Lewis & Clark among the Indians 3. The Arikara Interlude

James P. Ronda© 1984University of Nebraska PressLincoln and London
"Durtey, Kind, pore, and extravigent"
William Clark, 1804

The Teton encounter had no quick ending and escaping its tangles proved no easy task. When the expedition resumed its progress up the Missouri River on September 29, Black Buffalo was on board the keelboat while the Partisan was waiting in the wings. Standing on a sandbar, the Partisan and two of his warriors demanded transportation as far as the Arikara villages. When the captains refused, Black Buffalo suggested that a carrot or two of tobacco and a ferry ride from one bank to the other might placate the Partisan. Lewis and Clark wearily complied, hoping this would be the last Teton request.

The expedition's attention was now turned to the first signs of the Arikaras. At the mouth of No Timber Creek, known today as Chantier Creek, the Americans found an abandoned Arikara settlement. Described by Truteau in the mid-1790s the village had been occupied until the end of the century. Clark wrote that nothing remained of the village "but the mound which surrounds the town." Ordway, who always had an eye for simple but revealing detail, noted remains of cornfields in rich bottomland around the empty village. [1] In subsequent days the expedition would see more abandoned towns, all mute testimony to the many years of Arikara migration along the Missouri.

On the following day, September 30, some of the last scenes in the Teton drama were played out. With Black Buffalo still on board, the explorers brought their flotilla to a sandbar opposite a Sioux encampment. As the men ate breakfast, the captains talked with several warriors. The Indians were told about the "bad treatment" the expedition had suffered at the hands of the Teton bands lower down the river and were warned not to try the same. Those brave words were carefully matched by a generous amount of tobacco, and the American party moved on without incident. In the afternoon the wind picked up and the Missouri suddenly became a choppy lake. Rocking dangerously, the keelboat seemed ready to founder. Black Buffalo, fearing for his life, pleaded to be put ashore. Perhaps relieved to be free of their Indian passenger, the captains gave the chief some gifts and "advised him to keep his men away." [2]

In early October, as the weather turned cold and windy, the expedition encountered even more traces of the Arikaras. On the first of the month, they found another abandoned townsite, a fortified island settlement of substantial size. Clark described the ruins as "only a mound circular walls 3 or 4 feet high." [3] But Lewis and Clark found more than Arikara remains around the Cheyenne River; they also found Jean Vallé, an independent trader. The Frenchman was engaged in the Sioux trade and had a small supply of goods for that purpose. Vallé gave the captains an important bit of information about Upper Missouri trade patterns when he reported that many of the Sioux were currently at the Grand River Arikara villages. [4] Lewis and Clark would soon learn much more about that Arikara- Sioux connection, and disrupting it became one of the captains' leading diplomatic objectives.

Knowing that they would soon be with the Arikaras did not allay the ever present dread of Teton ambush. October 2 proved to be a day filled with alarms and fear of the Sioux . Suspecting a surprise attack, "We prepared our selves for action which we expected every moment." Action seemed at hand early in the afternoon when a large Teton band appeared on a hill overlooking the north bank of the river. One of the warriors came down to the bank and fired his gun into the air. Certain that the attack was upon them, the expedition prepared to defend itself. Whitehouse later wrote, "we were determined to fight or dye." But that firm resolve was unnecessary as the Teton party, whose intentions were never clear, left as quickly as it had appeared. [5] Sioux warriors would not again menace the explorers until they wintered with the Mandans .

As the expedition continued up the Missouri, there were more signs of the Arikaras. On October 4, the captains saw the island village of Lahoocatt, a fortified town of some seventeen earth lodges. Lahoocatt had been occupied by an Arikara tribe that Tabeau called the Laocatas. About 1797 they had abandoned Lahoocatt and moved north to join the larger body of Arikaras at the Grand River villages. [6] At the end of the first week of October, Lewis and Clark saw even more abandoned villages around the mouth of the Moreau River. Clark noted a substantial settlement of "about 80 neet lodges covered with earth and picketed around." A brief examination of the site turned up bullboats, mats, and baskets. Three different kinds of squash were still growing in the untended village fields. [7] The following day, October 7, Clark walked up the Moreau River bank about a mile to yet another vacant Arikara town, this one consisting of some sixty lodges. Occupied as late as the previous winter, the village was strewn with mats, baskets, and bullboats. [8]

Earth lodges, fortifications, and extensive fields of corn, beans, and squash were all signs of the culture of the Missouri Valley villagers. The Arikaras, or Star-rah-he as they called themselves, were the first of the northern plains villagers encountered by the expedition. [9] Virtually all European visitors to the Arikaras noted the linguistic affinity between the Platte River Pawnees and the Arikaras. Tabeau observed, "The Loups and all the different Panis now on the River Platte, made, undoubtedly with the Ricaras but one nation which time and circumstance have, without doubt insensibly divided." Lewis and Clark agreed. The Arikaras, they wrote, "are the remains of ten large tribes of Panias." [10] The Arikaras met by the expedition were descendants of people who came out of what later anthropologists called the Central Plains Tradition. These people built nearly square lodges with rounded corners in what is now western Iowa, Kansas north of the Arkansas River drainage, and east and south-central Nebraska. Since the tradition is associated with the Caddoan language family, they were probably the predecessors of the historic Pawnees and Arikaras.

Sometime after A.D. 1400 these proto-Arikaras began moving north out of the central plains into the Big Bend region of the Upper Missouri. This migration may have been occasioned by severe droughts on the central plains. As the proto-Arikara entered the Upper Missouri, they settled in territory claimed by the Mandans . Early relations between the two peoples were generally peaceful. Indeed, housing styles of the Central Plains Tradition influenced Mandan earth lodge construction. But by the middle-1400s, as the northern Mandans began to reoccupy the Bad-Cheyenne region, conflict erupted. One sign of conflict was the rise of fortified Arikara villages. [11] Meeting stiff resistance, the Mandans gradually withdrew during the 1450–1650 period, leaving the Upper Missouri south of the North Dakota border open for Arikara occupation. After the mid-sixteenth century and until the historic era, Arikara sites in the Big Bend and Bad-Cheyenne regions were unfortified, a fact suggesting that fear of Mandan attack had considerably diminished. But that fairly peaceful interlude was shattered in the eighteenth century when the Sioux migration to the northern plains and increased tension with the Mandan and Hidatsa villagers once again caused Arikara villages to be protected with enclosing ditches and palisades. As Lewis and Clark were to learn, the Arikaras were entering a time of trouble—trouble not to be made any less by the presence of outsiders with unpredictable behavior and uncertain motives. [12]

Characteristic of the Missouri village life-style was the compact settlement with dome-shaped earth lodges, gardens, and nearby fields. Arikara, Mandan, and Hidatsa towns were all located around the mouths of major western tributaries of the Missouri River. The Bad, Cheyenne, Moreau, and Grand Rivers were the foci of Arikara occupation in the historic period. Several related ecological factors determined the location of Indian villages. The rivers provided fresh water while the valleys offered a source of firewood. In addition, the east-west position of the valleys acted as natural highways guiding western tribes such as the Sioux , Cheyennes , and Kiowas to the agricultural towns. [13]

By the time Lewis and Clark reached the Arikaras in 1804, the villages were again fortified with ditches and palisades. The first extensive description of Arikara defenses of the kind seen by the captains comes from Truteau's 1795 journal. He noted that Arikara villages were ringed by palisdes five feet high and reinforced with earth. The palisades were made of stout willow or cottonwood poles "as thick as one's leg, resting on the crosspieces and very close together." Against the palisades was an earth embankment at least two feet thick. "In this way," he wrote, "the height of the poles would prevent the scaling of the fort by the enemy, while the well-packed earth protects those within from their balls and arrows." [14]

Before the outbreak of smallpox in the 1780s, there were numerous Arikara villages, each containing upwards of thirty-five earth lodges. By the advent of Lewis and Clark, Arikara settlements clustered around the Cheyenne, Moreau, and Grand rivers had grown to accommodate refugees from war and disease. The captains noticed recently abandoned towns of sixty loges; each of three villages visited during their interlude with the Arikaras had at least that number. The lodges were scattered in no apparent pattern, a deviation from the arrangement of them in rough lanes that recent anthropologists have identified as part of the Middle Missouri Tradition. When Henry Brackenridge visited the Arikara towns in 1811, he found the lodges built so close to each other that it was easy for a newcomer to become lost quickly. There was no central plaza, as in Mandan towns, although the large medicine lodge did provide some spatial focus. [15]

Arikara earth lodges were the first of that distinctive housing described by the expedition. The circular design of the domestic earth lodge can be traced back to what is known as the Central Plains Tradition. The essential features of the historic earth lodge included a fire pit at the center of the floor, four primary posts to hold up the superstructure, a smoke hole in the roof, and a tunnel-like entrance. The average Arikara lodge was about fifteen feet high and thirty feet in diameter. Replacing dirt washed away from the frame was an important task for women after every rain. [16]

Although many European visitors to the Arikara towns attempted to describe the construction of earth lodges, few could bring the practiced eye of a carpenter to the subject as did Patrick Gass. [17] On October 10, 1804, Gass and several other members of the expedition went to the Arikara village at Ashley Island. While there, the sergeant took time to study earth lodges and their construction. Gass's description remains the best firsthand account of Arikara housing.

