"Our information is altogether from Indians collected at different times and
entitled to some credit."
—William Clark, 1804
The winter at Fort Mandan gave Lewis and Clark their first extended opportunity to fulfill one of the expedition's most important objectives. Jefferson had instructed Lewis in June 1803 to gather, record, and analyze a vast amount of information about the Indians in the West and Pacific Northwest. Although Jefferson's final document did not quite match the complex set of questions about the Indians proposed by his scientific consultants, Lewis and Clark had little doubt that their ethnographic assignment had a high priority. The captains understood that they were to do more than count native noses and list languages. From the beginning of the expedition, virtually every diarist in it diligently recorded all sorts of information about Indian life. But the demands of time and travel made thorough study difficult. It was not until the winter with the Mandans that Lewis and Clark could seriously undertake studies in Indian ethnography.
Disguised as travelers, traders, missionaries, and explorers, ethnographers were part of the American frontier from its earliest times. They recorded their impresssions of the strange and exotic cultures they encountered, often without fully realizing they were engaged in ethnographic study. These pioneer ethnographers described Indian life on a part-time basis, considering such activity incidental to their primary tasks. They included Jesuit missionaries in Canada, who studied Indian ways in order to save lost souls, and fur merchants, who noted native exchange systems to facilitate future trade operations. As part-time observers of native cultures, Lewis and Clark belonged to a long tradition in North America that included Father Paul Le Jeune, James Adair, Nicolas Perrot, and the captains' contemporaries Alexander Henry the Younger and Zebulon Pike. Everything these men noted about the Indians—clothing, houses, village locations, languages, customs, and economy—they recorded in the service of business enterprise, government policy, or religious zeal. They made no pretense at being scientific observers. As valuable as they are, their ethnographic records are imperfect, incomplete pieces of evidence. It would be unreasonable to expect that Lewis and Clark painted a unified, coherent portrait of any Indian culture. They simply did not think in those terms. But they did leave behind journals and maps that comprise pieces of an intricate puzzle.
Lewis, Clark, Ordway, and the other journalists in their party were ethnographers, not ethnologists. The distinction is important since it bears directly on how the explorers viewed their work and the results of it. Ethnologists study diverse cultures with an eye toward creating widely applicable concepts of social development and behavior. In this century they have become full-time specialists committed to accurate, objective observation.  Lewis and Clark would have understood the modern desire for accuracy but not the passion for impartiality. Only rarely did they assume an air of cool detachment and scientific objectivity in their dealings with the Indians. Disinterested observation was the farthest thing from their minds. Because the captains were confident of their own cultural superiority, they never doubted the wisdom of judging Indians by white standards. For Lewis and Clark, every observation was also a judgment. Those judgments are plain in the explorers' comments about the feisty Teton Sioux and the sharp Chinook traders. For instance, Patrick Gass could not describe the Mandan practice of feeding buffalo skulls without pausing to damn native superstition.  But the captains' confidence did not often become swaggering arrogance—something that cannot be said for those who came later. Fortunately, their cultural biases did not prevent them from asking the right ethnographic questions. Equally fortunate, they had the good sense to write down most Indian answers, including many that seemed bewildering at the time.
Lewis and Clark began their ethnographic work at Fort Mandan by simplifying and streamlining Jefferson's detailed questions covering seventeen areas of Indian life and culture. Those questions touched on everything from language and law to trade and technology. The expedition was to record what the Indians wore, what they ate, how they made a living, and what they believed in. But long before coming to their winter quarters, Lewis and Clark realized that they would have neither the time nor the linguistic ability to ask all of Jefferson's questions. Their "Estimate of the Eastern Indians" contained nineteen questions that now seemed important to the expedition. Special attention was given to each Indian group's tribal name, location, population, language, and potential for American trade. Questions about religious traditions, medical practices, or cultural values were quietly dropped from the official list. This did not mean the expedition was unwilling to record that sort of data. During the winter with the Mandans , journal entries noted creation myths, migration legends, burial practices, and sacred rituals. It does suggest that the captains very sensibly recognized their limitations during the winter and decided to use their time and resources to gather material on the externals of Indian life. They concentrated on how Indians looked but did not give systematic attention to native souls and psyches. Their commitment to externals can be seen in their treatment of Indian architecture. Although the expedition's record contains fine exterior descriptions of tepees, earth lodges, and plank houses, it has little to say about their interiors. Later, artists like Karl Bodmer, George Catlin, and Paul Kane would take us inside those houses.
Time, circumstances, and talent limited the expedition's study of Indian subjects. The explorers were inquisitive about the world around them, and they had Jefferson's methodical approach to guide them. But the Corps of Discovery was not quite prepared for the vast ethnographic enterprise proposed in the "Estimate." Relying on their good sense, Lewis and Clark used four techniques that had long been the mainstays of North American ethnography. First, the captains directly questioned both Indians and whites, often at great length. Second, they collected objects—everything from Arikara corn and tobacco seeds to a Mandan buffalo skin painting. Third, they reported what could be concluded from firsthand observation. Occasionally, they obtained information a fourth way, by participating with the Indians in hunts, games, or ceremonies.
