullets, and flints for the guns then in use, the old-fashioned flint-lock rifle and musket being still in vogue in our country; for all of this was at the beginning of the present century.
As the party was to begin their long journey by ascending the Missouri River, their means of travel were provided in three boats. The largest, a keel-boat, fifty-five feet long and drawing three feet of water, carried a big square sail and twenty-two seats for oarsmen. On board this craft was a small swivel gun. The other two boats were of that variety of open craft known as pirogue, a craft shaped like a flat-iron, square-sterned, flat-bottomed, roomy, of light draft, and usually provided with four oars and a square sail which could be used when the wind was aft, and which also served as a tent, or night shelter, on shore. Two horses, for hunting or other occasional service, were led along the banks of the river.
As we have seen, President Jefferson, whose master mind organized and devised this expedition, had dwelt longingly on the prospect of crossing the continent from the headwaters of the Missouri to the headwaters of the then newly-discovered Columbia. The route thus explored was more difficult than that which was later travelled by the first emigrants across the continent to California. That route lies up the Platte River, through what is known as the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, by Great Salt Lake and down the valley of the Humboldt into California, crossing the Sierra Nevada at any one of several points leading into the valley of the Sacramento. The route, which was opened by the gold-seekers, was followed by the first railroads built across the continent. The route that lay so firmly in Jefferson's mind, and which was followed up with incredible hardships by the Lewis and Clark expedition, has since been traversed by two railroads, built after the first transcontinental rails were laid. If Jefferson had desired to find the shortest and most feasible route across the continent, he would have pointed to the South Pass and Utah basin trails. But these would have led the explorers into California, then and long afterwards a Spanish possession. The entire line finally traced over the Great Divide lay within the territory of the United States.
But it must be remembered that while the expedition was being organized, the vast Territory of Louisiana was as yet a French possession. Before the party were brought together and their supplies collected, the territory passed under the jurisdiction of the United States. Nevertheless, that jurisdiction was not immediately acknowledged by the officials who, up to that time, had been the representatives of the French and Spanish governments. Part of the territory was transferred from Spain to France and then from France to the United States. It was intended that the exploring party should pass the winter of 1803-4 in St. Louis, then a mere village which had been commonly known as Pain Court. But the Spanish governor of the province had not been officially told that the country had been transferred to the United States, and, after the Spanish manner, he forbade the passage of the Americans through his jurisdiction. In those days communication between frontier posts and points lying far to the eastward of the Mississippi was very difficult; it required six weeks to carry the mails between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington to St. Louis; and this was the reason why a treaty, ratified in July, was not officially heard of in St. Louis as late as December of that year. The explorers, shut out of Spanish territory, recrossed the Mississippi and wintered at the mouth of Wood River, just above St. Louis, on the eastern side of the great river, in United States territory. As a matter of record, it may be said here that the actual transfer of the lower part of the territory—commonly known as Orleans—took place at New Orleans, December 20, 1803, and the transfer of the upper part was effected at St. Louis, March 10, 1804, before the Lewis and Clark expedition had started on its long journey to the northwestward.
All over the small area of the United States then existed a deep interest in the proposed explorations of the course and sources of the Missouri River. The explorers were about to plunge into vast solitudes of which white people knew less than we know now about the North Polar country. Wild and extravagant stories of what was to be seen in those trackless regions were circulated in the States. For example, it was said that Lewis and Clark expected to find the mammoth of prehistoric times still living and wandering in the Upper Missouri region; and it was commonly reported that somewhere, a thousand miles or so up the river, was a solid mountain of rock salt, eighty miles long and forty-five miles wide, destitute of vegetation and glittering in the sun! These, and other tales like these, were said to be believed and doted upon by the great Jefferson himself. The Federalists, or "Feds," as they were called, who hated Jefferson, pretended to believe that he had invented some of these foolish yarns, hoping thereby to make his Louisiana purchase more popular in the Republic.
In his last letter to Captain Lewis, which was to reach the explorers before they started, Jefferson said: "The acquisition of the country through which you are to pass has inspired the country generally with a great deal of interest in your enterprise. The inquiries are perpetual as to your progress. The Feds alone still treat it as a philosophism, and would rejoice at its failure. Their bitterness increases with the diminution of their numbers and despair of a resurrection. I hope you will take care of yourself, and be a living witness of their malice and folly." Indeed, after the explorers were lost sight of in the wilderness which they were to traverse, many people in the States declaimed bitterly against the folly that had sent these unfortunate men to perish miserably in the fathomless depths of the continent. They no longer treated it "as a philosophism," or wild prank, but as a wicked scheme to risk life and property in a search for the mysteries of the unknown and unknowable.
As a striking illustration of this uncertainty of the outcome of the expedition, which exercised even the mind of Jefferson, it may be said that in his instructions to Captain Lewis he said: "Our Consuls, Thomas Hewes, at Batavia in Java, William Buchanan in the isles of France and Bourbon, and John Elmslie at the Cape of Good Hope, will be able to supply your necessities by drafts on us." All this seems strange enough to the young reader of the present day; but this was said and done one hundred years ago.
Chapter III — From the Lower to the Upper River
The party finally set sail up the Missouri River on Monday, May 21, 1804, but made only a few miles, owing to head winds. Four days later they camped near the last white settlement on the Missouri,—La Charrette, a little village of seven poor houses. Here lived Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky backwoodsman, then nearly seventy years old, but still vigorous, erect, and strong of limb. Here and above this place the explorers began to meet with unfamiliar Indian tribes and names. For example, they met two canoes loaded with furs "from the Mahar nation." The writer of the Lewis and Clark journal, upon whose notes we rely for our story, made many slips of this sort. By "Mahars" we must understand that the Omahas were meant. We shall come across other such instances in which the strangers mistook the pronunciation of Indian names. For example, Kansas was by them misspelled as "Canseze" and "Canzan;" and there appear some thirteen or fourteen different spellings of Sioux, of which one of the most far-fetched is "Scouex."
