by Olivia Vitale
What were the Indians thinking when they saw the first glimpse of the Corps of Discovery? Was it bad thoughts or good thoughts? Imagine squirrels beginning to invade the Prairie dog towns. The threat of that new animal would make the Prairie dogs feel different emotions. Some of which would be positive or negative. The Prairie dogs have a right to keep their land, but the squirrels could get away with it. In the end do the Prairie dogs win or do the Squirrels take over?
What happened with the Corps of discovery was similar to Lewis and Clark trying to make a good impression on the Indians they met on their expeditions. They had to make sure they kept Thomas Jefferson’s word. Thomas Jefferson, the President of the United Sates, always dreamed of exploring the unknown and elusive Northwest. For all he knew the possible theory of the Woolly Mammoth, giants, llamas, mountains of salt, and the lost tribe of Welsh people could be living in the uncharted West (Blumberg 31). So he decided to send a group of responsible and trustworthy men willing to explore the unknown and find a water route that lead to the Pacific ocean, map the land, make reports on the terrain, animals, soil vegetation, and climate ( Blumberg 22).
But that wasn’t just the only objective of the trip. There were Indians out there that they needed to interact with and make peace with and teaching them about the “White Father” ( Blumberg 8). It would be a challenge because they didn’t know how the Indians would interact and respond toward the Corps. So Jefferson chose a leader that he could trust; Meriwhether Lewis, his personal secretary who for two years had a hands on experience at the White House (Blumberg 17). Lewis agreed to lead the expedition and he invited a 33 year old friend William Clark to join the expedition and share in the leadership ( Blumberg 24). Clark agreed to join the ambitious group called the Corps of Discovery ( Blumberg 25).
The Corps of Discovery was made up of nine Kentucky men, fourteen soldiers, two French river men, an interpreter, and a black man, York the slave (Blumberg 32). Before embarking on the expedition, Lewis bought over a ton of provisions and food, and arranged to have gifts for the Indians. Including camp supplies, clothing, “Portable soup” (that tasted horrible), scientific instruments, books and medicines ( Blumberg 20). On May 14, 1804 the Corps left camp and set off. Twenty oarsmen propelled the keel boats up the Missouri, in search of new discoveries and Native Americans ( Blumberg 32). There were Positive and Negative interactions with the Indians.
To ensure that the Indians would like and agree with the Corps they brought things to impress them, leading to both many Positive and Negative interactions. This was very important because to make the Indians there allies they also had to have assets and things the Indians didn’t have or wanted to have. This was also useful for trading. Before Lewis and Clark left on the expedition, they were supplied with things that would amaze the Indians like matches with instant fire, medals, and certificates from the government ( Blumberg 28). During groupings when everyone was together they shot the airgun and the keel boat swivel guns to make the Indians impressed ( Blumberg 58). But what amazed the Indians the most was the black man York.
Another way the Corps impressed the Indians was with the Black man York. York was Clark’s slave, and he came on the expedition because he was Clark’s companion, and would be a good asset for the Corps. York was a strong man, tall muscular, and his dark skin amazed the Indians. The Indians at first were like a timid and unsure coyote checking out a new coyote that was a totally different color. They thought that York had dark paint on him but after minutes of rubbing his skin they finally concluded that that was his natural skin color. York charmed them for hey had ever seen a black man before. The Ankara’s were big admirer’s of him ( Blumberg 59). When Lewis’s group of men were at the Shoshoni camp the chief told them about their needs. To convince the chief that Clark’s crew that were on their way were safe, he told them about the black man York (Blumberg 89). Another asset was Seamen, Lewis’s dog. The Indians saw him as a curiosity, a miniature small bear. He caught squirrels and was a very strong swimmer ( Blumberg 36).
When the Corps encountered Indians that were uncertain about them, they lured them with specific actions.The Corps always had to be prepared for sometimes encounters were unexpected. If they were outnumbered in men, then the risk of them getting into a fight would be more. So what Lewis and Clark said would really have to be convincing and would appeal to the Indians. There were sometimes when what Lewis said didn’t do what he intended, and resulted in an Indian being offended or he accidentally saying something he shouldn’t have. One day Lewis spotted a Shoshoni on a horse. To make sure that the Indian wouldn’t runaway scared, he lured him with trinkets and a blanket. He said “ta-ta-bone” which he thought was “White man” but actually was “stranger.” The Indian galloped away on his horse because strangers were unwanted company and seen as an enemy. (Blumberg 88). They also came across eight Blackfeet Indians which disturbed Lewis because they were outnumbered. He had to be very careful about what he said because the Blackfeet Indians were known for being fierce. Imagine if you were in a situation where it was very dangerous and you had to keep your word carefully. He told them about the advantages of trading with the United States (Blumberg 117).