Of the four methods used by Lewis and Clark, interviews yielded the most valuable information. Since the fort was within easy walking distance of the two Mandan villages, there were more Mandan informants than Hidatsa ones. Scores of Mandan men and women visited the expedition's quarters for all sorts of reasons, but when it came to ethnographic research the most welcome guests were Black Cat, Sheheke, Little Raven, and two leading men from Mitutanka, Big Man (Ohheenar), an adopted Cheyenne , and Coal (Shotaharrora), an adopted Arikara. It was very important that these chiefs and "considerable men" be courted and closely questioned. For generations, chiefs and elders had served as tribal historians, committing to memory a whole body of past experience and tradition.  Without the help of these men, the Lewis and Clark ethnographic record would have been meager and unreliable. Of the two principal Mandan chiefs, Black Cat was the most valued by the expedition's ethnographers. Lewis characterized Black Cat as a man of "integrety, firmness, inteligence and perspicuety of mind."  The chief made at least seventeen visits to Fort Mandan, some lasting many days. During those visits he often related "little Indian aneckdts, [anecdotes]."  But like the Arikara traditions Clark dismissed as not worth mentioning, many pieces of Mandan history and belief shared by Black Cat were not recorded in the journals. Later in the voyage, when the captains had sharpened their ethnographic skills, they would now and then take time to preserve that sort of priceless detail.
If there were plenty of Mandan informants, there were far fewer from the Hidatsa villages. As noted earlier, several factors limited the expedition's access to Hidatsa information. Some Hidatsa chiefs, including Le Borgne, were away on winter hunts. More important, there was lasting suspicion and hostility among the Hidatsas, especially in Menetarra, about the intentions and behavior of the American party. Many of them were alarmed by the expedition's weapons and the size of Fort Mandan. Some elders resented what they called the captains' "High sounding language" and several warriors were angered by the explorers' boasts about American military might. Such tensions, often fueled by the Mandans' malicious rumors, kept many Hidatsas away from the fort and made them reluctant to entertain the captains at the Knife River villages.
The simple fact was that Lewis and Clark desperately needed the Hidatsas' information. The explorers knew that Hidatsa (but not Mandan) raiding parties ranged far west to the slopes of the Rockies. These parties could provide knowledge not only valuable for the second year of the expedition's travel but essential for its ethnographic assignment. Since Hidatsa visitors to Fort Mandan were few, those who did come were given special attention.  They included Tatuckcopinreha, chief of the little Awaxawi village, and his neighbor the Awatixa chief Black Moccasin. On one occasion Tatuckcopinreha related "many strange accounts of his nation," but Clark recorded only the bare outlines of recent Awaxawi migrations.  Notably absent for most of the winter were any Hidatsa-proper folk from Le Borgne's village. Not until the end of the season did the chief and one of his brothers pay court at Fort Mandan—Le Borgne to hear about American diplomacy and his brother to repeat Hidatsa words for an expedition vocabulary. Although the Hidatsa contacts were few, they did yield significant information. From them, Lewis and Clark learned about the size and locations of the Crow , Flathead , Shoshoni , and Blue Mud ( Nez Perce ) Indians.  Without Hidatsa cooperation, however grudgingly given, there would have been substantial gaps in the expedition's ethnography.
Throughout the winter there were other important interviews with Indians who were neither Mandans nor Hidatsas. Black Cat brought in the Assiniboin band chief Chechank, or Old Crane, to talk with Lewis and Clark, thereby expanding their knowledge of northern peoples and trade routes. There were also a number of Cheyennes in the Mandan villages who perhaps told the captains about tribes to the West and Southwest. And of course there was the Shoshoni woman Sacagawea, whose contribution is simply impossible to verify. It seems more likely that whatever Lewis and Clark knew about the Shoshonis came from Hidatsa sources. 
In all these talks the central problem remained language translation. Charles Mackenzie, a North West Company trader who lived in Black Moccasin's village during the winter of 1804–1805, left some vivid impressions of those difficulties in communicating. Mackenzie recalled watching Lewis and Clark struggle to record a Hidatsa vocabulary in which each word had to pass along a cumbersome translation chain stretching from a native speaker through Sacagawea, Charbonneau, Jusseaume, and on to members of the expedition. Heated arguments among the various translators were frequent, slowing the whole process and worrying many Indians. The way Mackenzie remembered it, "The Indians could not well comprehend the intention of recording their words, [so] they concluded that the Americans had a wicked design on their country." 
Fortunately, Lewis and Clark encountered no such language barriers in their conversations with white traders living in the villages around Fort Mandan. Traders and explorers spent a good deal of time with each other that winter, enjoying friendship and sharing information. Although there was some passing tension when North West Company employees were suspected of spreading anti-American rumors among the Hidatsas, Mackenzie insisted that "we lived contentedly and became intimate with the gentlemen of the American expedition, who on all occasions seemed happy to see us, and always treated us with civility and kindness."  Their specific ethnographic contributions cannot always be traced in the expedition's record, but it is plain that men like Mackenzie, Jusseaume, Charbonneau, Larocque, and Heney provided much material for the "Estimate of the Eastern Indians" and Clark's 1805 map of western North America. The explorers were especially impressed with Heney's experience and knowledge. This trader had spent many years among Upper Missouri and Upper Mississippi peoples and seemed quite ready to share his experience with the captains. They questioned him closely about Upper Mississippi tribes and the many Sioux bands.  Heney's imprint is clearly on the Sioux and Chippewa sections of their "Estimate of the Eastern Indians." Other North West Company men like Larocque and Mackenzie offered their personal observations on the Assiniboin and Cree Indians. And despite his unsavory reputation, Jusseaume did have the kind of firsthand information the expedition needed. Some of the most valuable comments in the journals about Mandan beliefs and intertribal relations came from him. 