The explorers were now in a country unknown to them and almost unknown to any white man. On the thirty-first of May, a messenger came down the Grand Osage River bringing a letter from a person who wrote that the Indians, having been notified that the country had been ceded to the Americans, burned the letter containing the tidings, refusing to believe the report. The Osage Indians, through whose territory they were now passing, were among the largest and finest-formed red men of the West. Their name came from the river along which they warred and hunted, but their proper title, as they called themselves, was "the Wabashas," and from them, in later years, we derive the familiar name of Wabash. A curious tradition of this people, according to the journal of Lewis and Clark, is that the founder of the nation was a snail, passing a quiet existence along the banks of the Osage, till a high flood swept him down to the Missouri, and left him exposed on the shore. The heat of the sun at length ripened him into a man; but with the change of his nature he had not forgotten his native seats on the Osage, towards which he immediately bent his way. He was, however, soon overtaken by hunger and fatigue, when happily, the Great Spirit appeared, and, giving him a bow and arrow, showed him how to kill and cook deer, and cover himself with the skin. He then proceeded to his original residence; but as he approached the river he was met by a beaver, who inquired haughtily who he was, and by what authority he came to disturb his possession. The Osage answered that the river was his own, for he had once lived on its borders. As they stood disputing, the daughter of the beaver came, and having, by her entreaties, reconciled her father to this young stranger, it was proposed that the Osage should marry the young beaver, and share with her family the enjoyment of the river. The Osage readily consented, and from this happy union there soon came the village and the nation of the Wabasha, or Osages, who have ever since preserved a pious reverence for their ancestors, abstaining from the chase of the beaver, because in killing that animal they killed a brother of the Osage. Of late years, however, since the trade with the whites has rendered beaver-skins more valuable, the sanctity of these maternal relatives has been visibly reduced, and the poor animals have lost all the privileges of kindred.
Game was abundant all along the river as the explorers sailed up the stream. Their hunters killed numbers of deer, and at the mouth of Big Good Woman Creek, which empties into the Missouri near the present town of Franklin, Howard County, three bears were brought into the camp. Here, too, they began to find salt springs, or "salt licks," to which many wild animals resorted for salt, of which they were very fond. Saline County, Missouri, perpetuates the name given to the region by Lewis and Clark. Traces of buffalo were also found here, and occasional wandering traders told them that the Indians had begun to hunt the buffalo now that the grass had become abundant enough to attract this big game from regions lying further south.
By the tenth of June the party had entered the country of the Ayauway nation. This was an easy way of spelling the word now familiar to us as "Iowa." But before that spelling was reached, it was Ayaway, Ayahwa, Iawai, Iaway, and soon. The remnants of this once powerful tribe now number scarcely two hundred persons. In Lewis and Clark's time, they were a large nation, with several hundred warriors, and were constantly at war with their neighbors. Game here grew still more abundant, and in addition to deer and bear the hunters brought in a raccoon. One of these hunters brought into camp a wild tale of a snake which, he said, "made a guttural noise like a turkey." One of the French voyageurs confirmed this story; but the croaking snake was never found and identified.
On the twenty-fourth of June the explorers halted to prepare some of the meat which their hunters brought in. Numerous herds of deer were feeding on the abundant grass and young willows that grew along the river banks. The meat, cut in small strips, or ribbons, was dried quickly in the hot sun. This was called "jirked" meat. Later on the word was corrupted into "jerked," and "jerked beef" is not unknown at the present day. The verb "jerk" is corrupted from the Chilian word, charqui, meaning sun-dried meat; but it is not easy to explain how the Chilian word got into the Northwest.
As the season advanced, the party found many delicious wild fruits, such as currants, plums, raspberries, wild apples, and vast quantities of mulberries. Wild turkeys were also found in large numbers, and the party had evidently entered a land of plenty. Wild geese were abundant, and numerous tracks of elk were seen. But we may as well say here that the so-called elk of the Northwest is not the elk of ancient Europe; a more correct and distinctive name for this animal is wapiti, the name given the animal by the Indians. The European elk more closely resembles the American moose. Its antlers are flat, low, and palmated like our moose; whereas the antlers of the American elk, so-called, are long, high, and round-shaped with many sharp points or tines. The mouth of the great Platte River was reached on the twenty-first of July. This famous stream was then regarded as a sort of boundary line between the known and unknown regions. As mariners crossing the equator require all their comrades, who have not been "over the line" to submit to lathering and shaving, so the Western voyageurs merrily compelled their mates to submit to similar horse-play. The great river was also the mark above which explorers entered upon what was called the Upper Missouri.
The expedition was now advancing into a region inhabited by several wandering tribes of Indians, chief of which were the Ottoes, Missouris, and Pawnees. It was determined, therefore, to call a council of some of the chiefs of these bands and make terms of peace with them. After some delay, the messengers sent out to them brought in fourteen representative Indians, to whom the white men made presents of roast meat, pork, flour, and corn-meal, in return for which their visitors brought them quantities of delicious watermelons. "Next day, August 3," says the journal, "the Indians, with their six chiefs, were all assembled under an awning formed with the mainsail, in presence of all our party, paraded for the occasion. A speech was then made, announcing to them the change in the government, our promises of protection, and advice as to their future conduct. All the six chiefs replied to our speech, each in his turn, according to rank. They expressed their joy at the change in the government; their hopes that we would recommend them to their Great Father (the president), that they might obtain trade and necessaries: they wanted arms as well for hunting as for defence, and asked our mediation between them and the Mahas, with whom they are now at war. We promised to do so, and wished some of them to accompany us to that nation, which they declined, for fear of being killed by them. We then proceeded to distribute our presents. The grand chief of the nation not being of the party, we sent him a flag, a medal, and some ornaments for clothing. To the six chiefs who were present, we gave a medal of the second grade to one Ottoe chief and one Missouri chief; a medal of the third grade to two inferior chiefs of each nation; the customary mode of recognizing a chief being to place a medal round his neck, which is considered among his tribe as a proof of his consideration abroad. Each of these medals was accompanied by a present of paint, garters, and cloth ornaments of dress; and to this we added a canister of powder, a bottle of whiskey, and a few presents to the whole, which appeared to make them perfectly satisfied. The air-gun, too, was fired, and astonished them greatly. The absent grand chief was an Ottoe, named Weahrushhah, which, in English, degenerates into Little Thief. The two principal chieftains present were Shongotongo, or Big Horse, and Wethea, or Hospitality; also Shosguscan, or White Horse, an Ottoe; the first an Ottoe, the second a Missouri. The incidents just related induced us to give to this place the name of the Council Bluffs: the situation of it is exceedingly favorable for a fort and trading factory, as the soil is well calculated for bricks, and there is an abundance of wood in the neighborhood, and the air being pure and healthy."
Of course the reader will recognize, in the name given to this place by Lewis and Clark, the flourishing modern city of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, the council took place on the Nebraskan or western side of the river, and the meeting-place was at some distance above the site of the present city of Council Bluffs.
Above Council Bluffs the explorers found the banks of the river to be high and bluffy, and on one of the highlands which they passed they saw the burial-place of Blackbird, one of the great men of the Mahars, or Omahas, who had died of small-pox. A mound, twelve feet in diameter and six feet high, had been raised over the grave, and on a tall pole at the summit the party fixed a flag of red, white, and blue. The place was regarded as sacred by the Omahas, who kept the dead chieftain well supplied with provisions. The small-pox had caused great mortality among the Indians; and a few years before the white men's visit, when the fell disease had destroyed four hundred men, with a due proportion of women and children, the survivors burned their village and fled.
