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Lewis and Clark expedition with Indians of the Northern Plains

May 29, 2012

Lewis and Clark, in 1804, set out on a tour across the territory of Louisiana. The two were heroes from America, who faced strange people, unexplored land and extremely harsh conditions. They, therefore, are one of the greatest explorers in the whole world. They made their expedition’s stop at Yankton and Dakotan. The two heroes navigated Hazard Rivers and rocky, as well as, rugged terrains. The climate was extremely harsh in most of the places because of the dense clouds, fog and rain. President Jefferson Thomas instructed Lewis and Clark to collect anthropological information in a methodology way, on the Indians they met. The president told the two American heroes to learn in depth about the nations, their names, their relationship with other tribes, their traditions, their language and ordinary lifestyles. Besides, the president gave Lewis and Clark a set of questions on religion, moral, medicine and physical history. The paragraphs below discuss Lewis and Clark expedition with Indians of the Northern Plains.

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Missouri and Otto are among Indians in the northern plains that Lewis and Clark encountered in their expedition. The Indians lived along Missouri river in villages because the whole country had previously faced small pox epidemic that swept almost the whole nation. The tribes were primarily dealing with agricultural practices, but they were never at peace. The two American heroes, Lewis and Clark, tried to secure peace between the neighbors and these tribes, but they were highly unsuccessful. The two captains encountered Missouri’s settlements during the summer when the villages were almost empty since the people had gone out to hunt for buffalos. Lewis and Clark feared the corps would pass by before the villagers returned. Lewis and Clark organized a party for the villagers who survived small pox epidemic, and the party was honored by marching corps with full uniform, who demonstrated their weaponry. Besides, the corps presented gifts to the chiefs of sufficient rank. In spite of success in the first meetings, Lewis insisted on meeting Missouri head chief. Lewis and the head chief, as well as, the corps discussed peace and trade negotiations. Lewis main aim was to maintain peace in Otto-Missouri in order to curb raids in the neighboring tribes. However, Otto and Missouri were only interested with an open-trade system that was reliable.

Lewis and Clark are among the first Americans to reach Upper Missouri, where they met Indians. The Indians lived their own lives without the influence from the white man. In spite of that, they did not ignore interests from the white men. During the expedition, Missouri people held horses as their wealth and young men from this region stole horses from Americans or Indians. Before the two captains entered Missouri, people were aware of white men, who competed with them in trading fur. Therefore, Lewis and Clark were seen as a real threat to the Indians.

Yankton Sioux is also another Indian tribe that Lewis and Clark encountered in the northern plains. They lived along river James in villages and mainly engaged in hunting practices. The Yankton valued the upriver tribes because they were acutely aware of their importance. They were to benefit from trade with the tribes along Missouri river. Clark and Lewis made an enactment on trade agreement with the Indian tribe. As a result, Yankton sent a word of caution to the captains on insecurity in the upper river nations. However, the two American explorers, Lewis and Clark, did not take any precaution. This is because; when the trip reached South Dakota, near Bad River, in Teton villages, there was a dangerous confrontation that lasted three days. Teton people were mostly traders, but a few of them were hunters and farmers. Besides, they were not prepared to give up their positions as middlemen. In addition, people from this tribe were extremely hostile to all Americans; especially those they thought were intruders of their trading pattern that was already highly secure. Lewis and Clark left Teton villages with the firmest of resolve instead of deadly force. The two heroes felt terribly disappointed by the Teton people because of their unpleasant actions.

Moreover, Lewis and Clark encountered Mandan and Hidatsa Indian tribes in the northern plains. The tribes are related, and they occupied North Dakota, near Knife River. In the northern plains, they were the centre of trade, and as a result, many groups, such as Arapaho, Assiniboine, Cheyenne and Crow visited them regularly. The groups exchanged sea shells, obsidian, meat and hides, as well as buffalo ropes for agricultural goods. Since the end of the expedition in at Fort Mandan, the two heroes came to know Hidatsa and Mandan better than all the other tribes they encountered. They established a strong relationship with the Indian tribes, who gave them critical geographical information. The Indians directed the heroes on the route to follow in order to get to the Pacific Ocean and the fabled portage (Raymond and Thomas 17). Besides, the two heroes were able to secure services from a French interpreter, Toussaint. Additionally, they obtained considerable ethnographic data using instructions from Jefferson and questions from Rush, which acted as a guide. Essentially, the two heroes enjoyed a winter form from the neighbors.

The two captains reached Mandan and Hidatsa villages using boats after leaving Saint Charles. Men from these villages built a fort with the help of Lewis and Clark, which they named Mandan Fort in order to honor their neighbors. From Missouri, the two captains computed their distance to be eleven miles per day. After they arrived in Mandan, Lewis compensated French Voyageurs who had escorted them from St. Louis. The fort had so many visitors, especially the Mandan and their chiefs; the black cat and big white. Other visitors were the Canadian traders and explorers. Besides, there was the French Canadian, Toussaint, who won two girls from Indian on a bet. Toussaint wanted to be hired as an interpreter by Lewis and Clark, and he succeeded. There were no hostilities during winter at fort Mandan because the two captains tried to keep peace among the people from different tribes.