In a circle of a size suited to the dimensions of the intended lodge, they set up 16 forked posts five or six feet high, and lay poles from one fork to another. Against these poles they lean other poles, slanting from the ground, and extending about four inches above the cross poles: these are to recieve the ends of the upper poles, that support the roof. They next set up four large forks, fifteen feet high, and about ten feet apart, in the middle of the area; and poles or beams between these. The roof poles are then laid on extending from the lower poles across the beams which rest on the middle forks, of such a length as to leave a hole at the top for a chimney. The whole is then covered with willow branches, except the chimney and hole below to pass through. On the willow branches they lay grass and lastly clay. At the hole below they build a pen about four feet wide and projecting ten feet from the hut; and hang a buffalo skin at the entrance of the hut for a door. [18]

The earth lodge towns and their sedentary populations were possible because the villagers developed a complex strategy to wrest a living from the Upper Missouri valley. Outsiders who visited the region in the summer months did not experience the demands placed on Indians for survival in the northern plains environment. Those demands included a climate of extremes from winters of—44°F to summer of +116°F and an average yearly rainfall of no more than sixteen inches. This rigorous climate yielded a frost-free growing season of no more than one hundred days a year. [19] Temperature, rainfall, and seasonal flooding meant agricultural uncertainties for Upper Missouri farmers. Despite these problems, Arikara farming was productive enough to sustain village life and produce a substantial surplus for trade.

Arikara agriculture centered on the production of several food crops and at least one ceremonial plant. Zea mays, the wild cereal grass, was the foundation crop for all Upper Missouri farmers. Edwin Denig, an American Fur Company official at Fort Union in the mid-nineteenth century, reported the Arikara corn "seldom exceeds two and a half or three feet in height." Denig noted that each cornstalk contained only a few ears with kernels "small, hard, and covered with a thicker shell than that raised in warmer climates." [20] Although corn was the essential staple for diet and trade, other crops were cultivated by Arikara farmers. Beans were planted in the corn hills so that their vines could climb the stalks. Some of those bean seeds were collected by the captains and sent to Jefferson, who in April 1807 planted them. He reported them "very forward" in progress by April 18. On the first of May of the same year, Jefferson planted some Arikara corn at Monticello and observed later that the plants produced ears suitable for roasting about a week after those coming from more familiar maize varieties. [21] Corn and beans, the two sister crops, were joined by a third, squash. Clark recorded in his journal that the Arikaras raised three kinds of squash. [22] Like Mandan and Hidatsa farmers, Arikara women boiled some of the squash for immediate use while slicing and drying most of the crop for winter consumption. [23]

The Arikaras also grew pumpkins, watermelons, and tobacco. The tobacco attracted much of the expedition's attention. Both Lewis and Patrick Gass quickly recognized that the Indian tobacco (Nicotiana quadrivalis) was something quite different from the Chesapeake varieties. Lewis, always interested in precise botanical descriptions, observed that Arikara tobacco grew about three feet high, was planted in hills, and was harvested in late summer. The captain found smoking this tobacco "very pleasant." Gass agreed about the pipe qualities of the blend but added that it was less suited for chewing. [24]

The land used by Arikara farmers was held by family groups as corporate property. Lewis and Clark reported, "They claim no land except that on which their villages stand and the fields which they cultivate." The fields were generally plots of about one or one-and-a-half acres. Each family's land was carefully marked with brush and pole fences. Apparently, there were two kinds of Arikara farm lands seen by the expedition and by later visitors. Very close to the villages were fenced garden plots. As trade demands for increased production mounted, fields up to a mile away from the village center were cleared. Planting began in April or May, depending on weather and ground conditions, and harvest of the major corn crop was in early August. [25]

As in many other American Indian tribes, Arikara women did the farming. Europeans, accustomed to seeing men in the fields, consistently misunderstood the native division of labor and labeled Indian women "squaw drudges." Clark was not immune to that cultural blindness and insisted that Arikara women "do the drugery as Common amongst Savages." Tabeau went further and charged that village women were virtual slaves to tyrannical husbands. [26] What Clark, Tabeau, and other Europeans did not understand was the seasonal nature of woman's work, their companionship in the shared labor, the elevated ritual status of Arikara women because of their role as earth mothers, and the substantial demands made on men in trade, war, and hunting. Arikara women farmed, using two simple but effective tools. Hoes or digging sticks were made from the shoulder blades of buffalo or deer. These scapular hoes were used to break ground and keep weeds from overgrowing the plots. A second implement was a rake fashioned by binding reeds to a long handle. Despite the uncertainties of climate and flooding, Arikara agriculture was very productive. As late as 1853, Arikara farmers grew five thousand bushels of corn for sale outside the villages. [27]

Agriculture was the foundation of the Arikara economy, but hunting buffalo and other game animals was also important. When the corn crop failed, as it did in the summer of 1803 because of severe flooding, many Arikaras left the Moreau and Grand River villages to hunt on the plains. Hunting was far more than an expedient in hard times. The extended winter buffalo hunt was a necessary part of the Arikaras' food supply. In October or November, hunting parties would leave the river villages in search of the herds. The mounted hunters carried skin tepees with them as they traveled far from the villages. Because of the close relationship between the Arikaras and the Sioux , village hunters sometimes spent the winter alongside the Sioux . The Arikara buffalo hunt was, at least until the mid-nineteenth century, strictly regulated by warriors especially selected for the occasion. Those warriors would arrange the placement of hunters and give signals for the rush to kill the animals. Their buffalo hunting was sometimes limited by interference from the Sioux . Anxious to remain the prime suppliers of hides and meat to the Arikaras, Teton bands blockaded the villages and kept hunters away from the herds. This happened in October 1803 and was further evidence of Tabeau's observation that the buffalo was "a very uncertain resource" for the Arikaras. [28]

As Lewis and Clark neared the Grand River villages, they slowly learned about two aspects of Arikara life that would shape their relations with the Indians. Arikara politics might be best characterized as chaotic factionalism—a maze of interlocking lineage, village, and band loyalties complicated by the consequences of devastating epidemics. Just as Lewis and Clark had to thread their way through Brulé Teton politics, so would they have to cope with men like Kakawissassa, Kakawita, Pocasse, and Piahito. But with the Sioux encounter still fresh in their minds, it was a second dimension of Arikara life that commanded more of the captains' attention. During the troubled days at the Bad River, Lewis and Clark had heard about the complex web of trade that bound Upper Missouri villagers and many western nomads together in an intricate system of cooperation, exchange, and intimidation. The importance of that system would be brought home to the explorers with considerable force during their interlude with the Arikaras.

Arikara farmers were part of the Missouri Trade System. Their towns were the locale's focal points for the system while the Mandan and Hidatsa villages on the Knife River served as the upper exchange centers. The villagers were engaged in supplying the agricultural needs of the nomads. Lewis and Clark aptly described the Arikara farmers as the "gardners for the Soues." [29] They grew corn, raised horses, and processed hides in return for a wide variety of merchandise and foodstuffs brought by their western and southwestern customers. Clark listed among those customers the Arapahos, Comanches, Kiowas, Osages, and Tawehashs. But the most important customers of the Arikaras were the Cheyennes and the Sioux . [30] The Arikaras' dealings with these two tribes were quite different, and those differences played a central role in expedition-Indian relations.

The often-troubled relationship between the Arikara villages and Teton Sioux bands was an uneasy symbiosis. From a Teton perspective, some sort of control had to be maintained over the Arikaras. As Teton population expanded west of the Missouri, reliable sources of food had to be found. Both Black Buffalo and the Partisan made plain to the captains the long-term Sioux interest in controlling the flow of manufactured goods upriver to the village farmers. The overriding Sioux need was for the Arikaras' food products and horses. Just how strong that need was can be seen in a preexpedition incident involving Black Buffalo and his family. Sometime around 1800, one of Black Buffalo's brothers paid a visit to the Arikara town at Ashley Island. Kakawita, Tabeau's host, evidently had a grudge against the Brulé man. When he killed Black Buffalo's brother, the Brulé chief took revenge on five or six Arikaras and a larger conflict seemed imminent. But as the August trading time approached and Arikara corn ripened, all thoughts of warfare disappeared. [31] For the Sioux , corn was more important than blood. That August, as in every other late summer and early fall, Sioux bands flocked to the Arikara towns, bringing meat, fat, and hides from the plains and European-manufactured goods from the Dakota Rendezvous.