"They had been a military and powerful people; but when these warriors saw their strength wasting before a malady which they could not resist, their frenzy was extreme; they burned their village, and many of them put to death their wives and children, to save them from so cruel an affliction, and that all might go together to some better country."
In Omaha, or Mahar Creek, the explorers made their first experiment in dragging the stream for fish. With a drag of willows, loaded with stones, they succeeded in catching a great variety of fine fish, over three hundred at one haul, and eight hundred at another. These were pike, bass, salmon-trout, catfish, buffalo fish, perch, and a species of shrimp, all of which proved an acceptable addition to their usual flesh bill-of-fare.
Desiring to call in some of the surrounding Indian tribes, they here set fire to the dry prairie grass, that being the customary signal for a meeting of different bands of roving peoples. In the afternoon of August 18, a party of Ottoes, headed by Little Thief and Big Horse, came in, with six other chiefs and a French interpreter. The journal says:—
"We met them under a shade, and after they had finished a repast with which we supplied them, we inquired into the origin of the war between them and the Mahas, which they related with great frankness. It seems that two of the Missouris went to the Mahas to steal horses, but were detected and killed; the Ottoes and Missouris thought themselves bound to avenge their companions, and the whole nations were at last obliged to share in the dispute. They are also in fear of a war from the Pawnees, whose village they entered this summer, while the inhabitants were hunting, and stole their corn. This ingenuous confession did not make us the less desirous of negotiating a peace for them; but no Indians have as yet been attracted by our fire. The evening was closed by a dance; and the next day, the chiefs and warriors being assembled at ten o'clock, we explained the speech we had already sent from the Council Bluffs, and renewed our advice. They all replied in turn, and the presents were then distributed. We exchanged the small medal we had formerly given to the Big Horse for one of the same size with that of Little Thief: we also gave a small medal to a third chief, and a kind of certificate or letter of acknowledgment to five of the warriors expressive of our favor and their good intentions. One of them, dissatisfied, returned us the certificate; but the chief, fearful of our being offended, begged that it might be restored to him; this we declined, and rebuked them severely for having in view mere traffic instead of peace with their neighbors. This displeased them at first; but they at length all petitioned that it should be given to the warrior, who then came forward and made an apology to us; we then delivered it to the chief to be given to the most worthy, and he bestowed it on the same warrior, whose name was Great Blue Eyes. After a more substantial present of small articles and tobacco, the council was ended with a dram to the Indians. In the evening we exhibited different objects of curiosity, and particularly the air-gun, which gave them great surprise. Those people are almost naked, having no covering except a sort of breech-cloth round the middle, with a loose blanket or buffalo robe, painted, thrown over them. The names of these warriors, besides those already mentioned, were Karkapaha, or Crow's Head, and Nenasawa, or Black Cat, Missouris; and Sananona, or Iron Eyes, Neswaunja, or Big Ox, Stageaunja, or Big Blue Eyes, and Wasashaco, or Brave Man, all Ottoes."
Chapter IV — Novel Experiences among the Indians
About this time (the nineteenth and twentieth of August), the explorers lost by death the only member of their party who did not survive the journey. Floyd River, which flows into the Upper Missouri, in the northwest corner of Iowa, still marks the last resting-place of Sergeant Charles Floyd, who died there of bilious colic and was buried by his comrades near the mouth of the stream. Near here was a quarry of red pipestone, dear to the Indian fancy as a mine of material for their pipes; traces of this deposit still remain. So fond of this red rock were the Indians that when they went there to get the stuff, even lifelong and vindictive enemies declared a truce while they gathered the material, and savage hostile tribes suspended their wars for a time.
On the north side of the Missouri, at a point in what is now known as Clay County, South Dakota, Captains Lewis and Clark, with ten men, turned aside to see a great natural curiosity, known to the Indians as the Hill of Little Devils. The hill is a singular mound in the midst of a flat prairie, three hundred yards long, sixty or seventy yards wide, and about seventy feet high. The top is a smooth level plain. The journal says:—
"The Indians have made it a great article of their superstition: it is called the Mountain of Little People, or Little Spirits; and they believe that it is the abode of little devils, in the human form, of about eighteen inches high, and with remarkably large heads; they are armed with sharp arrows, with which they are very skilful, and are always on the watch to kill those who should have the hardihood to approach their residence. The tradition is, that many have suffered from these little evil spirits, and, among others, three Maha Indians fell a sacrifice to them a few years since. This has inspired all the neighboring nations, Sioux, Mahas, and Ottoes, with such terror, that no consideration could tempt them to visit the hill. We saw none of these wicked little spirits, nor any place for them, except some small holes scattered over the top; we were happy enough to escape their vengeance, though we remained some time on the mound to enjoy the delightful prospect of the plain, which spreads itself out till the eye rests upon the northwest hills at a great distance, and those of the northeast, still farther off, enlivened by large herds of buffalo feeding at a distance."
The present residents of the region, South Dakota, have preserved the Indian tradition, and Spirit Mound may be seen on modern maps of that country.
Passing on their way up the Missouri, the explorers found several kinds of delicious wild plums and vast quantities of grapes; and here, too, they passed the mouth of the Yankton River, now known as the Dakota, at the mouth of which is the modern city of Yankton, South Dakota. The Yankton-Sioux Indians, numbering about one thousand people, inhabited this part of the country, and near here the white men were met by a large band of these Sioux who had come in at the invitation of Lewis and Clark. The messengers from the white men reported that they had been well received by the Indians, who, as a mark of respect, presented their visitors with "a fat dog, already cooked, of which they partook heartily and found it well-flavored." From this time, according to the journal, the explorers tasted occasionally of roast dog, and later on they adopted this dish as a regular feature of their bill-of-fare. They do tell us, however, that they had some difficulty in getting used to so novel an article of food.
The Sioux and the white men held a grand council under an oak-tree, from the top of which was flying the American flag. The head chief was presented with a gold-laced uniform of the United States artillery, a cocked hat and red feather. The lesser chiefs were also presented with suitable gifts of lesser value. Various festivities followed the conference. Next day another powwow was held at which the head chief, Weucha, or Shake Hand, said:—
"'I see before me my great father's two sons. You see me and the rest of our chiefs and warriors. We are very poor; we have neither powder, nor ball, nor knives; and our women and children at the village have no clothes. I wish that, as my brothers have given me a flag and a medal, they would give something to those poor people, or let them stop and trade with the first boat which comes up the river. I will bring the chiefs of the Pawnees and Mahas together, and make peace between them; but it is better that I should do it than my great father's sons, for they will listen to me more readily. I will also take some chiefs to your country in the spring; but before that time I cannot leave home. I went formerly to the English, and they gave me a medal and some clothes: when I went to the Spaniards they gave me a medal, but nothing to keep it from my skin: but now you give me a medal and clothes. But still we are poor; and I wish, brothers, you would give us something for our squaws.'"
