Lewis and Clark: 1800-1850

Excerpts from the Journals of Lewis and Clark*
By Bernard DeVoto, 1953

Leaving the Mandans


About thirty Mandans came to the fort today; 6 chiefs. Those Minnetarees told them they were liars; had told them if they came to the fort the white men would kill them. They had been with them all night, smoked the pipe and have been treated well, and the whites had danced for them, observing the Mandans were bad, and ought to hide themselves. One of the first war chiefs of the Big Bellies' nation came to see us today, with one man and his squaw to wait on him. Requested that she might be used for the night. His wife handsome. We shot the air gun and gave two shots with the cannon, which pleased them very much. The Little Crow, second chief of the lower village, came and brought us corn, &c. Four men of ours, who had been hunting, returned; one frosted.

This war chief gave us a chart, in his way, of the Missouri. He informed us of his intentions of going to war in the spring against the Snake Indians. We advised him to look back at the number of nations who had been destroyed by war, and reflect upon what he was about to do; observing, if he wished, the happiness of his nation, he would be at peace with all. By that, by being at peace, and having plenty of goods amongst them, and a free intercourse with those defenseless nations, they would get, on easy terms, a greater number of horses; and that nation would increase. If he went to war against those defenseless people, he would displease his Great Father, and he would not receive that protection and care from him, as other nations who listened to his word. This chief, who is a young man 26 years old, replied that if his going to war against the Snake Indians would be displeasing to us, he would not go.

Captain Clark, 16 January 1805



A delightful day. Put out our clothes to sun. Visited by The Big White and Big Man. They informed me that several men of their nation were gone to consult their medicine stone, about 3 days' march to the southwest, to know what was to be the result of the ensuing year. They have great confidence in this stone, and say that it informs them of everything which is to happen, and visit it every spring and sometimes in the summer. "They, having arrived at the stone, give it smoke, and proceed to the woods at some distance to sleep. The next morning, return to the stone, and find marks white and raised on the stone, representing the peace or war which they are to meet with, and other changes which they are to meet." This stone has a level surface about 20 feet in circumference, thick and porous, and no doubt has some mineral qualities affected by the sun. The Big Bellies have a stone to which they ascribe nearly the same virtues.

Captain Lewis returned with 2 sleighs loaded with meat. After finding that he could not overtake the Sioux war party, (who had in their way destroyed all the meat at one deposit which I had made, and burned the lodges), determined to proceed on to the lower deposit which he found had not been observed by the Sioux. He hunted two days; killed 36 deer and 14 elk, several of them so meager that they were unfit for use. The meat which he killed and that in the lower deposit, amounting to about 3,000 pounds, was brought up on two sleighs; one, drawn by 16 men, had about 2,400 pounds on it.

Captain Clark, 21 February 1805



Wefixed a windlass and drew up the two pirogues on the upper bank, and attempted the boat; but the rope, which we had made of elk skins, proved too weak, and broke several times. Night coming on obliged us to leave her in a situation but little advanced. We were visited by the Black Moccasin, chief of the little village of the Big Bellies, the chief of the Shoe Indians, and a number of others. Those chiefs gave us some meat which they packed on their wives; and one requested an ax to be made for his son, Mr. Root Bunch, one of the under traders for the Hudson's Bay Company. One of the Big Bellies asked leave for himself and his two wives to stay all night, which was granted. Also two boys stayed all night, one the son of The Black Cat.

This day has been exceedingly pleasant.

Captain Clark, 25 February 1805



Mr. Gravelines informs that the Sissetons and the 3 upper bands of the Tetons, with the Yanktons of the north, intend to come to war in a short time against the nations in this quarter, and will kill every white man they see. Mr. Tabeau also informs that Mr. Cameron of St. Peters has put arms into the hands of the Sioux, to revenge the death of 3 of his men killed by the Chippewas, latterly; and that the band of Tetons which we saw is disposed to do as we have advised them through the influence of their chief, Black Buffalo.

Mr. Gravelines further informs that the party which robbed us of the two horses latterly, were all Sioux-106 in number. They called at the Arikaras on their return. The Arikaras, being displeased at their conduct, would not give then anything to eat, that being the greatest insult they could possibly offer them, and upbraided them.

Captain Clark, 28 February 1805



A cloudy cold, and windy morning. Wind from the north. I walked up to see the party that is making pirogues, about 5 miles above this. The wind hard and cold. On my way up, I met Le Borgne, main chief of the Minnetarees, with four Indians on their way to see us. I requested him to proceed on to the Fort, where he would find Captain Lewis. I should be there myself in the course of a few hours. Sent the interpreter back with him, and proceeded on myself to the canoes. Found them nearly finished. The timber very bad. After visiting all the pirogues, where I found a number of Indians, I went to the upper Mandan village and smoked a pipe (the greatest mark of friendship and attention) with the chief, and returned. On my return, found the Minnetaree chief about to set out on his return to his village, having received of Captain M. Lewis, a medal, gorges, arm bands, a flag shirt, scarlet, &c., for which he was much pleased. Those things were given in place of sundry articles sent to him which, he says, he did not receive. Two guns were fired for this great man.

Captain Clark, 9th March, 1805



* Read Bernard De Voto's "The Journals of Lewis and Clark," 1953, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.