You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war. — Winston Churchill

Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell




Lewis and Clark—I

Most famous of all the pathfinders of the United States are Lewis and Clark, explorers of the Missouri River to its headwaters, and of the Columbia from the heads of some of its chief tributaries to the Pacific; and thus the spanners of the continent. They were not, it is true, the first to traverse the wilderness which lay between the Atlantic and the Pacific, but of those who bore the name American they were the first.

In 1803 Louisiana was ceded by France to the United States for the sum of about fifteen millions of dollars; but its boundaries were entirely uncertain, and neither the nation which sold nor that which bought knew what this territory included, how far it extended north or south or west, nor who nor what were its inhabitants. It was certain that there were a few French, Spaniards, and Creoles, besides some Americans, English, and Germans, and the slaves which they possessed. Little was known of the country, save for a short distance beyond the Mississippi River; and it was obviously important to the new owners of the land to find out at once what the purchase meant to the United States.

One thing seemed certain: the population of the United States, which had already spread far beyond the Allegheny Mountains, was constantly increasing and constantly pushing westward. The encroachments of the whites on the territory occupied by various tribes of the Indians were continual, and the Indians, naturally enough, resented, and sometimes resisted, these encroachments. Here, west of the Mississippi River, was a vast territory, unoccupied save by Indian tribes, many of which were wanderers. The population of this unoccupied territory was so sparse that no doubt it seemed to President Jefferson that here was room for all the Indians east of the Mississippi, and one of his first acts after the cession was concluded, was to attempt to learn what he could with regard to the occupancy of this territory, presumably in the hope that all the Indians east of the Mississippi might be persuaded to move westward beyond the river.

Besides this, Jefferson had already—more than ten years before—endeavored to send out men to cross the continent to the Pacific coast, but the effort had failed. But in January, 1803, before the completion of the purchase of Louisiana, he attempted this once more, recommending to Congress the despatching of a party to trace the Missouri River to its source, and to go thence to the Pacific Ocean.

It is impossible for any man now living to conceive what such an expedition must have meant to the men who were to command it. Here was a vast and unknown territory of indefinite width, peopled by unknown inhabitants, uncertain as to its food supply, containing unknown dangers and obstacles, which must be crossed on foot—though the journey should be begun by boat. It is true that the rumors long before brought back from the upper Mississippi Valley by Carver suggested waterways across the continent; but these were no more than rumors, and were mingled with an amount of fable which cast doubt on the whole story.

Carver's reflections on the Shining Mountains, already quoted, were the most definite statements that Jefferson or his explorers could have had of that far Western country. It is true that a few Hudson's Bay men had already penetrated as far west as the Rocky Mountains, which Mackenzie had crossed ten years before, yet it may be doubted whether any definite knowledge of this great achievement had as yet reached Washington.

The journey which Lewis and Clark were to make was into a wilderness less known than any that we in our day can conceive of.

The two men prepared to carry out their orders and there is no reason to suppose that they felt any doubt of their own success. Both came of good, old-fashioned fighting and exploring stock and they and all their men were made of the stuff which constituted the old-time Americans. Theirs was the sturdy independence, the unshrinking courage and dogged perseverance in the face of difficulty which gave to America its Daniel Boone, its David Crockett, and its Zebulon M. Pike; and they set out with eagerness on their journey.

The expedition started late in the year 1803, and proceeded up the river by boat. There were about forty-five men at the start, of whom twenty-five were soldiers, the whole company being enlisted as soldiers a little later. The baggage of the outfit consisted chiefly of ammunition, together with goods to be used as presents for the Indians. The transportation consisted of boats; one a keel boat, fifty-five feet long, drawing three feet of water, fitted for twenty-two oars and a sail; the other two were pirogues, open boats, dug-outs no doubt, one of six, the other of seven oars. There were two horses, which were to be taken along the bank for the purpose of hunting in time of scarcity, or for bringing in game that was killed.

Having wintered at Wood River, in Illinois, the start was made on the i4th of May, 1804. At first their progress was not rapid. Nevertheless, before long they came to the country of the Osages. The story given of the origin of the tribe is worth repeating: "According to universal belief, the founder of the nation was a snail, passing a quiet existence along the banks of the Osage, till a high flood swept him down to the Missouri and left him exposed on the shore. The heat of the sun at length ripened him into a man; but with the change of his nature he had not forgotten his native seats on the Osage, toward which he immediately bent his way. He was, however, soon overtaken by hunger and fatigue, when, happily, the Great Spirit appeared and, giving him a bow and arrow, showed him how to kill and cook deer, and cover himself with the skin. He then proceeded to his original residence; but as he approached the river he was met by a beaver, who inquired, haughtily, who he was and by what authority he came to disturb his possession. The Osage answered that the river was his own, for he had once lived on its borders. As they stood disputing, the daughter of the beaver came, and having by her entreaties reconciled her father to this young stranger, it was proposed that the Osage should marry the young beaver and share with her family the enjoyment of the river. The Osage readily consented, and from this happy union there soon came the village and the nation of the Wasbasha, or Osages, who have ever since preserved a pious reverence for their ancestors, abstaining from the chase of the beaver, because in killing that animal they killed a brother of the Osage."