Because formal interviews demanded both time and translation, much ethnographic information came from personal observation. While always seeing and evaluating through non-Indian eyes, the Americans usually managed to record what they witnessed with considerable accuracy. The expedition's ethnographers were especially interested in observing and setting down details of Indian material culture. What fascinated them were the ordinary things of Indian life—clothing, weapons, food, and houses. During the Mandan winter, Lewis, Clark, and Ordway made important observations on Upper Missouri native life. A look at their distinctive contributions can help chart the growing sophistication of their ethnography.
Clark's observation was sharpened by his growing skills as a frontier diplomat and negotiator. Although the future St. Louis superintendent of Indian affairs sometimes found time to record the presence of a Mandan sun dance post or a Hidatsa migration story, his real interest was what might be called political ethnography. He wanted to know who had formal political and military power, the ways that power was exercised, and how it was passed from generation to generation. Whenever possible, Clark questioned both Indians and whites about native leadership. But when that was not possible, he relied on his own eyes. He carefully watched Indians such as Black Cat and Sheheke for clues in their behavior that might reveal the patterns of Indian polity.
Interested in the etiquette of Indian politics and diplomacy, Clark quickly recognized the role of tobacco and smoking in all decision-making. Tobacco was, he wrote, "an article indispenceable in those cases."  When the explorer took part in discussions with chiefs and elders, he was careful to record the ritual procedures that dominated all native councils. Clark had been a perceptive political observer from the beginning of the voyage, although in many cases his perceptions were not translated into diplomatic action. By the first winter, he had grasped the fundamentals of Indian diplomacy as well as any veteran of northern plains life. After visiting Black Cat at the end of October 1804, he painstakingly described the protocol of the meeting with its rituals of smoking, proper seating, and the placing of a buffalo robe over his shoulders.  Behind Clark's recording of such observations was an intensely practical motive. Future American diplomats in the West would need to know Indian ways just as the French and English had had to bend their diplomatic manners to suit the requirements of the Hurons and Iroquois. 
Although there are many traces of Clark's political observations scattered throughout his winter journal entries, his ability to understand native politics was best expressed in notes taken by Nicholas Biddle. In answer to Biddle's general question about Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs, Clark offered a long summary of his political observations. "The throne of the Mandans ," he explained, "generally descends from the chief to his son if he is able, or promises to be able to direct the military movements of warriors." Unlike so many other non-Indian observers, Clark did not suggest that the "throne of the Mandans " assumed some sort of coercive power over ordinary villagers. Grasping the essential reality of Indian leadership on the northern plains, he realized that "the power of the chief is rather the influence of character than the force of authority." Clark found that chiefs could not become petty tyrants without incurring the disapproval of others equally powerful. "Power," he wrote, "is merely the acquiescence of the warriors in the superior merit of a chief " Extensive observation had taught him that Indian decisions on everything from war to individual transgressions were reached after careful, often time-consuming deliberation in council. Clark told Biddle, "The chief does nothing without consulting the old men." He noted that the council was "formed not by appointment, but the most respectable old men are asked for their advice." 
Clark's observations and questions did not reveal that ownership of important tribal bundles as well as military prowess was essential for chiefs. And he did assume incorrectly that there was one Mandan nation with a single Grand Chief. But those shortcomings aside, Clark proved to be an astute observer of the chiefs, the councils, and the polity they represented. Unlike most Europeans who insisted on imposing their notions of coercive leadership on native cultures, he got the fundamentals right. 
If Clark's observations were directed toward studying public politics, the sharp eyes of Sergeant John Ordway were consistently drawn to the commonplace in Indian life. Ordway's journal is filled with notes on those ordinary objects and actions that characterized Upper Missouri Indian cultures. The sergeant was never systematic in his observations. He simply looked at and wrote about what seemed unusual or interesting to him. Blessed with an inquisitive mind, a good vocabulary, and a clear writing style, young Ordway set down those telling details ignored by others. One of his habits throughout the journey was to do some informal exploring on his own, poking and probing around Indian villages to satisfy his curiosity. On one such jaunt early in the winter, Ordway examined and described Mandan burial practices. With an accuracy that rivals George Catlin's later painting of the same subject, the explorer explained that "the form of these savages burying their dead is after they have deceased they fix a Scaffel on raised 4 forks about 8 or 10 feet from the ground." Ordway noted that corpses were wrapped in buffalo robes and placed on top of the burial scaffolds. Without mentioning the skull circles observed later by Catlin and Prince Maximilian, Ordway correctly noted the location of burial grounds outside village palisades. He also made a telling observation about Indian mourning practices: "When any of them loose a particklor friend or relation they morn and cry for some time after." 
On subsequent visits to Mandan villages, Ordway took note of Indian cooking and food preservation. The Mandan diet of beans, corn, squash, and meat appealed to him, and in his simple style he reported that the Indians "live very well." Methods of storing food also attracted his attention. Villagers had long constructed elaborate underground bell-shaped food caches to preserve corn, beans, sunflower seeds, and dried squash over the winter. When Ordway accompanied Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor's detail assigned to obtain corn at Black Cat's village, he observed that large amounts of corn were taken out of the underground pit. 
Perhaps Ordway's most arresting ethnographic observation during the winter with the Mandans was a description of one of the most popular games played throughout Indian North America. Known as the game of hoop and pole, the sport was found among almost every Indian group north of Mexico. Although there was considerable diversity in equipment and scoring, the game basically involved hurling a spear or shooting an arrow at a hoop or ring. Scoring depended on the accuracy of the strike toward the ring. Among the Upper Missouri villages the game called for a large cleared, level playing space, long sticks with thongs to catch in the target rings, and flat clay targets. Because the long throwing sticks looked like billiard cues, later white observers insisted that the Mandans and Hidatsas played billiards.
