The Way to the Western Sea Lewis and Clark across the Continent Chapter 8

David Lavender© 2001University of Nebraska PressLincoln and London

EIGHT. Into Winter

Although Pierre Cruzatte did his best with hand talk and the few Sioux phrases he and Labiche knew, he could not convey to the listening Indians the full meaning of Lewis's speech. Sensing this, Meriwether shifted, with Clark's help, to tableaus designed to show American strength as typified by disciplined soldiers—something the Tetons had never seen. [1]

Wearing their dress uniforms, which by then were inevitably rumpled, the entire force, less those assigned to stand watch over the boats, lined up on the loose sand. There must have been at least twenty of them. A wind-whipped Stars and Stripes snapped overhead. They slogged and wheeled to the sergeants' barks: "By the right flank, march! Company halt! Present arms!"

The Indians watched stony-faced. The lack of enthusiasm continued as the captains passed on as grandly as they could to the next part of the routine, the making of three chiefs: Black Buffalo, the Partisan, and Buffalo Medicine, all of the Bois Brulé band. A few warriors let parchment certificates be pressed into their hands. The impassiveness broke only with the distribution of gifts, and in a totally unexpected way. The Indians sneered. Such stingy offerings would not serve as passports to the upper river. Either the Americans stayed with the Bois Brulé Tetons and traded with them alone, or the explorers would have to surrender one of their pirogues and its cargo as tribute.

This was public humiliation—yet Jefferson had said to deal with all Indians in a conciliatory manner. Swallowing their pride, the captains shifted to a tried and true diversion. Lewis fired his airgun. Always before it had drawn exclamations, but this time the Brulés watched unmoved. Expansively then the captains invited the chiefs and some of their leading warriors aboard the keelboat. It was a mistake. After demonstrating a few of the boat's novelties, Lewis and Clark let each visitor swallow a quarter of a glass of whiskey. The drinkers immediately pretended intoxication, reeling and shoving.

With difficulty the whites herded their obnoxious guests aboard the pirogue, manned by three or four Frenchmen, that was being used as a ferry. As its prow ran up onto the sand, one warrior put his arms around the mast. Others who were waiting on shore seized its "cable," probably the mooring rope. In just such fashion one of the Missouri Company's pirogues had been made a prize of war at Loisel's Cedar Island trading post several miles downstream.

Clark jumped ashore, with Cruzatte and Labiche as interpreters. The chief called the Partisan reeled up against him and said again, straight in his face, the Americans had traveled as far upriver as they were going to. Furious, Clark jerked his sword from its scabbard and signaled Lewis, who stuffed musket balls and buckshot into the keelboat's two swivel guns. As the black mouths swung toward the group several Indians strung their bows and reached for their arrows. At that point Black Buffalo broke in, perhaps to forestall a cannonade that would take down women and children as well as combatants—or perhaps to show the Partisan who was the number-one chief. He ordered the men holding the cable and the one hugging the mast to back off. It was no gesture of friendship. Grasping the mooring rope himself, he repeated that the river was closed. Clark retorted, so he wrote in his journal, "in verry positive terms."

During the jostling that followed, Black Buffalo lost his hold on the rope. At a gesture from Clark, the rowers on the pirogue dug water to the keelboat and took aboard twelve soldiers, rifles ready. Meanwhile Black Buffalo and Clark engaged in something of a small-boy shouting match, while the interpreters, sweating with apprehension, relayed what they could of the exchange. Clark: "We're not squaws!" Black Buffalo: "If you try to go ahead, our warriors will follow and pick your men off one by one." Clark: "We've enough medicine on board to wipe out twenty nations like you." Meaning what? The Corps did have a small supply of smallpox vaccine with it, and perhaps he thought it could be used to infect an enemy. Otherwise the boast has to be taken as pure bluff.

The altercation gave the soldiers in the pirogue time to land. The Indians, conscious of both the rifles and the swivel guns, let their arrows drop back into their quivers and drifted cautiously away. The three chiefs withdrew for a consultation. Clark waited a few moments and then decided to salvage the council if he could. Walking over to the trio, he offered his hand.