Struggling on northward, Lewis and Clark passed the Otoes and Missourias, and on June 25 reached the mouth of the Kansas—named from the Indians living on its banks—three hundred and forty miles from the Mississippi. Game was abundant, and there are allusions to deer, elk, and buffalo. At the mouth of the Platte River they sent out messengers to bring in Indians, since a portion of their duty was to endeavor to make peace among the different tribes they met with. Otoes and Pawnees lived not far off, one of the Pawnee villages being then on the Platte, while another was on the Republican, and a third on the Wolf—now known as the Loup River. Incidental reference is here made to several tribes which wandered and hunted on the heads of the Platte River, and thence to the Rocky Mountains.

One of these, called the Staitan or Kite Indians, is said to have acquired the name of Kite from their flying; that is, from "their being always on horseback." These Indians were, of course, the Suhtai—Suhtai, tribal name, and hutan, man. In other words, when some Indian was asked his name or the name of his tribe, he replied: "I am a man of the Suhtai," and this the explorers supposed was a tribal name. At that time the tribe was still living as an independent tribe, though about a generation later they joined the Cheyennes and finally became absorbed by them. So complete is this absorption that the Suhtai language, formerly a well-marked dialect of the Cheyenne, differing from it apparently almost as much as the Arikara dialect differs from the Pawnee, has been almost wholly lost. At the present day only a few of the older Cheyennes can recall any of its words. These Indians were said to be extremely ferocious, and the most warlike of all the Western Indians; they never yielded in battle, nor spared their enemies, and the retaliation for this barbarity had almost extinguished the nation. After these, according to our authors, come the Wetapahato and Kiawa tribes, associated together, and amounting to two hundred men. Wetapahato is the Sioux name for the Kiowas, which the Cheyennes have abbreviated to Witapat. Other tribes are mentioned, hardly now to be identified.

On July 31 a party of Otoe and Missouria Indians came to their camp, and on the following day a council was held, at which presents, medals, and other ornaments were given to the Indians. The point where this council was held was given the name Council Bluffs, and it stands to-day across the river from Omaha, Nebraska. A little farther up the river they reached an old Omaha village, once consisting of three hundred cabins, but it had been burned about 1799, soon after the smallpox had destroyed four hundred men and a proportion of the women and children. This dread disease gave the Omahas the worst blow that they had ever received, and, perhaps even as much as their wars with the Pawnees, reduced them to a tributary people. On August 16, two parties were sent out to catch fish on a little stream. "They made a drag with small willows and bark, and swept the creek; the first company brought three hundred and eighteen, and the second upward of eight hundred, consisting of pike, bass, fish resembling salmon, trout, redhorse, buffalo, one rock-fish, one flatback, perch, catfish, a small species of perch, called on the Ohio silverfish, and a shrimp of the same size, shape, and flavor of those about New Orleans and the lower part of the Mississippi."

A few days before, one of their Frenchmen had deserted, and the commanding officers had sent out men to capture him. This they succeeded in doing, but the man subsequently escaped again. On the 18th they received another party of Indians—Otoes and Missourias. The next day the first death occurred in the expedition, that of Charles Floyd, who was buried on the top of the hill, and his grave marked by a cedar post.

The post which marked Floyd's grave had been thrown down by the winds before 1839, but was set up again by Joseph Nicollet in that year. All the time, however, the Missouri River was eating into the bank toward the grave, and in the spring of 1857 the high water undermined a part of the bluff and left Floyd's coffin exposed. When this became known at Sioux City, a party visited the grave and rescued the bones, reinterring them six hundred feet back from the first grave. This spot was lost again in the course of the years, but was rediscovered in 1895, and finally in 1901 a permanent monument of white stone was erected to the first citizen soldier of the United States to die and be buried within the Louisiana Purchase, and the only man lost on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Farther up the stream, beyond the mouth of the Big Sioux River, they killed their first buffalo. Near the mouth of the Whitestone they found a curious mound, described as a regular parallelogram, the longest side being three hundred yards, and the shorter sixty or seventy. It rises sixty-five or seventy feet above the plain, and shows at the summit a level plain about twelve feet in breadth and ninety in length. This, according to the Sioux, was called the Hill of the Little People, and they believe that it is the abode of little devils, in the human form, of about eighteen inches high, and with remarkably large heads; they are armed with sharp arrows, with which they are very skilful, and are always on the watch to kill those who should have the hardihood to approach their residence." Many Indians have been killed by these spirits, and, among "others, three Omaha Indians, only a few years before. The Sioux, Omahas, and Owes are so afraid of the place that they never visit it."

