Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell

Lewis and Clark—II

As they proceeded, they passed a number of ruined villages of the Mandans, the low mounds of earth showing where the sod houses had fallen in; but on October 24 they came to a large Mandan village, where they were received with friendship, and where the chief of the Arikaras smoked with the grand chief of the Mandans.

On the 26th, at a large Mandan camp, they met a Mr. McCracken, a trader in the employ of the Northwest Fur Company, who was much on the Missouri River in those early days. The younger Henry frequently mentions him in his journal, but at a slightly later day. The Mandans were not only most friendly, but most interested in the strange people who had arrived in boats; and men, women, and children crowded to the river-bank to see them. "The object which seemed to surprise them most was a corn-mill fixed to the boat, which we had occasion to use, and which delighted them by the ease with which it reduced grain to powder," for the Mandans, like other Indians, pulverized their corn by pounding it in a mortar.

On the following day their boat reached the principal Mandan village, and here was found a Frenchman named Jessaume, who was living among the Mandans with an Indian wife. Not far from the Mandan village was one of the Annahways, a tribe, according to Dr. Matthews, closely related to the Hidatsa, or Minnetari, a part of whose warriors were then absent on an expedition against the Shoshoni. In speeches of the usual form, Captains Lewis and Clark expressed the good will of the Great Father at Washington, and his desire that all the tribes should be at peace; and presents and medals were distributed among the chiefs. In the course of the next few days these presents were returned by gifts of corn and dried meat; and the Arikara chief set out for his home with one Mandan chief and several Minnetari and Mandan warriors. Captain Clark, after much investigation, found a good situation for a winter post, and the work of felling timber and erecting buildings began. Besides the Mandan interpreter, Jessaume, they met here a Canadian Frenchman, who had been with the Cheyenne Indians "on the Black Mountains," and the previous summer had come by way of the Little Missouri to the Great River. The Little Missouri was always a great range for the Cheyennes.

The weather, which for some time had been cold, now grew much colder, and ice formed on the edges of the rivers. Water fowl were passing south, and it was evident that soon the river would close up. A large camp of Assiniboines, with some Crees, had come to the Mandan village and encamped there. A couple of Frenchmen made their appearance from farther down the river. It seems extraordinary how many Canadian Frenchmen there were at this time in this distant country.

Near Fort Mandan, just established, there were five Indian villages, the residence of three distinct tribes, the Mandans, the Annahways, and the Minnetari. The journal gives the history of these nations as follows: "Within the recollection of living witnesses the Mandans were settled forty years ago in nine villages (the ruins of which we passed about eighty miles below), situated seven on the west and two on the east side of the Missouri. The two finding themselves wasting away before the smallpox and the Sioux, united into one village and moved up the river opposite to the Ricaras. The same causes reduced the remaining seven to five villages, till at length they emigrated in a body to the Ricara nation, where they formed themselves into two villages and joined those of their countrymen who had gone before them. In their new residence they were still insecure, and at length the three villages ascended the Missouri to their present position. The two who had emigrated together settled in the two villages on the northwest side of the. Missouri, while the single village took a position on the southeast side. In this situation they were found by those who visited them in 1896, since which the two villages have united into one. They are now in two villages, one on the southeast of the Missouri, the other on the opposite side, and at the distance of three miles across. The first, in an open plain, contains about forty or fifty lodges, built in the same way as those of the Ricaras; the second, the same number, and both may raise about three hundred and fifty men.

"On the same side of the river, and at the distance of four miles from the lower Mandan village, is another, called Mahaha. It is situated on a high plain at the mouth of the Knife River, and is the residence of the Ahnahaways. This nation, whose name indicates that they were 'people whose village is on a hill,' formerly resided on the Missouri, about thirty miles below where they now lived. The Assiniboines and Sioux forced them to a spot five miles higher, where the greatest part of them were put to death, and the rest emigrated to their present situation, in order to obtain an asylum near the Minnetarees. They are called by the French, Soulier Noir, or Black Shoe Indians; by the Mandans, Wattasoons; and their whole force is about fifty men."