When he sat down, Mahtoree, or White Crane, rose:
"'I have listened,' said he, 'to what our father's words were yesterday; and I am to-day glad to see how you have dressed our old chief. I am a young man, and do not wish to take much; my fathers have made me a chief; I had much sense before, but now I think I have more than ever. What the old chief has declared I will confirm, and do whatever he and you please; but I wish that you would take pity on us, for we are very poor.'
"Another chief, called Pawnawneahpahbe, then said:
"'I am a young man, and know but little; I cannot speak well, but I have listened to what you have told the old chief, and will do whatever you agree.'
"The same sentiments were then repeated by Aweawechache.
"We were surprised," the journal says, "at finding that the first of these titles means Struck by the Pawnee, and was occasioned by some blow which the chief had received in battle from one of the Pawnee tribe. The second is in English Half Man, which seemed a singular name for a warrior, till it was explained to have its origin, probably, in the modesty of the chief, who, on being told of his exploits, would say, 'I am no warrior, I am only half a man.' The other chiefs spoke very little; but after they had finished, one of the warriors delivered a speech, in which he declared he would support them. They promised to make peace with the Ottoes and Missouris, the only nations with whom they are at war. All these harangues concluded by describing the distress of the nation: they begged us to have pity on them; to send them traders; that they wanted powder and ball; and seemed anxious that we should supply them with some of their great father's milk, the name by which they distinguish ardent spirits. We gave some tobacco to each of the chiefs, and a certificate to two of the warriors who attended the chief We prevailed on M. Durion (interpreter) to remain here, and accompany as many of the Sioux chiefs as he could collect to the seat of government. We also gave his son a flag, some clothes, and provisions, with directions to bring about a peace between the surrounding tribes, and to convey some of their chiefs to see the President.
"The Indians who have just left us are the Yanktons, a tribe of the great nation of Sioux. These Yanktons are about two hundred men in number, and inhabit the Jacques, Des Moines, and Sioux Rivers. In person they are stout, well proportioned, and have a certain air of dignity and boldness. In their dress they differ nothing from the other bands of the nation whom we met afterwards."
Of the Sioux let us say here, there are many bands, or subdivisions. Some writers make eighteen of these principal branches. But the first importance is given to the Sioux proper, or Dakotas. The name "Sioux" is one of reproach, given by their enemies, and signifies "snake;" whereas "Dakota" means "friend" or "ally." The Lewis and Clark journal says of the Yankton-Sioux:—
"What struck us most was an institution peculiar to them and to the Kite (Crow) Indians further to the westward, from whom it is said to have been copied. It is an association of the most active and brave young men, who are bound to each other by attachment, secured by a vow, never to retreat before any danger, or give way to their enemies. In war they go forward without sheltering themselves behind trees, or aiding their natural valor by any artifice. Their punctilious determination not to be turned from their course became heroic, or ridiculous, a short time since, when the Yanktons were crossing the Missouri on the ice. A hole lay immediately in their course, which might easily have been avoided by going around. This the foremost of the band disdained to do, but went straight forward and was lost. The others would have followed his example, but were forcibly prevented by the rest of the tribe. These young men sit, camp, and dance together, distinct from the rest of the nation; they are generally about thirty or thirty-five years old, and such is the deference paid to courage that their seats in council are superior to those of the chiefs and their persons more respected. But, as may be supposed, such indiscreet bravery will soon diminish the numbers of those who practise it; so that the band is now reduced to four warriors, who were among our visitors. These were the remains of twenty-two who composed the society not long ago; but, in a battle with the Kite (Crow) Indians of the Black Mountains, eighteen of them were killed, and these four were dragged from the field by their companions."
Just above the site of the city of Yankton, and near what is still known as Bon Homme Island, Captain Clark explored a singular earth formation in a bend of the river. This had all the appearance of an ancient fortification, stretching across the bend and furnished with redoubts and other features of a great fort. In the journal is given a glowing account of the work and an elaborate map of the same. Modern research, however, has proved that this strange arrangement of walls and parapets is only a series of sand ridges formed by the currents of the river and driftings of sand. Many of these so-called earthworks are situated on the west bank of the Upper Missouri, in North Dakota and South Dakota.
A few days later, the party saw a species of animal which they described as "goats,"—very fleet, with short pronged horns inclining backward, and with grayish hair, marked with white on the rump. This creature, however, was the American antelope, then unknown to science, and first described by Lewis and Clark. While visiting a strange dome-shaped mountain, "resembling a cupola," and now known as "the Tower," the explorers found the abode of another animal, heretofore unknown to them. "About four acres of ground," says the journal, "was covered with small holes." The account continues: "These are the residence of a little animal, called by the French petit chien (little dog), which sit erect near the mouth, and make a whistling noise, but, when alarmed, take refuge in their holes. In order to bring them out we poured into one of the holes five barrels of water without filling it, but we dislodged and caught the owner. After digging down another of the holes for six feet, we found, on running a pole into it, that we had not yet dug half-way to the bottom: we discovered, however, two frogs in the hole, and near it we killed a dark rattlesnake, which had swallowed a small prairie dog. We were also informed, though we never witnessed the fact, that a sort of lizard and a snake live habitually with these animals. The petit chien are justly named, as they resemble a small dog in some particulars, although they have also some points of similarity to the squirrel. The head resembles the squirrel in every respect, except that the ear is shorter; the tail like that of the ground squirrel; the toe nails are long, the fur is fine, and the long hair is gray."
Great confusion has been caused in the minds of readers on account of there being another burrowing animal, called by Lewis and Clark "the burrowing squirrel," which resembles the petit chien in some respects. But the little animal described here is now well known as the prairie-dog,—an unfortunate and misleading name. It is in no sense a species of dog. The creature commonly weighs about three pounds, and its note resembles that of a toy-dog. It is a species of marmot; it subsists on grass roots and other vegetable products; its flesh is delicate and, when fat, of good flavor. The writer of these lines, when crossing the great plains, in early times, found the "prairie-dogs" excellent eating, but difficult to kill; they are expert at diving into their holes at the slightest signal of danger.