On a cold, stormy day in mid-December 1804, Ordway and two friends made their way to the Mandan villages for some corn trading. Despite the inclement weather, the Americans found a number of chiefs and warriors outside playing the hoop and pole game. Ordway wrote the following account of the game: They had feattish [flattish] rings made out of clay Stone & two men had Sticks about 4 feet long with 2 Short peaces across the fore end of it, and neathing on the other end, in Such a manner that they would Slide Some distance. They had a place fixed across about 50 yards to the 2 chiefs lodge, which was Smothe as a house flour. They had a Battery fixed for the rings to Stop against. Two men would run at a time with Each a Stick & one carried a ring. They run about half way and then Slide their Sticks after the ring.
Ordway was interested enough to want to play the game, but his efforts were thwarted when he could not understand the scoring system. 
Even the most casual reader of the Lewis and Clark record soon learns that Lewis was the expedition's most skillful observer of Indian material culture. He probably kept a full journal during the winter, but only a few sheets of it have survived.  Those few scraps reveal an astute observer of Indian life. Three of his observations show his growing skill as an ethnographer.
One entry concerns the brisk trade in war hatchets that developed between the villagers and the Fort Mandan forge, which gave Lewis an opportunity to study battle-axe styles used by the warriors. He described the weapon as a thin, iron blade "from 7 to nine iches in length and from 4 ¾ to 6 inches on its edge, from whence the sides proceed nearly in a straight line to the eye where its width is generally not more than an inch." Mounted on a handle some fourteen inches long, the whole weapon weighed about a pound. Lewis found the weapon's blow "uncertain and easily avoided." The American soldier was even less impressed with earlier versions of the instrument. This precise description of the axe was accompanied by a quick but accurate sketch of the weapon. 
In March 1805, Lewis had the chance to observe French trader Joseph Gravelines demonstrate an important Indian industrial process: the intricate means Arikara craftsmen used to make glass beads. The Frenchman indicated that the Arikaras learned the skill from Shoshoni prisoners, but Tabeau heard from his Arikara friends that the process came to them from a "Spanish prisoner," perhaps an Indian held captive somewhere in the Southwest and traded up to the Grand River villages. As Gravelines went slowly through the steps, Lewis watched intently and probably took ample notes. From those notes and his own memory he was able to write a remarkably graphic and precise description of glass bead-making. That description included not only the steps in the process but the materials and equipment necessary for a successful result. Not satisfied with simply recounting the molding, firing, and tempering techniques, Lewis also noted how the beads were used. "The Indians," he explained, "are extreemly fond of the large beads formed by this process. They use them as pendants to their years [ears], or hair and sometimes wear them about their necks." 
Lewis's third ethnographic observation came at the end of the Fort Mandan season as the expedition was preparing for its second year of travel. To provide shelter for themselves, the interpreters, Sacagawea, and her child Jean Baptiste, the captains purchased a buffalo skin tepee. The expedition had seen tepees early in the journey among the Sioux bands; Lewis now wrote one of the best descriptions yet drafted of that distinctive plains dwelling.
Sometimes burdened with an overblown vocabulary and an ornate style, Lewis was nonetheless well on his way to becoming the expedition's premier ethnographer. He had neither Clark's talent for political analysis nor Ordway's penchant for the homey detail. He did have the naturalist's ability to describe objects with almost photographic fidelity. Lewis brought to ethnography the practiced eye of one who delighted in describing and cataloging the creatures of the natural world.
This tent is in the Indian stile, formed of a number of dressed Buffaloe skins in such manner that when foalded double it forms the quarter of a circle, and is left open at one side. Here it may be attatached or loosened at pleasure by strings which are sewed to its sides for the purpose. To erect this tent, a parsel of ten or twelve poles are provided, fore or five of which are attatched together at one end, they are then elivated and their lower extremities are spread in a circular manner to a width proportionate to the demention of the lodge; in the same position orther poles are leant against those, and the leather is then thrown over them forming a conic figure. 
From their earliest travels in the Americas, Europeans collected and sometimes stole what seemed to them attractive Indian souvenirs. At first those artifacts were seen as mere curiosities, conversation pieces for princes and merchants. But by the eighteenth century such "cabinets of curiosities" had become the core of serious scientific collections of ethnological specimens. Jefferson shared that impulse to assemble and analyze objects from cultures throughout the world. Just as the Royal Society instructed Capt. James Cook to gather representative samples of South Pacific material culture, so did Jefferson urge his captains to collect articles typical of Indian life along the route.
Most of the expedition's collecting reflected Lewis's interest in natural history as well as Jefferson's desire to catalog the plants, animals, and mineral resources of the newly acquired territories. Despite a focus on the land and its products, there was time to gather some Indian objects. On April 3, 1805, as the expedition was making final preparations for leaving Fort Mandan, Clark drafted a list of all those specimens and samples sent back to St. Louis with Warfington's keelboat crew. Among the boxes, trunks, and cages were a number of objects illustrating Indian life. Knowing Jefferson's interest in scientific agriculture, the explorers included a generous sample of the produce of Upper Missouri villagers. Arikara tobacco seeds, a carrot of their distinctive tobacco, and an ear of Mandan corn were the captains' harvest for the gardener of Monticello. Clothing was also included in the Indian collection sent downriver. Four buffalo robes and "some articles of Indian dress" wrapped in a Hidatsa robe were placed in the second numbered box to show the curious back home something of native fashion.
