Lewis & Clark among the Indians 4. The Mandan Winter

James P. Ronda© 1984University of Nebraska PressLincoln and London
"During the time I was there a very grand plan was schemed, but its being realized
is more than I can tell, although the Captains say they are well assured it will."
François Antoine Larocque, 1804

As the fall days of 1804 grew colder and shorter, the Lewis and Clark expedition struggled toward what has been called "the keystone of the Upper Missouri region"—the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. [1] The American explorers were only the latest in a long series of traders and travelers making the journey to the earth lodge villages along the Missouri. The Mandan and Hidatsa towns were the center of northern plains trade, attracting Indian and white merchants over vast distances. At trading times, especially during the late summer and early fall, the villages were crowded with the Crows , Assiniboins , Cheyennes , Kiowas, Arapahoes, and, after midcentury, with whites representing the North West Company, the Hudson's Bay Company, and St. Louis interests. In the arena of frontier culture, few places gave more evidence of the varied objects and diverse peoples making up North America than the Mandan and Hidatsa towns. The winter at Fort Mandan would expose Lewis and Clark to much of that variety and diversity. The winter would try the expedition's diplomatic skill and expand its ethnographic horizons. At the same time, the Mandan and Hidatsa people would get their first long look at the coming wave of American traders and bureaucrats. Those long Dakota months were an apprenticeship during which each group probed the other and formed lasting impressions.

A traveler coming up the Missouri from St. Louis in 1804 would have found five Indian settlements—two Mandan and three Hidatsa—strung out along the river in what is now central North Dakota. Past the Heart River, the first town was the Mandan village known to Lewis and Clark as Matootonha. More correctly named Mitutanka, this village was located on the west bank of the Missouri. Clark described Mitutanka as "situated on an eminance of about 50 feet above the water in a handsome plain." [2] Like its sister village across the river, Mitutanka was built by the Mandans sometime around 1787. In most of their notes, the explorers referred to Mitutanka as the "lower" or "first" Mandan village. Ordway reported that the village had about forty earth lodges. Because Mitutanka was the closest Mandan village to the expedition's winter quarters, the explorers became very familiar with both the town and its leading chiefs. Sheheke, known to Lewis and Clark as Big White, was the most prominent civil chief in Mitutanka. The captains named Kagohhami, or Little Raven, also a civil chief, as Second Chief.

Farther up the Missouri, directly north of Mitutanka and on the east bank of the river, was the second Mandan settlement. Throughout the expedition's records this town of about forty or fifty earth lodges was called Rooptahee. Rooptahee was a mispronunciation of Nuptadi, one of the four Mandan subtribes existing before the 1781 smallpox epidemic. Lewis and Clark often called Rooptahee the "upper" or "second" Mandan village. Because it was the home of Posecopsahe, or Black Cat, the civil chief designated Grand Mandan Chief by the explorers, Rooptahee took on special significance for the expedition's diplomacy. Cargarnomakshe, or Raven Man Chief, was made Second Chief of Rooptahee by the captains.

Directly across the Missouri from Rooptahee was a Hidatsa village so distinct from the two other Hidatsa towns that virtually every European visitor noted the differences. Known as Mahawha, the village was established about 1787 by the Awaxawi Hidatsas. Built on a terrace overlooking the confluence of the Knife and the Missouri rivers, Mahawha had about fifty warriors in 1804. The captains knew these people as the Amahami, Ahaharway, or Wattasoon Indians and always distinguished them in their records from the two other Hidatsa groups. Although the Awaxawis were linguistically distinct from their Hidatsa neighbors on the Knife River, they were not a separate tribe as Lewis and Clark believed. The Awaxawis called themselves Ahaharways or Ahnahaways; Wattasoon was their Mandan name. French traders nicknamed them the "soulier" Indians and Lewis and Clark occasionally termed the Awaxawis as the Shoe or Moccasin people. The captains had some contact with the Awaxawi Hidatsas of Mahawha through Tatuckcopinreha, or White Buffalo Robe Unfolded, the most prominent village chief.

Along the Knife River, Lewis and Clark found the two major Hidatsa settlements. On the right bank of the Knife, about a mile from the confluence of the Missouri, was the town Lewis and Clark called the "First Minnetaree Village," or "the little village of the Menitarras." Built about 1787 by Awatixa Hidatsas and home to a substantial number of Mandan families as well, the village was properly known as Metaharta. Village residents were sometimes named in expedition journals as Minnetarees Metaharta or the Minnetarees of the Willows. Metaharta has special significance for the history of the expedition since it was there that the Shoshoni woman Sacagawea and the North West Company trader Toussaint Charbonneau lived before joining the Corps of Discovery. Leadership in the village, as recognized by Lewis and Clark, came from First Chief Ompsehara, or Black Moccasin, and Second Chief Ohharh, or Little Fox. Metaharta would continue to be an important Hidatsa village of some forty lodges until its destruction, along with Mahawha's, by a Sioux raid in the spring of 1834.

The most remote of the Knife River Hidatsa villages, both in terms of distance and expeditionary diplomacy, was Menetarra, generally known in the journals as the "second Minnetaree Village." Established sometime before 1780 by the Hidatsas-proper, Menetarra was the largest of the Hidatsa towns, boasting some 450 warriors and 130 earth lodges during the Lewis and Clark era. Menetarra's assets were not only substantial population and considerable military force but exceptional leadership in the person of Le Borgne, or One Eye. [3]

Observing Mandan and Hidatsa villages during the summer of 1806, Alexander Henry the Younger described them as "a cluster of molehills or muskrat cabins." The trader explained that on closer examination "the nearly circular huts are placed very irregularly; some so close to each other as scarcely to leave a foot-passage, others again at a distance of 20 to 30 feet apart. But about the center of each village is an open space of about four acres, around which the huts are regularly built at equal distances, fronting the open space." [4] For both Mandan and Hidatsa households the village was the focus of important political, economic, and ceremonial activities. In many ways the villages can be best understood as a collection of households all acting together to advance the welfare of the family, the clan, and the village.

Just as the medicine lodge was the focal point for Arikara villages, the center of a Mandan village was the sacred cedar post and the open plaza around it. The cedar post represented Lone Man, the primary Mandan culture hero. On the north edge of the plaza was the large medicine or Okipa lodge. Hanging on poles outside the Okipa lodge were effigies representing various spirits. The Mandan villages seen by Lewis and Clark consisted of about forty to fifty domestic lodges arranged around the plaza. The social position of each household determined the location of lodges. Those families with important ceremonial responsibilities and those who owned powerful bundles lived near the plaza while less prominent households occupied lodges farther away. Mandan and Hidatsa earth lodges were usually occupied for anywhere between seven to twelve years. Each lodge housed from five to sixteen persons with the average number in a Mandan lodge being ten persons. [5] At the time of Lewis and Clark, Mandan and Hidatsa villages were defended by log palisades.

These villages, so familiar from the descriptions of explorers and traders like Lewis and Clark and Alexander Henry the Younger and nineteenth-century artists like George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, were in fact only part of the settled experience of the Upper Missouri villagers. They divided their time between large, permanent summer lodge towns and smaller winter camps. The winter lodges, built in wooded bottoms to escape the harsh winter storms, were neither large nor especially well constructed. Lewis and Clark did not comment on these winter camps, and it is possible that fear of Sioux attack kept many Mandans and Hidatsas within the protection of the more substantial summer villages. Looking down on the towns from a high riverbank, David Thompson was reminded of "so many large hives clustered together." [6] And so must they have seemed to Lewis and Clark seven years later.

Lewis and Clark were not the first white men to see the Mandan and Hidatsa villages and their surrounding fields of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. The first recorded European visit to the villages had occurred on the afternoon of December 3, 1738, when Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye, accompanied by French traders and Assiniboin guides, entered a Mandan "fort" near the Heart River. Attracted by tales of fair-skinned, red-haired natives who lived in large towns and possessed precious metals, La Vérendrye had made the long journey from Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine River to see those mysterious people. Although La Vérendrye did not find the fabled white Indians, he did record the first European impressions of the Mandan lifeway. That record, taken along with evidence preserved from the 1742–43 visit of La Vérendrye's sons to the region, offers the picture of prosperous earth lodge people living along the Missouri River near the Heart and already enjoying French and Spanish goods. [7]

With the disruptions caused by French and English conflicts that finally cost France its Canadian empire, the tenuous foreign contacts with the Mandan villages were lost, at least to the written record. There is no doubt that European goods continued to enter the Upper Missouri carried by native middlemen. In the second half of the eighteenth century, some Canadians were beginning to reside in the village as "tenant traders." These were men like the little-known Montreal trader Mackintosh, who visited the Mandans in late 1773, and the long-term residence Pierre Menard, who came in 1778. Mackintosh and Menard were among the last to see the Upper Missouri village Indians in the days of high prosperity before the devastating epidemic of 1781. In the years after 1781, weakened by disease and threatened by Sioux bands, the Mandans abandoned the Heart River villages. Their move north was toward the Knife River and an uneasy alliance with the Hidatsas. It was there that James Mackay found them when he came from the Qu'Appelle River to trade in 1787. Throughout the 1790s, contacts with both Canadian and St. Louis traders increased as men like Jacques D'Eglise, René Jusseaume, and John Evans waged economic war to gain control of the Mandan-Hidatsa trade. The presence of these men and their goods did not immediately threaten the well-being of the villagers. Quite the contrary, the trade items (especially guns and ammunition) strengthened the villagers against their Sioux and Arikara enemies. The traders were simply adopted as fictional relatives, a practice first noted by La Vérendrye and surely employed long before 1738 with Indian middlemen. [8]

The Mandan and Hidatsa villages have been aptly described as "the central market place of the Northern Plains." [9] It was this great Missouri River country store that attracted so many Europeans, as well as Indians. The transactions at this crossroads of cultures and goods touched the lives of people far from central North Dakota and in turn conditioned the Mandans ' and the Hidatsas' relations with all outsiders. At that market one could find Spanish horses and mules brought by the Cheyennes , destined for Assiniboin herds; fancy Cheyenne leather clothing for Mandan dandies; English trade guns and ammunition eagerly sought by villagers and nomads alike; and the ever present baskets of corn, beans, squash, and tobacco upon which Mandan and Hidatsa economic strength was built. Forming the upper exchange center in the Missouri Trade System, the Mandan and Hidatsa villagers served as brokers in an international economic and cultural trade network that faced in three directions and stretched over thousands of miles.

Like their Arikara neighbors, the Mandan and Hidatsa villages shared an important western connection with the Cheyennes , Crow , and Arapahoes. These nomadic plains people brought a wide variety of meat products as well as luxury leather goods to the Mandan-Hidatsa market. But in the eyes of all villagers, the most valuable commodity brought from the West and Southwest were horses and mules. Just as the Arikaras sought those animals to supply the needs of the Sioux , so did Mandan and Hidatsa traders bargain for them to satisfy the requirements of their Assiniboin and Cree customers. Reaching east, the Knife River brokers also did some trading with Sioux bands who brought buffalo meat and some manufactured goods from the Dakota Rendezvous. However, the close trade ties between the Teton Sioux and the Arikaras and the frequent raids that alliance visited on the Mandan and Hidatsa towns made the Sioux connection somewhat risky.

If the Sioux could not be relied upon to bring European goods to the Knife River villages as they did to the Grand River towns, the Mandan and Hidatsa people had to find another and more reliable source of supply. So the third face of the Mandan-Hidatsa system looked north to the many bands of Crees and Assiniboins . Long before Lewis and Clark, the Crees and Assiniboins had been carrying English and French goods to the Mandan and Hidatsa towns to exchange for agricultural produce, tobacco, and horses. When La Vérendrye visited the Mandans in 1738, he saw the Mandan- Assiniboin trade in full swing. The French explorer, impressed with the Mandans ' business skill, wrote that the villagers "knew well how to profit by it in selling their grains, tobacco, skins and colored plumes which they knew the Assiniboin prize highly." As testimony to the penetration of European goods into the northern plains well before the middle of the eighteenth century, La Vérendrye observed that the most sought-after merchandise brought by the Assiniboins were "guns, axes, kettles, powder, bullets, knives, [and] awls." [10]

Whenever Lewis and Clark analyzed an Indian trade system, they always thought in terms of the distribution of political power in that network and possible future competition with American merchants. Regarding the Missouri Trade System, they believed that the Teton Sioux needed to be weaned away from North West Company traders and brought into the sphere of the St. Louis interests. Beyond that, Lewis and Clark were always eager to cast the Sioux as colonial masters exercising political and economic dominance over the innocent and vulnerable Arikaras. The message was simple. The political and economic power of the Sioux needed to be broken and the honest villagers freed so that they could participate in the new American trade system.