Lewis and Clark, like other non-Indian observers, consistently misunderstood the Arikara- Sioux connection. Already disposed to cast the Tetons as "that lawless, savage, and rapacious race," the captains viewed the relationship as one of colonial exploitation. Clark believed that this economic link meant Sioux political domination of the Arikaras. As he explained, the Tetons maintained "great influence over the Rickeres, poison[ed] their minds and [kept] them in perpetial dread." To the captains, Arikara villagers seemed helpless victims of Sioux aggression. In both their written records and in their diplomacy, Lewis and Clark argued that a disruption of the Arikara- Sioux alliance would free the village farmers from tyranny and might force Teton bands to accept American trade terms. The explorers, who had only limited experience with the Arikaras, were not alone in believing that the villagers were an oppressed people. The trader Tabeau insisted that the Arikaras functioned as "a certain kind of serf" for the Sioux . He declared that the Arikaras were so fully dominated by the Sioux that they were even compelled to buy their bows and arrows from the Tetons. [32]

But this harsh view of Arikara- Sioux relations was not shared by the Arikaras themselves. They saw many advantages in the connection not quickly evident to outsiders. The economic advantages included a source of manufactured goods, especially guns, and a reliable market for corn and horses. Tabeau and the captains tended to overstate the violence and intimidation present in Arikara- Sioux dealings. There was, in fact, far more cooperation in times of war and friendship in times of peace. Much of the tension Lewis and Clark were to encounter between the Arikaras and Mandans was based on raids carried out by joint Arikara- Sioux war parties against the Knife River Mandan and Hidatsa villages. Among the objects sent back from Fort Mandan was a buffalo robe painting of one such raid in 1797. [33] The Arikaras knew well the military power of the Tetons, but they also knew how important their corn was to Sioux survival. Truteau was close to the mark when he wrote in 1795 that "the Ricaras and this Sioux nation live together peacefully. The former recieve them in order to obtain guns, clothes, hats, kettles, clothes, etc., which are given them in exchange for their horses. They humor them through fear and to inevitably overpower them." [34]

The captains themselves ran into the determination of the Arikaras to continue their Sioux connection. When the expedition stopped at the Grand River villages on the return journey, the explorer-diplomats tried in vain to convince the Arikara chiefs to sever Sioux ties. Several chiefs, who grasped the Upper Missouri balance of trade and power better than the neophyte Americans, replied that they "must trade with the Sieoux one more time to get guns and powder; that they had no guns or powder and more horses than they had use for, [and] after they got guns and powder . . . they would never again have any thing to do with them." [35] The captains had been put off in the best traditions of international diplomacy; once again their desire to rearrange traditional patterns of Indian behavior was thwarted.

If the captains and the Arikaras had very different perceptions of the Sioux , both parties agreed that the Cheyennes were far more acceptable and less troublesome customers. The Cheyennes , who had abandoned farming in the eastern prairie valleys to become a plains people, depended heavily on the Arikaras for foodstuffs and tobacco. Each summer many Cheyennes journeyed to the Arikara villages to trade and renew old friendships. Some advance groups came in mid-June while larger parties arrived in mid-July. Some remained with the Arikaras well into the fall months, as Lewis and Clark discovered. Cheyenne traders brought to the Arikaras a wide variety of perishable meat products as well as exquisite skin clothing made by their women. The Arikaras especially valued "shirts of antelope skin, ornamented and worked with different colored quills of the porcupine." In addition to meat and fancy clothing, the Cheyennes also brought flour made from pounded prairie apples. Much of what they offered might be classed as luxury goods, but there was one Cheyenne commodity that Arikara middlemen were very anxious to possess. Cheyenne horses were essential to fill out herds in preparation for trading with the Sioux . The Arikaras wanted Cheyenne horses so badly that they were willing to trade precious guns, powder, and shot for them. During the Lewis and Clark period, the Arikaras were prepared to trade one gun, one hundred rounds of ammunition, and a knife for one horse. The result of this trade, however, was that Sioux - Cheyenne relations were often tense because the Teton bands resented seeing Arikara corn in Cheyenne mouths and English trade guns in Cheyenne hands." [36]

Lewis and Clark, arriving at the Arikara villages in October, did not see the festive trading days of August and September. Some fifteen to sixteen hundred people had thronged the trade fair, described by Tabeau as "this great gathering of different nations." Although there was always the threat of violence, especially between the competitive Sioux and Cheyennes , the trading days were better occasions to make bargains and visit old friends. "Times are lively," noted Edwin Denig, "feasting and dancing goes on constantly, both in the village and camp—horse racing, gambling in many ways. Bucks and belles dressed in their best and tricked out in all the gaudy colors of cloth, paints, and porcupine quills may be seen mingled in the dance or exchanging their professions of love in more solitary places. The old men smoke and eat without intermission. The middle aged exchange horses and other property. The soldiers gamble. And the young warriors spend both day and night in attempts at seduction of the young women in both camps. Strange scenes are witnessed here, much that would be interesting, much more that would be indescribable." [37] Although the captains had not experienced those scenes, they surely had to face the consequences of those trading days. The alliances and friendships forged during the trade fairs would shape the responses of the Indians to Lewis and Clark's diplomacy in the days to come.

Lewis and Clark saw little of the Arikaras' ritual life during their brief October stay. Had they come earlier, they might have witnessed the impressive blessing-of-the-corn ceremony done to ensure an abundant harvest. Tabeau, who saw the three-day celebration, wrote that "everything breathes gaiety at this festival." An elaborate altar was set up in the lodge of the principal village chief. That altar was festooned with large gourds, arrows decorated to look like corn stalks, green branches, and dried meat. Empty baskets and scapular hoes were placed before the altar to symbolize the hope for a bountiful harvest. Crowns of plaited straw were to ward off insects and green branches were offerings to the moon and stars to gain good weather. To honor their role in agriculture, women arrayed in their best clothing sat near the center posts of the lodge. Having missed this ritual, Lewis and Clark could not comment on it, nor on the many beliefs and rites surrounding the buffalo. Although the captains and their men spent considerable time visiting the Arikaras, no journalist in the expedition took note of the private altars and painted buffalo skulls present in every earth lodge. Nor did the explorers set down Arikara ideas about the many spirits in their universe and the central force, "the Master of Life." [38]

Because the expedition's members usually seemed aware of Indian architecture and village design, it is even more surprising that no journal contains any reference to the Arikara medicine lodge. This ritual lodge was often the largest earth structure in the village. Located near the center of the village, it shared some construction features with domestic lodges: four primary interior posts, a central fire pit, and a walled entrance passage. The lodge measured some fifty or sixty feet in diameter and, unlike the circular domestic lodges, was octagonal in shape. Inside the medicine lodge and opposite the entrance was a low platform or altar for ritual offerings. [39]

If Lewis and Clark were oblivious to the ritual ties that bound Arikara life together, they were very aware of the powerful force that threatened to unravel it. Beginning in the 1780s, smallpox epidemics swept through the Missouri trench, wreaking terrible havoc on all Indians. In the period before the epidemics, the Arikaras numbered perhaps twenty thousand to thirty thousand persons. [40] They belonged to many bands and lived in dozens of villages along the Missouri. The general western pandemic of 1780–81 killed perhaps seventy-five percent of the Arikara population, causing the abandonment of many villages and the amalgamation of numerous political groups. When Truteau visited the Arikaras in 1795, he was told that there had already been three epidemics, reducing thirty-two villages to a mere handful. [41] That wave of disease was followed in 1801–1802 by another one. Tabeau, writing about the 1803–1804 period, reported that "of the eighteen fairly large villages, situated upon the Missouri at some distance from each other, the Ricaras are reduced to three very mediocre ones." Although Tabeau recognized the role of war in this dramatic population decline, he was emphatic in arguing that smallpox "unexpectedly made this terrible ravage among them." Lewis and Clark were only recording the obvious when they blandly noted that the Arikara were "much reduced" from previous numbers. [42]

For the history of expedition-Indian relations, the impact of the epidemics was most clearly seen in Arikara politics. Although there is little evidence that the Arikaras developed political integration beyond the village level before the 1780–81 pandemic, the waves of disease so shattered the ranks of chiefs, elders, bundle holders, and important women as to make future intervillage leadership highly unlikely. As their numbers dropped and survivors from many different villages and lineages clustered into what amounted to refugee towns, intense factionalism flared between dozens of once powerful chiefs and warriors. Just as Lewis and Clark have to confront Teton Sioux internal politics, now they would have to deal with the domestic rivalries present in the three Grand River settlements.

