CMH Home
CMH Home
Lewis and Clark
Corps of Discovery
Corps of Discovery, United States Army Lewis and Clark Commemorative Logo
L&C HomeThe PeopleThe MissionExploreL&C Links

Members of the Expedition
Indian Nations

Part One: Wintering With the Mandan Indian Tribe

The following excerpts from various journals kept by several members of the expedition combine to paint a vivid picture of the winter Lewis and Clark spent with the Mandan/Hidatsa tribes. While almost all of the Indian tribes provided the Captains and their men with valuable assistance, the reader will note that in many cases it was often a reciprocal arrangement, e.g. the expedition frequently exchanged unique goods and services for provisions.

Interestingly enough, one of the few times the Lewis and Clark expedition was prepared to use armed force was during the winter with they spent with the Mandan tribes. Interpreter George Drouillard and Privates Robert Frazer, Silas Goodrich and John Newman departed Fort Mandan to hunt for fresh meat on 14 February 1805. About 25 miles downstream, a large party of Sioux Indians robbed the soldiers. After the chastened quartet made their way back to the fort with this bad news, a force of twenty volunteers was quickly assembled. At dawn on 15 February, under the leadership of Captain Lewis, the soldiers set off in pursuit. The next morning they spotted a column of smoke rising into the frigid air. The Sioux, after spending the night in deserted Mandan lodges, had made this signal when they set fire to lodges as they departed. Not finding the Sioux when they arrived at the deserted village, the expedition's attention once again turned to peacefully replenishing their supply of fresh meat.

The journal entries were excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For literal quotes, see the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition , edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the authoritative source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Note: Mandan/Hidatsa Tribe: When Lewis and Clark visited the area of modern Stanton, North Dakota there were two Mandan villages on the Missouri River, and three Hidatsa villages further up the Knife River. The Hidatsas have been known by many names, and were called many different names in the Journals of Lewis and Clark. The name Gros Ventres , for example, was apparently derived from Plains Indian sign language, which used both hands to indicate an expanded stomach. " Gros Ventres " is the French term for “Big Bellies”.

Journal Entries

[Clark] entry for 20 October 1804: “I saw an old remains of a village on the side of a hill which the guide with us tells me that nation [Mandans] lived in. A number of villages on each side of the river and the troublesome Sioux caused them to move about 40 miles higher up, where they remained a few years & moved to the place they now live.”

[Clark] entry for 24 October 1804: Passed an old [village] of a band of Me ne tarres [Hidatsas] called Mah har ha where they lived 40 years ago…Came to on an island caused by the river cutting through a narrow point 7 years ago. On this island we were visited by the Grand Chief of the Mandans, a second Chief and some other, who were camped on the island. Those Chiefs met our Arikara Chief with great cordiality, & smoked together. Capt. Lewis visited the camps, 5 lodges, and proceeded on & camped near a 2d camp of Mandans on the starboard side nearly opposite the old Arikara & Mandan Village which the Arikaras abandoned in the year 1789….Capt. Lewis with the interpreter went with the Chiefs to his lodges at one mile distant. After his return we admitted the Grand Chief & his brother for a few minutes on our boat. Proceeded on a short distance and camped on the starboard side below the old village of the Mandans & Arikaras. Soon after our landing four Mandans came from a camp above, the Arikara Chief went with them to their camp.”

[Clark] entry for 25 October 1804: “Proceeded on, passed the third old Village of the Mandans, which has been deserted for many years. This village was situated on an eminence of about 40 feet above the water on the larboard side. Back for several miles is a beautiful plain. At a short distance above this old village on a continuation of the same eminence was situated the (Arikaras Village) which have been evacuated only six years. Above this village a large and extensive bottom for several miles, in which the squaws raised their corn, but little timber near the villages. On the starboard side below is a point of excellent timber, and in the point several miles above is fine timber. Several parties of Mandans rode to the river on the starboard side to view us. Indeed, they are continually in sight, satisfying their curiosities as to our appearance &c…We were frequently called on to land & talk to parties of the Mandans on the shore. Several Indians came to see us this evening, amongst others the son of the late great Chief of the Mandans.