Lewis and Clark's diplomacy attempted to impose the same simplistic model on the Mandan and Hidatsa trade with Assiniboins and Crees. Those tribes provided manufactured goods from English and Canadian sources that might be supplied by American merchants. Knowing there was often tension between the villagers and their northern trading partners, Lewis and Clark used such strife as a pretext to lecture Mandan chiefs on the reasons for abandoning the Assiniboins and Crees in favor of St. Louis traders. What the captains did not grasp was that the merchandise exchanged between the villagers and the northern peoples—food products and horses—did not in the least interest Americans increasingly obsessed with beaver pelts. Despite this, Clark still told Mandan chiefs, "You know yourselves that you are compelled to put up with little insults from the Christinoes [Cree] and Ossinaboins because if you go to war with those people, they will prevent the traders in the North from bringing you guns, powder, and ball and by that means distress you very much." Clark was determined to cast the Mandans and the Hidatsas in the same role as the Arikaras with the new oppressors as Assiniboins and Crees. If the Sioux were the masters lower down the river, Lewis and Clark seemed prepared to brand the Assiniboins as "great rogues" from the north. [11] Just as the captains had misunderstood Arikara- Sioux relations much to the detriment of the expedition's Indian diplomacy, so they failed to appreciate both the ability of the villagers to cope with the northern nomads and the essential equality of the trade arrangement. Because he saw actual trade bargains made between the two parties, La Vérendrye better understood the operation of the system. "The Mandan," he wrote, "are much more crafty than the Assiniboin in their commerce and in everything, and always dupe them." He called the Mandans "sharp traders, [who] clean the Assiniboin out of everything they have in the way of guns, powder, ball, kettles, axes, knives, and awls." [12] If the captains seriously entertained the notion that the villager- Assiniboin link could be broken, they did not account for the trading abilities and needs of either party.

Toward the end of October 1804, as the expedition passed the Cannonball River, the explorers began to notice abandoned Mandan villages. On October 19, the captains saw the ruins of a sturdy Mandan settlement on a hill some ninety feet above the river. In the days that followed, as the American party passed through the old Mandan homeland around the Heart River, there were even more signs of village life before the epidemic scourges of the 1780s and Sioux -Arikara attacks forced a northward flight toward the Knife. A Mandan sun dance post standing alone on the prairie was a silent witness to the past. Among the mounds and empty lodges of abandoned villages, the Americans found the scattered bones of both men and animals—grim reminders of the devastation of earlier days. [13]

Faced with these unsettling artifacts of a troubled past, there must have been a certain measure of relief among the explorers when, on October 24, they encountered the first live Mandan Indians seen by the expedition. As the captains passed an island in the Missouri, they came upon a Mandan chief on a fall hunt. Because one of their central diplomatic objectives was to promote an alliance of all Missouri River villagers against the Sioux , Lewis and Clark were anxious to foster peace between the Mandans , Hidatsas, and the Arikaras. The captains were sure they had moved one step closer to that goal when the Mandan chief and the Arikara chief traveling with them met "with great Cordiallity and serimony." After smoking a pipe together, Lewis and Gravelines went with the Mandan chief to his lodge. When Lewis and the group returned, "We admitted the Grand Chief and his brother for a few minits on our boat." Ordway added his unofficial seal of approval to the day by observing that the Mandans "had Some handsome women with them." As the expedition camped that night below an old Mandan-Arikara town, all signs pointed toward friendly relations on several levels. [14]

Expeditionary diplomacy, as well as personal expectations about those "handsome women," was slowed the next day as progress upriver became more difficult. As the Missouri twisted its way north beyond present-day Bismarck, North Dakota, its channel became choked with sandbars and hard to find. While the men struggled throughout the day with the heavy keelboat, more and more Mandans came to the riverbank to watch what must have seemed an outlandish spectacle. Clark described the Mandans as sightseers intent on "satisfying their Curiossities as to our appearance, etc." As the day wore on, knots of Indians called the Americans to come ashore and talk. The demands of the river gave little time for such rest stops, but Clark did take note of more vacant Mandan villages and "a large and extensive bottom for several miles in which the squars raised their corn." Sometime during the day the captains also heard a bit of news that further verified their bad opinion of the Sioux and the Assiniboins . Sioux warriors had recently stolen some Hidatsa horses and on the way home from the raid had fallen in with an Assiniboin band. The Sioux had been killed by the Assiniboins , an incident reenforcing the image of plains nomads as hostile and unpredictable. When several Mandans came to camp, Clark had his first opportunity to study the villagers. His first impressions were favorable and he wrote, "Those Indians appear to have similar customs with the Ricaras, they dress the same, [and are] more mile in their language and justurs." [15]

As the Lewis and Clark flotilla neared the Mandan and Hidatsa villages, the pace of the expedition's activity increased. There were all sorts of problems that called for the captains' attention and most of those questions involved relations with the Indians. The Americans needed to prepare for full-scale talks with Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs, a prospect that required careful thought, reliable interpreters, and plenty of gifts. The delicate truce proposed between the Arikaras, Mandans , and Hidatsas had to be accepted by the Knife River chiefs and perhaps solidified with some cooperative show of force against the Sioux . And there was the presence of Canadian and English traders on the Upper Missouri. These men, none of whom were American citizens, posed a unique challenge to Lewis and Clark's Indian diplomacy. Were they to be allowed to continue trading with the Indians, thereby undercutting St. Louis ventures, or were they to be expelled, perhaps with a show of force? In the confused days immediately after the Louisiana Purchase, the status of those foreign traders was unclear. Lewis and Clark would have to tread carefully, watching the words and actions of both Indians and traders, gathering valuable information but alienating no one. American sovereignty had to be proclaimed but not so stridently as to frighten Indian trading partners. Finally, and of no little concern, a suitable location for winter quarters had to be found.

Plans to resolve those questions began to take shape on the evening of October 26, when the Americans camped in a fallow cornfield just below Mitutanka. Earlier in the day, the captains had accepted two Mandan chiefs and their household goods as temporary keelboat passengers. Now as the whole party made camp, they were joined by scores of Mandan men, women and children who clustered around the expedition's gear. Poking and probing all the strange objects, the Indians seemed especially attracted to the corn mill. Because Clark was still suffering from a persistent rheumatic complaint and both men were unsure of their reception by the Mandans , Lewis alone joined the chiefs in making the short walk to Mitutanka. Fears of an unfriendly reception were quickly allayed when Lewis was given a warm welcome. Ordway's cryptic "found the nation very friendly" masks the real concern the expedition had about relations with the villagers. At this early stage perhaps neither the chiefs nor the captains were quite ready to pass final judgment on each other. But it was an encouraging sign of Mandan friendship when the chiefs came back to the expedition's camp later in the evening and smoked with Clark. [16]

That first evening of talking and smoking was important preparation for the days to come but it was, after all, only the beginning. Contact had been made with only one Mandan village. With much left to do, the expedition continued to make measured progress upriver on the following day. Saturday proved to be a day filled with informal visits to both Mandan villages, considerable socializing, and an important meeting with the trader René Jusseaume.

Leaving camp early on Saturday morning, the expedition made its first stop at Mitutanka. Clark hiked up the fifty-foot terrace to the stockaded town, noting as he went the earth lodges with many horses tethered outside. Once in the village, the explorer was greeted by several chiefs. Although Clark did not record which chiefs were present, it is most likely that he met Sheheke and perhaps Little Raven, the Second Chief. After smoking, Clark was invited to remain at the village for some food. Anxious to impress their powerful visitor and perhaps make a valuable trade connection, the Mitutanka chiefs were very displeased when Clark rejected their offer of corn and beans. That displeasure was eventually dispelled when the captain explained that he felt "indisposed" and was not prepared to take on the Mandan menu.

Perhaps the most important event during the two-hour visit at Mitutanka was the meeting with René Jusseaume. A free trader with ties to the North West Company, Jusseaume had been living among the Mandans for some fifteen years and spoke their language fluently. Few whites could match Jusseaume's knowledge and experience on the Upper Missouri. Many fellow traders did not like the Frenchman, including Alexander Henry the Younger, who described him as a man whose ways were "much worse than those of a Mandane." The dour Henry asserted that Jusseaume was "possessed of every superstition natural to those people, nor is he different in every mean, dirty trick they have acquired from intercourse with the set of scoundrels who visit these parts." Although Lewis and Clark were eager to hire Jusseaume as an interpreter and informant on Upper Missouri life, they had an equally low opinion of him. Later that evening, after Jusseaume told Clark that he had once served the elder Clark as a scout in the Illinois country during the Revolution, the explorer described him as "a cunin artful an insonce [insolent] ar—[?]." [17]

His visit at Mitutanka over, Clark returned to the river. As the expedition passed the Nuptadi village called Rooptahee, the banks were lined with Mandan children intent on not missing a single move made by the white strangers. Opposite the Hidatsa village of Mahawha, the keelboat and pirogues were anchored and camp was established. Lewis then took an interpreter, perhaps Jusseaume, and paid a courtesy call at Rooptahee. Most of the men who were out hunting had now returned, and Lewis spent an hour talking with the village leaders Black Cat and Raven Man Chief.

With the Mandan villages all properly visited, Lewis and Clark now turned their attention to preparing for the important council planned for October 28. The three Hidatsa villages had not yet been invited, and it was imperative that they be part of any negotiations. The captains selected three runners, perhaps young Mandan warriors, to carry carrots of tobacco to the Hidatsa towns to symbolize the Americans' cordial wish to talk. Erecting a flag pole, checking the supply of gifts, and sending invitations were only part of the preparations made that night. There was the pressing matter of political intelligence. Lewis and Clark needed to know the names of the Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs and prominent men, as well as something of the way they might respond to the proposals offered by the captains. For all their dislike of Jusseaume, it was to him that Lewis and Clark turned for "some information of the chiefs of the different nations." Jusseaume's thorough knowledge of village politics is reflected in the complete list of Indian notables Clark composed on October 29. With all these matters in hand, the expedition welcomed overnight Mandan visitors and bedded down for another night along the Missouri. [18]

The grand council bringing together Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, and United States representatives was to take place on Sunday, October 28, 1804. Ordway described the level flood plain across the river from Mahawha as "the most convenient place to hold a council with the whole nation." By midmorning Hidatsas representing all three villages began to gather at the conference ground. Everything seemed in order before noon except the weather. Just as high winds had delayed talks with the Arikaras, so now a strong gale from the Southwest turned the captains' plans upside down. Blowing sand picked up by the fierce wind stung everyone's face, and the Missouri became so rough that Sheheke and the other Mitutanka chiefs could not cross to the meeting site.

Their plans gone awry, the captains spent the day entertaining the chiefs who were already there. Tours of the keelboat were conducted for the visiting dignitaries, who promptly pronounced it and York to be "great medicine." Lewis, Clark, the Mandan chief Black Cat, and an interpreter then walked about a mile and a half up the Missouri looking for a good location for the future Fort Mandan. Although many places seemed promising, all lacked sufficient supplies of timber. The captains also used their time with the Mandan chief to ask him about leadership in the five villages. Black Cat, whom Lewis and Clark came to rely on more and more during the winter, provided the names of twelve prominent chiefs to flesh out the information obtained from Jusseaume. There was also time for some friendly gift giving. Several women brought corn and boiled hominy; Clark responded by offering a large glazed earthenware jar to Black Cat's wife, "who receved it with much pleasure." Other members of the expedition indulged in some sightseeing. Ordway poked around Rooptahee, noting the design of the village and marveling at the way Mandan corpses were arranged on scaffolds outside the town. George Drouillard, who had caught two beavers the night before, probably did some more pelt hunting. [19] Hoping that the weather on Monday would be more favorable, the explorers again made their diplomatic arrangements. The Hidatsa chiefs were asked to smoke with Black Cat and remain in his village until the next day. Despite these delays, Lewis and Clark were confident that they could persuade the Indian delegates to accept what might be called "the American Plan."

As Lewis and Clark entered the crucial talks, they had several objectives in mind. Some were the same as those pursued in meetings with Indians lower down the river while others were unique to the Mandan-Hidatsa situation on the Upper Missouri. Of the goals that represented a continuity with earlier Indian conferences, two must have seemed especially important to the explorer-diplomats that Sunday evening. First, there was the vital matter of announcing American sovereignty over lands of the Louisiana Purchase. As they had done before, Lewis and Clark were anxious to impress on the minds of "dutiful Indian children" that they had a new and powerful father in a distant place. But sovereignty meant more than simply proclaiming Thomas Jefferson as the new Indian father. If American influence was to be substance and not shadow, men like Black Cat and Sheheke had to be made willing agents of United States policy. The second goal was closely tied to the first. American policy toward the Indians linked trade with sovereignty. Proclaiming ownership of new territories meant little unless some economic good would come from them. Everything that Lewis and Clark had seen so far indicated the rich possibilities for St. Louis-based traders. That trade could serve many purposes. Strengthening American influence while reducing the power of British agents was not the least of the captains' concerns. Lewis and Clark never thought that trade followed the flag. They assumed that sovereignty and business enterprise marched as one.

Commerce and nationalism were certainly important objectives to be pursued in the Mandan-Hidatsa talks. But what now captured most of the captains' attention was a plan whose outlines had been forming from the earliest days of the expedition. As Lewis and Clark saw it, the various Sioux bands, but especially the Teton, were the most dangerous and disruptive force on the Missouri. After spending some time on the Upper Missouri, the explorers were ready to add the Assiniboins to the list of hostile tribes. For Lewis and Clark, the response to the Sioux and Assiniboin challenge was the creation of a villager alliance against the plains nomads. Such an alliance would strengthen, so thought the captains, the power of the earth lodge people so that they could more fully participate in the American trade system. At the same time, such an alliance might force the Sioux and Assiniboins to abandon their British suppliers and join the American traders. The vital first step in forging such a villager alliance had been taken when Lewis and Clark convinced some Arikara chiefs to make peace with the Mandan and Hidatsa towns. As the captains entered the Mandan-Hidatsa conference, they still believed that a few words, a bit of military pomp, and some gifts could rearrange tribal politics to suit American interests.

The weather on the morning of October 29 did not bode well for the sort of meeting the explorers had in mind. Lewis wrote, "The winds was so hard that it was extreemely disagreeable, the Sands was blown on us in clouds." [20] Fearing that further delays might permanently damage their prospects for success, Lewis and Clark decided to proceed with the gathering. To shield the participants from the nasty weather, the captains ordered an awning put up and pieces of sail cloth stretched between stakes to block the wind and flying sand.

