Lewis and Clark Return from the Pacific
Mandan/Hidatsa Villages, August 14-17, 1806
The Lewis and Clark party has returned to the villages on the Knife and Missouri after a successful trip to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis arrived wounded. He has a bullet hole in his thigh. Peter Cruzatte, one of the expedition’s best hunters in spite of being blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, mistook Lewis for an elk and shot him.
Clark said that he met two white men headed for the Yellowstone to trap. The west is open. Upon reaching the villages, one member of the group, John Colter, asked for and received permission to join the two trappers. Colter is not ready to go back to “civilization.” “I will just be lonely in St. Louis,” he said.
Lewis said that his party had to kill two Piegans of the Blackfoot confederacy in an encounter on the Marias River (located in what is now Montana) while he was separated from Clark’s party. The two leaders had split up to explore different areas on the way home. They joined up a couple of days before reaching the Mandan/Hidatsa villages.
The encounter with the Piegan was the only incident which resulted in death of native people met by Lewis and Clark during the entire journey to the Pacific and back. Clark reported that the Crow had stolen half of his group’s herd of 50 horses on the way back,
Charbonneau, the French-Canadian guide, and his wife Sakakawea and their son Baptiste (also called Pompey) left the expedition at the Mandan/ Hidatsa villages. Clark offered to take the young boy who had traveled all the way to the Pacific and back with him to St. Louis to educate him, but Charbonneau decided his son was too young. Clark expects Charbonneau and Sakakawea to bring the boy to him later. Charbonneau was paid $500.33 for his work as guide.
Eager to get back to St. Louis, the group does not plan to spend much time with the village peoples on the Knife. They do hope to convince some of the leaders to return with them and to accompany them to Washington, D.C. to meet President Jefferson. Not many are interested. Most are very concerned about the safety of the group, which has to pass through Sioux country on the way home.
Chief Big White of the Mandan (Sheheke) had agreed to make the trip, on the condition that Rene Jusseaume come along as an interpreter. The expedition leaders have decided to agree. Jusseaume can take his wife and two children, but Big White will be allowed to take only one of his wives and her child.
Clark tried very hard to convince Le Borgne to make the trip. The Hidatsa leader came to the encampment to hear what the Americans had to say. Clark gave Le Borgne perhaps the most expensive gift given to any native leader during the entire expedition—one of the swivel guns from a keelboat
Clark hopes to convince the village peoples that the Americans can bring peace to the area, but Le Borgne is not impressed. Through the interpreter Jusseaume, he let Clark know that he was better at making peace than the white explorers. He told them about his successful, if only temporary, peace with the Cheyenne.
Lewis and Clark had both hoped that the demands that they made for peace among all the native peoples living on the Missouri would be followed. Le Borgne told them that peace was easier to talk about than to bring to pass.
Although somewhat concerned about the enemies of his people, that he may encounter on the trip with Lewis and Clark, Sheheke is willing to make the trip. He hopes to regain some of the power his Mandan people in the area had before smallpox made them so weak. Le Borgne still does not trust the whites.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.