That second box also contained the most arresting object collected during the winter. On a large buffalo skin a Mandan artist had portrayed in vivid detail a 1797 battle between Arikara- Sioux raiders and Mandan-Hidatsa warriors. Warfare was further represented by a Mandan bow and quiver of arrows. The bow is the only object in the assembly whose provenance can be traced in the expedition's journals. Early in February 1805, Lewis paid a social call on Black Cat. During the visit he was presented with a bow by the Mandan chief, most likely the same bow sent along with some arrows in the St. Louis-bound boxes. Rounding out the Indian collection was a Mandan clay pot "used for culinary purposes." 
A review of the Indian objects collected by the expedition reenforces the impresssion that the explorers were bent on studying the externals of native life. Weapons, clothing, pottery, seeds, and a skin depicting a battle all suggest what Lewis and Clark thought was important for understanding villager ways. Nothing was sent back to reveal the rich ceremonial life in Mandan and Hidatsa towns. For the pragmatic Americans more interested in natural resources than in supernatural practices, collecting seeds made more sense than trying to get Indians to part with pieces of ritual paraphernalia. What emerged from the Mandan winter collection was a perception of the village Indians as warriors and farmers. It would take nineteenth-century artists like George Catlin and Karl Bodmer and explorers like Prince Maximilian to broaden that narrow image.
Much of the winter of 1804-1805 was a shared experience with Indian neighbors. With so many friendly villages close at hand, it was natural that both explorers and natives should participate in all sorts of activities. From formal rituals and largescale hunts to more intimate encounters, the expedition's members learned about Indians by living parts of villager culture. Because the Mandans and Hidatsas did not schedule major rituals like the creation drama called the Okipa during the winter, the explorers did not witness those powerful ceremonies. However, the Americans did participate in the buffalo-calling rites during January 1805 and saw a Mandan war medicine dance the same month.
Excluded by the calendar from the important public rituals, the explorers did gain much information about Indian life by taking part in less spectacular but perhaps more typical events. On a hunting trip with Sheheke, Lewis observed the plains custom of marking ownership of downed animals. As he related it to Clark, buffalo carcasses without identifying arrows in them could be claimed by anyone needing meat.  From eating in earth lodges the explorers learned about village menus and food preparation. Participation in some aspects of Indian daily life did not mean that the Americans changed their own cultural identity. But sharing some of the joys, troubles, and labor of a Dakota winter did give the expedition's ethnographers a sense of authority when they wrote about Indian life.
Lewis and Clark did not gather information out of idle curiosity. Although never attempting any complete picture of village life, they gave purpose and method to their ethnographic enterprise. That methodology can be best seen in their "Estimate of the Eastern Indians." More than random entries in their journals, the "Estimate" was the showpiece of their ethnography. Drafted by Lewis and Clark during the winter, the document was a massive effort to organize and compare data on nearly fifty tribes and bands. In concept and design it was as scientific as expedition ethnography ever got. Organized in tabular form and structured around nineteen questions, the "Estimate" recorded such things as tribal names, location, population, languages, and potential for American trade. Although Lewis and Clark composed an "Estimate of the Western Indians" during the winter at Fort Clatsop, that later document was not nearly as intricate or comprehensive.
Questions from the
"Estimate of the Eastern Indians"
a The Names of the Indian nations, as usially spelt and pronounc'd by the English.
b Primitive Indian names of Nations and Tribes, English Orthography, the syllabels producing the sounds by which the Inds, themselves express the names of their respective nations.
c Nick-names, or those which have generally obtained among the Canadian Traders.
d The Language they speak if primitive marked with a * otherwise derived from, & approximating to.
e Nos of Villages.
f Nos of Tents or Lodges of the roveing bands.
g Number of Warriours.
h The probable Number of Souls, of this Numbr deduct about ⅓ generally.
i The Names of the Christian Nations or Companies with whome they Maintain their Commerce and Traffick.
j The places at which the Traffick is usially carried on.
k The estimated amount of Merchindize in Dollars at the St. Louis prices for their annual consumption.
I The estimated amount of their returns in dollars, at the St. Louis prices.
m The kind of pelteries, & Robes which they Annually supply or furnish.
n The defferant kinds of Pelteres, Furs, Robes, Meat, Greece & Horses which each could furnish for trade.
o The place at which it would be mutually advantageous to form the principal establishment, in order to supply the Several nations with Merchindize.
p The names of the nations with whome they are at war.
q The names of the nations with whome they maintain a friendly alliance, or with whome they may be united by intercourse or marriage.
r The particular water courses on which they reside or rove.
s The Countrey in which they usially reside, and the principal water courses on or near which the Villages are Situated, or the Defferant Nations & tribes usially rove & Remarks. 
The "Estimate" and its questions sprang in part from the explorers' own efforts to pare down the lists of complex questions proposed by Jefferson and Rush. But the document was more than an expedient response to dwindling time and short abilities. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment stressed the careful gathering and thoughtful comparison of all knowledge. Learning needed to be practical, as the American Philosophical Society recognized when it dedicated itself to "Promoting Useful Knowledge." And in that age of encyclopedias, information required organization in order to be useful. The chapter organization and comparative charts in Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia may have been the progenitor of Lewis and Clark's "Estimate."