They spurned him. Wheeling back to the pirogue, he ordered the rowers toward the keelboat. Behind him Black Buffalo and Buffalo Medicine—but not the Partisan—experienced a change of heart or else devised a new strategy. Accompanied by two warriors, they waded into the water, offered convoluted apologies, and begged the Americans to take them to the village upstream, where their women and children could see the boats and the wonderful things they contained.

Open the river to American trade, Jefferson had said. The captains had to test every possibility. So they took the four aboard and had the boat rowed upriver a little more than a mile to a willow-covered island. There, as twilight folded down, they went into camp. A heavy guard was posted, and there was little sleep that night in spite of the hostages they had with them.

The next morning a four-mile pull against the current brought the three boats abreast of an impressive village of eighty conical tepees, by Sergeant Patrick Gass's count. The habitations, each made of fifteen to eighteen dressed and painted buffalo hides circling a frame of inward-leaning poles, were arranged in a neat ring around a big ceremonial lodge, also made of hides. The keelboat dropped anchor well out in the stream. The pirogues shuttled back and forth. Presumably women and children took turns viewing the boat while Lewis and a small bodyguard of soldiers looked over the town.

It was the beginning of two days of inquisitive poking around by both sides, of formal talks whose contents were butchered by the interpreters, of feasting and entertainment. The Corps never let its guard down. Only a handful of soldiers was given leave at any one time; the rest stayed under arms on the boats. The captains, too, took turns ashore, until it was felt that both should attend, as a matter of protocol, a meeting with the village chiefs and leading warriors in the big central lodge.

Seated around a ceremonial fire, they ate roasted dog and cakes of pemmican, the latter compounded of pulverized dried meat mixed with congealed buffalo fat and pounded chokecherries. For a side dish they were presented with a kind of bread made from the flour of the prairie turnip, a large white root that grew prolifically on the High Plains. They listened to speeches. The purport of the talks, as raveled out by the interpreters, was that the Sioux wanted and needed the expedition's trade more than the upstream Arikaras and Mandans did. In response the captains repeated what they had said before: they were preparing the way for the rich American trade that would follow if the red children of the great father opened their arms to him and to all other tribes. The male Indians began the evening's entertainment by dancing to the beat of tambourines and drums and the jingle of tiny antelope hoofs affixed by cords to the ends of long sticks. The exhibition was like the one the Yanktons had performed for the explorers downstream near Calumet Bluff. The women's dance was sharply different—a rejoicing, with a strain of ferocity beneath. It was a celebration of war. Equipped with scalps and other booty taken in battle by their menfolk, the women formed into two lines. Stirred by the thump of the drums, each line advanced toward the other, withdrew, and repeated. Every now and then a male chanter broke in to proclaim, in a high singsong, the victories the tribe had won. Occasionally his tribesmen, seated in rows on the lodge floor, added their resonant voices to the singer's.

The performance must have served, in Clark's mind, as a sobering reprise to an ugly experience he'd had while walking through the village earlier in the day, jotting down ethnographic data in his notebook. Several "retched and Dejected looking" women and children of the Omaha tribe caught his attention. Less than two weeks before, he learned, a Sioux war party had fallen on their town, its defenses shredded by the smallpox epidemic of two years earlier. During the raid, the Sioux had killed seventy-five males, had captured forty-eight women and children, and had burned practically every lodge in the town.

To show sympathy Clark sent Pierre Cruzatte among the captives with awls, needles, and other useful trinkets. Both Lewis and he asked the Bois Brulé chiefs to turn the prisoners over to Dorion, downstream among the Yanktons. Dorion would do what he could to put the shattered people in touch with their relatives. In that way a confrontation between the Bois Brulé and the revengeful Omahas would be avoided. The matter was important, for revenge was a prime cause of guerrilla warfare among all tribes.