By midmorning all seemed in order, and at eleven o'clock the bow swivel gun on the keelboat was fired to signal the start of the meeting. Expeditionary records do not make it clear how many Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs were present. It is certain that Le Borgne, the powerful Hidatsa-proper chief, was not present, nor was Sheheke. Those who did attend included Black Cat and the important Hidatsa-proper chief Caltarcota. Lewis began the session by giving a long speech interpreted through Jusseaume, "the Substance of which [was] Similer to what we had Delivered to the nations below." That stock speech stressed the themes of United States sovereignty, American trade, and intertribal peace. Such proposals did not seem novel to the captains, but they did amount to substantial changes in the ways the five Mandan and Hidatsa villages did business with both native and white outsiders. Even before Lewis introduced the touchy matter of peace with the Arikaras and a villager alliance against the Sioux , there were signs of displeasure. The most visible one came from Caltarcota. Although he had given up much formal power to Le Borgne, Caltarcota retained considerable influence among the Hidatsas-proper. As Lewis spoke, the chief became increasingly restless and finally seemed ready to leave the council. When questioned, Caltarcota excused his unhappy reaction to the American proposals by claiming that his village stood in imminent danger of attack from unnamed but hostile Indians. One of the chiefs quickly saw through this deception and "rebuked [Caltarcota] for his uneasiness at Such a time as the present." Caltarcota's "uneasiness" was probably a reflection of the close ties Menetarra and the other Hidatsa villages had to English traders, as well as a dislike for outsiders who dared dictate policy to the Hidatsas. But at this point in the proceedings Caltarcota's actions did not seem worrisome and the captains had no reason to think that there would be serious Hidatsa opposition to any part of the American design.

At the end of the speech, the captains introduced the most controversial element on their diplomatic agenda. The assembled Indians must have known that the Arikara chief sitting in the council was more than window dressing. Now was the time to open the issue of an Arikara peace with the Mandans and the Hidatsas as a preliminary to a general villager coalition. The captains did not record the words they used to propose the peace treaty, but what does survive is evidence of a significant gesture. Clark, by now acquainted with the protocol of plains diplomacy, took a pipe, smoked it and passed it to the Arikara chief. That pipe was in turn handed around to the Mandan and Hidatsa representatives. Clark noted later, "They all smoked with eagerness out of the pipe held by the Ricara chief." [21] To demonstrate the importance of the Arikara chief and to enhance his status among the other chiefs, Clark gave him an American dollar coin as a medal, "with which he was much pleased," as well as a certificate verifying his "sincereity and good conduct."

Lewis and Clark did not know until much later that the Mandan chief Big Man had privately blasted the Arikaras as "liars and bad men." Speaking directly to the Arikara chief sometime after the council, Big Man accused the Grand River villagers of treachery in killing Mandan representatives who had earlier sought peace. Whenever there was conflict between the Mandans and the Arikaras, the Mandan chief insisted that the instigators were always the Arikaras. But Big Man boasted that in those violent encounters Mandan warriors killed the Arikaras "like the buffalo." With a candor not shown to Lewis and Clark, Big Man said to the Arikara chief, "We will make peace with you as our two fathers have directed, and they shall see that we will not be the Ogressors, but we fear the Ricares will not be at peace long." [22] Lewis and Clark did not hear about the acrimonious exchange until the end of November. Had they known about Mandan reservations earlier, the American diplomats might not have been so sanguine in their expectations.

Relieved that the peace overture had evidently been well received, Lewis and Clark moved on to the next item—designating chiefs and distributing gifts. As they had done before, the captains were determined to "mint" chiefs whether the American stamp meant anything or not. Indians accepted the uniforms, medals, certificates, and flags as symbols of respect but had no intention of relinquishing political autonomy or cultural identity. Appointing men like Black Cat or Sheheke was essentially a meaningless exercise, but it fulfilled bureaucratic imperative. "With much serimony," the expedition handed out medals, coats, hats, flags, and other goods to those selected to receive American honors. Knowing that Le Borgne was too important to be overlooked even though he was out hunting, the captains gave Caltarcota a suit of clothes for the chief. For the old Hidatsa-proper chief himself, there was a supply of gifts, a flag, and some wampum. Because Lewis and Clark knew so little about the politics of Metaharta and Menetarra, they named no chiefs for those villages but simply listed a number of prominent warriors for the expedition's record. Unlike other earlier Indian conferences that ended with a general distribution of gifts to natives of all sorts and ranks, Lewis and Clark limited their presents to the chiefs and elders. That action caused considerable resentment, since most Indians persisted in viewing the expedition as a trading venture.

With the conference nearly over, Lewis and Clark asked the Indians for their replies as soon as possible. The proceedings ended as they began with a display of American firepower. Lewis fired his airgun, "which appeared to astonish the natives very much." The council concluded, most of the Indian participants drifted away, perhaps still wondering just what all the high-flown words and gifts really meant.

But for Lewis and Clark, the day was not yet over. Later that evening the Arikara chief came to Clark with an unwelcome request. The chief was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the company of so many recent enemies and wanted to return immediately to the Grand River villages. With negotiations on the Arikara peace still in progress, his departure could cause delay and suspicion. With a string of wampum and a promise that the talks would be successful, Clark was able to forestall the Arikara's departure. Having done that, Lewis and Clark might have noted how busy the day had been. Indeed, it had been so filled with diplomatic comings and goings that Lewis forgot to wind the expedition's chronometer. [23]

If Lewis and Clark expected quick answers to the American proposals, they were to be disappointed. There was no Mandan tribal council; each village had to spend considerable time formulating a response. There was a Hidatsa tribal council, created about 1797 or 1798, but each of the three villages retained virtual autonomy in dealings with powerful outsiders. [24] Despite their experience in earlier negotiations with the Indians, Lewis and Clark still assumed that they were dealing with nation states possessing bureaucratic machinery able to formulate and enforce a single response to a diplomatic proposal. In the three weeks that followed the grand council, the captains got not one answer but many. And they encountered more questions and hostility than expected.

On the day after the conference, Sheheke and Ohheenar, an adopted Cheyenne living in Mitutanka, came to the expedition's camp. Out hunting the day of the meeting, they were now eager to hear the speeches and share in the honors and gifts. Lewis and Clark offered the Mandan chiefs a synopsis of the American plan and ceremoniously placed a medal around Sheheke's neck. Knowing that they would have to wait a bit longer for responses to their plans, the captains divided the rest of the day between continuing the search for winter quarters and trading with the dozens of Mandans who were now becoming a regular part of camp life. From the camp opposite Mahawha, Clark took eight men in a pirogue and sailed seven miles up toward the Knife River. On one of the islands in the Missouri, he found a good supply of wood but decided that the site was too distant from the water. Clark was beginning to think that a location lower down the river and closer to the Mandan villages might prove the best choice. Throughout the afternoon the expedition's camp was filled with Indians eager to exchange corn and cornmeal bread for a variety of trade goods. The expedition needed to lay in a substantial store of food for the long winter. These trading days fulfilled that need while furthering good relations between the explorers and their neighbors. As the cool October afternoon slipped into evening, everyone danced and drank, "which pleased the Savages much." And in the twilight there was something else that pleased the captains. Into camp came the Raven, Second Chief at Rooptahee, with an invitation from Black Cat. The Mandan chief wanted to talk, and he promised to give many bags of corn as a sign of good faith. The Raven also said that he was prepared to accompany the Arikara chief back to the Grand River to cement the villager alliance. Lewis and Clark may not have known where to build Fort Mandan, but at least it appeared winter diplomacy was well launched. [25]

The last day of October 1804 marked the first of the Mandan and Hidatsa's formal replies to the Lewis and Clark diplomatic offensive. Because the captains believed that Black Cat was the single most powerful Mandan chief, they were anxious to know his response. About noon, Clark and Jusseaume walked down to Rooptahee. At the village Clark was welcomed "and with great ceremoney was Seeted on a roabe by the Side of the Chief." Black Cat placed a fine buffalo robe over Clark's shoulders, "and after smoking the pipe with several old men around" Black Cat began to speak.

His speech was a carefully worded reply to the American proposals—a response designed to reassure Lewis and Clark of Mandan friendship without tying the villages too closely to an uncertain policy. The Mandan chief went directly to the heart of the explorers' plan. Declaring that he believed what the captains said about an end to violence, Black Cat felt certain that a general peace would "not only give him Satisfaction but all his people." The chief graphically illustrated the benefits of such a peace, saying it would mean "they now could hunt without fear, and their womin could work in the fields without looking everry moment for the enemey." The idea of a general Indian peace was fundamental to American policy, but in the case of the Upper Missouri villagers that peace had to be achieved among themselves before it could be widened to include others. Black Cat seemed to indicate that was a real possibility. Pointing to the Raven and several warriors seated nearby, he indicated that these men would accompany the Arikara chief back to his village "to smoke with that people." Saying that the way was now open, Black Cat also showed some interest in going to see the Great Father in Washington.

If Black Cat had things to say that pleased Lewis and Clark, the Mandan also had complaints. Those complaints were based on the captains' inability to explain the nature of their mission. Previous Indian-white contact had always been within the context of trade. Indians of the region had yet to encounter white soldiers or bureaucrats. The very concept of exploration as an activity apart from war or trade simply made no sense to the Indians. As the expedition went upriver, Lewis and Clark did give away substantial stocks of goods. The rumors that preceded the party stressed that display of wealth and raised expectations that many Indians might share in it. If the captains left behind among the Arikaras a vivid folklore, what went ahead were tales of cloth, beads, and ironware for all. When Lewis and Clark did not immediately distribute gifts in the amounts expected after the first council, there was dissatisfaction. As Black Cat put it plainly, "When you came up the Indians in the neighboring Villages, as well as those out hunting when they heard of you had great expectations of receving presents. Those hunting immediately on hearing returned to the Village and all was Disapointed, and Some Dissatisfied." Black Cat admitted that he was pleased with his gifts but reported that most in Rooptahee expected more.

The Mandan chief concluded his speech by restoring some stolen French beaver traps whose return had been requested earlier by Lewis and Clark. Two of the traps were laid at Clark's feet, along with twelve bushels of corn and several buffalo robes. After more smoking "in great cerimony," Clark replied to Black Cat's speech. The expedition's record does not contain any hint of what the captain said except that his words "Satisfied them verry much." If Black Cat and his elders seemed "satisfied" with the meeting, Clark also had every reason to be pleased. Black Cat's village appeared ready to smoke in peace with the Arikaras. Complaints about not enough presents seemed inconsequential, and the chief's careful avoidance of criticism of either the Sioux or the Assiniboins did not disturb the confident captains.

On his way back to the keelboat, Clark met Tatuckcopinreha, chief of Mahawha, and Little Crow, a prominent Mandan and second chief at Mitutanka. Clark invited the two to join him on the boat, where they spent about an hour talking and smoking. Since this was the first official contact the expedition had had with any Hidatsa chief since the grand council, Clark probably hoped that Tatuckcopinreha would respond to at least part of the American proposal. Either the village council had not decided on its answer or the decision was to wait and see what the other villages would do, since all Clark got out of the Mahawha chief were "a fiew words on various subjects not much to the purpose." After some more smoking and a quick airgun demonstration, the Indians left. Clark was plainly disappointed and peevishly wrote, "Those nations know nothing of regular councils and know not how to proceed in them, they are useless." [26]

Although the failure to get any clear statement from Tatuckcopinreha was unfortunate, this first day of gathering Indian reactions was successful from the captains' perspective. And the explorers' mood surely brightened later in the afternoon when Black Cat and two of his sons came parading into camp to show off the fancy clothing given to them the previous day. In high spirits, Black Cat wanted to see the Americans dance to the music of Pierre Cruzatte's fiddle, a request "which they very readily gratified him in." The festive air in camp that night seemed a fitting end to a day in which the expedition edged closer to its diplomatic objectives. [27]

The following day it was Sheheke's turn to speak with the captains. About ten o'clock the Mitutanka chief, accompanied by Big Man and Ohheenar, came into the expedition's camp. Sheheke had two things on his mind, the Arikara peace and the future location of the expedition's winter quarters. The explorers were more interested in the Mandan's response to their proposals; he appeared far more concerned about the site of Fort Mandan. As it turned out, Sheheke was the one who had his priorities in order, at least as far as Mandan needs were concerned. But because the white strangers were so insistent, the chief began with words about peace and the Indian alliance. Sheheke agreed to make peace with the Arikaras and promised to send a delegation down to the Grand River to smoke with his new brothers. But the chief was not about to let Lewis and Clark think that the Mandans were in the past anything other than innocent victims of Sioux and Arikara aggression. He maintained that conflict was always instigated by Arikara- Sioux forces. Some years before, a chief sent by the Mandan villages to smoke for peace had been murdered by the faithless Arikaras. Such acts fueled the continued violence and distrust, Sheheke declared. He boasted, "We have killed enough of them. We kill them like birds." But at the same time, Sheheke agreed that perhaps now was the time for a peace. Without making any long-range promises or binding the village to a potentially troublesome ally, Sheheke simply said, "We will make a good peace."

