Read Chapter V - From the Tetons to the Mandans of First Across the Continent, free online book, by Noah Brooks, on

“On the morning of September 25th,” says the journal, “we raised a flagstaff and an awning, under which we assembled, with all the party parading under arms. The chiefs and warriors, from the camps two miles up the river, met us, about fifty or sixty in number, and after smoking we delivered them a speech; but as our Sioux interpreter, M. Durion, had been left with the Yanktons, we were obliged to make use of a Frenchman who could not speak fluently, and therefore we curtailed our harangue. After this we went through the ceremony of acknowledging the chiefs, by giving to the grand chief a medal, a flag of the United States, a laced uniform coat, a cocked hat and feather; to the two other chiefs, a medal and some small presents; and to two warriors of consideration, certificates. The name of the great chief is Untongasabaw, or Black Buffalo; the second, Tortohonga, or the Partisan; the third, Tartongawaka, or Buffalo Medicine; the name of one of the warriors was Wawzinggo; that of the second, Matocoquepa, or Second Bear. We then invited the chiefs on board, and showed them the boat, the air-gun, and such curiosities as we thought might amuse them. In this we succeeded too well; for, after giving them a quarter of a glass of whiskey, which they seemed to like very much, and sucked the bottle, it was with much difficulty that we could get rid of them. They at last accompanied Captain Clark on shore, in a pirogue with five men; but it seems they had formed a design to stop us; for no sooner had the party landed than three of the Indians seized the cable of the pirogue, and one of the soldiers of the chief put his arms round the mast. The second chief, who affected intoxication, then said that we should not go on; that they had not received presents enough from us. Captain Clark told him that he would not be prevented from going on; that we were not squaws, but warriors; that we were sent by our great father, who could in a moment exterminate them. The chief replied that he too had warriors, and was proceeding to offer personal violence to Captain Clark, who immediately drew his sword, and made a signal to the boat to prepare for action. The Indians, who surrounded him, drew their arrows from their quivers, and were bending their bows, when the swivel in the boat was instantly pointed towards them, and twelve of our most determined men jumped into the pirogue and joined Captain Clark. This movement made an impression on them, for the grand chief ordered the young men away from the pirogue, and they withdrew and held a short council with the warriors. Being unwilling to irritate them, Captain Clark then went forward, and offered his hand to the first and second chiefs, who refused to take it. He then turned from them and got into the pirogue; but he had not got more than ten paces, when both the chiefs and two of the warriors waded in after him, and he brought them on board. We then proceeded on for a mile, and anchored off a willow island, which, from the circumstances which had just occurred, we called Bad-humored Island.”

The policy of firmness and gentleness, which Lewis and Clark always pursued when treating with the Indians, had its good results at this time. What might have been a bloody encounter was averted, and next day the Indians contritely came into camp and asked that their squaws and children might see the white men and their boats, which would be to them a novel sight. This was agreed to, and after the expedition had sailed up the river and had been duly admired by a great crowd of men, women, and children, the Tetons invited the white men to a dance. The journal adds: -

“Captains Lewis and Clark, who went on shore one after the other, were met on landing by ten well-dressed young men, who took them up in a robe highly decorated and carried them to a large council-house, where they were placed on a dressed buffalo-skin by the side of the grand chief. The hall or council-room was in the shape of three-quarters of a circle, covered at the top and sides with skins well dressed and sewed together. Under this shelter sat about seventy men, forming a circle round the chief, before whom were placed a Spanish flag and the one we had given them yesterday. This left a vacant circle of about six feet diameter, in which the pipe of peace was raised on two forked sticks, about six or eight inches from the ground, and under it the down of the swan was scattered. A large fire, in which they were cooking provisions, stood near, and in the centre about four hundred pounds of buffalo meat as a present for us. As soon as we were seated, an old man got up, and after approving what we had done, begged us take pity on their unfortunate situation. To this we replied with assurances of protection. After he had ceased, the great chief rose and delivered a harangue to the same effect; then with great solemnity he took some of the most delicate parts of the dog which was cooked for the festival, and held it to the flag by way of sacrifice; this done, he held up the pipe of peace, and first pointed it toward the heavens, then to the four quarters of the globe, then to the earth, made a short speech, lighted the pipe, and presented it to us. We smoked, and he again harangued his people, after which the repast was served up to us. It consisted of the dog which they had just been cooking, this being a great dish among the Sioux, and used on all festivals; to this were added pemitigon, a dish made of buffalo meat, dried or jerked, and then pounded and mixed raw with grease and a kind of ground potato, dressed like the preparation of Indian corn called hominy, to which it is little inferior. Of all these luxuries, which were placed before us in platters with horn spoons, we took the pemitigon and the potato, which we found good, but we could as yet partake but sparingly of the dog.”