The Bois Brulé chiefs agreed, but the captains must have wondered how long the promise would be remembered after the Corps's boats had departed—if, in fact, the Sioux intended to let the whites continue their journey. The whole Indian situation was discouraging. Raids, war dances, threats: and opposed to that their thin talk of peace. War was part of the continuous present of Indian life. The major struggles were economic, to control food resources or trade channels, but within that broad cultural context were powerful, perhaps ineradicable, social pressures. Dances like the women's scalp ceremony were designed to heat the courage of the males. A young man attained recognition by receiving a hallucinatory vision of battle, telling his peers about it, and leading them on a successful horse-stealing, battle-related exploit. Retaliation, especially to affronts from the outside, was part of a warrior's view of his own wholeness. Yet Jefferson expected that a few words in passing, delivered from a superior moral position, as the whites regarded it, would be enough to change a culture.

Curiously, the journals never questioned the feasibility of the stance. Perhaps that was the way the military mind worked: do as you are told. Or perhaps a government emissary does not raise critical questions when reporting on the outcome of an assignment; for, of course, the Lewis and Clark journals were reports and not debates about policy. Evaluation would, or at least should, come later on the basis of their findings.

They stayed in the village a second day, still loyally trying to win the Sioux to the American plan. Another high moral stance may have helped defeat them without their knowing it. Each evening as the captains wearily left the ceremonial lodge, they were offered young women as bed partners. This standard form of Indian hospitality was quite outside their experience, and they rejected it. Their abstinence—after all, they were vigorous young men long removed from feminine companionship—was probably compounded out of several inhibitions: a cultural reluctance toward such liaisons; a wariness of becoming beholden in any way to their pugnacious hosts; and fear of the rampant venereal diseases that white traders had first brought to the tribes and that had spread as swiftly as smallpox across plains and mountains. Pride may have been involved; they just did not want any sniggering among their less restrained men.

The Indians were mystified. The husbands among them had lenient views of sexual diversions as long as the carryings-on had their permission. The offer of a wife—many had more than one—was a sign of hospitality. There was also the notion of power transference. During various of their rituals the young men would expect old men to impart, through the sexual act, some of their acquired qualities of wisdom to the young wives, who would then transfer the gain to their husbands in the same manner. In the minds of many Indians of the day the whites' scientific and technological skills were also evidences of desirable qualities of power. Those qualities, too, could perhaps be transmitted through sexual union. Finally, there was always the probability the whites would give valuable trinkets to the women who pleased them, and, be it said, who were simultaneously pleased by the encounters. [2]

In spite of the captains' breach of manners, the Partisan and one of his warriors were allowed, at the close of the second night's ceremonies, to go with Clark to the keelboat, which remained anchored in midstream as a precautionary measure. Lewis, a few troopers, and several Indians remained on the shore, gossiping. Unfortunately the helmsman misjudged the current. Its force caught the pirogue in such a way that it swung in an arc with its own prow as a pivot and slammed broadside against the keelboat. The larger craft tipped violently and probably would have gone clear over if the anchor cable had not snapped. With a great splashing the craft righted itself—loose in the current. The pirogue meanwhile was having its own troubles staying upright.

Clark bawled for all hands on all three boats to get to their oars. Answering shouts rang out. Lewis and his companions ran and stumbled along the dark shore in pursuit of the wayward craft. The villagers, most of them still in or around the ceremonial lodge, immediately supposed a war party of the Omahas and their allies were attacking in revenge for their earlier defeat. Whooping and firing their guns to awaken any sleepers in town, the men ran across the terrace to the water's edge. Their intent was to defend the boats and their valuable cargo from the enemy—or so the Corps's three sergeants believed.

Both Lewis and Clark had a different explanation. They believed the rapacious Sioux were trying to take advantage of the confusion. The notion was reinforced after the boats had been brought to and then moored beside a high bank. Pierre Cruzatte came to them with a rumor whispered to him during the uproar by one of the Omaha prisoners: in spite of the friendly meetings of the past two days, the Sioux intended to maintain their control of the river, by force if necessary.