Those were the words Lewis and Clark wanted to hear. The captains were intent on accomplishing their diplomatic assignments, and obtaining assurances from both Mandan chiefs must have been satisfying. What continued to elude Lewis and Clark was the nature of Upper Missouri tribal and village relations. "A good peace" was not the same as a lasting one, nor was it intended to be. Black Cat and Sheheke were not talking about a fundamental rearrangement of relations between villages or tribes. They certainly had no power to commit Mandans to such changes. Sheheke asked simply, "Are you going to stay above or below during this cold season?" The chief's solicitude for American comfort during the winter was more apparent than real. His real concern was to keep the expedition nearby for a regular supply of trade goods and for protection against Sioux raids. And there was the always troubled state of Mandan-Hidatsa relations. Sheheke wanted a Fort Mandan, not a Fort Hidatsa. Having the Americans within the orbit of his village would enhance his prestige at the expense of his neighbors. All of this was couched in terms of available food for the winter, Sheheke claiming that it would be easier to supply the expedition's needs if the fort was closer to the Mandan villages. The chief made this plain when he admitted, "We were sorry when we heard of your going up but now you are going down, we are glad." He had made his point, although the captains did not yet know how far the Mandans would go to keep Hidatsas away from the fort. If the price for having the winter quarters nearby was seeming assent to Lewis and Clark diplomatic proposals, Sheheke thought the cost low enough for gain received. [28]

In the days that followed, the diplomatic pace slowed. Dropping temperatures, hard frosts, and the first signs of ice on the river were all warnings of the impending plains winter. Indian negotiations now seemed less important than building warm shelter and laying in a good supply of meat and corn. Joseph Whitehouse summed up the expedition's activity in early November by writing that "all the men at Camp Ocepied their time dilligenently in Building their huts and got them Made comfertable in that time to live in." [29] As Fort Mandan slowly took shape, other parts of the company's routine also feel into place. Jusseaume brought his family into the American compound, thereby allowing quicker access to his interpreting skills. The daily visits of Mandan men and women bringing corn, beans, squash, and buffalo meat for trade now became not only a ritual of friendship but an important source of provisions. With the Arikara chief and a Mandan-Hidatsa delegation having left for the Grand River villages on November 2, the captains had every reason to believe they had achieved both good relations with their native neighbors and the goals of Upper Missouri Indian policy. That there were no Hidatsa chiefs in the delegation and that the Hidatsa villages had not replied to the captains' proposals seemed relatively unimportant.

The predictable rhythm of those busy November days was broken by the arrival of Assiniboins to trade at the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. Jusseaume reported that about fifty lodges of the Little Girl Assiniboins were close at hand. Long before the La Vérendrye era, Assiniboin middlemen had made regular journeys to the Upper Missouri to trade with the villagers. Their arrival signaled not only trade but some tension as well, since the Assiniboins often tried to enhance their own standing by stealing Mandan and Hidatsa horses. The coming of the Assiniboins was of special interest to Lewis and Clark. Just as the tributaries of the Missouri might provide St. Louis merchants access to the fur-rich region of the Saskatchewan River, contact with the Assiniboin Indians might advance American trade prospects. The captains were always concerned with ways to undercut British traders, and although they distrusted the Assiniboins , they knew that northern Indians might play an important role in future American plans. If Jefferson's view that the Louisiana Purchase included lands north of the 49th parallel proved valid, ties with the Assiniboins would be essential.

By the middle of November, Jusseaume counted some seventy Assiniboin lodges with a scattering of Crees. All were camped close by, busily preparing to trade with the village folk. Toward evening on November 13, most of the Assiniboins and Crees joined the villagers at one of the Mandan towns for an adoption dance and ritual "giveaway." These ceremonies allowed customary enemies to become temporary fictional relatives and trade in peace. [30] Because the adoption idea might be used by Americans as a means to enter the intense competition for Upper Missouri trade, Lewis and Clark were interested in recording and analyzing this aspect of plains culture.

Although the captains were eager to make contact with the Assiniboins , they were unsure just how to proceed. That uncertainty was resolved when Black Cat obligingly brought the Assiniboin band chief Chechank, or the Old Crane, and seven "men of note" to Fort Mandan. Eager to make a good impression on the visitors, Clark offered Chechank a carrot of tobacco "to smoke with his people." Because the Assiniboin bands spent most of the year on British soil in what is now Saskatchewan and Manitoba, any official dealings with them would be both awkward and irregular. The captains certainly could not create chiefs, hand out medals and flags, or distribute substantial gifts to those Indians. Clark wisely made a gesture that steered clear of those dangers while still showing American interest and respect for the Assiniboins . Taking a piece of gold braid, perhaps from a dress uniform, Clark gave it to Chechank "with a view to know him again." [31]

The presence of the expedition and promises to bring American goods from St. Louis had changed the villagers' feelings about the Assiniboins . As some Mandans saw it, manufactured goods could be gotten from another source besides the troublesome Assiniboin middlemen. This potential shift in economic strategy became plain on November 18 when Black Cat made a surprise appearance at Fort Mandan. The chief began his visit by tactfully making "great inquiries respecting our fashions." But it soon became clear that there was more on Black Cat's mind than curiosity about another culture. He revealed that on the previous night there had been a major Mandan council involving chiefs and elders from both villages. In view of the fact that there was no Mandan tribal council, nor even a clear concept of a Mandan tribe, such a meeting was an extraordinary event. The council session had centered on the problems posed by dealing with the Assiniboins . Some in the council, taking seriously the offer of direct access to metal and textile goods from St. Louis, urged others to no longer trade with the northern Indians. However, that proposal was not well received by most at the assembly. Those who favored an immediate severing of old trade ties and a quick reliance on the Americans were forcefully reminded of lingering ill feelings over John Evans's treatment of them in 1796–97. These Mandans claimed that Evans had deceived them and never fulfilled his promise to return and provide them with arms and ammunition. Lewis and Clark, they said, might well do the same. Feelings such as these rightly worried the captains. If so many Mandan chiefs and elders distrusted the Americans, the whole scheme of a villager alliance and a St. Louis trade system might be in jeopardy. But all Lewis and Clark could do was urge the Indians "to remain at peace" and assure them "they might depend upon Getting Supplies through the Channel of the Missourie, but it required time to put the trade in operation." [32] Such soothing words could not take the place of bales of trade goods, nor could they allay the fears expressed in the council. As the expedition settled in for the winter, Mandan doubts about American promises were a discordant note in a tune that had played well so far.

Two days later, on November 20, there was more unsettling news. No sooner had the captains been forced to confront Mandan discontent than they heard about serious trouble between the Brulé Sioux and the Arikaras. Because the expedition's Indian policy depended on isolating the Sioux and luring the Arikaras into the American-sponsored coalition, anything that took place between those two Indian groups was of intense concern. Three chiefs from Rooptahee reported that Brulé Sioux camped above the Cheyenne River were threatening to attack the Mandan villages during the winter. Even more ominous, the men said that the Sioux had roughed up two Arikara peace emissaries. Anxious to maintain their hold on the Grand River villages, the Sioux were plainly "much displeased with the Ricares for making peace with the Mandans etc. through us." [33]

Lewis and Clark were now confronted with a set of grave diplomatic problems. The Mandans ' acceptance of American economic leadership, seemingly so certain in late October, now appeared uncertain. The Arikara peace mission had been disrupted by Sioux opposition and now there were open threats of Teton raids during the winter. The entire Lewis and Clark Indian strategy rested on peace between the tribes and a growing acceptance of the villager alliance. It now became plain that the coalition was more imaginary than real. Mandan discontent, possible Arikara defection, and the danger of Sioux assaults all pointed to yet another nagging and unresolved problem. Since the last days of October, the captains had had no official contact with the Hidatsa villages. Those villages had never replied to the American proposals, nor had they taken any substantial part in the delegation sent to negotiate with the Arikara towns. As these problems began to flood in on the captains, it was essential that talks be opened with leaders at Metaharta and Menetarra.

Those talks began on November 25, when Meriwether Lewis, René Jusseaume, and Toussaint Charbonneau rode from Fort Mandan to the Hidatsa villages. Six additional members of the expedition took one of the pirogues up to the Knife River. Their destination was Menetarra, largest and most powerful of the Hidatsa settlements. For reasons that are not clear, the American party went directly to the lodge of a Hidatsa chief named the Serpent. Lewis seemed especially interested in talking with another chief named the Horned Weasel. Oddly, there is no record of any attempt to talk with either Le Borgne or Caltarcota. Charles Mackenzie, a North West Company trader living in Metaharta, was told by Lewis that when the Americans attempted to talk with the Horned Weasel they were politely but forcefully rebuffed. The Hidatsa chief let it be known that he was "not at home." Lewis admitted to Mackenzie that "this conduct surprised me, it being common only among your English Lords, not to be 'at home' when they did not wish to see strangers." [34] Although Lewis and the rest of the American party did manage to find lodging that night, they were not given the chance to present American views to any Menetarra chiefs.

Lewis did not know that while he was being cold-shouldered in Menetarra, Clark was in the midst of entertaining at Fort Mandan some of the very men Lewis wanted to meet. Sometime during the day of the 25th, with Lewis and all the interpreters away from the fort, two Hidatsa chiefs, one of them Waukeressara, appeared at the expedition's quarters. Clark recognized the significance of the visit, noting that the chiefs were "the first of that Nation who has Visited us Since we have been here." Handicapped by the absence of the interpreters and anxious to pay "a perticular attention" to the visitors, Clark was reduced to handing out some paint, a piece of lace, a handkerchief, and "some other few articles" in hopes of making a favorable impression. The captain believed that the gifts "pleased them very much" but it would take more than an assortment of presents to change Hidatsa attitudes. [35]

Unaware of the events at Fort Mandan and feeling rejected by the Hidatsas-proper in Menetarra, Lewis rode over to the Awatixa Hidatsa village on the morning of November 26. Perhaps the American diplomat hoped that among Black Moccasin's people he might gain a more sympathetic hearing. Sometime during the day, after complaining to Mackenzie about his unpleasant experiences in Menetarra, Lewis convened a council of the Awatixa chiefs. Just who attended this meeting in Metaharta is not clear since the only account is from a sketchy narrative written by Mackenzie. Certainly there were Awatixa Hidatsas present, and it is possible that some curious Hidatas-proper also showed up. Lewis began the proceedings by trying to explain the nature and purpose of the American presence. There had been confusion on this point, and the diplomat was eager to clarify the objective of the party as exploration, not trade. But this was a minor point, or so it seemed to Lewis. Mainly, he promoted the twin themes of American policy toward the Indians on the Upper Missouri: peace among the tribes and a villager alliance. To emphasize United States sovereignty and good will, Lewis distributed clothing, medals, and flags. Although some Hidatsas took the gifts, others made a show of rejecting them. At this point several of the Hidatsas gave voice to their feelings, declaring that no matter how many presents were offered, they "could not be reconciled to like these 'strangers' as they called them." The Hidatsa chiefs then complained that "had these Whites come amongst us with charitable views they would have loaded their 'Great Boat' with necessaries. It is true they have ammunition, but they prefer throwing it away idly than sparing a shot of it to a poor Mandan."

Lewis's response to these complaints was oddly inappropriate. Unlimbering his airgun, he gave a quick demonstration of its accuracy and fire power. The assembled Indians were certainly impressed with the weapon and "dreaded the magic of its owners," but Lewis had hardly quieted their fears. Nor had he gained any converts for the American gospel. The complaints continued, and at last one Hidatsa chief boasted that if his young warriors ever caught the Americans on the plains they would share the fate of hunted wolves. Unimpressed with either the expedition's weaponry or Lewis's diplomacy, the same chief insisted that there were only two sensible men in the entire American expedition, "the worker of iron and the mender of guns."

Despite these allegations and veiled threats, Lewis may well have thought his mission was at least partially successful. The explorer extracted a promise from some Hidatsa chiefs not to wage war on distant peoples such as the Shoshonis and Blackfeet. But such a promise was hardly binding, and no sooner had Lewis let Metaharta than the chief of the Wolves, a society of young warriors, took a party of fifty to raid the Blackfeet. Lewis also may have thought he had made some diplomatic progress because two Hidatsa chiefs, Marnohtoh and Mannessurree, agreed to return with him to Fort Mandan for further talks. [36]

Once back at Fort Mandan, there were more talks and now some of the sources for Hidatsa distrust of the expedition were revealed. The chiefs unleashed a torrent of pent-up anger and poorly concealed abuse on the captains. The first part of that torrent concerned rumors spread by the Mandans and designed to keep the Hidatsas from coming to trade at the fort. The Hidatsa chiefs claimed the Mandans had told them that the Americans were in league with the Sioux and were preparing a secret winter attack. This rumor was added to another Mandan-inspired tale which insisted that any Hidatsa who went to the expedition's quarters would be killed by the explorers. These rumors gained weight among the Hidatsa villagers as they witnessed a number of events for which there seemed no explanation except a sinister one. When René Jusseaume moved his family into Fort Mandan, many Hidatsas saw this as a sign of a coming attack. The Hidatsas were further worried by the sheer size of Fort Mandan and its well-armed occupants. A number of chiefs were offended also at what they called "the high-sounding language the American captains bestowed upon themselves and their nation, wishing to impress the Indians with an idea that they were great warriors, and a powerful people, who, if exasperated, could crush all the nations of the earth." As Alexander Henry the Younger later explained, such saber rattling did not set well with the proud Hidatsas.