The “pemitigon” mentioned here is better known as pemmican, a sort of dried meat, which may be eaten as prepared, or pounded fine and cooked with other articles of food. This festival concluded with a grand dance, which at midnight wound up the affair.

As the description of these Tetons, given by Lewis and Clark, will give the reader a good idea of the manners, customs, and personal appearance of most of the Sioux nation, we will copy the journal in full. It is as follows:

“The tribe which we this day saw are a part of the great Sioux nation, and are known by the name of the Teton Okandandas: they are about two hundred men in number, and their chief residence is on both sides of the Missouri, between the Chayenne and Teton Rivers. In their persons they are rather ugly and ill-made, their legs and arms being too small, their cheek-bones high, and their eyes projecting. The females, with the same character of form, are more handsome; and both sexes appear cheerful and sprightly; but in our intercourse with them we discovered that they were cunning and vicious.

“The men shave the hair off their heads, except a small tuft on the top, which they suffer to grow, and wear in plaits over the shoulders; to this they seem much attached, as the loss of it is the usual sacrifice at the death of near relations. In full dress, the men of consideration wear a hawk’s feather, or calumet feather worked with porcupine quills, and fastened to the top of the head, from which it falls back. The face and body are generally painted with a mixture of grease and coal. Over the shoulders is a loose robe or mantle of buffalo skin dressed white, adorned with porcupine quills, loosely fixed, so as to make a jingling noise when in motion, and painted with various uncouth figures, unintelligible to us, but to them emblematic of military exploits or any other incident: the hair of the robe is worn next the skin in fair weather, but when it rains the hair is put outside, and the robe is either thrown over the arm or wrapped round the body, all of which it may cover. Under this, in the winter season, they wear a kind of shirt resembling ours, made either of skin or cloth, and covering the arms and body. Round the middle is fixed a girdle of cloth, or procured dressed elk-skin, about an inch in width, and closely tied to the body; to this is attached a piece of cloth, or blanket, or skin, about a foot wide, which passes between the legs, and is tucked under the girdle both before and behind. From the hip to the ankle is covered by leggins of dressed antelope skins, with seams at the sides two inches in width, and ornamented by little tufts of hair, the produce of the scalps they have made in war, which are scattered down the leg. The winter moccasins are of dressed buffalo skin, the hair being worn inward, and soled with thick elk-skin parchment; those for summer are of deer or elk-skin, dressed without the hair, and with soles of elk-skin. On great occasions, or whenever they are in full dress, the young men drag after them the entire skin of a polecat fixed to the heel of the moccasin. Another skin of the same animal, either tucked into the girdle or carried in the hand, serves as a pouch for their tobacco, or what the French traders call bois roule.(1) This is the inner bark of a species of red willow, which, being dried in the sun or over the fire, is, rubbed between the hands and broken into small pieces, and used alone or mixed with tobacco. The pipe is generally of red earth, the stem made of ash, about three or four feet long, and highly decorated with feathers, hair, and porcupine-quills. . . .

(1) This is bois roule, or “rolled wood,” a poor kind of
tobacco rolled with various kinds of leaves, such as the
sumach and dogwood. The Indian name is kinnikinick.

“While on shore to-day we witnessed a quarrel between two squaws, which appeared to be growing every moment more boisterous, when a man came forward, at whose approach every one seemed terrified and ran. He took the squaws and without any ceremony whipped them severely. On inquiring into the nature of such summary justice, we learned that this man was an officer well known to this and many other tribes. His duty is to keep the peace, and the whole interior police of the village is confided to two or three of these officers, who are named by the chief and remain in power some days, at least till the chief appoints a successor. They seem to be a sort of constable or sentinel, since they are always on the watch to keep tranquillity during the day and guard the camp in the night. The short duration of the office is compensated by its authority. His power is supreme, and in the suppression of any riot or disturbance no resistance to him is suffered; his person is sacred, and if in the execution of his duty he strikes even a chief of the second class, he cannot be punished for this salutary insolence. In general he accompanies the person of the chief, and when ordered to any duty, however dangerous, it is a point of honor rather to die than to refuse obedience. Thus, when they attempted to stop us yesterday, the chief ordered one of these men to take possession of the boat; he immediately put his arms around the mast, and, as we understood, no force except the command of the chief would have induced him to release his hold. Like the other men his body is blackened, but his distinguishing mark is a collection of two or three raven-skins fixed to the girdle behind the back in such a way that the tails stick out horizontally from the body. On his head, too, is a raven-skin split into two parts, and tied so as to let the beak project from the forehead.”