The following days they saw large herds of buffalo, and the copses of timber appeared to contain elk and deer, "just below Cedar Island," adds the journal, "on a hill to the south, is the backbone of a fish, forty-five feet long, tapering towards the tail, and in a perfect state of petrifaction, fragments of which were collected and sent to Washington." This was not a fish, but the fossil remains of a reptile of one of the earliest geological periods. Here, too, the party saw immense herds of buffalo, thousands in number, some of which they killed for their meat and skins. They also saw elk, deer, turkeys, grouse, beaver, and prairie-dogs. The journal bitterly complains of the "moschetoes," which were very troublesome. As mosquitoes we now know them.
Oddly enough, the journal sometimes speaks of "goats" and sometimes of "antelopes," and the same animal is described in both instances. Here is a good story of the fleetness of the beautiful creature:—
"Of all the animals we had seen, the antelope seems to possess the most wonderful fleetness. Shy and timorous, they generally repose only on the ridges, which command a view of all the approaches of an enemy: the acuteness of their sight distinguishes the most distant danger; the delicate sensibility of their smell defeats the precautions of concealment; and, when alarmed, their rapid career seems more like the flight of birds than the movements of a quadruped. After many unsuccessful attempts, Captain Lewis at last, by winding around the ridges, approached a party of seven, which were on an eminence towards which the wind was unfortunately blowing. The only male of the party frequently encircled the summit of the hill, as if to announce any danger to the females, which formed a group at the top. Although they did not see Captain Lewis, the smell alarmed them, and they fled when he was at the distance of two hundred yards: he immediately ran to the spot where they had been; a ravine concealed them from him; but the next moment they appeared on a second ridge, at the distance of three miles. He doubted whether they could be the same; but their number, and the extreme rapidity with which they continued their course, convinced him that they must have gone with a speed equal to that of the most distinguished race-horse. Among our acquisitions to-day were a mule-deer, a magpie, a common deer, and buffalo: Captain Lewis also saw a hare, and killed a rattlesnake near the burrows of the barking squirrels."
By "barking squirrels" the reader must understand that the animal better known as the prairie-dog is meant; and the mule-deer, as the explorers called it, was not a hybrid, but a deer with very long ears, better known afterwards as the black-tailed deer.
At the Big Bend of the Missouri, in the heart of what is now South Dakota, while camped on a sand-bar, the explorers had a startling experience. "Shortly after midnight," says the journal, "the sleepers were startled by the sergeant on guard crying out that the sand-bar was sinking, and the alarm was timely given; for scarcely had they got off with the boats before the bank under which they had been lying fell in; and by the time the opposite shore was reached, the ground on which they had been encamped sunk also. A man who was sent to step off the distance across the head of the bend, made it but two thousand yards, while its circuit is thirty miles."
The next day, three Sioux boys swam the river and told them that two parties of their nation, one of eighty lodges, and one of sixty lodges, were camped up the river, waiting to have a palaver with the white explorers. These were Teton Sioux, and the river named for them still bears that title.
Chapter V — From the Tetons to the Mandans
"On the morning of September 25th," says the journal, "we raised a flagstaff and an awning, under which we assembled, with all the party parading under arms. The chiefs and warriors, from the camps two miles up the river, met us, about fifty or sixty in number, and after smoking we delivered them a speech; but as our Sioux interpreter, M. Durion, had been left with the Yanktons, we were obliged to make use of a Frenchman who could not speak fluently, and therefore we curtailed our harangue. After this we went through the ceremony of acknowledging the chiefs, by giving to the grand chief a medal, a flag of the United States, a laced uniform coat, a cocked hat and feather; to the two other chiefs, a medal and some small presents; and to two warriors of consideration, certificates. The name of the great chief is Untongasabaw, or Black Buffalo; the second, Tortohonga, or the Partisan; the third, Tartongawaka, or Buffalo Medicine; the name of one of the warriors was Wawzinggo; that of the second, Matocoquepa, or Second Bear. We then invited the chiefs on board, and showed them the boat, the air-gun, and such curiosities as we thought might amuse them. In this we succeeded too well; for, after giving them a quarter of a glass of whiskey, which they seemed to like very much, and sucked the bottle, it was with much difficulty that we could get rid of them. They at last accompanied Captain Clark on shore, in a pirogue with five men; but it seems they had formed a design to stop us; for no sooner had the party landed than three of the Indians seized the cable of the pirogue, and one of the soldiers of the chief put his arms round the mast. The second chief, who affected intoxication, then said that we should not go on; that they had not received presents enough from us. Captain Clark told him that he would not be prevented from going on; that we were not squaws, but warriors; that we were sent by our great father, who could in a moment exterminate them. The chief replied that he too had warriors, and was proceeding to offer personal violence to Captain Clark, who immediately drew his sword, and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. The Indians, who surrounded him, drew their arrows from their quivers, and were bending their bows, when the swivel in the boat was instantly pointed towards them, and twelve of our most determined men jumped into the pirogue and joined Captain Clark. This movement made an impression on them, for the grand chief ordered the young men away from the pirogue, and they withdrew and held a short council with the warriors. Being unwilling to irritate them, Captain Clark then went forward, and offered his hand to the first and second chiefs, who refused to take it. He then turned from them and got into the pirogue; but he had not got more than ten paces, when both the chiefs and two of the warriors waded in after him, and he brought them on board. We then proceeded on for a mile, and anchored off a willow island, which, from the circumstances which had just occurred, we called Bad-humored Island."
The policy of firmness and gentleness, which Lewis and Clark always pursued when treating with the Indians, had its good results at this time. What might have been a bloody encounter was averted, and next day the Indians contritely came into camp and asked that their squaws and children might see the white men and their boats, which would be to them a novel sight. This was agreed to, and after the expedition had sailed up the river and had been duly admired by a great crowd of men, women, and children, the Tetons invited the white men to a dance. The journal adds:—
"Captains Lewis and Clark, who went on shore one after the other, were met on landing by ten well-dressed young men, who took them up in a robe highly decorated and carried them to a large council-house, where they were placed on a dressed buffalo-skin by the side of the grand chief. The hall or council-room was in the shape of three-quarters of a circle, covered at the top and sides with skins well dressed and sewed together. Under this shelter sat about seventy men, forming a circle round the chief, before whom were placed a Spanish flag and the one we had given them yesterday. This left a vacant circle of about six feet diameter, in which the pipe of peace was raised on two forked sticks, about six or eight inches from the ground, and under it the down of the swan was scattered. A large fire, in which they were cooking provisions, stood near, and in the centre about four hundred pounds of buffalo meat as a present for us. As soon as we were seated, an old man got up, and after approving what we had done, begged us take pity on their unfortunate situation. To this we replied with assurances of protection. After he had ceased, the great chief rose and delivered a harangue to the same effect; then with great solemnity he took some of the most delicate parts of the dog which was cooked for the festival, and held it to the flag by way of sacrifice; this done, he held up the pipe of peace, and first pointed it toward the heavens, then to the four quarters of the globe, then to the earth, made a short speech, lighted the pipe, and presented it to us. We smoked, and he again harangued his people, after which the repast was served up to us. It consisted of the dog which they had just been cooking, this being a great dish among the Sioux, and used on all festivals; to this were added pemitigon, a dish made of buffalo meat, dried or jerked, and then pounded and mixed raw with grease and a kind of ground potato, dressed like the preparation of Indian corn called hominy, to which it is little inferior. Of all these luxuries, which were placed before us in platters with horn spoons, we took the pemitigon and the potato, which we found good, but we could as yet partake but sparingly of the dog."