Rumor, misunderstanding, and a dash of American swagger were not the only things that had alienated the Hidatsas. There was the matter of economic ties with British traders and what Lewis and Clark believed to be illegal political activity by North West Company agents. The captains knew long before they got to the Upper Missouri that they would encounter British citizens working for the two great trading companies. As Lewis and Clark understood it, American policy was to allow such business activity by foreign nationals to continue so long as it did not threaten federal sovereignty. The explorers had made it plain in their earliest meetings with Mackenzie and François Antoine Larocque that North West Company agents would not be forced out of the new lands of the Louisiana Purchase as long as they did not distribute any symbols of political authority such as flags and medals. After listening to the Hidatsas' charges, the captains were convinced that Jean Baptiste La France, a North West Company clerk working for Larocque and Mackenzie, was speaking "unfavorably" among the Hidatsas about American actions and intentions. There is no doubt that the Indian villagers felt close enough to the British traders to exclude American economic overtures. They did not need someone like La France to remind them of the important role played by both the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company. Le Borgne himself made his preferences known in a conversation with Charles Mackenzie. The chief "said a great deal in favor of the [North West] Company, but he did not praise the Americans."

And there was one final sentiment voiced by the Hidatsas at the end of November. Lewis and Clark believed that an Indian policy promoting peace between the tribes was both humane and rational. Many younger Hidatsa warriors did not share that view. They explained that forswearing raids on enemies would leave unavenged the deaths of relatives. More important, without the status gained by deeds of valor there would be no way to select village leaders. Lewis recorded one young warrior's concern that "if they were in a state of peace with all their neighbors what would the nation do for chiefs?" This man saw the unfortunate cultural consequences of peace, explaining that "the chiefs were now old and must shortly die and that the nation could not exist without chiefs."

Lewis and Clark may well have been overwhelmed by both the vehemence and the number of Hidatsa grievances. Just how Lewis answered them is not recorded in the expedition journals. Clark only noted with forced optimism that "all those reports was contredicted by Capt. Lewis with a conviction on the minds of the Indians of the falsity of those reports." But little had really changed. The Hidatsas were no more prepared to become part of the American grand design than before. All the concerns that had forced Lewis's Hidatsa mission were still unresolved. In fact, now that the captains knew just how much tension there was between the Mandans and Hidatsas as well as what many Hidatsas thought about the expedition, there may have been more reason to fear for the future. [37]

Determined to do whatever they could to preserve a policy toward the Indians that now seemed on the verge of complete collapse, Clark Lewis and decided to call in the Nor'Wester Larocque for a severe tongue-lashing. Unable to change Indian realities, the captains evidently fixed on the Nor'Westers as the source of the expedition's difficulties. Although La France had probably done all he could to keep the Hidatsas loyal to their North West Company partners and Larocque had sometimes made a nuisance of himself in pressing his request to accompany the Americans to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark had no real evidence to suggest that British traders were inciting opposition to American authority. Nonetheless, on November 28 the captains met with Black Cat and other Mandan chiefs for "a little talk on the Subject of the British Trader M. Le rock Giveing meadals and Flags." The chiefs were told that if they accepted such gifts they would "incur the displeasure of their Great American Father." [38]

With the Indians properly warned, Lewis and Clark turned directly to Larocque. On the following day the trader and one of his men came to Fort Mandan just as a soldier in the expedition was setting out to summon him. Larocque was treated well enough; in fact, relations between the traders and the explorers were to remain genial during most of the winter. There was a good deal of mutual visiting between the two groups and the captains found men like Larocque, Mackenzie, and Hugh Heney to be valuable sources of information on a wide variety of subjects. But now the tension of the past several weeks began to show as Lewis and Clark accused Larocque of intending to distribute medals and flags. He quickly replied that, in failing to carry such objects with him, he "ran no risk of disobeying" their orders. Apparently put off by that disclaimer, the captains then brought Charbonneau into the discussion. Charbonneau, with the expedition's permission, had been working part-time for Larocque in the trade with the Hidatsas. Charbonneau was "strictly enjoined not to utter a word to the Indians which might in any way be to the prejudice of the United States, or any of its citizens," even if Larocque ordered him to do so. Turning to Larcoque, one of the captains added sarcastically, "Which we are very far from thinking you would." The air temporarily cleared, the explorers and traders spent a pleasant evening at the fort. Larocque was told about American trade policy on the Upper Missouri and the extension of the factory system into the region. "In short," recalled Larocque, "during the time I was there a very grand plan was schemed, but its being realized is more than I can tell, although the Captains say they are well assured it will." [39]

Nothing of substance had changed. Lewis and Clark may have felt confident about Larocque's "fair promises," but the fundamental problems undermining that "very grand plan" were no nearer resolution. All the fears and concerns that drove Lewis to make his ill-fated journey to the Hidatsa towns had not gone away. Like virtually all white diplomats on the North American frontier, Lewis and Clark found it difficult to believe that they could not easily rearrange Indian realities to serve non-Indian interests. The captains were not the masters of Upper Missouri Indian affairs. They were simply players in a complex game made more intricate by their very presence. Just how helpless the expedition was to shape native actions became painfully clear at the end of November.

Friday morning, November 30, seemed like the beginning of any other routine day at Fort Mandan. There had been a hard frost overnight and now hut fires were stoked up to beat back the cold. At eight o'clock the quiet was broken by a voice shouting from the other side of the Missouri. A Mandan called for a pirogue to ferry him across the river, explaining he had "something of consequence to communicate." Once in the fort, the Indian presented the captains with news that alarmed them and at the same time offered a unique opportunity for the expedition to flex its military muscle. He explained that five Mandan hunters had been surprised and attacked by a party of Teton and Arikara warriors. In the struggle that followed one villager was killed, two were wounded, and nine horses were stolen. There had also been trouble between the raiders and hunters from Mahawha. Four Hidatsas from that village were missing and rumors were flying of an imminent Sioux -Arikara attack.

Although news of a joint Sioux and Arikara raiding party had obvious implications for the future of a villager alliance, Lewis and Clark felt that the first order of business was a firm demonstration of American force to punish those who had attacked the Mandans . Where words had failed, the explorers were now ready to use military action. "We thought it well," explained Clark, "to Show a Disposition to ade and assist them against their enemies, perticularly those who Came in oppersition to our Councels." After a hurried discussion, the captains organized a large armed party of soldiers from the fort. Lewis and Clark expected to swell their own ranks by obtaining volunteers from Mitutanka, Rooptahee, and Mahawha.

By midmorning Clark had his men ready for action. The putative expedition consisted of Clark, Ordway, Jusseaume, and about twenty soldiers. Crossing the Missouri, the group headed for the Mandan village of Mitutanka. Once across the river, Clark arrayed his troops in battle formation with men out on each flank and a covering rear guard. Sergeant Ordway, who was on the left flank, recalled later that heavy brush matted down with snow made the march slow and difficult. Finally making their way out of the river bottom, the Americans broke onto the level plain behind Mitutanka. Clark had planned the show of force as a means to impress and reassure the Mandans . But his unannounced arrival had just the opposite effect. "The Indians not expected to receive Such Strong aide in So Short a time was much surprised, and a little allarmed at the formadable appearence of my party." When Clark and his men were about two hundred yards from the village, a very worried Sheheke and several other chiefs came out and nervously invited the Americans into the town. While the soldiers went into several lodges to rest and warm up, Clark tried to explain the nature of his mission. Hoping to calm the Mandans ' fears, the captain declared that he and his men were there to "chastise the enemies of our Dutifull Chieldren." Turning to Black Cat, who was evidently in Mitutanka or other business, Clark asked him to verify the assault on the Mandan hunters. This done, Clark then recommended that war parties from both Mandan villages join the American forces "to meet the Army of Souex and chastise them for taking the blood of our Dutiful Children."

If the Mandan chiefs were alarmed by the arrival of heavily armed soldiers, they were astounded at Clark's proposal. For a large Mandan-American force to venture out in the cold and snow in search of an elusive Arikara- Sioux party made no sense to the chiefs. They had taken the attack as just one more in a long series of episode between the nomads and the villagers. The dead man could be avenged in the spring. Clearly the chiefs found the American suggestions both puzzling and disturbing. After a brief talk among themselves, Big Man explained that all the villagers were impressed with the readiness of the Americans to defend them. Trying to accept some of the blame for the attack and thereby defuse the situation, the chief said that his people "carelessly went out to hunt in small parties believing themselves to be safe from the other nations." Although Lewis and Clark tended to portray the Tetons as the instigators in this and other attacks, Big Man saved his harshest words for the Arikaras. Recalling the discussion of the Arikara truce at the meetings in late October, Big Man revealed for the first time his harsh words directed at the visiting Indian diplomat. "I knew," insisted the Mandan chief, "that the Panies [Arikaras] were liers, and told the old Chief who Came with you (to Confirm a peace with us) that his people were liers and bad men and that we killed them like the Buffalo, when we pleased." Big Man again expressed the common Mandan view that any peace with the aggressive Arikaras was bound to be unstable. He added that two Arikara men who had been in Mitutanka at the time of the raid were sent packing by the chiefs for fear that revenge might be taken on them. According to Big Man, those visitors reported that two of the Arikara towns "were making their Mockersons," a sure sign of preparation for war, and that the Mandans "had best take care of [their] horses." Big Man admitted that there were some Teton warriors in the Arikara villages who were "not well disposed towards us," but the Mandan chief felt certain the real blame rested with the troublesome Arikaras. Even so, the prospect of rushing out to "chastise" the Arikaras in the dead of a Dakota winter had little appeal to any of the villagers. "My father," said Big Man, "the Snow is deep and it is cold, our horses Cannot travel through the plains, those people who have spilt our blood have gone back." Not wanting to seem ungrateful in the face of American support—support the Indians were not sure they really wanted—Big Man offered the alternative of a joint war party when spring came.

By now Clark must have realized that an attack on the Sioux and Arikara raiders with Mandan support was not to be. His enthusiasm for fighting dampened by Mandan reluctance and the simple passage of time in a warm lodge, Clark used the remaining hours for more diplomatic talk. Once again he emphasized the readiness of American forces to defend friendly Indians against any enemy and urged the Mandans to report the presence of hostile warriors directly to the captains. Substituting tough words for strong action, Clark boasted that he "wished to meet those Seeoux and all others who will not open their ears, but make war on our dutiful Children." The captain had made his point about the use of force. He now knew that rumors about Arikara faithlessness were being treated as truth by Mandan chiefs. Allowed to go unchallenged, such sentiments could destroy any hope for the villager alliance. Clark cautioned the chiefs against indicting all Arikaras for what he termed the actions of a few "bad men." "Do not get mad with the recarees," he counseled, "until we [know] if those bad men are countenanced by their nation, and we are convinced those people do not intend to follow our Councils." Returning to his understanding of the economic relationship between the Teton Sioux and the Arikara towns, Clark tried to make a case for the Tetons leading the Arikaras "astray." He also used the opportunity to remind the chiefs that just as the Arikaras were forced to accept Sioux domination, the Mandans had to swallow Assiniboin insults rather than risk war with the northern Indians and a possible interruption of trade goods from Canada.

Talks went on for some time until coming darkness made Clark decide to return to Fort Mandan. The journey back in failing light and deep snow proved to be "verry fatigueing." To boost their spirits once inside the fort, each man was given an extra liquor ration. But for the captains even extra spirits could not change the fact that their venture into gunboat diplomacy had proved a dismal failure and something of an embarrassment. [40]

The day must have been an unsettling climax to a troubled month. At the end of October, with the initial Mandan and Hidatsa councils finished, Lewis and Clark had believed they were well on the way to achieving their Indian policy goals. Then the Arikara peace seemed assured and unity among the village peoples appeared probable. But events throughout November challenged those assumptions. The captains' best efforts to salvage something of their plans failed. Their response to the attack on the Mandan hunters was symbolic of how little white outsiders could alter Indian realities. Held prisoner by their own political and cultural values, the captains were determined to use the incident as an excuse for the display of their military might and, with some luck, to strike a blow against the Teton Sioux . Differing perspectives on warfare and diplomacy meant that the Mandan chiefs found the American desire for winter revenge at best baffling and at worst stupid. Lewis's unhappy Hidatsa foray could now be matched by an equally fruitless Clark journey into the complicated Upper Missouri Indian world.

As the snow and cold of a Dakota December closed in, the captains found more of their time taken up with the demands of food, warm clothing, and reliable fires. They had no intention of ignoring the uneasy state of Indian affairs around them, but travel conditions and lack of sufficient information narrowed their options and limited what actions could be taken. Believing that the Mandan chiefs had been both impressed and reassured, they had only to discover the current state of Arikara Sioux relations. In the first week of December the explorers sent a letter to the traders Tabeau and Gravelines, who were at the Grand River villages, pleading for news. But it was more than simple news gathering that the explorers wanted from the St. Louis men. They asked the traders "to interseed in preventing hostilities." Lewis and Clark wanted both the Arikaras and the Sioux to be warned of "what part we intend to take" if either group broke the peace. Lacking any real power to back up such threats, the captains probably hoped the personal influence of the traders would carry the day. [41]

The Mandan winter was neither all high diplomacy nor a nerve-racking round of alarms and confusions. Most of the five months spent at Fort Mandan were taken up with demands for food and shelter. Explorers and Indians got to know each other in ways that had little to do with federal policy or grand councils. Visiting, hunting, trading, and sexual adventures were all common ground where people from different cultures could talk, joke, haggle, and compete in the shared struggle for life on the northern plains.

Fort Mandan was no isolated frontier outpost, caught in the grip of a Dakota winter and cut off from the simple pleasures of human companionship. Long before Lewis and Clark came to the Upper Missouri, Mandan and Hidatsa villagers had brightened their winters with a steady round of visits to the lodges of friends and neighbors. Life in the winter camps could be harsh and hungry, but there also were times for storytelling and gossip. Once Fort Mandan was built, the Americans simply became part of that social web that bound the villagers together. Nothing seemed more natural than the desire of explorer and Indian alike to see each other at home and share some food and friendship.