If that was their intention, the boats tied up at the foot of an overlooking bank were in a precarious spot. Quietly, so as not to precipitate an attack by letting the milling Indians know of the forewarning, they put the entire party on alert, rifles and swivels ready.

Nothing happened. The next morning the men moved the anchorless keelboat to a more defensible position beside a relatively open shore. They were determined to go ahead that day, but they wanted to be able to keep the keelboat in midstream in case the Sioux followed. But the turbid Missouri was against them. Though they probed diligently with boat hooks and setting poles and dragged the bottom with a weighted cord stretched between the two pirogues, they could not find the anchor under the sand that had collected around it. There was nothing for it but to break clear and later on gather heavy stones as substitutes.

All this while the Sioux were prowling the bank. "Some," Ordway wrote, "had fire arms. Some had Spears. Some had a kind of cutlashes, and all the rest had Bows and steel or Iron pointed arrows." Chiefs and favorite warriors crowded aboard the keelboat and both pirogues.

What followed could hardly have been wholly fortuitous, although the journals say nothing of prior planning. Clark went into the keelboat's cabin with Black Buffalo, the head and most amiable chief. At that point Lewis ordered all Indians off the boats and told one of the American soldiers to cast off. To prevent him, several warriors seized the rope. Fearing to be caught in the fire if shooting started, the Indians aboard scrambled for land.

The uproar brought Clark and Black Buffalo out of the cabin. If carnage developed, the chief's blood might well flow at the first shot. So there were no shots. But the warriors holding the rope continued to hang on. Lewis drew his sword to cut the mooring rope and free the keelboat. Clark seized a firing taper, ready to touch off the nearest swivel. "Give them tobacco!" Black Buffalo cried, for tobacco was a ceremonial tribute and would help the Partisan and his followers back down without losing face. The captains complied in as insulting a way as they could, and then managed to break loose, but not free, for Indians and fear followed them for days up the river. [3]

They had one advantage. Not far from the Sioux encampment they picked up Buffalo Medicine, whom they had ranked as third most important chief during the opening rituals, and they already had Black Buffalo with them. Yet even with hostages aboard, travel was little better than a moving siege. Messengers raced after them, urging them to turn back; new groups had arrived and wanted to council with the whites. The whites refused. Mounted bands yammered at them from the shore. Black Buffalo heaved out a bundle of tobacco, but the boats did not stop. The Partisan showed up, promising women for entertainment. No deal there, either.

To the captains' disappointment the chiefs did not linger with them. Buffalo Medicine dropped off on September 29. The next day Black Buffalo, who had been planning to visit the Arikara towns farther upstream, gave way to panic. During an afternoon of raging wind, the keelboat smacked into a log. The blow threw it into a trough in the waves. Loose objects flew to the floor of the cabin, rattling and clanging. Working quickly, the crew adjusted the sail and let the wind right the craft and carry it plunging into safer water. It did not seem safe to Black Buffalo, however. He demanded to be put ashore. Reluctantly the captains gave him a blanket and a knife, had a last smoke with him, and let him go.

Grim times. The weather was cold, wind unremitting, food short. They had no horse—there is no indication they tried to get their strayed or stolen animal back from the Sioux, and even if they had succeeded, the captains were unwilling to ask anyone to ride along the bank looking for game. Nor did hunters risk going out afoot. So they fell back on some corn the Sioux had given them during the pleasant days and on such staples as they had brought from St. Louis for emergency use.