Typical of the informants Lewis and Clark sought out for the "Estimate" were two Indians, Greasy Head and an unnamed Arikara, who came to Fort Mandan early in March 1805 and "gave some account of the Indians near the rockey Mountains." Hugh Heney provided "the names and charecktors of the Seeaux" and the Chippewas. From Mandan and Hidatsa contacts came information on the Crow , Shoshoni , Blackfeet, and Nez Perce Indians. Reaching back to their days near St. Louis, the explorers used traders' information on the three Pawnee divisions as well as the Iowa and Osage peoples. Clark's careful list of Indians who traded with the Arikara villages proved invaluable when filling out the sections dealing with the Arapaho , Sutaio, Kiowa Apache , Comanche, and other central plains and southwest Indians. 
All that questioning, analyzing, and comparing produced accurate data about the names, numbers, and locations of Indians from the western Great Lakes to the Continental Divide, and from the Canadian plains to north Texas. What Lewis and Clark wanted, at least during the winter with the Mandans , was a kind of statistical geography of those tribes they had already met, those yet to be encountered, and those who might influence United States Indian policy. And that is really what the "Estimate of the Eastern Indians" proved to be—a limited but practical document for government agents and fur traders.
Although the "Estimate" was the key document produced by the expedition's ethnographers during the Mandan season, other records from that period contained information about the Indians. Thomas Jefferson, who had long been interested in Indian languages, provided the captains with blank vocabulary sheets as a means to collect and preserve native words and phrases. Clark told Nicholas Biddle that great care was exercised in getting each sound properly recorded. Writing years after the expedition Jefferson declared that Lewis "never miss[ed] an opportunity of taking a vocabulary." The trader Charles Mackenzie verified the explorers' commitment to language study, noting their struggles to capture words translated through several speakers. Knowing just how tense relations were between the American party and the Hidatsas-proper makes the expedition's successful effort to obtain a vocabulary from one of Le Borgne's brothers a genuine accomplishment. All told, the captains gathered some fourteen word lists to be sent downriver at the end of the winter. One of the lasting tragedies was that all that work was lost or misplaced after the expedition returned. 
Although those lost lists cannot be studied for their linguistic content, it is important to recognize the sorts of words and phrases sought out by the expedition. Reflecting Jefferson's commitment to useful knowledge, the blank vocabularies reveal a set of some 315 words needed for simple conversations between Indians and traders or government officials. The explorers were to gather classes of words ranging from Indian equivalents for simple numbers to the names of common animals. Names of the seasons, kinds of trees and plants, labels for family relationships, and words for basic human emotions were all to be included in the collecting process. Neither so utilitarian as the simple trading phrase vocabularies written by Hudson's Bay Company employees nor so complex as the dictionaries compiled later in the century by linguists working for the Bureau of American Ethnology, the Lewis and Clark vocabularies represent an attempt to gather information useful to men of science, government, and business. 
Most of the ethnographic data collected by the expedition was recorded in journal entries, the "Estimate of the Eastern Indians," and the now-lost vocabularies. But there were two additional sources of Indian information, which bring to light important aspects of native life as well as the fundamental contribution made by Indians to the expedition. Throughout the winter with the Mandans , Clark carefully gathered material in order to draw a large map of western America he called a "Connection of the Countrey." Writing in his journal on January 7, 1805, Clark reported that he was busy drafting "a connected plott from the information of Traders, Indians & my own observation & ideas." One historical geographer has called Clark's map "the foremost" result of the period of information gathering and analysis, while a specialist in historical cartography has described it as "one of the most significant maps produced by the expedition." 
Usually noted as an example of the way Lewis and Clark pictured the West before leaving Fort Mandan, the map also contained important tribal locations and population estimates. How Clark obtained such Indian ethnographic and geographic information and how he fitted that data into his own mental framework amount to a unique cultural confrontation. His cartography also suggests the Indians' views of their own physical environment as well as their ways of conveying those views to strangers. Just how much information about the proposed route from Fort Mandan to the mountains came from Indian sources can be judged by another document—Lewis's "Summary View of the Rivers and Creeks which discharge themselves into the Missouri." Composed during the winter of 1804-1805, this detailed study of rivers and streams between St. Louis and the Continental Divide is often cited as further evidence of the expedition's skill at gathering and analyzing a mass of geographic data. At the same time, a careful reading of the document reveals both the amount and quality of geographic knowledge available from the Indians around Fort Mandan.
Histories of North American exploration have often slighted the role of the Indians as suppliers of essential information to white explorers. Undue attention to the supposed efforts of Sacagawea to "guide" Lewis and Clark has tended to obscure the vital contributions of Mandan and Hidatsa mapmakers to the American enterprise. During the months of December and January, as Clark was hard at work on his western map, three important Indian-mapping sources became available to him. On December 17, he got from Heney "some sketches which he had obtained from the Indians to the West of this place." Just who those western Indians were or what information was contained in those sketches is not clear from the surviving evidence. However, Heney was highly regarded by the captains and any data he had from Indian sources was bound to get serious consideration. Early in January, as Clark continued work on his map, the Mandan chief Sheheke visited the fort and provided more valuable information. Sheheke gave Clark "a Scetch of the Countrey as far as the high Mountains, & on the south Side of the River Rejone [Yellowstone]." The chief explained that six small rivers emptied into the Yellowstone on the south, that the land was hilly and heavily timbered, and that there were "Great numbers of beaver." Guided by Sheheke's words or perhaps his drawing, Clark drafted a map of the Yellowstone from its confluence with the Missouri to its assumed headwaters somewhere in the Rockies. 