Truteau was the first non-Indian to analyze Arikara factional politics. The French trader recognized that the villages he knew around the Cheyenne River in 1795 were filled with the survivors of earlier epidemics. The chiefs were constantly engaged in "differences of opinion and wrangles for authority." Truteau bealived that this factionalism, or "jealousy" as he termed it, was "the sole cause of their discord and their divisions." He reported that these factional controversies were sufficiently intense to cause some Arikaras to move north to the Mandan region while others drifted south to live with the Pawnees. [43]

Tabeau, who spent much more time with the Arikaras than either Truteau or the captains, added much valuable detail to Truteau's concept of factionalism bred by disease. Tabeau had firsthand experience with the rivalries between Indian leaders. When he arrived among the Arikaras, he became the object of much bickering between the Ashley Island village's civil chief Kakawissassa and a war chief named Kakawita. Both men wanted the honor and prestige of having Tabeau as a house guest. But the argument went well beyond hospitality. Whoever played host to the trader would reap considerable influence in village life. For Kakawita, leader of a small village recently come to Ashley Island, snaring Tabeau meant economic advantage and increased power. The Frenchman had another lesson in Arikara factionalism when in August 1803 he attempted to convene a grand council to discuss trade arrangements. Knowing how many Arikara males were designated as chiefs, the trader carefully invited forty-two of the leading men. To his surprise, he was berated for neglecting so many others. As Tabeau aptly put it, the Arikara towns were filled with "captains without companies." [44] Dialect differences, old rivalries, important families weakened by disease, and leaders without followers all made Arikara politics treacherous ground for any outsider.

At the time Lewis and Clark visited them, the Arikaras were living in three large villages on the Missouri near the mouth of the Grand River. These villages were founded sometime in the late 1790s after the Arikaras abandoned their North Dakota settlements. [45] The first Arikara village encountered by the expedition was Sawa-haini, which consisted of about sixty earth lodges on Ashley Island in the Missouri River. The island was fully cultivated, with corn and tobacco especially evident. Both Tabeau and the captains reported that Kakawissassa, or the Crow at Rest, was the leading civil chief in Sawa-haini. However, during the Lewis and Clark period his authority was challenged by Kakawita, or Man Crow, war chief of the small village of Narhkarica recently come to Sawa-haini. When the captains returned in 1806, Kakawissassa told them he had given his chief's medal to yet another Sawa-haini chief, a man named Grey Eyes. People living on the island, along with those at the second village, were known to the captains as Arikaras-proper in order to distinguish them from the ethnically diverse Arikaras of the third town. That second village was upriver a short distance from Sawa-haini. Part of what archaeologists call the Leavenworth Site (39C09), Rhtarahe was the lower of the two villages to share this location. Rhtarahe had about sixty to seventy lodges. Pocasse or Hay was the leading civil chief. Cottonwood Creek separated the earth lodges of Rhtarahe from those of Waho-erha. European visitors to the Arikaras recognized that Waho-erha was different from the other villages in both language and ethnic mix. Answering a query from Nicholas Biddle in 1810, Clark reported that Waho-erha was composed of nine different tribes who had not been involved in recent (1790s) troubles with the Mandans as had the Arikaras-proper. Clark noted, "A difference in pronounciation and some difference of language may be discovered between them and the Arikara proper." [46] Tabeau, who had more experience with the Arikaras, agreed with Clark's observation. The French trader characterized the differing Arikara accents and inflections as "the tower of Babel." The leading civil chief in Waho-erha was Piahito, or Hawk's Feather. Unlike the Hidatsas, who developed an intervillage council in the 1780s, factionalism and old suspicions kept the Arikara bands divided. Each village would face the American visitors alone. [47]

On October 8, 1804, as the Corps of Discovery passed the mouth of the Grand River, two of the explorers cam upon the Ashley Island village of Sawa-haini. Clark described the three-mile-long island as "covered with fields, where those people raise their corn, tobacco, beans etc." As the flotilla passed the island, many Arikaras lined the banks to gawk at the strangers. The men were dressed in buffalo robes, leggings, and moccasins while the women wore fringed antelope dresses. Clark noted that most of the warriors were well armed with northwest trade guns. [48] On a sandbar opposite the village were more Arikara sightseers and a French trader. While Clark led most of the party to a campsite beyond the island, Lewis and several crewmen in a pirogue went to talk with the trader. The captains had been told in St. Louis that they might meet one "Mr. Tebeaux," who could give the explorers "much information in relation to that country." [49] The Frenchman on shore was Tabeau's fellow trader, Joseph Gravelines. Clark described him as "a man well versed in the language of this nation [who] gave us some information relitive to the Country, nation etc." [50] Both Gravelines and Tabeau spoke the Arikara and Sioux languages, skills much in demand for the Arikara talks. Later in the evening Lewis, Gravelines, and some of the party went to Sawa-haini carrying tobacco for a get-acquainted smoke. Heartened by that event and reassured by Gravelines and Tabeau that the Arikaras were "all friendly and glad to see us," the captains prepared for serious diplomacy the next day. [51]

At camp during that first evening among the Arikaras, Lewis and Clark may well have discussed American diplomatic goals as applied to the Grand River villagers. The captains surely did not accept Truteau's claim that the Arikaras were "the key to the passages which we must traverse to reach all the nations higher up the Missouri." [52] That distinction was reserved for the Teton Sioux . Nonetheless, the explorer-diplomats did not underestimate the importance of the Arikaras both as military allies of the Sioux and as potential American trading partners. They knew from their St. Louis contacts that the Arikaras had harrassed traders and often blocked their access upriver to the Mandans . Clark was honestly concerned about the reception the expedition would receive when he wrote that the Americans were prepared for war or peace with the villagers. Jefferson had not given the explorers the kind of precise instructions for the Arikara negotiations as he had for dealings with the Teton Sioux . However, the general observations in the president's instructions to Lewis and the recent experiences with the Tetons served to clarify what the expedition hoped to achieve while at the Arikara villages. On one level these objectives were the same as pursued since the beginning of the voyage. The captains were to assert United States sovereignty over Louisiana Purchase lands. Military parades and airgun displays were put on to make Indians stand in awe of American power. As they had done with other tribes, Lewis and Clark planned to distribute medals and uniforms to chiefs ready to support American authority. Old rivalries were to be forgotten and peace was to obtain among all the tribes. Such a peace was a prerequisite for another cornerstone of American policy: the promotion of trade with American merchants. Although the captains knew from St. Louis informants and from conversations with Tabeau and Gravelines that the Arikaras could not supply beaver pelts, the market for goods to replace those of English manufacture was great. [53]

Sovereignty, client chiefs, and trade were all important subjects for discussion with the Arikara chiefs. But if the events of the interlude with the Arikaras proved any test, Lewis and Clark had other things on their minds as well. Those other concerns focused on the complex relations between the Teton Sioux , the Arikaras, and the Mandans and Hidatsas. The explorers only gradually sensed how intricate those relations were. As they began talks with the Arikaras, the captains perceived the Tetons as ferocious enemies to undercut, the Arikaras as unwilling dupes of the rapacius Sioux , and the Mandans and Hidatsas as a force of unknown dimensions. With a naive optimism typical of so much Euro-American frontier diplomacy, Lewis and Clark believed they could easily reshape Upper Missouri realities to fit their expectations. The Arikaras were to be weaned away from dependence on the Tetons. An American-inspired alliance of all Upper Missouri villagers might further weaken the Sioux . On the night before the negotiations began, those goals seemed within reach. Lewis and Clark knew from Tabeau and Gravelines that Arikara moves had been underway in the past six months to lessen tensions with the Knife River peoples. But the captains also knew that the Laocata band of Arikaras had done all it could to sabotage an Arikara-Mandan peace. The Laocata action was a reminder that the violent events of the 1790s were not forgotten. Weakening the Arikara- Sioux connection and promoting peace among all the Upper Missouri villagers seemed a rational and beneficial policy to both the captains and their trader allies. [54] To the surprise of the explorer-diplomats, virtually all Indian parties proved resistant to change and suspicious of American motives.

During the Teton face-off it had been evident that Brulé politicians like Black Buffalo and the Partisan had a clear concept of Teton interests and the personal stature to make decisions promoting those interests. In the Arikara political world of "captains without companies," it proved more difficult to articulate a policy toward non-Indian outsiders. Civil chiefs, leading warriors, elders, and important families found their authority fragmented and open to challenge in the troubled times after the epidemics. Having the remnants of several bands living in one village made for political tensions unknown in Arikara life before disease forced such amalgamation. This state of affairs would remain unchanged for years. When the Astorians were among the Arikaras in 1811, some village chiefs attempted to block the progress of that expedition unless substantial gifts were offered. This decision was openly opposed by several elders who urged the Arikaras to "behave well towards white people," arguing that "the advantages they derived by intercourse with them" far outweighed any danger. [55] In the fall of 1804, village chiefs like Kakawissassa and Piahito had considerable influence, but their power to determine and enforce policies was limited by cultural attitudes toward leadership as well as by the presence of refugee bands who did not accept decisions made by others. Chiefs, leading families, and ordinary Arikaras saw little reason to exchange valuable and reliable dealings with the Teton Sioux for the uncertainties of St. Louis trade and Mandan friendship. Village chiefs would be polite to the white strangers and might even make some promises, but the real Arikara interest was to have the Americans move on with the least disruption to the old ways of war and trade.