On October 1, they reached the mouth of the Cheyenne River, which drained out of the Black Hills in the western part of today's South Dakota. Ten years earlier, as they had learned from reading the journal of Jean Baptiste Truteau and from talking to James Mackay at Camp Wood, the area around the river junction had been spotted with several fortified villages of Arikara Indians. The Corps of Discovery, however, found only ruins. [4]

Fortunately, they also found, at the Cheyenne, one of Regis Loisel's traders, Jean Vallé, and his two helpers, one a boy. During a talk of several hours' duration, Vallé gave that indefatigable geographer, William Clark, dollops of data about the sources of the Cheyenne and the Black Hills, wintering ground for innumerable antelope, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears. Of more immediate import, he fortified the bits of knowledge about the Arikaras the captains already possessed. (Modern readers have the further advantage of being able to draw on exhaustive archeological studies conducted in the area during the 1960s.) [5]

Once the Arikaras had dwelled in three dozen or so villages, each made up of about thirty circular, dome-shaped, earth-covered lodges. They perched their towns on the lips of the terraces in the river's broad trench, as near water as possible but above the reach of floods. After the spring spates had subsided, they planted corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers, producers of edible seeds, on the flood plains, harvested the mature vegetables, dried them, and stored them in deep, jug-shaped caches in the floors of their houses.

In spite of the seeming permanence of their towns, the Arikaras were, necessarily, a footloose people. Their corn soon depleted the fertility of their fields. Their houses, the defensive stockades they built around the clusters, and their household fires devoured nearby timber. Every so often the shortages forced them to move to new locations, where once again they erected building frames, covered the timbers with layers of willows, grass, and earth, and cleared away patches of the river's thick riparian growth for new fields. Most of this heavy work was done by the women, who also owned the houses and fields and therefore were not quite the abject slaves early white visitors, including Lewis and Clark, thought them to be.

The grisly smallpox epidemic of 1780–81 wiped out an estimated seventy-five percent of their population. The remnants of the bands coalesced into new groups, not without acrimony, for the original villages had been wholly autonomous and the remnants of each wanted to retain power in the new settlements. The trader Jean Baptiste Truteau counted nine towns scattered out in the vicinity of the Cheyenne in 1795. (The Corps of Discovery, toiling nervously upstream in early October 1805, noted the remains of five of those nine.) In 1797, two years after Truteau's visit, a flare-up of trouble with the Sioux sent the whole Arikara tribe migrating up the Missouri in the hope of making an alliance with the Mandans. It didn't work. According to the Mandans, the Arikaras started the trouble, just as they had in times past, and about the turn of the century the whole group dragged south again. This time they halted a little above the mouth of the Grand River, just south of the present boundary between North and South Dakota. They were not well settled when smallpox again scoured the Missouri trench. The Arikaras who survived coalesced into three villages—three out of what had been more than thirty less than a quarter of a century earlier.

Whatever else they lost, they retained their skills as traders. A main item was horses. A small but steady inflow of the animals had been reaching them for about half a century. The original source of the animals was, of course, Spanish ranches in Texas and Spanish haciendas and Indian pueblos in New Mexico. An interlocked chain of horse thieves—Comanches, Utes, then Kiowas and Cheyennes—relayed the booty along to the tribes of the plains and the Missouri. According to trader Vallé, the Cheyennes picked up as many of the mounts as they could afford—or steal—during an annual monthlong trip south from the Black hills. [6] (To an Indian warrior nothing else was quite as honorable as stealing a good horse, especially if it was under guard at the time of the theft.)

The Cheyennes passed their surplus stock on to the Arikaras, who were not good raiders. The Arikaras, in their turn, were the chief suppliers of the Teton Sioux, principally the Oglala and Bois Brulé bands. The nomads bought the mounts, totally essential by then to their new life-ways, in exchange for manufactured goods they had picked up at the great Dakota rendezvous on the James River. The Tetons also offered the Arikaras dried meat, buffalo robes, and soft, wondrously prepared antelope-skin clothing in exchange for the dried vegetables they needed as supplemental food for their growing population during winters.