From the moment the expedition reached its winter quarters, Indian visitors came in a steady stream. Fascinated by the "great boat," the endless variety of curious objects, and the Americans themselves, village men, women, and especially children, could not get enough close looks at the bearded strangers. Although some Indians came to trade, Clark remarked later in the winter that most were "lookers on" simply attracted by the presence of the expedition. [42] By the end of the councils in late October, any initial reserve each group had about the other was gone. When Clark returned on October 30 from a trip upriver looking for a suitable fort location, he found his men gaily dancing sets and reels, "which pleased the savages much." [43]

Once the expedition's workmen began to build Fort Mandan, there was even more reason for Indians to come down and watch the construction of a great lodge the size and shape of which they had never seen. Just how much good-natured banter was possible between Indian onlookers and American workers is not part of the expedition's record, but throughout November there was hardly a day in which numbers of Indians did not come to inspect the construction. [44] By the end of the month, as the fort took shape, it was possible for the explorers to invite selected Indian visitors—usually chiefs, elders, and their families—into their rooms. On November 20, for example, three chiefs from Rooptahee paid a visit, stayed all day, and were "verry Curious in examining our works." [45]

Indians were drawn not only to the fort itself but to the many "curiosities" they found inside. It had long been the expedition's practice to display all sorts of weapons and scientific instruments to Indians in an effort to impress them with American technology. When Le Borgne and other Hidatsas came to the fort in early March 1805, they were shown everything from Lewis's airgun to his spyglass. The Hidatsas promptly proclaimed these devices to be "Great Medicines." Whether impressed or not, many visitors found the objects both mysterious and compelling. Thermometers, quadrants, writing paper, and metal objects of all sorts were worth a special trip. It was as if Fort Mandan had become a living museum of white American life, familiar in some ways but novel in so many others. [46]

During most of the winter, Indians were welcomed at Fort Mandan with unfailing hospitality. Only once during the entire season were Indians asked not to visit the fort. On Christmas Day, 1804, the expedition wanted to do its own celebrating. Native neighbors were told that the festivities were part of a special "medicine day" for whites only. On every other day the gates were open. When a group of Cheyennes appeared in early December, the captains "gave them victuals & used them friendly." Lewis and Clark's hospitality was well known; Indians often came early in the day, slept overnight inside the fort if invited, and left the next morning. When meat became very scarce in mid-January, many Indians came to the fort hoping to be fed. Although the expedition was not any better supplied than the villagers, Ordway reported that "we use them as well as possible." [47]

Indian visitors brought to the expedition's huts a sense of friendship and "good company." Visits from Indian neighbors usually meant sharing food and enjoying a dance or some fiddle music by Pierre Cruzatte. There must have been time to appreciate a fine bow, a good gun, or a skillfully decorated pair of moccasins. Older men like Black Cat often told what Clark described as "Indian aneckdotes." Although none of those stories was set down in their journals, the Americans may have heard the sorts of stories and tales told in lodges among friends. [48]

The sheer numbers of that company sometimes tested patience on both sides of the cultural divide. Lewis called the Indians "good company" and in the same breath complained that "they usually pester us the ballance of the day after once being introduced to our apartment." Ordway peevishly recalled that on one day in mid-December he had fourteen Indians all eating in his squad room at the same time. On another occasion, when the weather suddenly turned warm at the end of December, "great numbers of indians of all discriptions Came to the fort." In fact, there were so many visitors during the day that Ordway complained, "We found them troublesome in our huts." Misunderstandings were inevitable. When an Indian did something to annoy Joseph Whitehouse, the soldier struck the man on his hand with a spoon. [49]

Despite the tensions that would naturally come when people meet each other at close quarters, the daily round of Indian visitors was a welcome part of the Fort Mandan routine. Later, at Fort Clatsop on the Pacific, the captains would feel compelled to issue strict regulations controlling the presence of Indians inside the palisade. The Fort Mandan rules were much looser. The only serious attempt at limiting native guests came in early February when the sergeant of the guard discovered that women belonging to the Charbonneau and Jusseaume households "were in the habit of unbaring the fort gate at any time of night and admitting their Indian visitors." Concerned about this breach of security at a time when Sioux attacks were still a real fear, Lewis ordered a lock placed on the gate and restricted Indians sleeping at the fort to those either attached to the Corps of Discovery or those with invitations from the captains. [50]

Social calling was a two-way affair during the winter with the Mandans . Members of the expedition managed to make frequent trips to the Mandan villages. Those trips were usually for trade and occasionally for personal affairs, but some were simply for good company. When Gass and a friend went up to the Mandan towns during a break in the January weather, they were given a warm welcome and plenty to eat. These visits were a regular part of the explorers' lives during an otherwise difficult winter.

Perhaps the grandest, and certainly the loudest, visit paid by the expedition to the Indian towns was in celebration of New Year's Day, 1805. Both English and French traditions called for a boisterous, joyful romp to usher in the new year. On January 1, after firing two swivel guns to mark the occasion, the captains allowed sixteen men "with their Musick" to visit Mitutanka "for the purpose of Dancing." The merry men of the expedition had told Clark that their visit was made at "the perticular request of the Chiefs of that Village." Led by John Ordway, the party left the fort carrying a fiddle, a tambourine, and a sounding horn. At the entrance to Mitutanka the Americans fired their weapons and played a brisk tune. Welcomed into the village, they marched to the central plaza, fired another round, and began to dance. The Mandan onlookers were especially charmed by the ability of François Rivet to dance upside down on his hands. All joined in a circle around Rivet, dancing and singing. After some time all the revelers were invited into the lodges for food and gifts of buffalo robes.

Toward noon Clark appeared with York, Jusseaume, and a third man. Clark's walk up to Mitutanka combined pleasure and diplomacy. "My views," he explained, "were to alay Some little Miss understanding which had taken place Thro jelloucy and mortification as to our treatment of them." When Clark arrived at the Mandan town, he found the festivities in full swing. To add to the merriment, he called on York to dance, "which amused the crowd very much, and somewhat astonished them, that so large a man should be active." As the good times continued throughout the afternoon, Clark visited the lodges of all except two of Mitutanka's leading men. Those who did not merit a holiday greeting were guilty, so Clark charged, of "some expressions not favorable towards us, in comparing us with the traders from the north." Clearly some Mandans believed that agents of the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company continued to offer better trade agreements and gifts than the Americans. But all this was put right when other Mandans reassured the captains that the remarks were made "in jest and laftur." Late in the afternoon the eating and dancing finally played out and most of the men in the expedition went back to Fort Mandan. Some stayed in Mitutanka overnight to enjoy other kinds of Mandan hospitality. [51]

One day of New Year's celebrating simply led to another, and with a second Mandan village nearby, no one needed any more reason to make a second round of holiday cheer. This time it was Lewis's turn. Along with Gass, the captain and most of the garrison went out on January 2 toward Rooptahee. At the village there was more of what Ordway described as "frolicking." Eating, dancing, and a general good time were enjoyed by soldiers and villagers alike. [52]

The expedition and its Indian neighbors were drawn to each other not only by the shared desire for friendship but by the needs of business and trade. The explorers had an insatiable appetite for Mandan corn and other produce. The kills made by expeditionary hunters had to be supplemented by buffalo and antelope brought by Indians. Filling the larders of Fort Mandan brought Indian suppliers and white consumers together to haggle over what a basket of corn was worth and just how many hoes could be mended for a side of buffalo.

Although Indians occasionally brought food to the fort as a gift, the expedition learned early in its stay that the Mandans were skilled traders who expected good measure for their crops. At the end of October, just as the Americans were establishing winter quarters, Mandan women began to bring corn and cornbread into camp. As Ordway observed, "They expect us to give them some small article in return for their produce." [53] As winter drew on and word spread that the fort was a good market for food products, a steady stream of Indian men and women came to trade. In one typical exchange, Little Raven and his wife brought a quantity of corn meal and were given some dried buffalo meat, a pot, and an axe. On another occasion Sheheke had his wife pack down one hundred pounds of buffalo, which was exchanged for "some small presents to the squar and [the] child [received] a small axe [with] which she was very much pleased." There is no evidence that Lewis and Clark ever worked out a uniform price and exchange schedule in which certain amounts of corn or meat would automatically receive a set quantity of trade goods or blacksmith services. Rather, it appears that each purchase was bargained on the spot. The captains were willing to barter almost anything in their store of goods in order to maintain a steady supply of food. However, they refused to trade in firearms. When an old man came looking for a pistol in return for some corn and four buffalo robes, his offer was firmly rejected. [54]

Because the expedition so desperately needed Indian corn and the captains knew that there was a tremendous demand among the natives for metal goods, an interesting exchange system gradually developed between Fort Mandan and the nearby villages. That system involved Indians bringing corn as payment for blacksmith work done at the Fort Mandan forge. Under the direction of John Shields, a skilled smith, the expedition's force and bellows were put in place at the end of December. Iron hoes were mended, firearms were repaired, and later a brisk business was done fabricating battle axes. Indian visitors to the fort were "much surprized" by workings of the machinery and once the captains let them know of the new arrangement for trade, corn supplies quickly increased. [55]

Until late January 1805, this system seemed to work well. Indians got hoes mended and axes sharpened while the expedition maintained a dependable store of provisions. But this exchange economy had a curious flaw. There were only so many hoes in need of repair and only a limited number of dull axes. By the end of January, the blacksmith-corn trade stood in danger of shutting down for want of Indian interest. Lewis and Clark then shrewdly analyzed the requirements of their Indian customers. Despite the fact that intertribal peace was a mainstay of the expedition's diplomacy, the captains decided to enter the weapons business. Their plan was both to manufacture and to repair war axes, a weapon much in demand by Upper Missouri warriors. This new aspects of expedition-Indian trade demanded an expansion of Fort Mandan's industrial capacity. More charcoal was needed for the forge, and on January 24 work parties were detailed to begin cutting timber. Several days later prairie grass was cut to cover a makeshift charcoal kiln. By January 29 Clark reported, "We are burning a large Coal pit to mend Indians hatchets, and to make war axes." The captain readily admitted that the weapons trade was vital for the expedition's survival, noting it was "the only means by which we procure corn from them." [56]

For the rest of the winter the smiths were busy filling Indian orders for war axes. When the forge ran far behind on orders, an old burned-out stove was salvaged and cut up to make arrow points and buffalohide scrapers. Because unworked metal was so scarce at this point, Lewis established a short-term exchange schedule. The smiths were to charge seven or eight gallons of corn for each four-inch piece of sheet iron. Just how important this trade had become was plain when Lewis wrote that "the blacksmiths have proved a happy resource to us in our present situation as I believe it would have been difficult to have devised any other method to have procured corn from the natives." As the winter began to break in March and warriors started to talk about the spring raids, the pace of war axe production increased. By March 13, Clark observed, "Many Indians here today all anxiety for war axes the smiths have not an hour of idle time to spare." Because the captains had so often emphasized the American desire to end intertribal wars, arming warriors with weapons made at Fort Mandan put the explorer-diplomats in an odd position. The captains never intended to fuel the fires of raid and ambush, but neither were they so naive as to think that the "impliments of War" from the Mandan forge were for defensive purposes only. Typical of this dilemma was the request from a Menetarra war chief who came to purchase an axe and obtain permission to attack Sioux and Arikara warriors. For the proper price in corn the axe was handed over, but the request to use it was denied. The Hidatsa chief must have wondered just what sort of man would arm a warrior and then tell him not to engage the enemy. The war axes were prized possessions and some ended up being traded with other Indians for equally desirable goods. How far those products of the Mandan forge traveled was discovered some fourteen months later when the expedition, on its way home, stopped at the Pahmap Nez Perce village. Ordway discovered that the Fort Mandan axes were being used as pieces in an Indian gambling game. The Nez Perce player explained that they had gotten the axes from some Hidatsa traders. [57]

If trading brought explorers and Indians closer together as business partners, those same transactions provide modern students of Indian-European relations with some valuable evidence about how each culture saw the other. The men of the expedition were often bewildered by watching the Indians bring in valuable food supplies in exchange for what seemed worthless bits of metal and fabric. Gass insisted that Mandan men and women were eager to have "old shirts, buttons, awls, knives, and the like articles." Other journalists in the party, as well as many early traders, agreed with that evaluation. [58] It was equally true that Indians wondered why whites were so ready to part with precious metal goods for corn that could be grown every year. Neither group fully realized that cultures value objects and goods differently, depending on the needs and circumstances of that particular culture. A classic case of the differing perspectives on material culture was the use made by the Mandans of a corn mill given to them by the expedition during the winter. Although the Indians were fascinated by the device, they had no use for it in its present state. On the other hand, the metal in the grinder was a scarce and valuable commodity to be made into arrow points and hide scrapers. The Mandan promptly dismantled the mill to serve their own cultural needs. The largest piece was attached to a wooden handle and what emerged was a fine pounder for making grease from buffalo marrow bones. When Alexander Henry the Younger saw the skillful transformation of the corn mill, he quickly labeled the Mandan mechanics "foolish fellows." [59]

But the Indian interest in European goods of all kinds was more than a matter of obtaining the fruits of western iron technology. Native peoples throughout North America often saw European goods as something more than just material objects. This was especially the case with guns, peace medals, Christian missionary relics, and coins. Those things were venerated as both symbols and transmitters of the strong medicine and spiritual energy the whites seemed to possess. Lewis had some inkling of this when he wrote in 1807 that the Indians believed the first white traders "were the most powerful persons in the nation." [60] The power of the whites could be shared with others by wearing or using things associated with them. Some Hidatsa-proper villagers gave voice to that belief when they claimed that the gifts, flags, and silver medals distributed by Lewis and Clark contained powerful evil forces that reflected the dangerous intent of the expedition. Fearing the "bad medicine" in the objects, the Hidatsas thought the best thing to be done with such hazardous goods was to pawn them off on unsuspecting enemies. [61] Just as white Americans a century and a half later would prize bits of pottery and arrow points as reminders of a distant and mysterious native past, so Mandan and Hidatsa men and women valued buttons and tobacco boxes as links, for good or ill, to powerful strangers.