[Ordway] entry for Friday, 26 October 1804: “At 10 o'clock we halted at a hunting camp of the Mandans, consisting of men women and children. Here we found an Irishman who was here trading with them from the Northwest Company of Traders. We delayed about an hour with them, & proceeded on. Took two of the natives on board with their baggage in order to go to their village. The greater part of that camp kept along shore going up to the villages. We camped on the starboard side below the first village at an old field where the Mandan nation had raised corn the last summer, & sunflowers &c., of which they eat with corn. Capt. Lewis walked up to the village this evening, found the nation very friendly &c.”

[Clark] entry for 27 October 1804: “We set out early and came to at the [first] village [Matootonha] on the larboard side where we delayed a few minutes. I walked to a chief's lodge & smoked with them, but could not eat, which did displease them a little. Here I met with a Mr. Jusseaume, who lived in this nation 18 years. I got him to interpret & he proceeded on with us. We proceeded on to a central point opposite the Knife River, & formed a camp on the starboard side above the second Mandan village & opposite the Mah-har-ha village and raised a flagstaff. Capt. Lewis & the Interpreters walked down to the second village of Mandans, & returned in about an hour. We sent three sheafs of tobacco to the other villages & invited them to come down and council with us tomorrow. We endeavor to procure some knowledge of the principal chiefs of the different nations &c. well. A number of Indians bring their wives &c. to the camps of our party on shore &c.”

[Gass] entry for 27 October 1804: “These Indians have better complexions than most other Indians, and some of the children have fair hair. This place is 1,610 miles from the mouth of the River du Bois, where we first embarked to proceed on the expedition. There are about the same number of lodges, and people, in this village as in the first. These people do not bury their dead, but place the body on a scaffold, wrapped in a buffalo robe, where it lies exposed.”

[Clark] entry for 28 October 1804: “Many of the Gros Ventres and Watersoons came to see us and hear the council. We made up the presents and entertained several of the curious chiefs who wished to see the boat, which was very curious to them, viewing it as great medicine, as they also viewed my black servant [York]. The Black Cat, Grand chief of the Mandans, Capt. Lewis & myself with an interpreter walked up the river about 1½ miles. Our views were to examine the situation & timbers for a fort. I presented a jar to the chief's wife who received it with much pleasure. Our men very cheerful this evening. We sent the chiefs of the [Hidatsa] to smoke a pipe with the Grand chief of the Mandans in his village, & told them we would speak tomorrow.”

[Clark] entry for 29 October 1804: “After breakfast we were visited by the old chief of the Gros Ventres or Me ne tar res [Hidatsa]. This man has given his power to his son who is now on a war party against the Snake [Shoshone] Indians who inhabit the Rocky Mountains. The southwest wind very high. We met in council under an awning and our sails stretched round to keep out as much wind as possible & delivered a long speech similar to what had been said to the nations below. The old chief was restless before the speech was half ended, observed his camp was exposed & could wait no longer &c. At the conclusion of the speech we mentioned the Arikaras & requested them to make a peace & smoke out of the sacred stem with their chief which I introduced and gave him the pipe of peace to hand around. They all smoked with eagerness out of the pipe held by the Arikara chief “Ar-ke-tar-na-Shar”… Gave the chief small presents and a few presents for each village. Shot the air gun, which both surprised and astonished the natives, and soon dispersed. Our Arikara chief came [and] told me he wished to return to his nation tomorrow. I put him off & said we would send a talk by him after the chiefs had spoken to us. We gave a steel mill to the Mandans which was very pleasing to them.”