Most of the Sioux-Arikara swaps took place during the Arikaras' bustling harvest fairs held at the Grand River villages late each summer—fairs attended also by Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, and occasional Crows. An ironclad truce prevailed at the rendezvous. At other times the Sioux, yielding to impulse, occasionally raided the cornfields, stole horses, and beat up little parties of Arikaras they caught away from the stockaded villages. This apparent hostility led early white visitors, Lewis and Clark among them, to call the Arikaras the slaves of the Sioux. No doubt the town dwellers did fear the nomads; such apprehensions are as old as history. But in the case of the Sioux and the Arikaras, at least, profit was a more powerful motive than terrorism in keeping the bonds between the two from splintering. [7]

By the time Lewis and Clark reached the mouth of the Cheyenne, the fair was over and groups of Sioux were drifting south to join their fellow tribesmen beside the Bad before moving onto the plains for their prewinter hunt for fat buffalo. Vallé hoped that by intercepting them he could catch late bargains. He told the officers of the Corps that he expected a large party to drop by almost any time.

The unwelcome news kept the hunters away from the shore. As a consequence, the crewmen went without the meat they craved until October 5, when four antelope swimming in the river fell to their guns. "Verry sweet good meat," Sergeant Ordway wrote happily, and that wasn't the end. Later the same day Clark bagged a deer while walking across a large island covered with ryegrass.

The men needed a boost. The mornings were frosty, the ropes stiff to handle. The opaque river had spread out nearly a mile wide, and the main channel was hard to find as it wound through a peppering of islands and sandbars. Twice the explorers crawled so far up subsidiary channels that they dragged the boats across the sand to the next opening rather than go all the way back and try again.

On October 8, they reached the lowest of the Arikaras' remaining three villages. [8] It stood near the center of an island that was three miles long and almost solidly cultivated, the different family plots separated from each other by brush fences. A stockade of earth-banked, man-tall pickets ringed sixty or so houses. The lower wall of each dwelling rose fairly straight for about five feet and then rounded off to a smoke hole in the apex. The slopes of the earth-covered roofs were gentle enough for the inhabitants to loll about on them, taking the sun, the men chipping arrowheads or working on their medicine bundles, the women weaving baskets or stringing ears of corn. Entrance was by means of a protruding tunnel. In the view of one trader whom they found living in the lodge of an Arikara war chief, Pierre Antoine Tabeau (not to be confused with Jean Baptiste Truteau), the huts were fit only for "Ricaras, dogs and bears." [9] Cheerless Tabeau: he had been well educated in Montreal for a different sort of living, and he had a jaundiced opinion of everything Arikara.

As the whites' three boats passed up the sixty-yard-wide channel that separated the town from the mainland, a crowd ran out to watch. Men in buffalo robes and high, everyday leggings made from old tepee coverings; women in girdled dresses of fringed antelope skin; children, some of them, in nothing at all. The mixture boded well. But the captains had read in the journals of earlier travelers about the tribe's truculence; moreover, they had no way of knowing, as yet, what messages the Sioux may have sent upstream about them. So the Corps stayed alert. One pirogue nosed against the bank just long enough to pick up a bearded French trader, Joseph Gravelines, of Loisel's company. Then on the flotilla rowed, past the tip of the island to a fine sandbar. There they settled in with "all things arranged," Clark wrote, "for Peace or War."

Just why Private Robert Frazer chose this particular moment to leave the soldier crew in the white pirogue and enlist in the Pacific-bound permanent detachment remains unsaid. But he did, filling the place of the discharged would-be deserter, Moses Reed. So life with the Corps of Discovery could not have been wholly intolerable in spite of its labors, discomforts, and dangers; and Frazer must have been a good man to have been accepted. [10]

Joseph Gravelines turned out to be a marvelous acquisition—"honest, discrete, and an excellent boatman," in Lewis's words. He was a mainstay of Regis Loisel's Missouri Fur Company, of which his friend and associate, Antoine Tabeau, was the field manager, so to speak, and he knew the Arikaras and their language well. After going with him to the lower village for an introductory smoke with the chiefs there, Lewis's optimism soared. Though the Arikaras were somewhat reluctant allies of the Sioux, they were clearly less hostile, at the moment at least, than the Tetons had been.