Toward the end of November seven traders belonging to the Northwest Company reached the Mandans, coming from the Assiniboine River. Before long some of them began to circulate unfavorable reports among the Indians, and Captains Lewis and Clark found it necessary to take immediate steps to stop this. They told Mr. Laroche, the chief of the seven traders, that they should not permit him to give medals and flags to the Indians, who were under the protection of the American nation, and would receive consideration from them alone.

On the last day of November, word was brought that the Sioux had attacked the Mandans, and killed one and wounded two others, and that a number of Indians were missing. Captain Clark, therefore, in order to fix the loyalty of the Indians, summoned his whole force, and arming them, set out for the Mandan village. He told the chief who came out to meet him that he had come to assist them in their war, and would lead them against the Sioux, their enemies, and avenge the blood of their countrymen. This action made a great impression on the Mandans, and a Cheyenne captive, who had been brought up in the tribe, and attained a position of considerable importance, made a speech thanking the white men for their assistance, and expressing the confidence of the Indians in them. There was a long talk, after which Captain Clark left the village. The next day six Sharha (Cheyenne) Indians came to the village, bringing the pipe of peace, and saying that their nation was three days' march behind them. With the Cheyennes were three Pawnees. The Cheyennes were at peace with the Sioux, and the Mandans feared them and wished to put them to death, but knowing that this would be against the wishes of their white friends, they did nothing. Lewis and Clark note the common practice of calling the Arikaras, Pawnees, a practice which still exists.

A little later something is said about the chief of the Mandans, and following this comes the story of the tribe's origin, as given by the Mandans themselves: "Their belief in a future state is connected with this tradition of their origin: The whole nation resided in one large village under ground, near a subterraneous lake. A grapevine extended its roots down to their habitation and gave them a view of the light. Some of the most adventurous climbed up the vine, and were delighted with the sight of the earth, which they found covered with buffalo, and rich with every kind of fruits. Returning with the grapes they had gathered, their countrymen were so pleased with the taste of them that the whole nation resolved to leave their dull residence for the charms of the upper region. Men, women, and children ascended by means of the vine; but when about half the nation had reached the surface of the earth a corpulent woman, who was clambering up the vine, broke it with her weight and dosed upon herself and the rest of the nation the light of the sun. Those who were left on the earth made a village below, where we saw the nine villages; and when the Mandans die they expect to return to the original seats of their forefathers, the good reaching the ancient village by means of the lake, which the burden of the sins of the wicked will not enable them to cross."

Although the weather was cold, buffalo were near, and there was much hunting by means of the surround, with the bow and arrows. Captain Clark hunted with the Indians, and killed ten buffalo, of which five only were brought into the fort, the remainder being taken by the Indians; since, as the buffalo were killed by guns, they bore no mark of identification, such as an arrow would have furnished. The next day Captain Lewis took fifteen men and went out to hunt buffalo. They killed eight and one deer; but, being obliged to travel on foot through deep snow, it took them a long time to approach the buffalo, and some of the men were frost-bitten.

It was now mid-December, and very cold; and the white men suffered a good deal and hunted but little. About this time a Mr. Haney arrived from the British post on the Assiniboine, bearing a letter from Mr. Chabouillez, a well-known trader of the North, with offers of service. In the Mandan village the Indians were playing at sticks, apparently in the method practiced at the present day among the Blackfeet. Thin circular stones are rolled along the ground, and followed by running men, who slide their sticks along the ground trying to have the disk fall on them. On December 22 the explorers seem to have first seen the horns of the Rocky Mountain sheep. It is "about the size of a small elk or large deer, the horns winding like those of a ram, which they resemble also in texture, though larger and thicker."

The year 1804 opened with New Year's day festivities, and "in the morning we permitted sixteen men with their music to go up to the first village, where they delighted the whole tribe with their dances, particularly with the movements of one of the Frenchmen, who danced on his head." Frequent mention is made of the pleasure with which the Indians witnessed the dancing of the Americans, and this amusement was much indulged in by the men, many of whom, as already said, were Frenchmen.

Although the cold was intense and the white men suffered severely, the Indians seemed to regard it very little. They were coming and going constantly, very slightly clad, and sometimes were obliged to sleep out in the snow, with no protection save a buffalo robe; and yet they were seldom frozen.