The "pemitigon" mentioned here is better known as pemmican, a sort of dried meat, which may be eaten as prepared, or pounded fine and cooked with other articles of food. This festival concluded with a grand dance, which at midnight wound up the affair.
As the description of these Tetons, given by Lewis and Clark, will give the reader a good idea of the manners, customs, and personal appearance of most of the Sioux nation, we will copy the journal in full. It is as follows:
"The tribe which we this day saw are a part of the great Sioux nation, and are known by the name of the Teton Okandandas: they are about two hundred men in number, and their chief residence is on both sides of the Missouri, between the Chayenne and Teton Rivers. In their persons they are rather ugly and ill-made, their legs and arms being too small, their cheek-bones high, and their eyes projecting. The females, with the same character of form, are more handsome; and both sexes appear cheerful and sprightly; but in our intercourse with them we discovered that they were cunning and vicious.
"The men shave the hair off their heads, except a small tuft on the top, which they suffer to grow, and wear in plaits over the shoulders; to this they seem much attached, as the loss of it is the usual sacrifice at the death of near relations. In full dress, the men of consideration wear a hawk's feather, or calumet feather worked with porcupine quills, and fastened to the top of the head, from which it falls back. The face and body are generally painted with a mixture of grease and coal. Over the shoulders is a loose robe or mantle of buffalo skin dressed white, adorned with porcupine quills, loosely fixed, so as to make a jingling noise when in motion, and painted with various uncouth figures, unintelligible to us, but to them emblematic of military exploits or any other incident: the hair of the robe is worn next the skin in fair weather, but when it rains the hair is put outside, and the robe is either thrown over the arm or wrapped round the body, all of which it may cover. Under this, in the winter season, they wear a kind of shirt resembling ours, made either of skin or cloth, and covering the arms and body. Round the middle is fixed a girdle of cloth, or procured dressed elk-skin, about an inch in width, and closely tied to the body; to this is attached a piece of cloth, or blanket, or skin, about a foot wide, which passes between the legs, and is tucked under the girdle both before and behind. From the hip to the ankle is covered by leggins of dressed antelope skins, with seams at the sides two inches in width, and ornamented by little tufts of hair, the produce of the scalps they have made in war, which are scattered down the leg. The winter moccasins are of dressed buffalo skin, the hair being worn inward, and soled with thick elk-skin parchment; those for summer are of deer or elk-skin, dressed without the hair, and with soles of elk-skin. On great occasions, or whenever they are in full dress, the young men drag after them the entire skin of a polecat fixed to the heel of the moccasin. Another skin of the same animal, either tucked into the girdle or carried in the hand, serves as a pouch for their tobacco, or what the French traders call bois roule.(1) This is the inner bark of a species of red willow, which, being dried in the sun or over the fire, is, rubbed between the hands and broken into small pieces, and used alone or mixed with tobacco. The pipe is generally of red earth, the stem made of ash, about three or four feet long, and highly decorated with feathers, hair, and porcupine-quills. . . .
(1) This is bois roule, or "rolled wood," a poor kind of tobacco rolled with various kinds of leaves, such as the sumach and dogwood. The Indian name is kinnikinick.
"While on shore to-day we witnessed a quarrel between two squaws, which appeared to be growing every moment more boisterous, when a man came forward, at whose approach every one seemed terrified and ran. He took the squaws and without any ceremony whipped them severely. On inquiring into the nature of such summary justice, we learned that this man was an officer well known to this and many other tribes. His duty is to keep the peace, and the whole interior police of the village is confided to two or three of these officers, who are named by the chief and remain in power some days, at least till the chief appoints a successor. They seem to be a sort of constable or sentinel, since they are always on the watch to keep tranquillity during the day and guard the camp in the night. The short duration of the office is compensated by its authority. His power is supreme, and in the suppression of any riot or disturbance no resistance to him is suffered; his person is sacred, and if in the execution of his duty he strikes even a chief of the second class, he cannot be punished for this salutary insolence. In general he accompanies the person of the chief, and when ordered to any duty, however dangerous, it is a point of honor rather to die than to refuse obedience. Thus, when they attempted to stop us yesterday, the chief ordered one of these men to take possession of the boat; he immediately put his arms around the mast, and, as we understood, no force except the command of the chief would have induced him to release his hold. Like the other men his body is blackened, but his distinguishing mark is a collection of two or three raven-skins fixed to the girdle behind the back in such a way that the tails stick out horizontally from the body. On his head, too, is a raven-skin split into two parts, and tied so as to let the beak project from the forehead."
When the party of explorers subsequently made ready to leave, signs of reluctance to have them go were apparent among the Indians. Finally, several of the chief warriors sat on the rope that held the boat to the shore. Irritated by this, Captain Lewis got ready to fire upon the warriors, but, anxious to avoid bloodshed, he gave them more tobacco, which they wanted, and then said to the chief, "You have told us that you were a great man, and have influence; now show your influence by taking the rope from those men, and we will then go on without further trouble." This appeal to the chieftain's pride had the desired effect. The warriors were compelled to give up the rope, which was delivered on board, and the party set sail with a fresh breeze from the southeast.
The explorers were soon out of the country of the Teton Sioux and into that of the Ricaras, or, as these Indians are more commonly called, the Rickarees.
On the first day of October they passed the mouth of a river incorrectly known as Dog River, as if corrupted from the French word chien. But the true name is Cheyenne, from the Indians who bear that title. The stream rises in the region called the Black Mountains by Lewis and Clark, on account of the great quantity of dark cedar and pine trees that covered the hills. This locality is now known as the Black Hills, in the midst of which is the famous mining district of Deadwood. In these mountains, according to Lewis and Clark, were to be found "great quantities of goats, white bear, prairie cocks, and a species of animal which resembled a small elk, with large circular horns." By the "white bear" the reader must understand that the grizzly bear is meant. Although this animal, which was first discovered and described by Lewis and Clark, is commonly referred to in the earlier pages of the journal as "white," the error naturally came from a desire to distinguish it from the black and the cinnamon-colored bears. Afterwards, the journal refers to this formidable creature as the grizzly, and again as the grisly. Certainly, the bear was a grizzled gray; but the name "grisly," that is to say, horrible, or frightful, fitted him very well. The Latin name, ursus horribilis is not unlike one of those of Lewis and Clark's selection. The animals with circular curled horns, which the explorers thought resembled a small elk, are now known as the Rocky Mountain sheep, or bighorn. They very little resemble sheep, however, except in color, head, horns, and feet. They are now so scarce as to be almost extinct. They were among the discoveries of Lewis and Clark. The prairie cock is known to western sportsmen as "prairie chicken;" it is a species of grouse.