Problems, to be sure, did develop. Windblown sand delayed the council for a day. (Lewis needed calm weather for his airgun demonstration.) When the meeting finally got underway, the chiefs of the two upper villages, located on the western bank of the river and not on the island, delayed coming down out of jealousy. They feared, correctly, that the whites would recognize Kakawissassa, head man of the island village, as principal chief of all Arikaras, though he had no authority in the upper towns. And they slid around suggestions that they break off relations with the Sioux. It was a curious situation. The chiefs said they feared to visit Washington lest the Tetons catch and kill them, and the Americans had great trouble enlisting a single delegate to go down the river on Gravelines's trading boat the next spring. Yet the tribes kept right on "gardening" for their oppressors, to use Clark's term. So how far, the captains began to wonder, could the Arikaras really be depended on? Finally, quite apart from the Indian problem, there was the matter of Private John Newman. He flatly refused to obey an order and accompanied the insubordination with foul-mouthed, mutinous language. It wouldn't do to punish him in sight of the villagers, yet for the good of the expedition he had to be dealt with.

Gains offset the troubles. Gifts were exchanged with undisguised pleasure on both sides. The captains added to their store of data about languages, tribal hunting grounds, geography, and natural history, much of it gleaned from Antoine Tabeau after he joined them. Then came a promise by Kakawissassa that the Arikaras would never close the river to Americans, as the Sioux had tried to do. This was followed by a lesser chief's agreeing to go upriver to the Mandans with the explorers and try to bring an end to the guerrilla warfare the tribes had been waging for several years. Both developments helped salve the wound left by the Tetons. An Arikara-Mandan alliance, if it could be brought about, would help isolate that truculent group, lessen their power, and create a favorable climate for American commerce. [11]

The enlisted men meanwhile were cementing relations in their own way. For the first time in almost a year there were plenty of women around with whom they could satisfy pent-up sexual energies without restraint. Male relatives raised few objections, token payments sufficed, and the women, according to both Clark and Ordway, were for the most part handsome, clean, lively, and lecherous. York, fat, tall, and enormously strong, was a favorite. The Arikaras, who had never before seen a black, were not sure he was wholly human. He made the most of the notion. Through the amused interpreters he told the Indians he had been born wild and had lived off the flesh of children until Captain Clark had caught and tamed him. With a roar he would turn on the crowds of young ones who followed him around and send them flying—"more turribal than we wished him," Clark wrote. They put an end to that, but not to his unflagging sexual prowess. [12]

Having hired Gravelines as interpreter, the expedition bade the Arikaras farewell with fiddles and bugles. Later, Newman's courtmartial and punishment stilled the gaiety for a time. He was given seventy-five lashes, to the distress of the Arikara chief who was going along to make peace with the Mandans. The whipping completed, he was transferred to the French pirogue as a common laborer, as Moses Reed had been. Otherwise, the autumn journey turned, despite discomforts, into something of an idyll. [13]

True, the nights were cold. Snow fell on October 21. Winds were high, yet suitable at times for sailing. Mosquitos vanished. Though colored leaves were being whipped from the trees, the bottomlands contained thicker timber than they had seen for miles. Game was everywhere, providing not only the feasts the crew had sorely missed after leaving the Sioux but also skins they could use for making winter clothing and moccasins. [14] In addition, George Drouillard and those of the crew who had brought traps along began catching beaver, always a source of extra money.

Along the way they came across several hunting camps, Arikaras at first and Mandans later on. On October 16, they watched an extraordinary slaughter of pronghorns. Indians lying in wait at a ford across the river caught, in the water, a herd migrating to winter range in the Black Hills. The hunters killed several with arrows, clubbed others to death as they floundered in the stream, and then dragged upwards of fifty corpses ashore, a goodly haul for a people who passed much of their lives at the edges of starvation. [15] (Just the year before a flood had destroyed much of the Arikaras' crops, and many had perished before a new harvest was ready.)