Lewis and Clark hoped to begin talks with the Arikaras on October 9. Invitations had been sent by way of Gravelines and Tabeau to Kakawissassa, Pocasse, and Piahito. A flag pole had been raised at the expedition's camp and some preparations were underway to begin the now-familiar display of military pomp and hardware. Sometime before noon the three chiefs appeared and the obligatory smoking began. The visual impact of Lewis and Clark's diplomacy required good weather for marching, shooting, and distributing gifts. When it became plain that this Tuesday would be windy, rainy, and cold, all agreed to postpone discussions until the following day. The Arikaras and Americans spent the rest of the day visiting each other. During those visits, York proved to be the greatest attraction, as he would be on subsequent days. Clark wrote that the villagers were "much astonished at my black Servent, who did not lose the opportunity of displaying his powers, strength etc." [56]

Clear weather the next day seemed promising for a council session. After breakfast with Tabeau and Gravelines, the captains made all the necessary preparations for the Arikaras' arrival. After the flag was raised and many of the men donned dress uniforms, the camp was ready to greet its Indian visitors. By midmorning Kakawissassa and several leading men from Sawa-haini had arrived. But to the captains' dismay, delegations from the two other villages were conspicuously absent. That absence was a clear indication of the tension between the Arikara towns. Pocasse, Piahito, and their respective village councils were fearful that Lewis and Clark might make Kakawissassa the "grand chief." Such an action would upset the Arikara balance of power and possibly had no precedent in Arikara history. The captains, having learned something about internal Indian politics while among the Tetons, recognized the source of the Arikaras' concern. Clark observed, "We have every reason to believe that a gellousy exists between the Villages for fear of our making the first chief from the lower village." But recognizing the problem did not mean that Lewis and Clark were willing to alter their decision to make Kakawissassa the first or grand chief. At noon, increasingly concerned over the delay and worried that the talks might crumble, the captains asked Gravelines to go over to the villages and again invite Pocasse and Piahito to the council. [57]

Early in the afternoon the two reluctant chiefs and several principal men arrived at the expedition's camp. After smoking the required pipe, Lewis stood and "read a speech to them giving them good counsel." This prepared talk, interpreted to the Arikaras by Gravelines, was probably the same one delivered to other tribes from the beginning of the voyage. As the captains told the Otos, "the great chief of the Seventeen great nations of America, impelled by his parental regard for his newly adopted children on the troubled waters, has sent us out to clear the road, remove every obstruction, and make it the road of peace between himself and his red children residing there." [58] The speech stressed the now-familiar themes of federal Indian policy in the early Trans-Mississippi West. The acceptance of United States sovereignty, peace between the tribes, and trade with American merchants would be rewarded by the protection and favor of the great chief of the seventeen fires.

As Lewis was slowly reading his speech, Clark's attention was seized by something in the audience that put a new urgency to the negotiations: the presence of two Teton Sioux , one of whom Clark recognized from the troubled days at the Bad River. Clark was certain that the Sioux were there to thwart the progress of the expedition and retain some measure of control over Arikara affairs. If the Teton ambassadors succeeded in playing on the Arikaras' fears, especially those of Pocasse and Piahito, Lewis and Clark might have to face a second Upper Missouri Indian confrontation. [59]

With Lewis's talk finished, the display of military firepower and the all-important distribution of gifts began. As if to put an exclamation point to Lewis's presentation, three shots were fired from the bow swivel gun on the keelboat. The captains may have hoped the two Sioux would be reminded of how close those guns had come to firing on their warriors just a few days before. When the smoke cleared, out came gift bale number fifteen, marked and prepared for the Arikaras' use months before in St. Louis. The bale contained a bewildering array of goods, all representing what the Arikaras might obtain by trading directly with St. Louis merchants. There was a pound of vermilion paint for the warriors, three pewter looking glasses for young girls, and over four hundred needles for Arikara women. Lewis and Clark laid out their country store of merchandise, ranging from cloth, beads, combs, razors, and rolls of wire to nine pairs of scissors, knives, tomahawks, and even six Jew's harps. For the chiefs there were military coats, cocked hats, medals, and American flags. Notably absent from the gifts was any alcohol. The Arikaras made it plain to all European visitors that the drink was unwelcome. As they explained to Clark, those whites who gave Indians alcohol were not friends but were simply interested in seeing natives act the fool. [60]

Knowing that there was "gellousy" among the three Arikara villages over whose chief was to be afforded highest honors, the captains might have exercised some caution in handing out uniforms and medals and in naming chiefs to certain ranks. But Euro-American practice had always been to designate one Indian as the principal chief, whether that particular group sanctioned such a position or not. Lewis and Clark were not about to break with tradition, even if it caused more tension within Arikara politics and made Sioux efforts at sowing discord easier. Kakawissassa of Saw-haini was named "grand chief" with the appropriate medal, while Pocasse and Piahito were offered medals of lesser grades. At the same time, perhaps to soothe bruised pride, other goods were given to each chief in equal measure. To signal the end of the conference, the airgun was brought out and fired. Ordway observed that the chiefs "appeared to be astonished at the sight of it and the execution it would do." As was their custom, the Arikara chiefs told Lewis and Clark that an answer, or rather three answers, to the American speech would come the next day. This was neither an attempt to deceive the explorers nor a ploy to draw out the negotiations. Rather, it was an acceptance of the fact that all decisions were the result of a consensus reached by elders in a village council. Since there was no Arikara tribal council, each village would present a separate reply. The presence of Teton representatives and the naming of Kakawissassa as leading chief only complicated the Arikaras' task of responding to the American views. [61]

With the talks over, Ordway and one other expedition member went to visit Rhtarahe while Gass took a party to sample food and hospitality at Sawa-haini. That afternoon of sightseeing and friendly talk produced some valuable information about Arikara life as well as scenes of comic proportion. Ordway's congenial stay in Rhtarahe gave the sergeant and his companion a chance to sample the Arikara diet. Welcomed into Pocasse's lodge, the Americans sat on woven mats and were served by the chief's wife. They were brought a bowl of beans and corn, the staple of Arikara fare. Following that dish, three different but unnamed Indian foods were offered to the Americans. "We ate some of each," wrote Ordway, "and found very good." If he was fascinated with Indian menus, the Arikaras were equally intrigued by the looks and manners of the explorers. Ordway wrote later that those Indians "were very friendly to us and seemed to be desirous to talk with us and scarcely kept their eyes off us." [62] Usually a keen observer of the common things in native life, Ordway strangely neglected to record anything about the interior furnishings of the earth lodge. In fact, no journalist in the expedition took note of lodge interiors.

While Ordway was tasting Arikara cooking, Gass's party made its way to Ashley Island. If Ordway failed to examine lodge furnishings, Gass did not neglect details of exterior construction. His careful description, quoted earlier, is the best surviving account of Arikara housing. He offered an earth lodge portrait that squares with archaeological studies done at the two upper villages. [63] But it was York who proved the center of attraction that afternoon. The Arikaras were both attracted to and terrified by his blackness. Having never seen a black man, they were quite unsure if York was a man, a beast, or a strange and powerful spirit being. Clark later explained that Arikaras who had seen whites but not blacks thought York "something strange & from his very large size more vicious than whites." On the other hand, those Arikaras who had seen neither whites nor blacks were convinced that all members of the expedition, regardless of color, were possessed with extraordinary powers. York thoroughly enjoyed his newfound celebrity status and had already "made himself more turribal" than the captains wished. [64] That afternoon York and hordes of Arikara children had chased each other, the black man bellowing at them that he was a wild bear caught and tamed by Captain Clark. What may have worried the captains in this playful sport was York's boast that he ate human flesh. The Arikaras practiced ritual cannibalism of their fallen enemies, but that was a far cry from consuming village youth. [65] With Arikara chiefs embroiled in factional disputes and Teton agents ready to use those tensions against the expedition, Lewis and Clark did not need rumors drifting through the earth lodges that the Americans kept a great he-bear ready to eat Indian children.