The "sketches" provided by Heney and Sheheke may not have been visual representations but rather verbal descriptions of lands and rivers toward the mountains. On January 16 the expedition did receive an unmistakably Indian map from a visiting Hidatsa chief. "This war chief," wrote Clark, "gave us a Chart in his way of the Missourie." Because Hidatsa raiders had personal knowledge of lands and peoples up to and sometimes beyond the Continental Divide, Lewis and Clark always placed high value on their reports. But Clark's phrase "a Chart in his way" hints at both the means the Hidatsa cartographer chose to construct his map and the problems the American explorer had in interpreting it.
As Clark explained later to Biddle, Indian maps came in several shapes and forms. Some were flat drawings made on skins or mats while others were three-dimensional relief maps made in sand, "hills designated by raising sand, rivers by hollow etc." Although it is not certain which method had been employed in making this Hidatsa map, there was no doubt that working with it posed serious problems. Accustomed to dealing with flat maps having North at the top, locations plotted by latitude and longitude, and distances measured in miles, Clark must have found the Hidatsa map bewildering. Both Indians and whites made maps, but the interests of those peoples and their cartographic conventions were quite different. Indian mapmakers often oriented their maps along sunrise and sunset lines or toward the direction of travel. Distances were measured in terms of travel time while directions were expressed in words such as above and below. Because Indians mapped what was important to them, the concerns of the expedition must have sometimes appeared strange or illogical. Used to travel overland by horse, plains people found it difficult to answer questions about the heads of navigation on the Missouri and other rivers. Lines drawn in the sand might mean creeks, game trails, or often-used war routes. Language itself compounded the problem. Simple prepositions such as to and from could be crucial in explaining the direction of a river's flow. The shape of the Hidatsa map, its unfamiliar conventions, and the cultural assumptions behind it must have challenged Clark's abilities. That the explorer and the Indian were willing to attempt such communication across an especially treacherous cultural divide testifies to the skill and persistence of both men. 
It was easier for Clark to fix tribes and villages on his own western map than to interpret native charts. In many ways Clark's 1805 map was a visual statement of the "Estimate of the Eastern Indians." The peoples classified and tabulated in the "Estimate" were located spatially on Clark's map. From his vantage point at the Mandan villages, the explorer looked north and properly located the several Assiniboin and Cree bands in what is now Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Farther to the North and West, in northern Montana and Saskatchewan, he correctly placed two of the Blackfeet divisions, the Bloods and the Siksikas. On the North Saskatchewan River, Clark precisely spotted the Sarsi Indians. Turning west, he accurately recorded the locations and populations of the Crow , Comanche, Cheyenne , Kiowa, Shoshoni , and Flathead Indians. Drawing on information from Hidatsa sources, he noted the important links between the Hidatsas and the River Crows . Recognizing the distant travels of Hidatsa warriors, Clark took pains to trace "the war path of the Big Bellies" from the Knife River villages, along the Missouri, across the mountains, and on to the Flathead Indians in the present-day Bitterroot Valley in Montana. 
While Clark was occupied in recording Indian information on his map, Lewis was gathering equally significant native data to incorporate in his compilation of Missouri River waterways and prominent geographical features. For his description of the creeks and rivers flowing into the Missouri between St. Louis and Fort Mandan, Lewis could rely on the expedition's firsthand experience. But for details beyond the mouth of the Knife River, the explorer admitted that "the subsequent description of this river [the Missouri], and its subsidiary streams are taken altogether from Indian information." Convinced that such information was "entitled to some confidence," Lewis nonetheless was careful to explain that he and Clark had closely questioned natives during the entire winter, compared their answers, and accepted only those that could be cross-checked. What came from mostly Hidatsa sources was a remarkably accurate picture of the Missouri River from the Great Bend to its headwaters. But just as the Indians' different cultural perceptions made mapping from their data difficult, so did those same problems distort Lewis's analysis. Nowhere was that distortion more evident than in the ways explorers and Indians understood the nature of the Great Falls of the Missouri. The Indians' description was especially vivid, telling of the power and thunderous sound of the falls. But because Hidatsa warriors had no experience carrying heavy boats and cumbersome luggage around the falls, they reported that the portage was "not greater than half a mile." As it turned out, the expedition struggled over a bruising eighteen-mile route around the falls. Despite misunderstandings about the identity of the Marias River, the nature of the Great Falls portage, a purported easy passage over the Continental Divide, and the imagined south fork of the Columbia River just over the divide, the Indians' information proved not only accurate but invaluable. 
To evaluate Lewis and Clark's ethnographic contributions, three related questions ought to be posed. First, what did the explorers see, understand, and accurately record? Determined to study the externals of Indian culture, Lewis and Clark excelled at describing village locations, weapons, food, clothing and other material aspects. Journal accounts of village meals illustrate the point. With obvious relish, Clark described Little Crow's wife stirring "a kettle of boiled Cimnins, beans, corn and choke cherries with the stones." Ordway went further, describing with cookbook accuracy the ingredients and shaping of Indian corn ball bread. The sergeant found that this part of the Indian diet "eats verry well."  With a common-sense curiosity that characterized so much of the expedition's ethnography, the explorers observed and tasted the stuff of Indian life.
On occasion, Lewis and Clark were able to understand and record other aspects of Indian life, including trade, a subject of intense interest to them. Although sometimes confused by Indian notions of what was valuable in an economic exchange, the explorers did comprehend one of the central rituals in intertribal trade. Because Indians who traded at the Mandan and Hidatsa villages were for most of the year potential enemies, or relatives of those killed in combat, means had to be found to forestall possible violence and allow peaceful relations. Reflecting the fundamental Indian social reality that defined relatives as friends and outsiders as enemies, villagers and nomads created a ceremony in which strangers were made temporary, fictional relatives. Men who might later fight each other could for a brief time exchange goods, trade stories, and even share religious practices as fathers and sons. 