Whenever opportunity allowed, whites and Indians, several women among the latter, visited back and forth. While Lewis and Clark and the Arikara emissary smoked peacefully with the Mandan elders in the camps, the young people sang, danced, and made merry all night. The women, Clark admitted in his journal, were "verry fond of carressing our men &c." There is no indication that either Lewis or he joined the frolics. And they did have quieter pleasures. While the weary crew toiled up the shoaling river with tow ropes and oars, the officers hiked easily through the countryside with Gravelines and the Arikara chief, gathering material about soil conditions—it was increasingly alkaline in spots, and the side creeks were bitterly purgative—and about flora and fauna —Lewis discovered that at least one species of bird, the whippoorwill, actually hibernates—and they listened to many Indian myths and much lore that Clark, in an unusual lapse, considered too absurd to record.

In the vicinity of present Bismarck, North Dakota, they passed several abandoned Mandan villages, for that tribe, too, had been harrassed by epidemics and Sioux, and had migrated sixty miles farther north to the area where the Knife River flows into the Missouri. As the expedition approached the new site, scores of Mandans galloped or ran out on foot to greet them. The Indians were afire with excitement. Except for visits from Jacques D'Église and, afterwards, from John Evans in the 1790s, no whites had reached them by way of the river, and those meagerly equipped predecessors had not prepared them for a fleet as large as this one. Surely the newcomers carried an enormous quantity of trade goods with them!

The Americans, too, were excited. During the past 164 days they had covered 1,610 miles. One man had died of natural causes; one, La Liberté had deserted from the French boat; two had been read out of the army for disciplinary reasons. But the Corps had spread the word Jefferson wanted spread. It had gone farther into the interior of the continent than any other Americans yet had, and in the process had gained more information than could be assimilated for a long time. Now their first goal was in sight, and they deserved—needed—a chance to pause, collect their thoughts, and prepare for the next, climactic stage of their journey. How well they succeeded here would probably determine, in large measure, how well the remainder of the great experiment would fare.


1. For the Teton meeting: I, 164–71; Biddle, 71–81; Osgood, Field Notes, 153–54; Ordway in Quaife, 138–43; Gass; Whitehouse in VII, 61–65. Antoine Tabeau points up the jealousies existing between the chiefs in Abel, Narrative, 108–13. Ronda, 31–41, places the confrontation against a background of conflicting Sioux personalities and the realities of trade competition. Because the situation was often tense and confused, discrepancies appear in the accounts. (back)
2. Ronda, 63. Meyer, 80. Kehoe, 99–103. (back)
3. From the Bad River to the Arikara villages: I, 170–84; Osgood, Field Notes, 151–56; Ordway in Quaife, 143–48. (back)
4. Truteau's journal (not to be confused with Tabeau's) is printed in Nasatir, Before Lewis and Clark , 259–311; Truteau's "Description of the Upper Missouri" is in ibid., II, 376–85. See also Thwaites I, 230. (back)
5. Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archeology, 83–84. Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archeology, 136–68. Meyer, 29 and 272–39. (back)
6. Osgood, Field Notes, 153. (back)
7. Ronda, 49–50. (back)
8. Among the Arikaras: 1, 170–84; Osgood, Field Notes, 152–56; Ordway in Quaife, 143–48; Biddle, 83–93; Abel, Narrative, 123–51; Ronda, 43–65. (back)
9. Abel, Narrative, 146. (back)
10. Frazer was one of those who kept a journal at the captains' behest. He may have decided to increase the manuscript's salability by completing the trip. On the Corps's return he issued a prospectus, but the book was not published and the manuscript has been lost. Jackson, Letters, 345–46, 400–1, and "Race to Publish." (back)
11. This thesis is developed by Ronda, 56–112, passim. (back)
12. Biddle, 92. (back)
13. From the Arikaras to the Mandans: I, 190–207; Ordway in Quaife, 152–61. (back)
14. Osgood, Field Notes, 155. DeVoto points out (Course, 451) that garments made from those hides were probably stiff and uncomfortable, for the men lacked the ingredients and time for careful tanning. (back)
15. Cutright, Pioneering Naturalists, 100–101. (back)