Some of the captains' fears about Arikara reactions evaporated the next morning. Toward noon, Kakawissassa arrived at the expedition's camp. In accordance with the notion of reciprocity in gift giving, the Arikara leader brought baskets of corn, beans, and dried squash. While those provisions were surely appreciated, Kakawissassa's reply to Lewis's speech was even more welcome.

The chief's speech contained three important elements. First, there was the immediate question of Sioux influence on the Arikaras' behavior toward the expedition. The two Teton emissaries had certainly argued for some direct action against the explorers. Although the Arikaras were not known as great warriors, in the years after Lewis and Clark they would be very effective in blocking American access up the Missouri. But Kakawissassa made it plain at the beginning that the Arikaras' weapons would not be turned against the explorers. "Can you think," declared the chief, "any one dare put their hands on your rope of your boat. No! not one dare." Proclaiming the road open, Kakawissassa turned to his second point. In reply to the call for intertribal peace, the chief asked the captains to "speak good words" to the Mandans on behalf of the Arikaras. Seeing two of their diplomatic goals seemingly accepted without opposition or argument, Lewis and Clark must have been pleased when the Arikara chief expressed an interest in becoming part of the St. Louis trade system. Although Kakawissassa lamented the fact that beaver pelts were not available for Arikara women to process, he promised a good supply of buffalo robes. More important, he promised to aid American traders in entering Cheyenne and Arapaho markets. [66]

Taken at face value, what Kakawissassa told Lewis and Clark promised a real victory for American policy and the expedition's negotiating skill. After the Teton troubles, the captains needed such a victory. But Kakawissassa's speech was actually much more and much less than it appeared to be. That the captains accepted it literally only suggests how innocent they were of Indian realities. On the issue of Sioux -inspired attempts to forcibly detain the expedition, Kakawissassa was forth-right in saying that Teton advice had been rejected. Lewis and Clark took this to signal a weakening of the Arikara- Sioux alliance. But postexpedition events did not bear out the captains' optimistic evaluation. The Arikaras were not about to abandon their Sioux trade connection for an uncertain link with St. Louis. American merchants, interested in beaver, could not take the place of Sioux middlemen as both suppliers of manufactured goods and customers for Arikara corn and horses. Arikara life was based on the production of agricultural surpluses that would have little place in an American fur trade. That the Arikaras did not envision severing the Sioux alliance was to be made painfully clear in 1807, when both Manuel Lisa and Nathaniel Pryor encountered hostility from Arikara- Sioux forces.

The Mandan peace overture, an integral part of Lewis and Clark Indian diplomacy, also was not quite what the Arikara speaker made it out to be. Despite their best efforts during the talks with the Arikaras and later during the winter at Fort Mandan, the captains found the old Arikara-Mandan tensions not easily overcome. The peace policy, actually part of a larger anti- Sioux thrust, was doomed to failure by both Teton military power and persistent villager rivalries. In 1810, an Arikara-Mandan alliance would field several war parties against the Sioux , but those joint ventures would be short-lived. More important, the Teton bands engaged in massive economic retaliation against Arikara towns, ensuring the demise of any villager alliance. [67] It may be that the willingness of the Arikaras to allow Lewis and Clark to pass unimpeded was an abberation. In the years after the expedition, as Manuel Lisa brought the Sioux into the American trading orbit, the Arikaras assumed the Tetons' old hostile role. Fearing that Mandan power was increasing by the St. Louis connection while their fortunes declined, the Arikaras successfully blockaded the Missouri. Certainly American agents and merchants like the Chouteaus and William H. Ashley found the Arikaras to be implacable foes. Only gradually did American diplomats learn that flowery speeches and a few gifts could not easily transform Indian loyalties.

But the nuances of Kakawissassa's speech eluded Lewis and Clark, and early in the afternoon, believing they had achieved their goals, the captains ordered the expedition a short distance upriver to a camp closer to the twin villages of Rhtarahe and Waho-erha. With Kakawissassa and one of his nephews on board the keelboat, the explorers made their way toward the upper villages. Pocasse joined the boat party and late in the afternoon the whole group landed at a sandbar just below Rhtarahe. They were greeted by knots of curious villagers anxious to catch a glimpse of the strangers. The whole scene was made more colorful by several American flags snapping in the river breeze. The captains paused for a moment to take a sextant reading, something the Arikaras were certain was just one more piece of the explorers' spiritual magic, and then walked up to Rhtarahe with Pocasse. The chief made Lewis and Clark a gift of corn and beans while others in the party ate Arikara porridge and bread. After staying some time at Rhtarahe "talking on various subjects," the Americans paid a brief visit to Waho-erha and its chief, Piahito. There, too, the explorers enjoyed Indian food and hospitality. Promises were exchanged about talks the next day, and Clark judged the situation that evening as "all tranquillity." [68]

October 12 was the last full day the expedition spent among the Arikaras; nothing happened to shake the captains' confidence that they had convinced village chiefs to accept American policies. Yet, had the explorers listened more carefully to speeches made by Pocasse and Piahito, they might have been less certain of their victory. Lewis, Clark, and Gass, in the company of interpreters, spent the morning listening to the chiefs' speeches while Ordway's boat parties did some small-scale trading. [69]

Those final talks began with the captains reminding the Arikaras of "the magnitude and power of our country." Clark confidently recorded that those words "pleased and astonished them verry much." [70] The speech delivered by Pocasse contained much that the explorers wanted to hear. Pocasse reaffirmed the obvious: the Arikaras planned no hostile action against the expedition. He declared his interest in a Mandan peace and also expressed some desire to visit with Jefferson. At the end of the talk, almost as an afterthought, Pocasse suggested yet another doubt about severing the Sioux connection. With the exposed location of the villages and the temporary nature of American forces, what guarantees of safety did the Arikaras have against retaliation by the Tetons? Pocasse put it simply: "After you set out, many nations in the open plains may come to make war against us, we wish you to stop their guns and prevent it if possible." [71]

The doubts and fears expressed by Pocasse were amplified when Lewis and Clark met with Piahito. This Arikara chief gave the captains a quick lesson in Upper Missouri power politics. The people of Waho-erha were distinct in language and past history from the other villages. Waho-erha had not taken part in the recent and still smoldering Mandan-Hidatsa war. Piahito was very skeptical that wounds still fresh couuld be quickly healed by some of the expedition's diplomatic salve. Had they more fully understood what Piahito had to say, Lewis and Clark might have sensed how formidable a task it would be to rearrange traditional alliances and cure old hurts.

Piahito opened his remarks by bluntly saying he would believe a Mandan-Arikara peace only when he saw it with his own eyes. As much as he doubted Mandan intentions, he also questioned Sioux motives, declaring that the Teton "has not a good heart." If Piahito offered the captains some healthy skepticism about intertribal relations, he also presented an equally realistic appraisal of intra-Arikara affairs. Piahito said he always followed the lead of Kakawissassa and Pocasse and that they would watch over Waho-erha while he went up to the Mandans . Lewis and Clark wanted their message to be accepted by the Arikara leadership, and Piahito reassured the explorers that at least Kakawissassa and Pocasse "believe your words." But the Waho-erha chief also seemed to issue a veiled warning about a unity of Arikara views more apparent than real. "Maybe we will not tell the truth" was hardly the strong statement of approval the captains wanted from the chief. Piahito again stressed his concern about a trip to the Mandans . What would an alliance with the Mandan Indians mean, how might the Sioux react, and what possible benefits wouuld the Arikaras gain from such a move? As the formal talks ended and one of the Arikara chiefs agreed to go with the captains to the Mandans , all those doubts and questions were unresolved. [72]

If official relations with the Arikaras were troubled by some unsettling issues, unofficial and personal affairs with Arikara women went on quite satisfactorily. For the first time since leaving St. Louis, the young men of the expedition had ample time and opportunity for sexual contacts with Indian women. Those liaisons must be understood from both sides of the cultural divide. To ignore them here and later would be to deny the humanity of the expedition and to turn a blind eye on much of the historical record.