Sieur de la Vérendrye was the first European to record this practice of adoption, reporting that the Assiniboin Indians who accompanied him asked to be adopted as his "children," thus repeating the formula they had long employed with the Mandans . In mid-November 1804, with a large number of Assiniboin and Cree Indians camped nearby, Clark took note of "a serimony of adoption, and interchange of property." Relating the process to Nicholas Biddle, Clark explained that "every man of the North makes a comrade of the Mandan or Ricara with whom he had to deal." An exchange of gifts sealed the adoption, established certain bargaining limits, and signaled the opening of peaceful trade. 
But there is a second question equally worth asking. What did the expedition see, record, but not understand? During that long Dakota winter the explorers encountered many things well beyond their own cultural experience. Ritual behavior or social customs often eluded their grasp, especially if they had no counterparts in white American life. Berdaches, those plains Indian men who dressed and acted as women, caught the captains' attention but evaded their understanding. First mentioned by Clark in late December 1804, the berdaches were described as "men dressed in squars clothes." In conversation with Biddle, Clark amplified that original description, adding that young Hidatsa boys showing "any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations" were raised as women, married men, and fulfilled all the functions assigned to Hidatsa women. But Clark had missed the spiritual nature of the berdache while imposing an interpretation of sexual deviation where none belonged. What he perceived as gender confusion or homosexuality was actually something quite outside his own experience. Men became berdaches not early in life but usually as teenagers or later. The berdache role could be assumed only after a series of dreams from the Holy Woman Above. Only brothers or sons of men owning ceremonial rights to the Woman Above and Holy Woman bundles could become berdaches. After having the required dreams and assuming women's clothing, berdaches were viewed as persons of great and sometimes mysterious spirit power. 
The explorers were equally confused by the few native religious rituals they witnessed. One of those was the practice of feeding to buffalo heads or skulls a ceremonial meal. When Gass saw a Mandan offer food to a buffalo head, he ridiculed the devotion, saying, "Their superstitious credulity is so great, that they will believe by using the head well the living buffalo will come and that they will get a supply of meat." After the expedition's hunters killed a buffalo and put its head on the bow of the keelboat, an Indian passing by stopped and spent some time smoking to the buffalo. Asked what he was doing, the man replied that the buffalo was his medicine and required this ritual. 
Although the ceremony was accurately described by Gass and Clark, its meaning escaped them. The Americans did not sense the connection Indians made between living things and those apparently dead. Feeding buffalo heads could appease the spirits of dead animals while reassuring those that were to be hunted and killed. Hunters always made a small offering to a skull before beginning the hunt. Buffalo skulls were often included in the most powerful of the medicine bundles. Unaware of the sanction given to buffalo feeding by the buffalo culture hero in the Sacred Arrows myth, the explorers could interpret the practice as only savage superstition or childish fantasy. 
One of the rituals of village life most carefully recorded and least understood was the Mandan buffalo-calling ceremony. The open sexuality of the rite certainly attracted some of the American party, but the purpose of that ritual intercourse simply baffled Clark. Several men in the expedition obligingly took part in it, and their experiences enabled Clark to write a remarkably detailed description of buffalo calling. He realized that the ceremony was undertaken to attract the herd and guarantee a successful hunt. But he simply could not fathom how sexual relations between old men or white men and the wives of younger Indians could bring the animals closer and ensure good kills. Admiring much about the Mandan way, Clark found it difficult to reconcile what seemed random promiscuity with his own positive evaluation of village life. He did not understand that northern plains cultures assumed that sexual intercourse was like a pipeline that could transfer spiritual power from one person to another. Old men had that special power and, as Clark himself noted, "the Indians say all white flesh is medisan." Giving their wives to old men or white strangers was a way aspiring young men could appropriate powerful spirit forces for themselves. Nothing in his cultural heritage prepared Clark to comprehend all this, but he had the good sense to make an accurate record of the event. It is important to recall that Clark was not prudish about buffalo calling. He wrote his account in plain English. It was only later that the proper Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle put Clark's forthright words into genteel Latin. 
Finally, Lewis and Clark's ethnography needs to be assessed by what the explorers did not see. Since it was the wrong season of the year, they did not witness the awesome Okipa. Because many essential social aspects of native life were culturally invisible to most white outsiders, the captains did not take note of the clans and age-grade societies that gave shape to Upper Missouri Indian life. Some objects were hidden from all strangers: Lewis and Clark neither saw nor wrote about the sacred bundles, the turtle drums, and the ceremonies that surrounded those objects. Just how much Indian religious practice the explorers understood is not clear from the evidence. Clark did write about "medicine" and tried to explain the idea to Biddle by recounting part of a Mandan creation story.  But it is doubtful if any member of the expedition understood the plains belief in power or medicine as a tangible force that pervaded all life. Lewis and Clark never saw the interior of the Mandan and Hidatsa universe. That universe—the amalgam of behavior and values that made villagers who they were—was simply beyond the explorers' cultural horizon.
During the winter at Fort Mandan, Lewis and Clark served their apprenticeships in ethnography. They saw much and recorded most of it in simple, commonsense language. Migration stories, selective prairie burning, and warriors' weapons—all were described in the expedition's record. By the time Lewis and Clark got to the Shoshonis , they were journeymen ethnographers on the way to becoming masters.
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.