[Clark] entry for 29 October 1804: “The old chief of the Gros Ventres was very restless before [Lewis'] speech was half ended, [and] observed that he could not wait long, that his camp was exposed to the hostile Indians, &c. &c. He was rebuked by one of the chiefs for his uneasiness at such a time as the present. We at the end of the speech mentioned the Arikara who accompanied us to make a firm peace. They all smoked with him (I gave this chief a dollar of the American coin as a medal with which he was much pleased). In council we presented him with a certificate of his sincerity and good conduct &c….After the council we gave the presents with much ceremony, and put the medals on the chiefs we intended to make, viz., one for each town to whom we gave coats hats & flags, one grand chief to each nation to whom we gave medals with the President's likeness in council. We requested them to give us an answer tomorrow or as soon as possible to some points which required their deliberation. After the council was over we shot the air gun, which appeared to astonish the natives much, the greater part them retired soon after.”

[Ordway] entry for 29 October 1804: “The council was ended about 4 o'clock P.M., another gun was fired, & then our officers gave the or each head chief a medal & a flag and made a 1st and 2 nd Chief to each village & gave the head chiefs a suit of clothes and a quantity of small goods for their nations, cocked hats & feathers &c. &c. [Note: Lewis and Clark mistakenly believed that Indian chiefs were rank ordered according to their “position” which led to terms such as “1 st Chief” and “2 nd Chief”] Gave also a steel corn mill to the Mandan nation which pleased them very much. The captains requested them to assemble again tomorrow if possible to give us answer to what we had said to them respecting making peace with the Arikaras and all other nations & whether they mean to go to see their Great Father &c. Capt. Lewis shot the air gun which pleased them much. They returned home to their village. Hoisted the flag we gave them as well as the officers gave an American flag for each village &c. &c.”

[Clark] entry for 31 October 1804: “The main chief of the Mandans sent two chiefs for (us) to invite us to come to his lodge, and hear what he has to say. I with two interpreters walked down, and with great ceremony was seated on a robe by the side of the chief. He threw a robe, highly decorated, over my shoulders, and after smoking a pipe with the old men in the circle, the chief spoke. "He believed all we had told him, and that peace would be general, which not only gave himself satisfaction but all his people. They now could hunt without fear & their women could work in the fields without looking every moment for the enemy. As to the Arikaras addressing himself to the chief with me, you know we do not wish war with your nation. You have brought it on yourselves. That man pointing to the “2 nd ” Chief and those two young warriors will go with you & smoke in the pipes of peace with the Arikaras. I will let you see my father addressing me that we wish to be at peace with all and do not make war upon any." I answered the speech, which appeared to give general satisfaction, and returned to the boat. In the evening the chief visited us dressed in his new suit, & delayed until late. The men danced until 10 o'clock, which was common with them.”

[Whitehouse] entry for 31 October 1804: “The men that went with Captain Clark found among the Indians at this village corn, beans, simblins [sic], and many kinds of garden vegetables. They & the Arikara nation are the only Indians that we saw that cultivated the earth that reside on the Missouri River. Their village consisted of about 200 lodges built in the manner that the Arikara build their lodges. This village we supposed contained 1,500 souls. A chief called the Black Cat governed them. They behaved extremely kind to the party, and the only animal that was among them was some horses, which are stout serviceable animals. This village <is> was situated on a large high plain, and they plant in a bottom lying below it and to appearance are a very industrious set of people.”

[Ordway] entry for 1 November 1804: “Capt. Lewis, myself and several more of the party halted at the first village of the Mandans in order to get some corn. The head chief told us that they had not got the corn ready, but if we would come tomorrow they would have it ready. They gave us three kinds of victuals to eat which was very good. They were very friendly, gave the pipe round every few minutes &c. They live very well, have plenty of corn, beans, squashes, meat &c.”

[Ordway] entry for 11 November 1804: “A Frenchman's squaw [Sacagawea?] came to our camp who belonged to the Snake nation. She came with our Interpreter's wife & brought with them four buffalo robes and gave them to our officers. They gave them out to the party. I got one fine one myself.”

[Clark] entry for 20 November 1804: “Several Indians came down to eat fresh meat. Three chiefs from the second Mandan Village stayed all day. They are very curious in examining our works [the expedition had completed Fort Mandan].”