It was now early in October, and the weather became very cool. So great is the elevation of those regions that, although the days might be oppressively warm, the nights were cold and white frosts were frequent. Crossing the Rocky Mountains at the South Pass, far south of Lewis and Clark's route, emigrants who suffered from intense heat during the middle of day found water in their pails frozen solid in the morning.
The Rickarees were very curious and inquisitive regarding the white men. But the journal adds: "The object which appeared to astonish the Indians most was Captain Clark's servant York, a remarkably stout, strong negro. They had never seen a being of that color, and therefore flocked round him to examine the extraordinary monster. By way of amusement, he told them that he had once been a wild animal, and been caught and tamed by his master; and to convince them, showed them feats of strength which, added to his looks, made him more terrible than we wished him to be."
"On October 10th," says the journal, "the weather was fine, and as we were desirous of assembling the whole nation at once, we despatched Mr. Gravelines (a trader)—who, with Mr. Tabeau, another French trader, had breakfasted with us—to invite the chiefs of the two upper villages to a conference. They all assembled at one o'clock, and after the usual ceremonies we addressed them in the same way in which we had already spoken to the Ottoes and Sioux. We then made or acknowledged three chiefs, one for each of the three villages; giving to each a flag, a medal, a red coat, a cocked hat and feather, also some goods, paint and tobacco, which they divided among themselves. After this the air-gun was exhibited, very much to their astonishment, nor were they less surprised at the color and manner of York. On our side we were equally gratified at discovering that these Ricaras made use of no spirituous liquors of any kind, the example of the traders who bring it to them, so far from tempting, having in fact disgusted them. Supposing that it was as agreeable to them as to the other Indians, we had at first offered them whiskey; but they refused it with this sensible remark, that they were surprised that their father should present to them a liquor which would make them fools. On another occasion they observed to Mr. Tabeau that no man could be their friend who tried to lead them into such follies."
Presents were exchanged by the Indians and the white men; among the gifts from the former was a quantity of a large, rich bean, which grows wild and is collected by mice. The Indians hunt for the mice's deposits and cook and eat them. The Rickarees had a grand powwow with the white chiefs and, after accepting presents, agreed to preserve peace with all men, red or white. On the thirteenth of the month the explorers discovered a stream which they named Stone-Idol Creek, on account of two stones, resembling human figures, which adorn its banks. The creek is now known as Spring River, and is in Campbell County, South Dakota. Concerning the stone images the Indians gave this tradition:—
"A young man was deeply enamoured with a girl whose parents refused their consent to the marriage. The youth went out into the fields to mourn his misfortunes; a sympathy of feeling led the lady to the same spot, and the faithful dog would not cease to follow his master. After wandering together and having nothing but grapes to subsist on, they were at last converted into stone, which, beginning at the feet, gradually invaded the nobler parts, leaving nothing unchanged but a bunch of grapes which the female holds in her hand to this day. Whenever the Ricaras pass these sacred stones, they stop to make some offering of dress to propitiate these deities. Such is the account given by the Ricara chief, which we had no mode of examining, except that we found one part of the story very agreeably confirmed; for on the river near where the event is said to have occurred we found a greater abundance of fine grapes than we had yet seen."
While at their last camp in the country now known as South Dakota, October 14, 1804, one of the soldiers, tried by a court-martial for mutinous conduct, was sentenced to receive seventy-five lashes on the bare back. The sentence was carried out then and there. The Rickaree chief, who accompanied the party for a time, was so affected by the sight that he cried aloud during the whole proceeding. When the reasons for the punishment were explained to him, he acknowledged the justice of the sentence, but said he would have punished the offender with death. His people, he added, never whip even their children at any age whatever.
On the eighteenth of October, the party reached Cannonball River, which rises in the Black Hills and empties in the Missouri in Morton County, North Dakota. Its name is derived from the perfectly round, smooth, black stones that line its bed and shores. Here they saw great numbers of antelope and herds of buffalo, and of elk. They killed six fallow deer; and next day they counted fifty-two herds of buffalo and three herds of elk at one view; they also observed deer, wolves, and pelicans in large numbers.
The ledges in the bluffs along the river often held nests of the calumet bird, or golden eagle. These nests, which are apparently resorted to, year after year, by the same pair of birds, are usually out of reach, except by means of ropes by which the hunters are let down from the cliffs overhead. The tail-feathers of the bird are twelve in number, about a foot long, and are pure white except at the tip, which is jet-black. So highly prized are these by the Indians that they have been known to exchange a good horse for two feathers.
The party saw here a great many elk, deer, antelope, and buffalo, and these last were dogged along their way by wolves who follow them to feed upon those that die by accident, or are too weak to keep up with the herd. Sometimes the wolves would pounce upon a calf, too young and feeble to trot with the other buffalo; and although the mother made an effort to save her calf, the creature was left to the hungry wolves, the herd moving along without delay.
On the twenty-first of October, the explorers reached a creek to which the Indians gave the name of Chisshetaw, now known as Heart River, which, rising in Stark County, North Dakota, and running circuitously through Morton County, empties into the Missouri opposite the city of Bismarck. At this point the Northern Pacific Railway now crosses the Missouri; and here, where is built the capital of North Dakota, began, in those days, a series of Mandan villages, with the people of which the explorers were to become tolerably well acquainted; for it had been decided that the increasing cold of the weather would compel them to winter in this region. But they were as yet uncertain as to the exact locality at which they would build their camp of winter. Here they met one of the grand chiefs of the Mandans, who was on a hunting excursion with his braves. This chief greeted with much ceremony the Rickaree chief who accompanied the exploring party. The Mandans and Rickarees were ancient enemies, but, following the peaceful councils of the white men, the chiefs professed amity and smoked together the pipe of peace. A son of the Mandan chief was observed to have lost both of his little fingers, and when the strangers asked how this happened, they were told that the fingers had been cut off (according to the Mandan custom) to show the grief of the young man at the loss of some of his relations.