The wind blows so strongly over the plain in which this mound stands that insects are obliged to seek shelter on its leeward side, or be driven against it. The little birds which feed on these insects resort there in great numbers to pick them up. There the brown martin was so employed, and the birds were so tame that they would not fly until closely approached.

At Calumet Bluff the party was visited by a number of Yankton Sioux, brought in by Sergeant Pryor and his party, who had gone to the village to induce them to come to the river. A council was held with these Indians and presents given them; and in the evening the Indians danced for the entertainment of the white men. To the Durions—Frenchmen who were trading with these Indians—presents were given; and they were requested to try to make peace between the Yanktons and their enemies.

Reference is made to the soldier bands of the Sioux and Cheyennes, though without much comprehension of what this organization is. It is spoken of in these terms: "It is an association of the most active and brave young men, who are bound to each other by attachment, secured by a vow never to retreat before any danger or give way to their enemies. In war they go forward without sheltering themselves behind trees or aiding their natural valor by any artifice. This punctilious determination not to be turned from their course became heroic or ridiculous a short time since, when the Yanktons were crossing the Missouri on the ice. A hole lay immediately in their course, which might easily have been avoided by, going round. This the foremost of the band disdained to do, but went straight forward, and was lost. The others would have followed his example, but were forcibly prevented by the rest of the tribe. The young men sit, and encamp, and dance together, distinct from the rest of the nation; they are generally about thirty or thirty-five years old, and such is the deference paid to courage that their seats in council are superior to those of the chiefs, and their persons more respected. But, as may be supposed, such indiscreet bravery will soon diminish the numbers of those who practice it, so that the band is now reduced to four warriors, who were among our visitors. These were the remains of twenty-two, who composed the society not long ago; but, in a battle with the Kite Indians of the Black Mountains, eighteen of them were killed, and these four were dragged from the field by their companions."

Warrior societies, or, as they are more often termed, soldier bands, existed among all the plains tribes. In some tribes there might be only four, in others a dozen or fifteen, such societies. They were police officers, and among their important duties was the seeing that orders of the chiefs were obeyed.

The list of the Sioux tribes here given includes the Yanktons, the Tetons of the Burned Woods—now called Brules; the Tetons Okandandas—now known as Ogallalas; the Teton Minnakenozzo—Minneconjous; the Teton Saone—Santees; Yanktons of the Plains—Yanktonnaies; the Mindawarcarton—Minnewakaton; the Wahpatoota—Wahpatones; the Sistasoone—issetons.

Not far beyond Calumet Bluffs were found extraordinary earthworks, said by the explorers and French interpreters to be common on the Platte, the Kansas, and the James rivers. The Poncas were next passed, above La Riviere qui Court—the Niobrara. These are said to have been largely reduced in numbers by the attacks of their enemies, and to be now associating with the Omahas, and residing on the head of the Loup and the Running Water. Above here the first prairie dogs were seen; and not long after they were rejoined by one of their men who, twelve days before, had been sent off after lost horses, and, having found them, had been wandering along the river for twelve days, seeking his party. Mention is made on September 17 of a great prairie dog town, and it is told that their presence here enticed to this place "wolves of a small kind, hawks, and polecats, all of which animals we saw, and presume that they fed on the squirrels." The whole country here had recently been burned, and was now covered with young grass, on which herds of antelope and buffalo were feeding.

On the 20th the party had a narrow escape from being buried under a falling bank, undermined by the river. On this day a fort and a large trading house built by Mr. Loizel for the purpose of trading with the Sioux was passed on Cedar Island, and the following day Indians stole one of their horses. They had now come to the country of the Teton Indians, and, holding a council with them, had more or less trouble, which would undoubtedly have resulted in fighting had it not been for the prudence of Captain Clark. The Indians were insolent, and were disposed to go just as far as permitted in annoying the white people. However, they were not allowed to impose on the party, and a short distance above this the main Teton village was passed, and here Captains Lewis and Clark were met at the river bank by ten young men, who carried them on buffalo robes to the large house where the council was to be held—an evidence of the highest respect.

The custom of carrying a person who was to be highly honored on a robe or blanket by young men is very old. It was practised to show honor to aged or brave people, and also if two young people of good family were about to be married, the young girl, as she drew near the home of the bridegroom's parents, riding on a horse led by some old kinswoman, was often met by young men related to the bridegroom, who spread down a robe or blanket, assisted her from her horse, asked her to sit down on the robe, and then carried her to the lodge of her future husband.