During these months of inaction, Lewis and Clark were frequently occupied in settling individual quarrels among the various Indians near them, making peace between husbands and wives and persuading the Indians to abandon war journeys planned for the following spring.

Traders from the North were frequent visitors to these villages. All through the winter the blacksmith kept at work with his forge, manufacturing various articles of iron, and the Indians seemed never to weary of watching him and admiring the magic by which he turned a straight piece of iron into a useful implement.

During all this time hunting was going on, for though the explorers had abundant provisions, yet they were supporting themselves as far as possible from the country. Besides the corn which they purchased from the Indians, in exchange for trade goods and bits of iron, they killed buffalo, deer, and elk; and on one hunt, in February, Captain Clark and his party killed forty deer, three buffalo, and sixteen elk. Most of the game was too lean for use, and was left for the wolves. A part, however, was brought to a point on the river, and there protected in pens built of logs, which should keep off the wolves, ravens, and magpies. The next day four men were sent with sleds and three horses, to bring in the meat. They returned that night stating that a party of one hundred men had rushed upon them, cut the traces of the sleds and carried off two of the horses, the third being left them through the influence of one of the Indians. The Indians had also taken some of the men's arms. An effort was made to pursue these enemies, who were believed to be Sioux, and Captain Lewis, with a few Mandans, set out on their trail. This was followed for two or three days, until at last it turned off into the prairie. The supposition that these robbers were Sioux was confirmed by finding some moccasins that had been thrown away, though the Sioux had dropped some corn in one place, apparently with the hope of making it appear that they were Arikaras. Before returning, Captain Clark visited the place where the meat had been cached, and did some more hunting; and having killed thirty-six deer, fourteen elk, and one wolf, he returned to the fort with about three thousand pounds of meat.

The weather was now growing milder, and preparations began to be made for continuing the journey. Men were sent out to look for trees suitable for canoes. White men began to arrive from the Northwest Company's post, and also Mr. Gravelines, with Frenchmen from the Ankara village down the river. These brought word that the Rees were willing to make peace with the Mandans and Minnetari, and asked if the Mandans would be willing to have the Arikaras settle near them, and form with them a league against the Sioux. Word was brought that the Sioux who had stolen the explorers' horses had afterward gone to the Ankara village and told what they had done, and that the Rees were so angry at this that they had declined to give them anything to eat; in other words, had treated them as enemies.

The river broke up late in March, and, as happened every spring, many buffalo were brought down on the floating ice. An interesting description is given of how the Indians killed the buffalo floating down on the cakes of ice, which they dared not leave. The men ran lightly' over the loose ice in the river until they had reached the large cake on which the buffalo stood, and, killing it there, then paddled the cake of ice to the shore.

A thunder-storm, accompanied by hail, came on April 1—the breaking up of the winter. And now for several days the explorers were engaged in packing specimens to be sent back to Washington; skins and skeletons of some of the animals of the country, together with a number of articles of Indian dress, arms, implements, tobacco seed, and corn, with specimens of some plants. Arrangements were made also for some of the chiefs of the Rees to visit the President; and a delegation from the Rees made a peace with the Mandans.

The explorers were now ready to continue their journey, and left the fort the afternoon of April 7. The party consisted of thirty-two persons, including the interpreters, one of whom was accompanied by his wife. At the same time their large boat, manned by seven soldiers and two Frenchmen, set out down the river for the distant United States.

The journey up the river was slow, and it would be too long to tell of all they saw—things then new to all, but now common enough. The prairie and the river bottom swarmed with game—herds of buffalo, elk, antelope, with some deer and wolves. As they went along they saw a nest of geese built "in the tops of lofty cottonwood trees," an interesting fact in natural history, rediscovered more than fifty years later by an enterprising ornithologist. From time to time, as they passed up the river, they passed small abandoned encampments of Indians, at one of which, "from the hoops of small kegs found in them, we judged could belong to Assiniboines only, as they are the only Missouri Indians who use spirituous liquors. Of these they are so passionately fond that it forms their chief inducement to visit the British on the Assiniboine, to whom they barter for kegs of rum their dried and pounded meat, their grease, and the skins of large and small wolves, and small foxes; the dangerous exchange is transported to their camps, with their friends and relations, and soon exhausted in brutal intoxication. So far from considering drunkenness as disgraceful, the women and children are permitted and invited to share in these excesses with their husbands and fathers, who boast how often their skill and industry as hunters have supplied them with the means of intoxication; in this, as in other habits and customs, they resemble the Sioux, from whom they are descended."