When the party of explorers subsequently made ready to leave, signs of reluctance to have them go were apparent among the Indians. Finally, several of the chief warriors sat on the rope that held the boat to the shore. Irritated by this, Captain Lewis got ready to fire upon the warriors, but, anxious to avoid bloodshed, he gave them more tobacco, which they wanted, and then said to the chief, “You have told us that you were a great man, and have influence; now show your influence by taking the rope from those men, and we will then go on without further trouble.” This appeal to the chieftain’s pride had the desired effect. The warriors were compelled to give up the rope, which was delivered on board, and the party set sail with a fresh breeze from the southeast.

The explorers were soon out of the country of the Teton Sioux and into that of the Ricaras, or, as these Indians are more commonly called, the Rickarees.

On the first day of October they passed the mouth of a river incorrectly known as Dog River, as if corrupted from the French word chien. But the true name is Cheyenne, from the Indians who bear that title. The stream rises in the region called the Black Mountains by Lewis and Clark, on account of the great quantity of dark cedar and pine trees that covered the hills. This locality is now known as the Black Hills, in the midst of which is the famous mining district of Deadwood. In these mountains, according to Lewis and Clark, were to be found “great quantities of goats, white bear, prairie cocks, and a species of animal which resembled a small elk, with large circular horns.” By the “white bear” the reader must understand that the grizzly bear is meant. Although this animal, which was first discovered and described by Lewis and Clark, is commonly referred to in the earlier pages of the journal as “white,” the error naturally came from a desire to distinguish it from the black and the cinnamon-colored bears. Afterwards, the journal refers to this formidable creature as the grizzly, and again as the grisly. Certainly, the bear was a grizzled gray; but the name “grisly,” that is to say, horrible, or frightful, fitted him very well. The Latin name, ursus horribilis is not unlike one of those of Lewis and Clark’s selection. The animals with circular curled horns, which the explorers thought resembled a small elk, are now known as the Rocky Mountain sheep, or bighorn. They very little resemble sheep, however, except in color, head, horns, and feet. They are now so scarce as to be almost extinct. They were among the discoveries of Lewis and Clark. The prairie cock is known to western sportsmen as “prairie chicken;” it is a species of grouse.

It was now early in October, and the weather became very cool. So great is the elevation of those regions that, although the days might be oppressively warm, the nights were cold and white frosts were frequent. Crossing the Rocky Mountains at the South Pass, far south of Lewis and Clark’s route, emigrants who suffered from intense heat during the middle of day found water in their pails frozen solid in the morning.

The Rickarees were very curious and inquisitive regarding the white men. But the journal adds: “The object which appeared to astonish the Indians most was Captain Clark’s servant York, a remarkably stout, strong negro. They had never seen a being of that color, and therefore flocked round him to examine the extraordinary monster. By way of amusement, he told them that he had once been a wild animal, and been caught and tamed by his master; and to convince them, showed them feats of strength which, added to his looks, made him more terrible than we wished him to be.”

“On October 10th,” says the journal, “the weather was fine, and as we were desirous of assembling the whole nation at once, we despatched Mr. Gravelines (a trader) - who, with Mr. Tabeau, another French trader, had breakfasted with us - to invite the chiefs of the two upper villages to a conference. They all assembled at one o’clock, and after the usual ceremonies we addressed them in the same way in which we had already spoken to the Ottoes and Sioux. We then made or acknowledged three chiefs, one for each of the three villages; giving to each a flag, a medal, a red coat, a cocked hat and feather, also some goods, paint and tobacco, which they divided among themselves. After this the air-gun was exhibited, very much to their astonishment, nor were they less surprised at the color and manner of York. On our side we were equally gratified at discovering that these Ricaras made use of no spirituous liquors of any kind, the example of the traders who bring it to them, so far from tempting, having in fact disgusted them. Supposing that it was as agreeable to them as to the other Indians, we had at first offered them whiskey; but they refused it with this sensible remark, that they were surprised that their father should present to them a liquor which would make them fools. On another occasion they observed to Mr. Tabeau that no man could be their friend who tried to lead them into such follies.”

