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Lewis and Clark History

Welcome to Indian Country

By the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, American Indian Tribes on the East Coast had nearly 200 years of interaction.  The Jamestown Colony was established in 1607.  The French and Indian Wars were fought between 1754 and 1763. The American Revolution began in 1775 and concluded in 1781, resulting in a new independence from Britain for the 13 American colonies. 
Visiting Indian Country published by the Circle of Tribal Advisors (Bicentennial Edition)  PDF   2259 kb >>

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Welcome to Indian Country Continued ...

The 13 Original States

By 1790, the original 13 states were created - Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia. Shortly thereafter, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vermont became states.  And by 1803, at the start of the Lewis and Clark Journey, Ohio became the 17th state in the new union. 

Lewis and Clark Were Informed of or Encountered 100 + Tribes

Nations that Lewis & Clark encountered

GREAT BASIN INDIANS: Shoshone, Bannock, Pauite
Known as Digger Indians; foraging and digging for edible wild plants - roots, berries, seeds, and nuts.

PLAINS INDIANS: Blackfeet, Assiniboine, Crow, Hidatsa, Mandan, Yankton Sioux, Arikara, Teton Sioux, Ponca, Omaha, Otoe, Kaw, Missouri, Osage
Nomadic lifestyle following the buffalo herds.  Most famous of all Indians for their horsemanship, buffalo hunting skills, teepees, and war bonnets.

PLATEAU INDIAN: Yakama, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Nez Perce, Flathead, Wishram, Wanapum, Palouse, Cayuse,  Klickitat, Methow.
Living along the Columbia River Basin and its tributaries, the Plateau Indians were skillful fisherman.  Salmon was their main food source; supplemented with a variety of  berries and roots.

NORTHWEST COASTAL INDIANS: Chinook, Tillamook, Clatsop, Salishan.
Were among the premier Native American woodworkers.  Northwest Coastal Indians often erected giant totem poles outside their houses.  


Along the Lower Missouri - First Native Council


On May 21, 1804 "The Corps of Discovery" set out on one of the most documented American adventures.  By July, the Corps had traveled into Indian country, but had not met up with any Indians. Then, during a halt a hunting party met up with a Missouri Indian. A few days later a company of Otoe and Missouri came to visit. Lewis spoke to the assemblage about the United States control of Louisiana and the need for peace between Indians and Americans.

On the Upper Missouri  - The Great Sioux Nation

On the Great Plains
Lewis and Clark on the Great Plains Timeline

Lewis knew that he would soon run into the Sioux and they might not receive him so cordially.  Lewis finally made contact with the Yankton Sioux at Calumet Bluff on August 30th. He saw little of the ferocity of the Sioux in this first meeting, and the expedition parted from the Yanktons' on the best of terms.

For a while, the Corps spent some idyllic days hunting the abundant autumn game, while Lewis was happily engrossed with natural history.  This mood was shattered by the keelboat's approach to another Sioux camp, which turned out to be far from peaceable. When Lewis tried to begin a council, the chiefs reacted with suspicion and belligerence. The Teton Sioux did not want a powerful force of white men so deep within their country. But again the explorers combination of coolness and firepower kept the Indians from starting a fight. As a result, peace had been preserved, and the Corps of Discovery sailed on.

Proceeding up the Missouri, the Corps of Discovery receive a peaceful reception from an Arikara village and rest.  York, Clark's slave, astounded the Arikara's with his size and skin color.  Captain Clark's journal entry, October 10, 1804, "The Indians much asstonished at my Black servent and Call him the big medison, this nation never saw a black man before." 

Winter at Fort Mandan- Among the Mandan Villages

Because the weather had turned cold, windy, and wet, a winter campsite was urgently needed. One was found near the Mandan Villages in present day North Dakota by the time of the first snow, and its construction was begun in November. A stout log fort called Fort Mandan was completed by December 24th, 1804, and the Corps settled in for the winter. While at Fort Mandan, Lewis made contact with fur traders, one of them was a French Trader Touissant Charbonneau that was married to a Shoshone girl named Sacagawea, who would later be helpful to the expedition. When spring freed the keelboat from river ice, Lewis sent it back east with some of the soldiers and many of the new discoveries. The narrowing river demanded smaller craft, and so the Corps made six canoes to supplement the two pirogues.