[Clark] entry for 25 November 1804: “Capt. Lewis, two interpreters & six men set out to see the Indians in the different towns & camps in this neighborhood. Two chiefs came to see me today, one named Wau-ke-res-sa-ra, a Big Belly [Hidatsa] and the first of that nation who has visited us since we have been here. I gave him a handkerchief, paint & a saw band, and the other some few articles, and paid a particular attention, which pleased them very much. The interpreters being all with Capt. Lewis I could not talk to them.”

[Ordway] entry for 27 November 1804: “Capt. Lewis & command brought with them three chiefs from the upper villages of the Gros Ventres [Hidatsa]. They appear to be very friendly. Gave us a little corn & were glad to come & see us. They said that the Mandan Nation told them that we would do them harm, & that was the reason they had not been to see us before. We had a dance this evening.”

[Clark] entry for 30 November 1804: “This morning at 8 o'clock an Indian called from the other side and informed that he had something of consequence to communicate. We sent a pirogue for him & he informed us as follows. Viz: "five men of the Mandan Nation out hunting in a southwest direction about eight leagues was surprised by a large party of Sioux & Panies [Arikara]. One man was killed and two wounded with arrows & 9 horses taken. Four of the Watersoon Nation [Hidatsa] was missing, & they expected to be attacked by the Sioux &c. &c.["] We thought it well to show a disposition to aid and assist them against their enemies, particularly those who came in opposition to our councils, and I determined to go to the town with some men, and if the Sioux were coming to attract the nation to collect the warriors from each village and meet them. Those ideas were also those of Capt. Lewis. I crossed the river in about an hour after the arrival of the Indian express with 23 men, including the interpreters, and flanked the town & came up on the back part. The Indians not expecting (not) to receive such strong aide in so short a time was much surprised, and a little alarmed at the formidable appearance of my party. The principal chiefs met me some distance from the town (say 200 yards) and invited me into town. I ordered my party into different lodges & I explained to the nation the cause of my coming in this formidable manner to their town was to assist and chastise the enemies of our dutiful children. I requested the Grand Chief to repeat the circumstances as they happened, which he did, as was mentioned by the express in the morning. I then informed them that if they would assemble their warriors and those of the different towns I would to meet the Army of the Sioux & chastise them for taking the blood of our dutiful children &c. After a conversation of a few minutes amongst themselves, one chief, the Big Man Chien said they now saw that what we had told them was the truth, when we expected the enemies of their nation was coming to attack them, or had spilt their blood were ready to protect them, and kill those who would not listen to our good talk. His people had listened to what we had told them and carelessly went out to hunt in small parties, believing themselves to be safe from the other nations, and have been killed by the Panies & Sioux. "I knew," said he "that the Panies were liars, and told the old chief who came with you (to confirm a peace with us) that his people were liars and bad men and that we killed them like the buffalo, when we pleased. We had made peace several times and your nation (& they) have always commenced the war. We do not want to kill you, and will not suffer you to kill us or steal our horses. We will make peace with you as our two fathers have directed, and they shall see that we will not be the aggressors, but we fear the Arikaras will not be at peace long.["] "My father, those are the words I spoke to the Arikara in your presence. You see they have not opened their ears to your good councils but have spilt our blood." Two Arikaras whom we sent home this day for fear of our people's killing them in their grief, informed us when they came here several days ago, that two Towns of the Arikaras were making their Moccasins, and that we had best take care of our horses &c." A number of Sioux were in their towns, and they believed not well disposed towards us. Four of the Watersoons are now absent. They were to have been back in 16 days they have been out 24. We fear they have fallen. My father, the snow is deep and it is cold. Our horses cannot travel through the plains. Those people who have spilt our blood have gone back. If you will go with us in the spring after the snow goes off we will raise the warriors of all the towns & nations around about us, and go with you." I told this nation that we should be always willing and ready to defend them from the insults of any nation who would dare to come to do them injury during the time we would (stay) remain in their neighborhood, and requested that they would inform us of any party who may at any time be discovered by their patrols or scouts. I was sorry that the snow in the plains had fallen so deep since the murder of the young chief by the Sioux as prevented their horses from traveling. I wished to meet those Sioux & all others who will not open their ears, but make war on our dutiful children, and let you see that the warriors of your great father will chastise the enemies of his dutiful children the Mandans, Watersoons & Minitarees, who have opened their ears to his advice. You say that the Panies or Arikaras were with the Sioux; some bad men may have been with the Sioux. You know there is bad men in all nations, do not get mad with the Arikaras until we know if those bad men are countenanced by their nation, and we are convinced those people do not intend to follow our councils. You know that the Sioux have great influence over the Arikaras and perhaps have led some of them astray. You know that the Arikaras are dependant on the Sioux for their guns, powder, & ball, and it was policy in them to keep on as good terms as possible with the Sioux until they had some other means of getting those articles &c. &c. You know yourselves that you are compelled to put up with little insults from the Christinoes & Oss' abo' (or Stone Indians), because if you go to war with those people, they will prevent the traders in the north from bringing you guns, powder & ball and by that means distress you very much. But when you will have certain suppliers from your Great American Father of all those articles you will not suffer any nation to insult you &c. After about two hours conversation on various subjects, all of which tended towards their situation &c. I informed them I should return to the fort. The chief said they all thanked me very much for the fatherly protection that I showed towards them, that the village had been crying all the night and day for the death of the brave young man who fell. But now they would wipe away their tears, and rejoice in their father's protection, and cry no more. I then paraded & crossed the river on the ice and came down on the north side. The snow so deep, it was very fatiguing. The chief frequently thanked me for coming to protect them and the whole village appeared thankful for that measure.”