A very useful action that Lewis used to lure Indians was doing something more Physical than words. They encountered three Shoshoni woman. One ran away, and the other two bowed there heads thinking that they were going to be murdered (Blumberg 88). He walked over to the two women and smeared red paint on their cheeks, a sign of peace( Blumberg 88). A feeling of reasurement and joy flooded through the two Indian girls for they weren’t going to be killed. Lewis and Clark followed them both to their camp.
There were Positive encounters with the Indians. When the Corps convinced and impressed the Indians, sometimes it succeeded resulting in memorable times with them and grand feasts. Lewis and Clark were welcomed by many tribes. When Clark’s boats arrived at the Shoshoni camp, they welcomed them with rather “greasy” hugs and they admired York (Blumberg 89). The Shoshoni people were very grateful for them because Sacajawea the only woman who also joined the group, was a Shoshoni and had been kidnapped when she was young. Her face lit up with joy when she was finally reunited with them. The Shoshoni’s were having a hard time for they had no weapons and many of there people were being killed by more powerful tribes like the Blackfeet. Clark promised that he would give them guns in trade for horses. The guns would help them defend themselves against their enemies (Blumberg 90). Horses were very important to the Corps because they carried many of the supplies and specimens. But the horses were getting weak after walking for miles, so the Corps traded things for fresh horses, the old ones given to that tribe. One of these tribes were the Flatheads. They welcomed the Corps and traded their healthy horses for weak ones which was very generous of them (Blumberg 93). The Nez Perce Indians greeted them with friendliness. They served food to them and made new canoes (Blumberg 96).
Establishing friendships and having feasts were memories that each member of the Corps remembered. Black Buffalo allowed Lewis and Clark to have a grand feast, to probably help them overcome the difficulties they were having (Blumberg 54). The Mandan’s were friendly to the Corps and supplied them with food during the cold and hard winter months where food was more scarce. The Mandan’s were also mesmerized with the color of York’s skin (C computer research). The winter months was a time where the Corps and the Indians could bond even more because they were mostly indoors all day away from he blistering cold. They also spent a month by the Nez Perce and established friendships. Clark was “Good Medicine” to them because he cured many of the Indians a day from their sore eyes, and paralysed feet (Blumberg 115).
Some tribes still treasured and kept the peace medals that were given to them, which they honored. Peace medals were so treasured to the Indians that they were buried with their owners. This started in 1789 (Blumberg 29). One day the captions stopped at Yankton Sioux territory. They smoked Peace pipes and the chiefs said that they had done what the Corps asked them of when they were give the medal (Blumberg 123). The Corps expectations with the Indians was to make peace with them for if the Corps were going into the Indians land they had to make a good impression on them and befriend them. So the Peace medal was a token of Peace and a gift that they could remember them by. The Walla Walla Indians were very jolly and happy and they still kept the peace medals they were given by Lewis and Clark.They supplied the Corps with supplies ad food, some of which were watermelons! (Blumberg 114).
There were Negative reactions and encounters with the Indians. There was one encounter in particular that was was one of the worst. Imagine that the squirrels had a meeting with the Prairie dogs, and the chief squirrel gave one of the Prairie Dog chiefs more gifts than the other. This has been known to be the Partisan problem. What could of prevented this would of been if Lewis had given the chiefs the same amount of gifts, stating that he didn’t favor one more than the other which would arouse jealousy. Lewis and Clark invited Black Buffalo and Partisan who were chiefs of the Teton tribe to take a tour of the keelboat. Lewis made a mistake for he gave Partisan lesser gifts not knowing that they were rivals (Blumberg 53). Partisan then made it clear that he had not gotten the presents sufficient from Lewis and Clark. Clark warned the Tetons that he had “More medicine on board his boat that would kill twenty nations” (Blumberg 53). Black Buffalo was feeling quite amused because he was rivals with Partisan so he didn’t really care, but Partisan was furious for he was insulted by this white man. Then his jealousy took over him. When the leaders decided to leave and go up the river bank, Partisan told his men to hold the keelboat’s rope and not free the boat (Blumberg 55).