In the northern bend of Missouri, Lewis and Clark encountered Arikara, who were the first predominantly and sedentary agriculturists. They lived in villages that were surrounded by squash, beans and maize fields. By the time Lewis and Clark were reaching their villages, they were in small numbers since due to small pox epidemic. This tribe exchanged European trade goods and firearms for agricultural products (Jackson 21). Besides, the tribe was rivals with Hidatsa and Mandan. Arikara and Sioux aligned themselves and attacked a hunting party in Mandan. They killed one person and stole several horses. The two captains tried to assist the Mandan on tracking the offenders, but they were rejected. Lewis and Clark tried extremely hard to make peace between Mandan and Arikara, but they did not succeed. Throughout the expedition, the two captains could not comprehend the complexity that exists among the tribes in native America. Lewis and Clark were the first American pioneers in the upper Missouri, but their venture was less successful in Indian diplomacy field, than in scientific discovery and geographical exploration field. From the beginning, Lewis and Clark feared the Indians, who were very harsh on them. However, the two captains managed to win the Indians, especially Mandan.

Lewis and Clark also encountered Blackfeet or Piegan Indian tribe whose closeness to North West company posts and Hudson’s Bay Company made them to access easily European trade goods, as well as, firearms. They obtained animal pelts and buffalo ropes in exchange for trade goods. Indeed, this made the Piegan materially wealthy. Importantly, the firearms made the tribe expand their territories by chasing other Indians, such as the Salish, Shoshone and Nez Perce into the mountains. Piegan Indian tribe was typical from the northern plains, who mainly involved in hunting buffalo. Lewis and Clark listed this tribe as the only deadly Indian encounter of their entire journey.

Shoshone Indian tribe originally lived in the northern plains but was driven to the eastern Idaho by the Blackfeet or Pigeon tribe. They had similar lifestyle and languages with the Indians in the northern plains. They were easily driven out of the northern plains because they did not possess firearms. Besides, the community was very poor and lived in scarce regions. They lived on plants and fish, but they periodically moved to the northern plains to hunt for buffaloes and other wild animals. Lewis and Clark contacted this tribe because of their good horses. Despite the hard bargain from the Indians, the two American heroes were able to secure horses to transport their gear over Lemhi Pass. Salish tribe was also driven out of the plains because they did not possess firearms. They were also poor, but originally they lived in the northern plains. They occupied the Bitterroot valley and raised horses. In essence, Salish tribe provided Lewis and Clark with essential information on finding the trail through Bitterroot Range in order to get to the west. Nez Perce tribe also originated from the northern plains but was driven out to the west of the mountains. Lewis and Clark encountered them after crossing the Bitterroot Range that was extremely difficult to cross. The tribe treated the two heroes kindly since they gave them food and shelter, as well as, a good place to heal their wounds that occurred during mountain crossing. They later continued with their expedition and the Nez Perce agreed to keep their horses until they returned.

Lewis and Clark’s endurance made them move through various landforms and climates that were changing abruptly. They faced many problems, especially when dealing with cultural and physical of Indians of the northern plains. They entered an Indian world that was different from their traditions. In some parts of the Indian world, fishing was the main activity and so almost everybody relied on it. The air was filled with strange sounds, as well as, smells of salmon, which were left drying in the warm winds that blew up the plains. Lewis and Clark occupied plank houses that were flea- infested or camps along the river. The heroes contented with the Indians long accustomed to dealing with native, American and English traders. The chinookans and sahaptians out bargained the Yankee in dealing for precious firewood or dog meat. In this regard, the Indian middleman was the one to set the price, which made any outsider, especially of different culture, to either go without or pay. The Indian middleman was either Chinook or Wishram. It is apparent that Lewis and Clark found the Indians to have an unfamiliar material culture that incorporated hard bargaining strategies.

Besides, they faced unimagined experience as they travelled beyond the canoe camp. The expedition was full of rapids, turns, twists of the snake and clear water. In the confluence of Columbia- snake, they faced capsized canoes, dangerous rocks and wet gear.

During the expedition, some tribes were able to get along with the two captains while others were not able to because the two men were from America. Lewis and Clark praised the Mandan, who treated them like their elders, “the time spent in Mandan depicted the capacity of human beings coexisting harmoniously with others, regardless of the origin” (John, 46). The two captains knew that they had to maintain good relationships with the Indians so that they could benefit from food and water, “In Mandan lodges; there was shelter, food and corn to help them survive through the winter season” (John, 47). Moreover, Lewis and Clark had to maintain good relationships with the Indians because the territory between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi was vast, and it was not Spanish, American or French. The territory belonged to the Indians thus the need to keep peace. The two captains experienced difficult moments dealing with the Indian tribes and politics, which made them present gifts and flags to Indian chiefs in order to maintain peace, for instance in Mandan villages.

In conclusion, Lewis and Clark were the first people to make significant contact with essential Indian tribal groups. They asked the Indian questions from their president Jefferson, as well as, Dr. Rush. The two heroes were able to obtain ethnological data on subjects and topics on diseases, lifestyles and demography. Besides, they were able to define three great cultures in the northwest: Northwest coast, the Great Plains and the Columbia plateau. Additionally, they recorded Indian vocabularies from western linguistic families: Salishan, Chinookan, Sahaptian, Shoshone and Caddoan. They interpreted trading patterns and material cultures in India, which gave an excellent foundation for later studies. In essence, they wrote and observed western Indians before the epidemic of the small pox that led to the reduction of the Indians in many parts. Ultimately, Lewis and Clark obtained the objective for the expedition although they failed in one part, since they did not discover the economical route that led to the Pacific Ocean, as it was stated by the president. Despite that, the expedition helped in expanding knowledge and enlightened other people, especially President Jefferson. Nevertheless, the expedition’s good and evil experiences remain a subject for debate.