Although visiting and trading were important parts of life shared by Indians and explorers during the long winter months, few activities bound the men of the fort to the villagers as did hunting. Both cultures valued the hunter for his skill in a dangerous pursuit. Throughout the winter there were many joint hunting parties. Those trips, often in bitter cold and through deep snow, served to increase the sense of sharing a common life on the plains.

One such hunting venture took place in early December. When buffalo were discovered nearby, Sheheke sent word to the fort and invited the expedition to join the chase. Always ready to replenish their food stores, Lewis, Gass, and fourteen other men gathered with the Mandans for the hunt. The explorers watched with admiration as the mounted Indian hunters guided the buffalo herd away from broken ground and on to a level plain where each man cut out an animal for the kill. Lewis and his men were able to kill ten buffalo, five of which were packed back to the fort. The remaining dead animals were, according to plains custom, available for any hunter to butcher and take along. On the second day of the hunt, as the temperature fell to -12°F, Clark joined the chase. The expedition's guns brought down several more buffalo, but the harsh cold and broken ground extracted a high price for the meat. Several of the hunters had frostbitten feet, two men had badly bruised hips from falling on hard ground, and York had a frostbitten penis. This rigorous two-day adventure added food to Fort Mandan larders and surely impressed the explorers with the Indians' hunting skills. Clark certainly understood the physical requirements of the winter buffalo hunt when he admitted he "felt a little fatigued haveing run after the Buffalow all day in Snow many Places 18 inches Deep, generally 6 or 8." It was that kind of understanding that made hunters from both cultures value and appreciate each other. [62]

The need for medical attention was yet another force that brought Indians and explorers together during that winter. Native doctoring focused on the healing of cuts, bruises, and abrasions. Because the captains had the reputation as powerful spirit beings, some Indians believed that white medical techniques might be especially effective in serious cases. At the end of December, for example, a woman brought her child who was suffering from a severe abscess on the lower back. Anxious to obtain "some medisin," the worried mother promised "as much corn as she could carry" as payment. Clark laconically wrote that "Capt. Lewis administered," but his method of treatment and the outcome were not recorded. Perhaps the most serious Indian case the captains dealt with involved the young adopted son of a Mitutanka family. At temperatures around -40°F, the young boy had wandered away from the village and had spent the night on the prairie protected only by a buffalo robe. When the boy was found, his feet were severely frostbitten. The lad's feet were put in cool water and Clark had hopes that the circulation would return. But the captain's expectations were too optimistic. By January 27, some seventeen days after the initial treatment, the toes on one foot were clearly infected. Lewis decided that in order to prevent gangrene, the toes would have to be removed. The amputation was evidently successful and it may be presumed that the boy recovered. [63]

The sorts of sexual encounters between expedition men and Indian women that began at the Arikara villages continued during the winter among the Mandans . The young Americans were looking for something to soften the rigors of a Dakota winter, and the Mandan women were willing for the same reasons as their Arikara sisters. There is little doubt that the explorers found village women attractive. Ordway noted after the first Mandan meeting that the Indians "had Some handsome women with them." [64] He became involved in Fort Mandan's first troublesome sexual affair. One morning, toward the end of November, the sentry on duty reported that an Indian was about to kill his wife. Hoping to stop such a violent act, Clark went outside the fort for a talk with the angry husband. From the conversation came a complex tale of sexual jealousy. About eight days before, the Indian couple had had a bitter argument and the woman had left the village and spent several days with the Charbonneau and Jusseaume women. After a cooling-off-period, the Indian woman had returned to her husband only to have the quarrel flare up again. Beaten and stabbed three times, the terrified woman fled once again to the safety of Sacagawea and her sisters. When Clark tried to quiet the angry husband, the captain was told that Ordway was somehow involved in the nasty business. The Indian claimed that Ordway had slept with his wife, and "if he wanted her he would give her to him." Clark then ordered Ordway to give the irate man some trade goods to soothe his ruffled feathers. But at the same time, the captain chided the Indian, saying that "not one man of this party had touched his wife except the one he had given the use of her for a nite, in his own bed." Tacitly admitting that there was a good deal of intercourse between his men and the village women, Clark claimed that they would not "touch a woman if they knew her to be the wife of another man." Exactly how Clark knew the means used to select only unmarried bed partners is unknown, but perhaps believing that Fort Mandan soldiers only slept with single women eased his conscience. In this particular case, the captain ordered that "no man of this party have any intercourse with this woman under penalty of Punishment." As for the unhappy Indian couple, Clark played marriage counselor and advised the pair to go home and "live happily together in the future." [65]

Although not usually so violent as the Ordway affair, sexual liaisons were an accepted part of Fort Mandan life. Regular visits to nearby villages and the large number of women who frequented the fort offered the opportunities sought by both sexes. Lewis and Clark knew well in advance of their departure from St. Louis that sexual relations would be part of the expedition's experience. Understandably, they included the sorts of medical instruments and remedies believed effective against venereal diseases. Symptoms of venereal complaints were first recorded in mid-January 1805. By the end of the month at least one in the party was "very bad with the pox." As the explorers were preparing to leave Fort Mandan at the end of the winter, Clark made yet another revealing statement about the widespread incidence of sex with Indian women and its medical consequences. The captain reported that his crew was "generally healthy except Venerials complaints which is very common amongst the natives and the men catch it from them." [66]

Most sexual affairs during the winter were private matters that satisfied the personal needs of the different partners. But there was one Mandan ceremony that involved sexual relations far beyond the personal and the private. The buffalo-calling or walking ritual involved younger men offering their wives to elderly warriors and hunters for sexual intercourse. Essential to the rite was the belief that power, in this case the hunting abilities of old men, could be transferred from one person to another by sexual relations. Buffalo calling was not simply to lure a herd close to the village but also a means of giving young men special skill in the chase. White males were also sought after as sources for great power. As Clark himself noted, "The Indians say all white flesh is medisan." The Hidatsa chief Le Borgne agreed, saying that "the white men are powerful, they are like magic." Just how many men in the expedition obligingly took part in the ritual is unknown, but the trader Tabeau reported that many Mandans believed their prompt success in the January hunts was due to white participation in the ceremony. As Tabeau wryly put it, the explorers were "untiringly zealous in attracting the cow." [67]

Lewis and Clark would have been the first to agree that the months of November and December 1804 were troubled ones for their Indian diplomacy. What seemed a set of reliable agreements negotiated at the end of October were undetermined by rumor, distrust, and the power of the Sioux -Arikara alliance. The expedition's efforts to repair the damage appeared futile. Although Lewis and Clark could only wait as Tabeau and Gravelines tried to woo the Arikaras back into the American fold, they could take action to settle Hidatsa concerns and squelch Mandan rumor-mongering. On the afternoon of January 15, four "considerable men of the Menetarre" paid a call at Fort Mandan. Knowing how infrequent were Hidatsa visits, the captains were determined to pay special attention to men "who had been impressed with an unfavorable oppinion of us." Because the Hidatsas were flattered by Lewis and Clark's hospitality, the captains evidently believed some sort of diplomatic thaw was in the air. [68]

On the next day, the four Hidatsas still at the fort were joined by some thirty Mandans . What followed did nothing either to allay the expedition's worries about Mandan-Hidatsa tensions or to build confidence in a stable villager alliance. Seeing the Mandans , the Hidatsas immediately accused them of being liars. The Hidatsas charged they had been told by the Mandans that expeditionary soldiers would kill any Hidatsa who came to the fort. Clearly nothing had changed since Lewis and Clark first heard the same sort of Mandan rumors at the end of November. The Hidatsa guests were plainly pleased and relieved with their reception at Fort Mandan, but they were not about to accept the Mandans as either allies or friends. The Mandans were "bad and ought to hide themselves," declared the Hidatsas. Lewis and Clark now found themselves in a difficult position. As the most powerful military force among the villagers, the Hidatsas were essential for American policy. At the same time, Hidatsa raids against the Shoshonis and other western tribes endangered not only federal Indian policy but the immediate security of the expedition once it left Fort Mandan. All these considerations called for closer ties with the Hidatsa villages. But it appeared that those ties would have to be forged at the expense of Mandan good will. This was a knot that no expedition blade could cut. Simply urging a young Hidatsa war chief to abandon a horse-stealing raid on the Shoshonis and calling for peace among the village folk would only produce an illusion of diplomatic progress. [69]

That so much was still unsettled was brought home with great force in the middle of February. On February 14, George Drouillard, Robert Frazer, Silas Goodrich, and John Newman were sent downriver with three horses and sleds to retrieve meat cached from an earlier hunt. Some twenty-five miles from Fort Mandan, the Americans stumbled into the middle of a large Teton Sioux raiding party. "Hooping and yelling," the warriors cut the horses from the sleds and "jurked the halters from one to the other through several hands." Two horses, a fine gelding belonging to Charles Mackenzie and a mount in the expedition, were taken by the warriors. The third horse, a grey mare, was returned to the explorers "by the intersetion of an Indian who assumed some authority on the occasion, probably more through fear of himself or some of the Indians being killed by our men who were not disposed to be robed of all they had tamely." It was well after dark when the men finally straggled in to make their unhappy report.

News that part of the expedition had been attacked by Sioux warriors who might still be close by galvanized the Americans at Fort Mandan into action. The captains quickly sent two men to the Mandan villages asking for Indian support to chase down the Sioux . About midnight Sheheke, several other chiefs, and a number of older Mandan men arrived at the fort. Explaining that most of the young men in Mitutanka were out hunting and had taken the best guns with them, Sheheke could not offer much in the way of armed support. A few warriors and only two guns proved to be the final Mandan contribution. [70]

At dawn on February 15, Lewis, Ordway, and twenty-some soldiers and Indians left Fort Mandan to pursue the Sioux raiders. From the beginning it was a mission destined to fail. The weather was bad, the snow deep, and the men soon had their feet cut and bleeding on the sharp ice. As the day wore on, most of the Mandans abandoned the search. They knew the trail was cold and the cause hopeless. Near the end of the day, after some thirty miles of grueling march, Lewis and his men found two abandoned tepees. Exhausted by their journey, the men slept in the tepees overnight. The next day Lewis realized that a continued pursuit of the Sioux was senseless. Until returning to Fort Mandan on February 21, the party conducted a successful hunt, eventually bringing to the fort some 2400 pounds of much-needed meat. [71] The meat was a valuable consolation prize, but it only served to remind the captains that their words and weapons had not yet changed Upper Missouri realities. The Teton Sioux were still their own masters, the Arikaras appeared unreliable and unwilling to abandon their Sioux trading partners, and the Mandan and Hidatsa villagers seemed bent on squabbling with each other.

In the wake of the Sioux attack, it was more important than ever for the captains to know just where the Arikaras stood. The raiding party had attempted to implicate Arikaras in the assault on Drouillard and his men by leaving behind some telltale kernels of Arikara corn. Although the captains saw through this ruse, the need for accurate information about Arikara sentiments was even more urgent than it had been in November when Tabeau and Gravelines were asked to investigate the question. It was not until the end of February that the results of their inquiry became known. On February 28, Gravelines, two French engagés, and some Indians came up from the Grand River with a letter from Tabeau. Although the text of the letter has not survived, Clark's summary of it indicates that at least some of the news was reassuring. Tabeau reported that the Arikaras had nothing but "peaceable dispositions" toward the Mandans and Hidatsas. He closed by noting the supposed intention of the Arikaras to abandon their Grand River villages and live in the Knife River region. This move, Tabeau explained, would make an alliance against the Teton Sioux much easier to sustain. When the explorers told several Mandan chiefs of the Arikara plans, the Indians declared that "they had always wished to be at peace and good neighbors with the Recaras, and it is also the sentiments of all the Big Bellies and Shoe nations." The reply must have further pleased the captains, although the Mandans' sincerity in welcoming the Arikaras as neighbors again was questionable.

If Lewis and Clark were relieved to hear Tabeau's news, they were anything but pleased to hear the more ominous and realistic evaluation of the tribal situation from Gravelines. He had heard that the Sisseton Sioux and three of the Teton bands intended "to come to war in a short time against the nations in this quarter and will kill every white man they see." Ordway, who heard Gravelines' report, understood that the Sioux saw the Americans as "bad medicine." While the Frenchman explained that neither Black Buffalo's band of Brulé Sioux nor the Arikaras were part of the threat, enough Indians were supposedly involved to give the captains more than a moment of real concern. Gass described the expedition's fears with characteristic bluntness. The Sioux , wrote Gass, were preparing "to massacre the whole of us in the Spring." [72]

The accuracy of Gravelines' prediction of a Sioux attack on Fort Mandan and the surrounding villages cannot be known. There was no doubt that many Tetons saw Lewis and Clark as a dangerous force. The Americans had challenged Teton economic power, threatened by the important Arikara connection, and were attempting to forge a military and commercial alliance against the nomads. There was surely sufficient reason for any number of war parties to move against the expedition. But there is no evidence that such a move was planned by any of the Teton bands. For all the talk of a spring massacre, the captains did not appear to take Gravelines' warning seriously. It may have been that by the end of the winter the diplomatic education of Lewis and Clark was sufficiently advanced so that they knew something about the difference between rumor and reality. More likely, their knowledge that they would leave the region in early spring made the threat less menacing.