Lewis now seeing that he had to do something ordered his men to gear up and armor for battle. 200 Indians were armed as well on the shore. Black Buffalo came to the rescue and prevented a bloody war (Blumberg 55). If it wasn’t for Black Buffalo the 33 men on the expedition would have to go against 200 Indians, which would not favor 33 men. In the evening Black Buffalo beckoned the Corps to come across. When Lewis rejected the offer Black Buffalo went to the top of the hill and hit the ground three times with his gun (Rhonda 27). Lewis didn’t want to have Partisan see him with Black Buffalo at the moment because it could stir up some more negative emotions. Although that night Black Buffalo and some of his men were invited to sleep on deck, not Partisan (Blumberg 53).
Some negative encounters were from a distance. One of these was when the crew passed Teton Sioux land, a group of warriors mocked and dared them to land. The crew did not (Blumberg 122). They expected a surprise attack, in the evening a group of Tetons appeared on a hill by the North bank of the river. One Indian fired his gun, but they left quickly which was never clear (Rhonda 43). This was a sign of a threat. Rene Jusseaume the interpreter called from the side of the river saying that the Sioux were not reliable and were dangerous. Clark told the Sioux they had given Mandan’s and Hidatsa’s weapons, which upset the Sioux. They claimed they would kill Americans (Ronda 27).
There were problems with Indians stealing important things of the Corps. Lewis became very outraged with the Chinooks that he warned them that if they tried to steal more and insult them, he would kill them! At Fortclatsop the Indians had to leave before twilight for they were thieves (Blumberg 109).
One day when John Colter was hunting by the river, he announced that one of the horses had been stolen by Tetons. The horses were very important because they carried many of the gear, this made the Corps upset.
Some negative encounters with the Native Americans were Physical. And some of these Physical fights resulted in someone getting badly hurt. One of the most disturbing fights was the encounter with a group of Blackfeet Indians. Stealing was a big problem and concern, for the Indians just couldn’t keep their hands of things. The Blackfeet tried to steal the Corps guns, this was a big no- no because the guns were very important to the Corps, and they just couldn’t be blamed for giving bad tribe guns if they killed any of the lesser friendlier tribes like the Shoshoni’s for example. The men awoke to the sound of movement outside. When the Blackfeet were stealing, shouts from the Field brothers caused a fight resulting in Reaban Field stabbing an Indian in the heart (Blumberg 118).
In the frenzy two more Blackfoot Indians were killed (Two Medicine encounter, Website). In the commotion Lewis shot another warrior.They left so quickly they left their horses and weapons. Lewis was so angry he burned the bows and arrows. Lewis put a peace medal around the neck of one of the Blackfoot Indians that were dead. They left fearing and ambush from the Blackfeet, and they covered 120 miles in an hour (Blumberg 118). From then on the Blackfeet Indians acted unfriendly toward the expedition.
Some tribes showed there hostility in specific actions. Some Hidatsa’s presented their hostility by not accepting the gifts and medals as “Bad Medicine” (Blumberg 72). On their return trip to the Missouri the Chinook Indians threw stones at them, and attempted to steal Seamen from Lewis (Blumberg 112). In the Partisan problem there were some Physical parts that he did. On the tour of the Keelboat, Partisan acted to the insult by being annoying. He pretended to be drunk on the tour of the Keelboat, and he shook Clark upsetting him, on purpose to get back at him (Blumberg 53). It was a difficult time getting Partisan and his Indians back to shore and three attended to hijack the rope (Blumberg 53).Eventually at night when the Indians had left to their camp and Lewis and Clark had that problem finally solved, he was rewarded with some sleep.
There were some encounters that were divided Negative and Positive which were uncertain. But the Corps had to put up with it because the Indians were their source of food, supplies, female company, etc. The Nez Perce Indians accepted the speech that Lewis and Clark recited to each tribe they visited, but the woman wept for they felt that the White Men’s power was a big mistake (Blumberg 114). The other tribe that was a little mischievous as well were the Chinook Indians who were unpleasant after they stole some of Clark’s things. Although they had to put up with it for the Chinooks were their source of food, wood, and female company (Blumberg 105). The Chinook Indians were familiar with the European traders, and were peaceful toward the Corps, although theft became a problem (Native Americans: Chinooks, Website).
