Sheheke Will Visit President Jefferson
Fort Bellefontaine, just above St. Louis
September 23, 1806
Sheheke is outfitting himself in white clothes at a store here in Fort Bellefontaine for his trip east to meet President Jefferson. He is accompanied by William Clark, one of the leaders of the expedition to the Pacific Ocean which just returned.
Clark’s plan is to make Sheheke as famous as possible. He hopes that the Mandan chief will learn all about the United States and its power, so that he will return and tell the village people that it is in their best interest to be at peace and to trade with the United States.
Clark and his fellow leader Meriwether Lewis, who continues to recover from a bullet wound in his rear upper thigh, hope to open the vast new area they “discovered” to trade by the United States.
Sheheke, who has seen the best of English trade goods at his home villages, finds many of those made in the United States to be of inferior quality. He does not know when he and his wife will be able to return, but he is pleased to make it through Arikara and Sioux territory without any problems.
Sheheke was with Clark at a conference with the Arikara in August up river. Clark tried to convince the Arikara, who trade with the Sioux, to stop raiding the Mandan and Hidatsa villages. Clark told the village people on the Knife when he left with Sheheke, “We have been to the great lake of the west and are now on our return to my country. I have seen all my red children quite to that great lake and talked with them, and taken them by the hand in the name of their great father the Great Chief of all the white people.”
Many of those who did not accept Clark’s invitation to come with him consider the Americans to be braggers who cannot enforce their ideas of all the people living together peacefully.
The Rest of Sheheke’s Story
Sheheke did not get back home until 1809, three years after he left. In the summer of 1807, Clark tried to send him back with Nathaniel Pryor, who had been a member of the Expedition. The Pryor group failed. They had a fight with the Arikara and barely escaped back down the river.
In 1809, the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company agreed to take Sheheke back for a fee of $7,000. The company included Reuben Lewis, who was Meriwether Lewis’s brother. They made it back to the villages on the Knife River with a party of over 120 men and many guns. Sheheke’s people were so happy to see him that they celebrated and did not listen to the traders who brought him back.
In 1811, Sheheke met a boat from St. Louis and came aboard to complain about having to return to the old ways. He wanted to enjoy himself as he had in what he called “Red Head’s Town,” a reference to President Jefferson and Washington, D.C.
According to a white trader who kept a journal, Sheheke was killed in battle between Mandan and Hidatsa in 1812.
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.