Presents were exchanged by the Indians and the white men; among the gifts from the former was a quantity of a large, rich bean, which grows wild and is collected by mice. The Indians hunt for the mices deposits and cook and eat them. The Rickarees had a grand powwow with the white chiefs and, after accepting presents, agreed to preserve peace with all men, red or white. On the thirteenth of the month the explorers discovered a stream which they named Stone-Idol Creek, on account of two stones, resembling human figures, which adorn its banks. The creek is now known as Spring River, and is in Campbell County, South Dakota. Concerning the stone images the Indians gave this tradition: -

“A young man was deeply enamoured with a girl whose parents refused their consent to the marriage. The youth went out into the fields to mourn his misfortunes; a sympathy of feeling led the lady to the same spot, and the faithful dog would not cease to follow his master. After wandering together and having nothing but grapes to subsist on, they were at last converted into stone, which, beginning at the feet, gradually invaded the nobler parts, leaving nothing unchanged but a bunch of grapes which the female holds in her hand to this day. Whenever the Ricaras pass these sacred stones, they stop to make some offering of dress to propitiate these deities. Such is the account given by the Ricara chief, which we had no mode of examining, except that we found one part of the story very agreeably confirmed; for on the river near where the event is said to have occurred we found a greater abundance of fine grapes than we had yet seen.”

While at their last camp in the country now known as South Dakota, October 14, 1804, one of the soldiers, tried by a court-martial for mutinous conduct, was sentenced to receive seventy-five lashes on the bare back. The sentence was carried out then and there. The Rickaree chief, who accompanied the party for a time, was so affected by the sight that he cried aloud during the whole proceeding. When the reasons for the punishment were explained to him, he acknowledged the justice of the sentence, but said he would have punished the offender with death. His people, he added, never whip even their children at any age whatever.

On the eighteenth of October, the party reached Cannonball River, which rises in the Black Hills and empties in the Missouri in Morton County, North Dakota. Its name is derived from the perfectly round, smooth, black stones that line its bed and shores. Here they saw great numbers of antelope and herds of buffalo, and of elk. They killed six fallow deer; and next day they counted fifty-two herds of buffalo and three herds of elk at one view; they also observed deer, wolves, and pelicans in large numbers.

The ledges in the bluffs along the river often held nests of the calumet bird, or golden eagle. These nests, which are apparently resorted to, year after year, by the same pair of birds, are usually out of reach, except by means of ropes by which the hunters are let down from the cliffs overhead. The tail-feathers of the bird are twelve in number, about a foot long, and are pure white except at the tip, which is jet-black. So highly prized are these by the Indians that they have been known to exchange a good horse for two feathers.

The party saw here a great many elk, deer, antelope, and buffalo, and these last were dogged along their way by wolves who follow them to feed upon those that die by accident, or are too weak to keep up with the herd. Sometimes the wolves would pounce upon a calf, too young and feeble to trot with the other buffalo; and although the mother made an effort to save her calf, the creature was left to the hungry wolves, the herd moving along without delay.

On the twenty-first of October, the explorers reached a creek to which the Indians gave the name of Chisshetaw, now known as Heart River, which, rising in Stark County, North Dakota, and running circuitously through Morton County, empties into the Missouri opposite the city of Bismarck. At this point the Northern Pacific Railway now crosses the Missouri; and here, where is built the capital of North Dakota, began, in those days, a series of Mandan villages, with the people of which the explorers were to become tolerably well acquainted; for it had been decided that the increasing cold of the weather would compel them to winter in this region. But they were as yet uncertain as to the exact locality at which they would build their camp of winter. Here they met one of the grand chiefs of the Mandans, who was on a hunting excursion with his braves. This chief greeted with much ceremony the Rickaree chief who accompanied the exploring party. The Mandans and Rickarees were ancient enemies, but, following the peaceful councils of the white men, the chiefs professed amity and smoked together the pipe of peace. A son of the Mandan chief was observed to have lost both of his little fingers, and when the strangers asked how this happened, they were told that the fingers had been cut off (according to the Mandan custom) to show the grief of the young man at the loss of some of his relations.