[Clark] entry for 7 December 1804: “The Big White, Grand Chief of the 1st Village, came and informed us that a large drove of buffalo was near and his people was waiting for us to join them in a chase. Capt. Lewis took 15 men & went out joined the Indians, who were at the time he got up killing the buffalo on horseback with arrows, which they done with great dexterity. His party killed 14 buffalo, five of which we got to the fort by the assistance of a horse in addition to what the men packed on their backs. One cow was killed on the ice after drawing her out of a vacancy in the ice in which she had fallen, and butchered her at the fort. Those we did not get in was taken by the Indians under a custom which is established amongst them, i.e. any person seeing a buffalo lying without an arrow sticking in him, or some particular mark, takes possession. Many times (as I am told) a hunter who kills many buffalo in a chase only gets a part of one, all meat which is left out all night falls to the wolves which are in great numbers, always in the buffaloes.”

[Ordway] entry for 10 December 1804: “One of the Mandan Indians who had been wounded by the Sioux came to our officers to be cured.”

[Clark] entry for 21 December 1804: “A woman brought a child with an abscess on the lower part of the back, and offered as much corn as she could carry for some medicine. Capt. Lewis administered &c.”

[Clark] entry for 23 December 1804: “Great numbers of Indians of all descriptions came to the fort, many of them bringing corn to trade. The Little Crow loaded his wife & son with corn for us. Capt. Lewis gave him a few presents, as also his wife. She made a kettle of boiled [per]simmons, beans, corn & chokecherries with the stones, which was palatable. This dish is considered as a treat among those people. The chiefs of the Mandans are fond of staying & sleeping in the fort”.

[Ordway] entry for 2 January 1805: “Capt. Lewis and the greater part of the party went up to the second village of the Mandans a frolicking, after the same manner as yesterday at the first village. A number of Indians and squaws came to the fort from the first village. Brought us corn to pay our blacksmiths for repairing their squaw axes, bridles &c. The most of the men returned toward evening & said that the Indians were much diverted at seeing them dance. They used them very friendly &c.”

