lewis and clark illustration

2004 marked the two hundredth anniversary of one of the more influential explorations in the history of the United States — The Lewis and Clark Expedition of the Louisiana Purchase. The profound effects of the journey forever changed the Northern Plains region, including the Black Hills and its indigenous people.

After purchase of over 800,000 square miles of wilderness from France in 1803, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition to accomplish four tasks: map a new route to the Pacific Ocean, make contact with the Native Americans, obtain specimens for further study, and keep a detailed record of activities during the expedition.

Forty-five men and three boats left St. Louis in May of 1804, and had moved up the Missouri River to what is now central South Dakota by early September. The expedition log describes the general area of Chamberlain, South Dakota, as a pleasing, rich scenery after three days of rain. Members of the party described the landscape as “beautiful and spectacular.” Immense herds of buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope grazed on the surrounding prairies. Strange new animals fascinated the group. Prairie dogs, jackrabbits, antelope, mule deer, black-billed magpies, and coyotes were well known by the natives and trappers, but these was the first detailed descriptions recorded for science.

By September 23, the expedition was just east of current-day Pierre. Captain Clark recorded the following on that day:

The river is nearly straight for a great distance, wide and shallow. . . Camped on the S.S., below the mouth of a creek on the L.S. Three Sioux boys came to us-swam the river and informed that the band of Sioux called the Tetons, of 80 lodges, were camped at the next creek above; and 60 lodges more a short distance above. We gave those boys two carrots of tobacco to carry to their chiefs, with directions to tell them that we would speak to them tomorrow.

The next day — September 24:

Set out early. A fair day . . . We prepared some clothes and a few medals for the chiefs of the Tetons’ bands of Sioux, which we expect to see today at the next river. Observed a great deal of stone on the sides of the hills on the S.S. We saw one hare today. Prepared all things for action in case of necessity. Our pirogues went to the island for the meeting. Soon after, the man on shore ran up the bank and reported that the Indians had stolen the horse.

We soon after met 5 Indians, and anchored out some distance, and spoke to them. Informed them we were friends, and wished to continue so, but were not afraid of any Indians. Some of their young men had taken the horse sent by their Great Father for their chief, and we would not speak to them until the horse was returned to us again.

Passed an island on the S.S., on which we saw several elk, about 1 1/2 miles long, called Good Humored Island. Came to about 1 1/2 miles above, off the mouth of a small river about 70 yards wide, called by Mr. Evans the Little Missouri River. The tribes of the Sioux called the Tetons are camped about two miles up on the N.W. side; and we shall call the river after that nation, Teton (The Bad River at Fort Pierre). This river is 70 yards wide at the mouth of water, and has a considerable current. We anchored off the mouth.

The French pirogue came up early in the day; the other did not get up until the evening. Soon after we had come to, I went and smoked with the chiefs who came to see us here. All well. We prepare to speak with the Indians tomorrow, at which time, we are informed, the Indians will be here.

September 25:

A fair morning. The wind from the S.E. All well. Raised a flagstaff and made an awning or shade on a sand bar in the mouth of Teton River, for the purpose of speaking with the Indians under. The boat crew on board at 70 yards distance from the bar. The five Indians which we met last night continued. About 11 o’clock, the 1st and 2nd chiefs came. We gave them some of our provisions to eat. They gave us great quantities of meat, some of which was spoiled: We feel much at a loss for the want of an interpreter; the one we have can speak but little. 

Met in council at 12 o’clock and, after smoking-agreeable to the usual custom-Captain Lewis proceeded to deliver a speech which we were obliged to curtail for want of a good interpreter. All our party paraded. Gave a medal to the grand chief, called in Indian Untongarsarbar, in French Boeuf Noir, Black Buffalo. Said to be a good man. 2nd chief, Tortohongar or The Partisan-bad. The 3rd is the Boenf de Médecine, his name is Tartongarwaker. 1st considerable man, Warzinggo. 2nd considerable man, Second Bear-Matocoquepar. 

Invited those chiefs on board to show them our boat, and such curiosities as were strange to them. We gave them 1/4 glass of whiskey, which they appeared to be very fond of; sucked the bottle after it was out and soon began to be troublesome’ one, the second chief, assuming drunkenness as a cloak for his rascally intentions. I went with those chiefs, in one of the pirogues with 5 men-3 and 2 Indians (which left the boat with great reluctance)–to shore, with a view of reconciling those men to us. 

As soon as I landed the pirogue, three of their young men seized the cable of the pirogue [in which we had presents, &c.] The chiefs’ soldier [each chief has a soldier] hugged the mast, and the 2nd chief was very insolent, both in words and gestures [pretended drunkenness and staggered up against me], declaring I should not go on, stating he had not received presents sufficient from us. His gestures were of such a personal nature, I felt myself compelled to draw my sword, and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. At this motion Captain Lewis ordered all under arms in the boat. Those with me also showed a disposition to defend themselves and me. The grand chief then took hold of the rope and ordered the young warriors away. 

I felt myself warm and spoke in very positive terms. 

Most of the warriors appeared to have their bows strung, and took out their arrows from the quiver. As I, being surrounded, was not permitted by them to return, I sent all the men except two interpreters to the boat. The pirogue soon returned with about 12 of our determined men ready for any event. This movement caused a number of the Indians to withdraw at a distance, leaving their chiefs and soldiers alone with me. Their treatment to me was very rough and, I think, justified roughness on my part. They all left my pirogue, and counciled with themselves. The result I could not learn, and nearly all went off after remaining in this situation some time. I offered my hand to the 1st and 2nd chiefs, who refused to receive it. I turned off and went with my men on board the pirogue. I had not proceeded more than ten paces before the 1st chief, 3rd, and 2 Brave Men waded in after me. I took them in and went on board. 

We proceeded on about one mile, and anchored out off a willow island. Placed a guard on shore to protect the cooks and a guard in the boat. Fastened the pirogues to the boat. I called this island Bad Humored Island, as we were in a bad humor.