Some tribes were not impressed with the Corps and they doubted and disagreed with them. The Hidatsa’s doubted Lewis’s intentions and refused him telling them who to trade with and who to call as “Great Father” (Blumberg 72). It was hard for Lewis and Clark because they were going to people that had never seen white men before other than traders, and were telling them about something they never knew about. The Indians were careful about their decisions. The Corps met the Lakota’s, a group of Teton Sioux Indians on September 25. They were Hostile and were not amazed by the speech and presentation (Hamen, Website).
Some tribes were disappointed in the Corps and lost the trust that Lewis and Clark really needed. From after hearing that the Arikara chief died on the trip back from the congress, the Arikara Indians decided that white men should not be trusted and relied on. They were aggressive toward them from then on (Blumberg 122). The Indians that lived by Fort Clatsop were disappointed in the men for they couldn’t understand them. They didn’t get how the Corps were all huddled in their territory like ants from the cold, after travelling for miles and weren’t trading with them (Blumberg 109)?
There were mistakes the Corps made that created mixed emotions. All of these mistakes were not intended, but sometimes the Corps couldn’t tell if they were going into “bad waters”. Lewis made a big mistake when he told the Blackfeet Indians he was friends with the Nez Perce and the Shoshoni’s, which were their enemies. That night the Blackfeet Indians stole riffles and guns (Blumberg 118). The plan of the Americans was a threat to the Blackfeet because by giving guns to the Blackfeet enemies, it would lessen their power (Two Medicine Encounter, Website).
The Hidatsa’s were unreliable and untrustable. The Hidatsa’s gave Lewis and Clark lessons on maps and geography that would lead them into a confusing wilderness (Blumberg 74). The Hidatsa’s were intent on having a battle with the Shoshoni’s that they even uses arrowheads and axes made by John Shields (Blumberg 74). They did this because by killing the friends of Lewis and Clark with weapons that the Corps made, it would be more hurtful.
Some events that were intended to be something good resulted in something bad. Big White the chief of the Arikara’s was willing to go back with the Corps to see Jefferson. Although many Indians were upset, and expected to never see him again (Blumberg 122). A trader brought the Arikara’s news of their chief who had died on his way to Washington. They were given his close, certificate of honor, peace medal, and a note from Jefferson (Blumberg 122).
There were both Negative and Positive interactions with the Indians. After all the hardships, good and bad, the Corps learned from their experiences and arrived home safely. The most important Positive encounters the Corps will always remember are the tribes that welcomed them with hugs and made them all laugh. Some of these were the Walla Walla’s, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshoni’s. The memorable feasts the crew had with the Indians who so generously allowed them into their village and world to learn about them was warm to the heart. There were Negative encounters that stood out the most. These encounters showed that Indians disagreed or misunderstood the Corps. The Partisan fight resulted in a negative way to solve a situation. Which could have been a bloody battle if it weren’t for Black Buffalo. Many Indians stole the Corps’s provisions and guns, always making them alert. The Corps of discovery arrived home safely on September 23, 1806. The expedition arrived at st. Louis! People cheered them on as their proud faces gleamed. The Expedition was a success.
In his later years Clark thrived and had many children. He named his first child after Lewis. Although the hero of this story, Lewis did find a tragic end. He couldn’t publish his journal for someone else got their greedy hands on it. He fell into a deep lonesome depression because the girl he loved turned him down, and life didn’t seem to have any more meaning left. Some say he was shot in his room in the inn where he was staying, but others say that he shot himself.
Did the Squirrels succeed in their intentions to take the Prairie Dogs’ rightful land, by changing their beliefs to the “White Father” their new God? The Prairie dogs would have to love their country even more, for their time living on their ancestral land was closing to an end.
Blumberg, Rhoda. The Incredible journey of Lewis and Clark . China: Harper Collins, 1987.
Rhonda, James. Lewis and Clark Among the Indians. Nebraska:
University of Nebraska Press , Lincoln and London.1988.
Lewis and Clark Two Medicine Encounter. March 22, 2011. Website.
Lewis and Clark: Madans. PBS Online. March 22, 2011. Website.
Lewis and Clark: Native Americans. PBS online. March 22, 2011. Website .
Lewis and Clark: Chinooks. PBS online. March 22, 2011. Website.
Hamen, Susan. Lewis and Clark Expedition. Minnesota:
ABDO publishing company, 2008. Website.
Lewis and Clark In The Land Of The Prairie Dogs
by Olivia Vitale
8th Grade History Class
Teacher – Jennifer Haase
Hyla Middle School
Bainbridge Island, Washington
March 22, 2011