Sexual experiences, like all intimate encounters, may mean very different things to persons of dissimilar cultures. The Arikaras' perception of sexual intercourse and the role of women in the act differed markedly from that of the expedition's males. First, it must be said that the Arikaras, like their Mandan and Hidatsa neighbors, placed a very high value on women. They were the principal agriculturists, and that economic position meant ritual prominence as well. Women were neither the drudges nor the pawns of Arikara men so often portrayed in the records of white visitors. [73] Further, Arikara matrilineal society did not place as much importance on exclusive sexual relations with male spouses. As one Arikara told Truteau, "When a man dies he cannot carry women with him to the regions of the dead; and . . . they who quarrel, fight, and kill each other about the possession of a woman, are fools or mad-men." [74] That young Arikara women were anxious for sexual encounters with non-Indians was noted by virtually every visitor. As John Bradbury put it, "Travelers who have been acquainted with savages, have remarked that they are either very liberal of their women to strangers, or extremely jealous. In this species of liberality no nation can be exceeded by the Arikaras, who flocked down every evening with their wives, sisters, and daughters, each anxious to meet with a market for them." [75]

Interest in sex with strangers was based on three distinct cultural sanctions. The Arikara villagers were eager to obtain European goods, and having sexual relations with traders meant receiving those objects in payment for favors. Ironware, paint, blue beads, and cloth were all part of the exchange. Arikara women demanded and got high prices for their services. As Bradbury testified, "I observed several instances wherein the squaw was consulted by her husband as to the quantum sufficit of price, a mark of consideration which, from some knowledge of Indians, and the estimation in which their women are held, I had not expected." [76] But having sexual relations with a trader provided more than a supply of scarce luxury goods. Because they were central figures in the staple food trade with other tribes, Arikara women hoped to forge commercial links with white merchants. Sex, as Lewis and Clark were to discover at Fort Clatsop, was an important way to seal a business arrangement.

Sex with visitors was also an integral part of northern plains hospitality. When Bradbury visited an Arikara lodge, he found that the welcome included not only a bed but a "bedfellow." [77] As the captains learned during the Teton confrontation, to reject such offers was to court misunderstanding and suspicion. If intercourse with non-Indian males strengthened trade ties and expressed traditional hospitality, it also signified something far more complex in northern plains life. The Arikaras and their neighbors, both villagers and nomads alike, perceived sexual contact as a means of transferring spiritual power from one person to another. The Mandan buffalo-calling ceremony was only the most spectacular example of this belief. In that ritual, women had intercourse with elderly men, taking the seminal skill of old hunters and passing it on to their husbands. Sex became a kind of conduit for power. In the same way, Arikara women sought sex with Europeans as a way to pass the strength and skill of the outsiders on to their mates. As John Ewers has written, the "concept of the transmission of power through sexual intercourse seemed to have played a part in the eagerness of Mandan women to cohabit with white men in the early days of the fur trade." [78] Lewis understood the sense of awe when he wrote, "The Indians believed that these traders were the most powerful persons in the nation." [79] Sex was a means to appropriate that power and place it at their disposal.

There is little doubt that the men of the expedition found Arikara women attractive. They surely did not agree with Tabeau's charge that Arikara females were "the most ugly and have the advantages of surpassing all the others in slovenliness." One who disagreed was Gass. Writing that the Arikaras were "the most cleanly Indians I have ever seen on this voyage," the sergeant added that village women were "handsome" and "the best looking Indians I have ever seen." Ordway agreed, noting that "some of their women are very handsome and clean." Even Clark, who characterized the Arikaras as "pore and Durtey," recalled to Nicholas Biddle that the "Ricara women [were] better looking than the Sioux ." [80]

In the notebook journals of the expedition, there are only the most oblique references to sexual contact with Arikara women. Clark claimed that Arikara overtures were rejected while the expedition was at the villages but implied that once the party departed on October 12 it was quite a different story. Clark recorded that on the evening of the 12th two young women were sent by an Arikara man "and persisted in their civilities." In his plainest statement about intimate relations with the Arikaras written while the expedition was in progress, Clark noted that the women were "very fond of carressing our men." Clark was less reticent when he answered questions for Nicholas Biddle in 1810. He frankly admitted that the men "by means of interpreters found no difficulty in getting women." He believed that Arikara women were "lecherous" and engaged in sexual adventures "without the husband's knowledge." However, in the same note to Biddle, Clark reported that "the husbands etc. [gave] wives and sisters to strangers." [81] Other travelers observed that Arikara women usually initiatied sexual encounters, and there seems to be little doubt that the men in the expedition accepted the offers.

The only fully documented case of this involved York. In the Arikaras' eyes, York was the central attraction of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Airguns, gifts, and strange doings with a sextant all paled in significance before York. The black man fascinated Indian adults and terrified their children. York's blackness was viewed by the Arikaras as a sign of special spiritual power, and they appropriately named him "the big Medison." To have sexual contact with York was to get in touch with what seemed awesome spirit forces. On one occasion an Arikara man invited York to his lodge, offered him his wife, and guarded the entrance during the act. When a member of the expedition came looking for York, "the master of the house would not let him in before the affair was finished." [82]

Perhaps the most telling comment on the sexual desires of visitors among the Arikaras came in a conversation that Henry M. Brackenridge reported having with a village chief: " 'I was wondering,' said he, 'whether you white people have any women amongst you.' I assured him in the affirmative. 'Then,' said he, 'why is it that your people are so fond of our women, one might suppose they had never seen any before?' " [83]

Early in the afternoon of October 12, with the talks completed and one of the village chiefs on board, Lewis and Clark left the Grand River settlements. It was a festive departure, with "the fiddle playing and the horns sounding." The days that followed were filled with small incidents that added to the sum of Indian-expedition relations. One of those revealing events took place on October 14 when Private John Newman was sentenced to corporal punishment for "mutinous expression." Newman's whipping "allarmed the Indian chief very much." Virtually all native American cultures rejected public physical punishment of either children or adults, believing that confomrity to social norms might be better achieved by more subtle group pressure. As the expedition moved toward its Mandan wintering quarters, there was time to record additional bits of ethnographic data. Clark noted an Arikara stone monument surrounded by votive offerings. At another time Clark and the Arikara chief walked along the shore as the Indian recounted "a number of their traditions about turtles, snakes, etc. and the power of a particular rock or cove on the next river which informs of every thing." Sadly for the ethnographic record, Clark believed that "none of those I think worth mentioning." [84]

As Lewis and Clark headed toward the Mandan villages, they left behind with the Arikaras a strange set of impressions. Although the villagers had been acquainted with whites for some time, they had never seen such a large group of visitors. The intentions and behavior of the captains, their technology, and the presence of York all produced a vivid folklore. Tabeau, who dutifully recorded some of the tales, found himself in "a bad scrape by treating them as ridiculous." Kakawita, Tabeau's leading Arikara informant, reported what was widely believed among the Arikaras about the Lewis and Clark expedition. In their opinion, the explorers were on a special vision quest and had met "obstacles perhaps invincible" on their journey. One of those obstacles was reputed to be an awesome beast without a mouth who ate by "breathing the smoke of the meat through the nose." Even more terrible, related the Arikara storytellers, was "a troop of Amazons who kill all their male children, pulverize their genitals and conceive again by the injection of the powder obtained." Just how the expedition overcame those monsters is not part of the surviving record. What finally impressed the Arikaras were the objects carried by the expedition. The sextant, the magnet, and phosphorous were talked about as evidence of the captains' spirit powers. And, of course, there was York. As Tabeau wrote, "The most marvelous was, though, a large fine man, black as a bear who spoke and acted as one." [85]

Lewis and Clark's party carried away from their time with the Arikaras many personal memories of the sort not readily committed to the pages of diaries or official reports. There can be no doubt that after the tense days with the Tetons, the relaxed hospitality of the Arikaras was a welcome change. It remained for Clark to record his impressions of the Grand River villagers. Of the people, he wrote, "They appear to be peaceful, their men tall and perpotiend, women Small and industerous." Recalling their hospitality, he described the Arikaras as "Durtey, Kind, pore and extravigent." Clark's expressive word extravigent was his way of drawing attention to the Arikaras' generosity with food and favors. Pleased to give gifts, the Arikaras took "what was offered with great pleasure." [86]

There was much about Arikara culture that the captains either did not understand or did not see. Politics, sacred bundles, band organization, and the yearly round of ritual and ceremony all eluded the explorers. What the expedition's journalists did record was the exterior of Arikara life—an exterior of substantial earth lodges, well-tended fields, and friendly people. American frontiersmen, who valued a secure house and good crops, found much to admire during their time with the Star-rah-he.


B A E       Bureau of American Ethnology

Field Notes.       Osgood, Ernest, S., ed. The Field Notes of Captain William Clark, 1803–1805. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964.

Gass, Journal.       Gass, Patrick. A Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery. Edited by David McKeehan. 1807. Reprint, with preface by Earle R. Forrest. Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, 1958.

Ordway, Journal.       Quaife, Milo M., ed. The Journals of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Sergeant John Ordway. Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1916.

Thw.       Thwaites, Reuben G., ed. The Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 8 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1904–1905.

Whitehouse, Journal.       "The Journal of Private Joseph Whitehouse." In Thw. 7:29–190.