[Clark] entry for 16 January 1805: “One of the 1st war chiefs of the Gros Ventres Nation [Hidatsa] came to see us today with one man and his squaw to wait on him. We shot the air gun, and gave two shots with the cannon which pleased them very much. The Little Crow, 2nd chief of the lower village, came & brought us corn. This war chief gave us a chart in his way of the Missouri. He informed us of his intentions of going to war in the spring against the Snake Indians. We advised him to look back at the number of nations who had been destroyed by war, and reflect upon what he was about to do, observing if he wished the happiness of his nation he would be at peace with all, by that by being at peace and having plenty of goods amongst them & a free intercourse with those defenseless nations, they would get on easy terms a great number of horses, and that nation would increase. If he went to war against those defenseless people, he would displease his Great Father, and he would not receive that perfection & care from him as other nations who listened to his word. This chief, who is a young man, 26 years old, replied that if his going to war against the Snake Indians would be displeasing to us he would not go, he had horses enough. We observed that what we had said was the words of his Great Father, and what we had spoken to all the nations which we saw on our passage up. They all promise to open their ears and we do not know as yet if any of them has shut them (we are doubtful of the Sioux). If they do not attend to what we have told them their Great Father will open their ears. This chief said that he would advise all his nation to stay at home until we saw the Snake Indians & knew if they would be friendly, he himself would attend to what we had told him.”

[Lewis] entry for 6 February 1805: “The blacksmiths take a considerable quantity of corn today in payment for their labor. The blacksmiths have proved a happy resource to us in our present situation, as I believe it would have been difficult to devise any other method to have procured corn from the natives. The Indians are extravagantly fond of sheet iron of which they form arrow-points and manufacture into instruments for scraping and dressing their buffalo robes.”

[Clark] entry for 19 February 1805: “Visited by several of the Mandans today. Our smiths are much engaged mending and making axes for the Indians for which we get corn.

[Clark] entry for 7 March 1805: “The Coal visited us with a sick child, to whom I gave some of Rush's Pills. Charbonneau returned this evening from the Gros Ventres & informed that all the nation had returned from the hunting.”

[Lewis] entry for 16 March 1805: “Mr. Gurrow, a Frenchman who has lived many years with the Arikaras & Mandans, showed us the process used by those Indians to make beads. The discovery of this art these nations are said to have derived from the Snake Indians who have been taken prisoners by the Arikaras. The art is kept a secret by the Indians among themselves and is yet known to but few of them.”

[Clark] entry for 29 March 1805: “The river rose 13 inches the last 24 hours [as the winter ice began melting]. I observed extraordinary dexterity of the Indians in jumping from one cake of ice to another for the purpose of catching the buffalo as they float down. Many of the cakes of ice which they pass over are not two feet square. The plains are on fire in view of the fort on both sides of the river. It is said to be common for the Indians to burn the plains near their villages every spring for the benefit of their horses, and to induce the buffalo to come near to them.”

[Clark] entry for 6 April 1805: “Visited by a number of Mandans. We are informed of the arrival of the whole of the Arikara nation on the other side of the river near their old village. We sent an interpreter to see with orders to return immediately and let us know if their chiefs meant to go down to see their great father.”

[Whitehouse] entry for 7 April 1805: “We proceeded on and encamped on the north side of the Missouri River, opposite to the first Village of the Mandan Nation. This village lies on the south side of the river and contains 300 lodges. The land adjoining it is prairies, which gradually rise from the river. The soil is very rich, producing Indian corn, pumpkins, squashes & beans in abundance. The natives have large fields, which they cultivate and which produce plentifully. They have likewise gardens, which they plant & have several kinds of garden vegetables in it, such as lettuce, mustard &c. They have likewise growing in their gardens gooseberries, which is superior in size to any in the United States & currants of different kinds. They are in general peaceable, well-disposed people, and have less of the savage nature in them than any Indians we met with on the Missouri River. They are of a very light color, the men are very well featured and stout; the women are in general handsome. This town or village contains from the best calculation we could make 2,000 inhabitants. They are governed by a chief called the Big White and the Indians here live to a very old age, numbers being 100 years old.”


At 4PM on 7 April 1805, Corporal Richard Warfington and a small party of men headed east aboard the keelboat. Warfington was charged by Lewis with delivering to President Jefferson all of journals completed to date by the expedition, as well as numerous specimens of plant and animal life. The rest of the men, led by Lewis and Clark, continued on their epic journey to the Pacific Northwest westward along the river aboard six newly constructed canoes and the two pirogues.


L&C Home      The People      The Mission      Explore     L&C Links
Center of Military History      US Army