The recent presence of the Assiniboines on the river had made the game scarce and shy, and it was so early in the season that the animals killed were very thin in flesh, and almost useless for food. Beaver, however, were numerous, and seemed larger and fatter, and with darker and better fur, than any seen hitherto. They were now in the country of abundant buffalo, and the calves had already begun to make their appearance. On April 26 they reached the mouth of the Yellowstone River, "known to the French as La Roche Jaune." Game was so plenty that it was scarcely necessary to hunt, and they killed only what was needed for food. The river banks were lined with dead buffalo; some partly devoured by wolves. The buffalo had evidently been drowned in crossing, either by breaking through the ice or being unable to clamber from the water when landing under some high bluff.

On April 29 Captain Lewis met his first grizzly bear, which the explorers call white bears. "Of the strength and ferocity of this animal the Indians had given us dreadful accounts; they never attack him but in parties of six or eight persons, and even then are often defeated, with the loss of one or more of the party. Having no weapons but bows and arrows, and the bad guns with which the traders supply them, they are obliged to approach very near to the bear; and as no wound except through the head or heart is mortal, they frequently fall a sacrifice if they miss their aim. He rather attacks than avoids man; and such is the terror he has inspired that the Indians who go in quest of him paint themselves and perform all the superstitious rites customary when they make war on a neighboring nation. Hitherto those we had seen did not appear desirous of encountering us, but although to a skilful rifleman the danger is very much diminished, the white bear is still a terrible animal. On approaching these two, both Captain Lewis and the hunter fired, and each wounded a bear. One of them made his escape; the other turned upon Captain Lewis and pursued him for seventy or eighty yards; but, being badly wounded, he could not run so fast as to prevent him from reloading his piece, which he again aimed at him, and a third shot from the hunter brought him to the ground."

The curiosity of the antelope is spoken of as being often the occasion of its easy destruction. "When they first see the hunters they run with great velocity; if he lies down on the ground and lifts up his arm, his hat or his foot, they return with a light trot to look at the object, and sometimes go and return two or three times, till they approach within reach of the rifle. So, too, they sometimes leave their flock to go and look at the wolves, which crouch down, and, if the antelope is frightened at first, repeat the same maneuver, and sometimes relieve each other till they decoy it from the party, when they seize it. But generally the wolves take them as they are crossing the rivers; for, although swift on foot, they are not good swimmers."

As the party struggled on up the Missouri they passed the mouth of the Porcupine River, so-called from the unusual number of porcupines seen near it. They continued to see vast quantities of buffalo, elk, and deer—principally of the long-tailed kind—with antelope, beaver, geese, ducks, and swans. As they went on, the game became much tamer. The male buffalo would scarcely give way to them, and as the white men drew near, looked at them for a moment and then quietly began to graze again.

On May 4 they passed some old Indian hunting camps, "one of which consisted of two large lodges fortified with a circular fence twenty or thirty feet in diameter, and made of timber laid horizontally, the beams overlaying each other to the height of five feet, and covered with the trunks and limbs of trees that have drifted down the river. The lodges themselves are formed by three or more strong sticks, about the size of a man's leg or arm, and twelve feet long, which are attached at the top by a withe of small willows, and spread out so as to form at the base a circle of from ten to fourteen feet in diameter; against these are placed pieces of driftwood and fallen timber, usually in three ranges, one on the other, and the interstices are covered with leaves, bark, and straw, so as to form a conical figure about ten feet high, with a small aperture in one side for the door." These lodges, of course, were war lodges of the Assiniboines, Gros Ventres, or Blackfeet, though the travellers evidently took them for ordinary habitations.

The explorers were greatly interested in the animals they saw—especially the bears—and gave good descriptions of them, and of their habits.

The tenacity of life in the bears made them especially interesting, and their encounters with them were often marked by danger. However, the people usually hunted in couples or in small parties, and as yet no one had been hurt.