In the shelter where they met were about seventy men, sitting about the chief, before whom were placed a Spanish flag and an American flag which Lewis and Clark had given him. Within the circle was the pipe, supported on two forked sticks, about six or eight inches from the ground, and beneath the pipe was scattered the down of a swan. Food was cooking over the fire, and near the kettle a large amount of buffalo meat, intended as a present. The feast consisted of a dog, pemmican, and pomme blanche, and was ladled into wooden dishes with a horn spoon. After eating and smoking, a number of dances were performed. Concerning these, the very incorrect opinion is expressed: "Nor does the music appear to be anything more than a confusion of noises, distinguished only by hard or gentle blows upon a buffalo skin; the song is perfectly extemporaneous." It is, of course, now well known that these songs and dances are always the same, and never, by any chance, change.

It is noted that these Indians, who appear to have been Ogallalas, had then a fashion of dressing the hair different from anything recently known. The journal says: "The men shaved the hair off their heads, except a small tuft on the top, which they suffered to grow, and wore in plaits over the shoulders. To this they seemed much attached, as the loss of it is the usual sacrifice at the death of near relations." The dress of men and women is described, and it is noted that the fire-bags of these Sioux were made of the dressed skins of skunks. The women's dresses were not very unlike that of recent times.

The Sioux met along the river by Lewis and Clark were newcomers in that country. It is true that twenty-five years before a few Sioux had crossed the Missouri River and had gone as far west as the Black Hills

which are constantly spoken of by Lewis and Clark as the Black Mountains. But it is also true that up to about the beginning of the nineteenth century few or no Sioux had crossed the Missouri River who remained permanently on the west bank. The accounts of many modern writers on Indian matters seem to imply that from time immemorial the Dakotas had roamed the Western plains, but it is well known by those who have given attention to the subject that this is not at all true; that the Sioux are a people of the East, and the tribal traditions constantly speak of their migration from the country of the rising sun.

After four days spent with these Indians, preparations were made to proceed up the river; but the Indians did not seem willing to let them go. They did not show any particular hostility, but were extremely irritating, and put the white men to so much trouble that they were obliged to threaten them with fighting. Even after they had at last succeeded in starting on their journey, these Sioux followed them along the river, and continued to annoy them.

Not very far above the point where they were troubled by the Sioux they came on a village of Arikaras, with whom some Frenchmen were living, and among them a Monsieur Gravelines. This man brought together the Ankara chiefs for a conference, in which speeches were made to them similar to those already uttered to the Indians down the river. Some presents were given, but the offer of liquor was declined, the Indians saying that they were surprised that their father should present to them a liquor which would make them fools. From the Indians were received presents of corn, beans, and squashes. The following day other councils were had at other villages of the Rees; and the explorers finally left them to go on their way. The history of this tribe is given with substantial accuracy, and much is said about their habits and their good disposition.

Farther up the river a camp of Sioux was passed, and beyond them a stream called Stone-Idol Creek. This name was given from the discovery that "a few miles back from the Missouri there are two stones resembling human figures, and a third like a dog; all of which are objects of great veneration among the Arikaras."

While nothing is said about the size of these figures, one wonders whether the reference may not be to that stone figure known as the Standing Rock, concerning which the Yankton Sioux have a tradition. We have not heard of the figure of a man in connection with the Standing Rock, but there was certainly the figure of a woman and of a dog, and the woman, who owned the dog, is said to have been a Ree woman. The Yankton tradition, however, is quite different from that given by Lewis and Clark. Their two stone figures are a lover and a girl whose parents declined to permit the marriage; and these two young persons, the man accompanied by his dog, met on the prairie, and, after wandering about, were at last turned to stone. The Standing Rock, which is now at Standing Rock Agency, in North Dakota, is said to have been a Ree woman, who, after having long been the only wife of her husband, became jealous when he took another wife, and, lagging behind the travelling body of the Rees, was finally turned to stone, and remains to this day a warning to all jealous women.

A little later during the day's journey they saw great numbers of "goats" (antelope) coming to the banks of the river. No doubt these animals were then migrating toward the mountains, or perhaps to the broken hills of the Little Missouri. On October 18 they passed the Cannon-ball River, referred to as Le Boulet; and here they met two Frenchmen who had been robbed by the Mandans, but who turned about and proceeded north again with the white men, in the hope of recovering their possessions. Game was extremely abundant—buffalo, elk, and deer. An Indian who was with them pointed out to them a number of round hills, in which he declared the calumet birds—probably the thunder-bird—had their homes.