Chapter VI — Winter among the Mandans
Before finally selecting the spot on which to build their winter quarters, Lewis and Clark held councils with the chiefs of the tribes who were to be their neighbors during the cold season. These were Mandans, Annahaways, and Minnetarees, tribes living peacefully in the same region of country. The principal Mandan chief was Black Cat; White Buffalo Robe Unfolded represented the Annahaways, and the Minnetaree chief was Black Moccasin. This last-named chief could not come to the council, but was represented by Caltahcota, or Cherry on a Bush. The palaver being over, presents were distributed. The account says:—
"One chief of each town was acknowledged by a gift of a flag, a medal with the likeness of the President of the United States, a uniform coat, hat and feather. To the second chiefs we gave a medal representing some domestic animals and a loom for weaving; to the third chiefs, medals with the impressions of a farmer sowing grain. A variety of other presents were distributed, but none seemed to give them more satisfaction than an iron corn-mill which we gave to the Mandans. . . .
"In the evening the prairie took fire, either by accident or design, and burned with great fury, the whole plain being enveloped in flames. So rapid was its progress that a man and a woman were burned to death before they could reach a place of safety; another man, with his wife and child, were much burned, and several other persons narrowly escaped destruction. Among the rest, a boy of the half white breed escaped unhurt in the midst of the flames; his safety was ascribed to the great medicine spirit, who had preserved him on account of his being white. But a much more natural cause was the presence of mind of his mother, who, seeing no hopes of carrying off her son, threw him on the ground, and, covering him with the fresh hide of a buffalo, escaped herself from the flames. As soon as the fire had passed, she returned and found him untouched, the skin having prevented the flame from reaching the grass on which he lay."
Next day, says the journal,—
"We were visited by two persons from the lower village: one, the Big White, the chief of the village; the other, the Chayenne, called the Big Man: they had been hunting, and did not return yesterday early enough to attend the council. At their request we repeated part of our speech of yesterday, and put the medal round the neck of the chief. Captain Clark took a pirogue and went up the river in search of a good wintering-place, and returned after going seven miles to the lower point of an island on the north side, about one mile in length. He found the banks on the north side high, with coal occasionally, and the country fine on all sides; but the want of wood, and the scarcity of game up the river, induced us to decide on fixing ourselves lower down during the winter. In the evening our men danced among themselves, to the great amusement of the Indians."
It may be said here that the incident of a life saved from fire by a raw-hide, originally related by Lewis and Clark, is the foundation of a great many similar stories of adventures among the Indians. Usually, however, it is a wise and well-seasoned white trapper who saves his life by this device.
Having found a good site for their winter camp, the explorers now built a number of huts, which they called Fort Mandan. The place was on the north bank of the Missouri River, in what is now McLean County, North Dakota, about sixteen hundred miles up the river from St. Louis, and seven or eight miles below the mouth of Big Knife River. On the opposite bank, years later, the United States built a military post known as Fort Clark, which may be found on some of the present-day maps. The huts were built of logs, and were arranged in two rows, four rooms in each hut, the whole number being placed in the form of an angle, with a stockade, or picket, across the two outer ends of the angle, in which was a gate, kept locked at night. The roofs of the huts slanted upward from the inner side of the rows, making the outer side of each hut eighteen feet high; and the lofts of these were made warm and comfortable with dry grass mixed with clay, Here they were continually visited during the winter by Indians from all the region around. Here, too, they secured the services of an interpreter, one Chaboneau, who continued with them to the end. This man's wife, Sacajawea, whose Indian name was translated "Bird Woman," had been captured from the Snake Indians and sold to Chaboneau, who married her. She was "a good creature, of a mild and gentle disposition, greatly attached to the whites." In the expedition she proved herself more valuable to the explorers than her husband, and Lewis and Clark always speak of her in terms of respect and admiration.
It should not be understood that all the interpreters employed by white men on such expeditions wholly knew the spoken language of the tribes among whom they travelled. To some extent they relied upon the universal language of signs to make themselves understood, and this method of talking is known to all sorts and kinds of Indians. Thus, two fingers of the right hand placed astraddle the wrist of the left hand signifies a man on horseback; and the number of men on horseback is quickly added by holding up the requisite number of fingers. Sleep is described by gently inclining the head on the hand, and the number of "sleeps," or nights, is indicated by the fingers. Killed, or dead, is described by closed eyes and a sudden fall of the head on the talker's chest; and so on, an easily understood gesture, with a few Indian words, being sufficient to tell a long story very clearly.
Lewis and Clark discovered here a species of ermine before unknown to science. They called it "a weasel, perfectly white except at the extremity of the tail, which was black." This animal, highly prized on account of its pretty fur, was not scientifically described until as late as 1829. It is a species of stoat.
The wars of some of the Indian tribes gave Lewis and Clark much trouble and uneasiness. The Sioux were at war with the Minnetarees (Gros Ventres, or Big Bellies); and the Assiniboins, who lived further to the north, continually harassed the Sioux and the Mandans, treating these as the latter did the Rickarees. The white chiefs had their hands full all winter while trying to preserve peace among these quarrelsome and thieving tribes, their favorite game being to steal each other's horses. The Indian method of caring for their horses in the cold winter was to let them shift for themselves during the day, and to take them into their own lodges at night where they were fed with the juicy, brittle twigs of the cottonwood tree. With this spare fodder the animals thrive and keep their coats fine and glossy.
Late in November, a collision between the Sioux and the Mandans became almost certain, in consequence of the Sioux having attacked a small hunting party of the Mandans, killing one, wounding two, and capturing nine horses. Captain Clark mustered and armed twenty-four of his men, crossed over into the Mandan village and offered to lead the Indians against their enemies. The offer was declined on account of the deep snows which prevented a march; but the incident made friends for white men, and the tidings of it had a wholesome effect on the other tribes.
"The whole religion of the Mandans," like that of many other savage tribes, says the journal, "consists in the belief of one Great Spirit presiding over their destinies. This Being must be in the nature of a good genius, since it is associated with the healing art, and 'great spirit' is synonymous with 'great medicine,' a name applied to everything which they do not comprehend. Each individual selects for himself the particular object of his devotion, which is termed his medicine, and is either some invisible being, or more commonly some animal, which thenceforward becomes his protector or his intercessor with the Great Spirit, to propitiate whom every attention is lavished and every personal consideration is sacrificed. 'I was lately owner of seventeen horses,' said a Mandan to us one day, 'but I have offered them all up to my medicine and am now poor.' He had in reality taken all his wealth, his horses, into the plain, and, turning them loose, committed them to the care of his medicine and abandoned them forever. The horses, less religious, took care of themselves, and the pious votary travelled home on foot."
To this day, all the Northwest Indians speak of anything that is highly useful or influential as "great medicine."