Across the Mountains

Into the Unknown

Lewis and Clark had been shocked to find that the Rockies were not a single wall of mountains. They still believed that the Columbia headwaters would be waiting for them after a short overland trek across the Continental or Great Divide. By July 25th, they had reached another expected landmark, the Missouri's Three Forks. Lewis and a few men left the party to forge ahead on land and look for the Shoshoni. They roamed the river valley for days while Clark and the others dragged the boats up the stream. Lewis knew the need for Indian help grew even more desperate. Without horses the "Corps of Discovery" would not be able to continue. The day after crossing the Divide, Lewis met a band of Shoshoni and sent for Clark and the rest of the company. When they arrived, it was discovered that the leader of the Shoshoni band was Sacagawea's brother. This family connection helped the Corps acquired horses, information and a guide. They cached their canoes and some equipment on the newly named Jefferson River, and then struggled off on heavily laden horses over underbrush choked mountain trails looking for navigable water. In September, they decided to turn north to the Bitterroot Valley in order to strike an Indian trail described by the Shoshoni. The trail was rocky and horses crippled themselves and some even fell off the slopes. The hunting was poor and the men hungry. They soon found before them lower, less rugged terrain, and a creek which they were sure would lead to the Columbia River. A headlong descent by the starving, weakened men brought them to a hospitable Nez Perce camp, where the Indians fed them with dried salmon. Here the weather was warmer and the game more plentiful. After they had been fed and had rested, the Corps began to travel again. Within a few days they had reached the Clearwater River, a tributary of the Snake which led to the Columbia.

Ocean in View ~ O' the Joy!

Within a few days, the river widened into a broad bay. The Corps thought (mistakenly) that they could see the Pacific. Clark wrote "Ocian in view! O, the joy!", but that joy turned to misery when rough water and torrential rain drove them to camp under the bays sheer cliffs. After a few days they paddled into the Columbia's estuary, with the open sea spread before them. Later while a spot for a winter camp was being voted on, Clark carved on a tree: "William Clark,  By land from the U. States in 1804 and 1805."

Departing Fort Clatsop
Leaving Fort Clatsop, Oregon on March 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery began their journey home.   Having survived a winter of sickness, monotonous diet, and dreary weather, the impatient explorers departed after gifting Fort Clatsop to a Clatsop leader.  It had been almost two years since they had left Wood River, Illinois in May of 1804.  The explorers were backtracking across familiar terrain and their previous route, however they would alter their path after passing the great falls of the Columbia.  Trading canoes for horses the explorers continued their journey by land to the Walla Walla (Walula) Indians.  Camping among the tribe for two days, Chief Yelleppit informed them of an overland shortcut to the Nez Perce.  This route took the party across present towns of Waitsburg, Dayton, and Pomeroy, Washington.  Reaching the Snake River on May 4, they continued traveling up the north side of the river before settling into a camp on May 14, awaiting the snows to melt in the Bitterroot Mountains.  Their campsite was called "Camp Chopunnish", a word Lewis used for the Nez Perce, located near Kamiah, Idaho.

On June 10, they gathered their horses and proceeded on to Weippe Prairie.  Four days later Lewis reported in his journal, "we have now been detained near five weeks in consequence of the snows; a serious loss of time at this delightfull season for traveling. Every body seems anxious to be in motion."  The next morning they departed Weippe Prairie in an attempt to cross Lolo Trail.  On June 17 the disappointed explorers returned to the Prairie and hired an Indian guide from their nearby campsite of "Chopunnish".   On June 24 the party set out along with their three Nez Perce guides arriving at Traveler's Rest (near present Missoula, Montana) six days later. 

On July 3, 1806, the Corps of Discovery left  Travelers' Rest.  Captain Lewis and nine men went to pursue a direct route to the Missouri, then explore Maria's river. Captain Clark and the rest of the party went a new route to the Jefferson River, then descended to the Three Forks and then proceeded with a detachment party to explore the Yellowstone, while Sergeant Ordway, with nine men, descended the Missouri.          Map of Routes

Reuniting on August 12, at Reunion Bay near New Town, North Dakota, days later Lewis and Clark bid farewell to Sacagawea, paid Toussaint Charbonneau for his services and turned their canoes south, arriving in St. Louis 37 days later.


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GPO 1991-557-779

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