1. Truteau, "Description," 2:378–79; Thw. 1:172; Ordway, Journal, p. 142. (back)
2. Thw. 1:174. (back)
3. Ordway, Journal, p. 144; Thw. 1:175. The Arikara villages seen on September 29 and October 1, 1804, were evidently part of what archaeologists call the Black Widow Site (39ST25 and 39ST50) in present-day Stanley County, South Dakota. See Donald J. Lehmer and David T. Jones, Arikara Archaeology: The Bad River Phase, Smithsonian Institution River Basin Surveys Publications in Salvage Archaeology, no. 7 (Washington, D.C., 1968), p. 83. (back)
4. Field Notes, p. 153; Thw. 1:175. (back)
5. Gass, Journal, pp. 57–58; Thw. 1:177–78; Whitehouse, Journal, p. 66. (back)
6. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 125, 127–28: Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, p. 93; Thw. 1:179. (back)
7. Gass, Journal, p. 59; Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, p. 93; Ordway, Journal, p. 147; Thw. 1:181. (back)
8. Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, p. 94; Ordway, Journal, p. 148; Thw. 1:182. (back)
9. Both Lewis and Clark (Thw. 6:88) and John Bradbury, Travels in the Interior of America (Liverpool: Smith and Galway, 1817), p. 111, note Star-rah-he as the "primitive" name of the Arikaras. Douglas R. Parks, "Bands and Villages of the Arikara and Pawnee," Nebraska History 60 (1979): 224, finds that AxtaRAhi, the Pawnee word for the Arikaras, was probably the name of the largest band. See also Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 124–25. (back)
10. Ibid., pp. 125–26; Thw. 6:89. (back)
11. Roger T. Grange, Jr., "An Archaeological View of Pawnee Origins," Nebraska History 60 (1979):134–60, especially p. 144; Donald J. Lehmer, Introduction to Middle Missouri Archaeology, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Anthropological Papers, no. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1971), pp. 124–28. (back)
12. Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, chaps. 4–5; Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, pp. 82–83; Roy W. Meyer, The Village Indians of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977), pp. 7–8. (back)
13. Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, p. 172. (back)
14. Truteau, "Journal," 1:295–96. (back)
15. Henry M. Brackenridge, View of Louisiana; Together with a Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811 (Pittsburgh: Cramer, Spear, and Eichbaum, 1814), p. 248; Bradbury, Travels, p. 110; Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, p. 141. (back)
16. Richard A. Krause, The Leavenworth Site: Archaeology of an Historic Arikara Community, University of Kansas Publications in Anthropology, no. 3 (Lawrence, 1972), pp. 23–40; Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, pp. 106, 136–39. (back)
17. Among the best descriptions of Arikara earth lodges are those in Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 146–47, and Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 248. (back)
18. Gass, Journal, pp. 60–61. (back)
19. Waldo, R. Wedel, Archaeological Materials from the Vicinity of Mobridge, South Dakota, Smithsonian Institution, BAE Bulletin no. 157, Anthropological Papers, no. 45 (Washington, D.C., 1955), p. 75. (back)
20. Edwin T. Denig, Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri: Sioux, Arickaras, Assiniboines, Crees, Crows, ed. John C. Ewers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), pp. 44–45. (back)
21. Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766–1824 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1944), pp. 334, 339. (back)
22. Thw. 1:181. (back)
23. Gilbert L. Wilson, Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation, University of Minnesota Studies in the Social Sciences, no. 9 (Minneapolis, 1917), pp. 68–81. (back)
24. Gass, Journal, p. 61. A thorough discussion of Arikara plants is in Cutright, Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists, pp. 97–99. (back)
25. Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 248; Denig, Five Tribes, pp. 44–45. (back)
26. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 148–49. Thw. 1:188. (back)
27. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, p. 149; Denig, Five Tribes, p. 46. (back)
28. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 74, 132, 149; Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 255; Denig, Five Tribes, pp. 48, 61. (back)
29. Thw. 6:89. (back)
30. Ibid. 1:190. (back)
31. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 130–31. (back)
32. Ibid.; Thw. 1:189. (back)
33. Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:235–36. (back)
34. Truteau, "Journal," 1:310. (back)
35. Thw. 5:356. (back)
36. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 151–52, 158; Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 251; Joseph Jablow, The Cheyenne in Plains Indian Trade Relations, 1795–1840 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1950), pp. 51–58; Thw. 5:356, 6:89. (back)
37. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, p. 162; Denig, Five Tribes, p. 47. (back)
38. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 190–92, 216–17; Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, pp. 256-57; Bradbury, Travels, p. 165. (back)
39. Bradbury, Travels, pp. 165–66; Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, pp. 139–40, figures 86, 87. (back)
40. Preston Holder, The Hoe and the Horse on the Plains: A Study of Cultural Development among North American Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), p. 30; George E. Hyde, "The Mystery of the Arikaras," North Dakota History 18 (1951): 204. Donald J. Lehmer quoted in W. Raymond Wood, "Northern Plains Village Cultures: Internal Stability and External Relationships," Journal of Anthropological Research 30 (1974): 9, offers a much lower pre-epidemic population estimate of 9,000 Arikaras in a total village population of 25,000. (back)
41. Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, pp. 90–92; Truteau, "Journal," 1:299. (back)
42. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 123–24; Donald J. Lehmer, "Epidemics among the Indians of the Upper Missouri," in Selected Writings of Donald J. Lehmer, ed. W. Raymond Wood (Lincoln, Nebr.: J & L Reprint Co., 1977), pp. 105–11; Thw. 6:89. (back)
43. Truteau, "Journal," 1:299–303. (back)
44. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 123–24, 129–37; Holder, The Hoe and the Horse, pp. 131–33. (back)
45. "Biddle Notes," 2:537; Lehmer and Jones, Arikara Archaeology, p. 93; Prince Maximilian reporting a conversation with Toussaint Charbonneau, in Reuben G. Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 32 vols. (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1904–1906), 23:229–30. (back)
46. "Biddle Notes," 2:537. (back)
47. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, p. 125; Hyde, "Mystery of the Arikaras," pp. 52–53; Parks, "Arikara and Pawnee Bands," p. 218; Moulton, ed., Atlas, plate 10; Wood, "Evans Map," p. 47. (back)
48. Thw. 1:189. (back)
49. Ibid. 6:270. (back)
50. Ibid. 1:183–84. (back)
51. Ordway, Journal, pp. 148–49. (back)
52. Truteau, "Journal," 1:296. (back)
53. Horsman, Expansion and American Indian Policy, pp. 104–14; Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 162–63; Thw. 1:184. (back)
54. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 127–34, 204. (back)
55. Bradbury, Travels, pp. 110, 122. (back)
56. Field Notes, p. 158; Ordway, Journal, p. 149; Thw. 1:185. (back)
57. Lewis and Clark do not make it clear why they decided to appoint Kakawissassa as First Chief. Nor is it plain why someone from Sawa-haini should take precedence over a chief from any of the other villages. Since Tabeau and Gravelines had close ties to Kakawita and Kakawissassa, it is possible that the Frenchmen influenced the decision. (back)
58. "Lewis and Clark to the Oto Indians," Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:205. (back)
59. Field Notes, p. 158. The presence of the Tetons is mentioned in no other expedition journal. (back)
60. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, p. 171; Thw. 1:199, 6:151. (back)
61. Ordway, Journal, pp. 150–51; Thw. 1:185–86. (back)
62. Ordway, Journal, pp. 150–51. (back)
63. Gass, Journal, pp. 60–61; Krause, Leavenworth Site, pp. 23–40. (back)
64. Thw. 1:185–86. (back)
65. Field Notes, p. 158; Holder, The Hoe and the Horse, pp. 47–48. (back)
66. Thw. 7:303. (back)
67. White, "The Winning of the West," p. 332. (back)
68. Gass, Journal, p. 62; Ordway, Journal, p. 151; Thw. 1:186–87. (back)
69. Gass, Journal, pp. 62-63; Ordway, Journal, pp. 151–52. (back)
70. Thw. 1:188. (back)
71. Ibid. 7:303–4. (back)
72. "Biddle Notes," 2:537; Thw. 7:304–5. (back)
73. Holder, The Hoe and the Horse, p. 58. (back)
74. Truteau, "Journal," 1:258, 300. (back)
75. Bradbury, Travels, pp. 124–25. (back)
76. Ibid. (back)
77. Ibid., p. 169; Thw. 1:189. (back)
78. George Catlin, O-Kee-Pa: A Religious Ceremony and other Customs of the Mandans, ed. John C. Ewers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 8; Alice B. Kehoe, "The Function of Ceremonial Sexual Intercourse among the Northern Plains Indians," Plains Anthropologist 15 (1970):99–103. (back)
79. Thw. 7:370. (back)
80. Gass, Journal, pp. 62–63; Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, p. 174; Thw. 1:186; "Biddle Notes," 2:537. (back)
81. Ibid. 2:503; Thw. 1:189, 194. (back)
82. "Biddle Notes," 2:503; Field Notes, p. 158. (back)
83. Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 258. (back)
84. Ordway, Journal, p. 152; Thw. 1:193, 197. (back)
85. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 200–1. (back)
86. Thw. 1:188. (back)