March was the last full month the expedition spent at Fort Mandan. To the daily routine of trading, hunting, and tending the hut fires were now added the time-consuming preparations for the second year of western travel. Canoe builders were busy making four craft while others were checking ropes, clothing, and vital hardware. Ice breaking up in the river and the return of biting gnats were sure signs of spring and the time of departure.

Preparations were interrupted early in March by the arrival of a Hidatsa delegation. On a cold, windy March morning, as Clark walked up to inspect the canoe builders, he met the Hidatsa-proper chief La Borgne. The chief was surely the most influential of the Hidatsa village leaders, and his apparent refusal to parley with Lewis and Clark throughout the winter was a real defeat for their diplomacy. Le Borgne had made no attempt to hide his disdain for the captains. Charbonneau had reported earlier in the year Le Borgne's barbed sarcasm aimed at the explorers. Taunting the Americans, the chief declared that he would visit Fort Mandan only if the captains would give him their largest flag. [73]

That remark seemed to justify the impression most white travelers on the Upper Missouri had about the Hidatsa chief. Henry M. Brackenridge, calling Le Borgne "one of the most extraordinary men I ever knew," described the chief as "sometimes a cruel and abominable tyrant" who ruled with "unlimited control." Brackenridge's fellow traveler John Bradbury agreed. The English naturalist used words like "monster," "savage" and "ferocious" to portray Le Borgne. Tales relating Le Borgne's violence and strength gained wide currency in the region; Clark told Nicholas Biddle one such story about the chief's murder of a faithless wife. While Le Borgne was unquestionably a man of personal strength and ability, he was neither the tyrant nor the brute presented in the records of those who actually saw little or nothing of him. Alexander Henry the Younger did have much experience with Le Borgne and this trader's observations suggest a very different sort of man. Now in his mid-forties, the Hidatsa chief had become a skilled warrior and astute diplomat. Under his leadership the Hidatsas had made important trade alliances with the Cheyennes while gaining considerable advantage over the Mandan villages. During July 1806, Henry watched with admiration as Le Borgne pursued complex negotiations with Sioux and Cheyenne bands. "He does everything," wrote the trader, "in a composed, deliberate, and cool manner." [74]

Although it is now unclear what sort of calculation brought Le Borgne to Fort Mandan on March 9, 1805, it was a move the chief would not have taken without careful thought. Because Clark spent much of the day with the canoe builders and later at Rooptahee, just what passed between Le Borgne and Lewis is unknown. It is certainly plain that the chief was shown all the respect due his position and was showered with gifts. Hearing that Le Borgne had not received the presents sent to him after the October 1804 meetings, Lewis made a special point to offer a wide variety of goods, including a shirt, some scarlet cloth, a flag, and a metal gorget. To impress the chief with western technology, Lewis brought out the airgun, the quadrant, and a spyglass, all of which Le Borgne pronounced "Great Medicines." Perhaps the most charming moment of the day came when Le Borgne spotted York standing nearby. The chief had heard about York's blackness from young warriors. Doubting what they had seen, the chief called for York to be brought to him. Thinking that perhaps York's color was paint, Le Borgne spit on his own hand and vigorously rubbed York's skin. When York removed the handkerchief from his head and showed Le Borgne his hair, the chief was astonished and promptly declared that the black man "was of a different species from the whites."

The meeting with Le Borgne must have seemed strangely anticlimatic. So much had happened over the winter that made the captains need the support or at least the understanding of the Hidatsa chief. But on the vital questions of Upper Missouri diplomacy the expedition's record for March 9 is strangely silent. If Lewis and Clark broached the subject of a villager alliance and trade with St. Louis, perhaps Le Borgne showed no interest in pursuing such matters. Whatever his feelings, Le Borgne made no promises. The two swivel guns fired in his honor at the end of the meeting signaled nothing except the failure of Lewis and Clark's diplomacy to change Hidatsa minds. [75]

When the Mandan winter was nearly over, two incidents occurred that symbolized the experience of that season for both the expedition and its Indian neighbors. Toward the end of March, Lewis and Clark heard that two Hidatsa war parties had left the Knife River villages and a third was soon to depart. It was not the kind of news that would give much comfort or sense of accomplishment to diplomats seeking intertribal peace. Intent on counting coup against the Shoshonis or other western peoples, the Hidatsa warriors had paid no more than passing attention to proposals so earnestly promoted by the captains. Had the expedition's diplomats carefully checked Hidatsa weapons, they might have been even more dismayed. Many of their war axes probably bore the marks of having been made at the Fort Mandan forge. Hidatsa war parties venturing out this spring, as they had for many springs, were a simple reminder of how little had changed. The much talked-about villager coalition against the Teton Sioux was still more real in the captains' minds than in the actions of men like Black Cat or Le Borgne. Tensions between Mandan and Hidatsa villagers were certain to flare up once American traders came from St. Louis. Each village would want to corner the market on manufactured goods, just as the Mandans had tried to monopolize the expedition and frighten away potential Hidatsa customers. The future of trade between St. Louis and the Upper Missouri was equally uncertain. How Arikara villages and Teton Sioux bands would react to a flood of goods passing them on the way upriver was unknown. There was no evidence that North West Company men like Larocque were about to concede the northern plains to St. Louis interests. Nor was there any hint that Mandan and Hidatsa Indians were ready to abandon traditional trading partners like the Assiniboins for the untried Americans. All the lively and complex issues Lewis and Clark had been talking about with Missouri River Indians since the days of August at the Council Bluff camp were still unresolved.

But if Lewis and Clark's diplomacy produced few if any of the changes sought by the explorers, it would be misleading to declare the Mandan winter either a failure or a disappointment. In many ways the months at Fort Mandan were both productive and peaceful. During the 1805–1806 winter at Fort Clatsop, surrounded by dampness and subjected to an unending fare of foul elk meat and dried salmon, many in the party would recall the bracing plains climate and tasty diet with considerable nostalgia. Personal relations between explorers and villagers during the Mandan winter were marked by genuine good feeling with only few misunderstandings. Those friendships made it possible for the expedition to spend a winter on the plains with a sense of security unrivaled in the history of North American exploration. That sense of harmony, security, and good spirits can be felt in the last visit Lewis and Clark paid to Black Cat on an unseasonably warm day in early April. Lewis smoked with the Mandan chief "as is their custom," and when Clark arrived the Mandan presented him with a pair of beautifully decorated moccasins. If the Hidatsa war parties were an unpleasant reminder of unachieved goals, those moccasins symbolized what good neighbors both peoples had been. The simple rituals of hunting, eating, trading, and sleeping together had bound the explorers and villagers together during a Dakota winter.


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. Allen, Passage through the Garden, p. 207. (back)
2. Thw. 1:208. (back)
3. Frank H. Stewart, "Mandan and Hidatsa Villages in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," Plains Anthropologist 19 (1974):292–97; W. Raymond Wood. The Origins of the Hidatsa Indians: A Review of Ethnohistorical and Traditional Data (Lincoln: National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, 1980), pp. 8–11. (back)
4. Elliott Coues, ed., New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest: The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry the Younger and of David Thompson, 2 vols. (1897; reprint, Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, 1965), 1:337–38. (back)
5. Edward M. Bruner, "Mandan," Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change, ed. Edward H. Spicer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 221; W. Raymond Wood, An Interpretation of Mandan Culture History, Smithsonian Institution, BAE Bulletin no. 198 (Washington, D.C., 1967), p. 16. (back)
6. Richard Glover, ed., David Thompson's Narrative, 1784–1812 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1962), p. 173. (back)
7. G. Hubert Smith, The Explorations of the La Vérendryes, ed. W. Raymond Wood (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980), pp. 67–94. (back)
8. Lehmer, Middle Missouri Archaeology, p. 169. (back)
9. Bruner, "Mandan," p. 199. (back)
10. Lawrence J. Burpee, ed., Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier De Verennes De La Vérendrye and His Sons (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1927), 323–24; Jablow, Cheyenne in Plains Trade, pp. 39–50; Truteau, "Description," 2:381. (back)
11. Thw. 1:231, 251. (back)
12. Burpee, ed., Journals and Letters of Vérendrye, pp. 324, 332–33. (back)
13. Field Notes, p. 164; Thw. 1:199, 201–3. (back)
14. Field Notes, p. 164; Ordway, Journal, p. 158; Thw. 1:204. (back)
15. Field Notes, p. 166; Thw. 1:204–5. (back)
16. Ordway, Journal, p. 158; Thw. 1:206. (back)
17. Field Notes, p. 169. (back)
18. Thw. 1:208–9. (back)
19. Ordway, Journal, p. 159; Thw. 1:209–10. (back)
20. Thw. 6:177. (back)
21. Field Notes, p. 169. (back)
22. Thw. 1:230. (back)
23. Gass, Journal, p. 70; Ordway, Journal, pp. 159–60; Thw. 1:210–13, 6:177, 257. (back)
24. Alfred W. Bowers, Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization, Smithsonian Institution, BAE Bulletin no. 194 (Washington, D.C., 1965), pp. 27–29. (back)
25. Ordway, Journal, p. 160; Thw. 1:213, 7:305. (back)
26. Thw. 7:305. (back)
27. Field Notes, p. 172; Ordway, Journal, p. 160; Thw. 1:214–15, 7:306. (back)
28. Ordway, Journal, p. 160; Thw. 1:125, 7:306. (back)
29. Ibid. 7:69. (back)
30. Ibid. 1:221–22. (back)
31. Ibid. 1:221. (back)
32. Ibid. 1:223. (back)
33. Ibid. 1:224. (back)
34. Charles Mackenzie, "The Mississouri Indians: A Narrative of Four Trading Expeditions to the Missouri 1804–1805–1806," ed. L. R. Masson, Les Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest, 2 vols. (1889-1890; reprint, New York: Antiquarian Press, 1960), 1:330–31. (back)
35. Thw. 1:226. (back)
36. Mackenzie, "Narrative," 1:330–31. (back)
37. Coues, ed., New Light, 1:349–50; François Antoine Larocque, "The Missouri Journal, 1804–1805," Masson, ed., Les Bourgeois, 1:304–306; Mackenzie, "Narrative," Masson, ed., Les Bourgeois, 1:345, 385; Ordway, Journal, p. 167; Thw. 1:227, 3:29–30. (back)
38. Thw. 1:228. (back)
39. Larocque, "Missouri Journal," 1:304–6; Thw. 1:228–29. (back)
40. Ordway, Journal, p. 168; Thw. 1:230–32. (back)
41. Thw. 1:233. (back)
42. Ibid. 1:240. (back)
43. Ibid. 1:214. (back)
44. Ordway, Journal, pp. 163, 164, 167. (back)
45. Thw. 1:224. (back)
46. Ordway, Journal, p. 186; Thw. 1:228, 233. (back)
47. Ordway, Journal, pp. 169, 174, 176–77; Thw. 1:233, 240. (back)
48. Ibid. 1:225, 255. (back)
49. Ordway, Journal, pp. 172, 174; Thw. 1:240, 255, 272. (back)
50. Ibid. 1:256. (back)
51. Ordway, Journal, p. 174; Thw. 1:243. (back)
52. Gass, Journal, pp. 79–80; Ordway, Journal, p. 175; Thw. 1:244. (back)
53. Ordway, Journal, p. 160. (back)
54. Thw. 1:216, 219, 223. (back)
55. Ordway, Journal, p. 178; Thw. 1:241–42. (back)
56. Ibid. 1:252 (back)
57. Ordway, Journal, pp. 185–86, 353; Thw. 1:252, 255, 272. (back)
58. Gass, Journal, p. 77; Ordway, Journal, p. 174; Thw. 1:239. (back)
59. Coues, ed., New Light, 1:329. (back)
60. Thw. 7:370. (back)
61. Coues, ed., New Light, 1:349–50. (back)
62. Biddle-Coues, History, 1:210–11; Ordway, Journal, pp. 170–71; Thw. 1:234–35. (back)
63. Ibid. 1:239, 246–47, 251. (back)
64. Ordway, Journal, p. 158. (back)
65. Thw. 1:225. (back)
66. Thw. 1:248, 250, 279; "Supplies from Private Vendors," Jackson, ed., Letters, 1:80. (back)
67. Abel, ed., Tabeau's Narrative, pp. 196–97; Field Notes, p. 172; Mackenzie, "Narrative," 1:348. (back)
68. Ordway, Journal, p. 177; Thw. 1:248. (back)
69. Ordway, Journal, p. 177; Thw. 1:249. (back)
70. Ordway, Journal, p. 181; Thw. 1:261–62. (back)
71. Ordway, Journal, pp. 181–82. (back)
72. Gass, Journal, p. 85; Ordway, Journal, pp. 184–85; Thw. 1:267. (back)
73. Ibid. 1:247–48. (back)
74. Brackenridge, Views of Louisiana, p. 261; Bradbury, Travels, p. 149; "Biddle Notes," 2:505; Coues, ed., New Light, 1:379–80, 387. (back)
75. Ordway, Journal, p. 186; "Biddle Notes," 2:539; Thw. 1:270. (back)