A haunted mountain. Among the Sioux. A curious fraternity. Some new animals. Trouble with the Tetons. The first meeting with the grizzly bear. Reaching the Arikara1 Indians. The approach of cold weather.

By late August the explorers were entering the present South Dakota. There they examined a singularly symmetrical mound in the middle of the plains. The Indians believed this mound to be the abode of little spirits or devils not over eighteen inches in height, with large heads, and armed with bows and arrows which were always ready for use against any one who should approach. But Lewis and Clark "saw none of these wicked little spirits, or any place for them except some small holes scattered over the top." This tradition is preserved in the modern name of Spirit Mound, which is in Clay County, South Dakota.

They were in the country of the formidable Sioux Indians, and the travelers set the prairie on fire as a notification Totem of the Sioux of their coming. A few days later Sergeant Pryor and others were sent to the Sioux. On his return Pryor reported that the Sioux received them well and wished to carry them on a buffalo robe, an honor which they declined. They were also feasted on "a fat dog, already cooked, of which they partook heartily." This feast of dog meat was to be a frequent experience.

On August 30 Lewis and Clark received the Sioux chiefs and warriors in state, and gave them good advice regarding their relations with the United States. In addition to the usual presents the head chief received a richly laced artillery coat, and a cocked hat with a red feather. Then they all smoked the pipe of peace, and the young men shot at marks. At night the Indians held a dance, which was a new and striking spectacle for the white men.

The next day the Sioux chiefs made speeches in reply, which were peaceful, but their main Calumet, or Pipe of Peace point was that they wanted powder and ball, and presents for their squaws. More presents were given, and they promised to make peace with the Ottoes and Missouris.

In describing these Yankton Sioux the journal speaks of an association of young men among them who are bound never to retreat before any danger or give way to their enemies, "In war they go forward without sheltering themselves behind trees. This determination not to be turned aside became heroic, or ridiculous, a short time since when the Yanktons were crossing the Missouri on the ice. A hole lay immediately in their course which might easily have been avoided by going around. This the leader of the band disdained to do, but went straight forward and was lost. The others would have followed his example but were forcibly prevented."

Above Yankton the explorers found great sand ridges so regular in their formation that they are described and mapped out in the journals as fortifications made by the hand of man. These were really only sand drifts, formed by the action of the river.

Another experience was the first glimpse of an antelope, which was called a goat. The Americans had never seen a prairie dog, and when they discovered a prairie-dog village they "poured five barrels of water into one of the holes without filling it, but we dislodged and caught the owner."

A noteworthy relic of a dead animal was found in the form of a "backbone of a fish forty-five feet long, in a perfect state of petrifaction." This was not a fish, but the remains of one of the extinct giant reptiles of the Cretaceous period.

The travelers saw buffalo, elk, "goats,"— or rather antelopes, black-tailed deer, prairie wolves, coyotes, porcupines, rabbits, and barking squirrels, as they advanced. Captain Lewis tried to approach and shoot some antelopes, Sioux Hatchet but in spite of his care they "fled with a speed equal to that of the most distinguished race horse."

Although still within the present South Dakota the explorers by late September had reached the country of the Teton Sioux. While they were in Presho County a horse was stolen by the Sioux, and this annoyance was followed by a council meeting, which was very different from those held before. After the usual talk and present giving, the ungrateful Sioux chief exclaimed that he had not received presents enough, and would stop the explorers. He "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 [gun] was instantly pointed towards them and twelve of our most determined men jumped into the pirogue [small boat] and joined Captain Clark. This movement made an impression on them, for the grand chief ordered the young men away."

The courage and tact of the Americans resulted in a reconciliation. The next day Lewis and Clark were carried by the Sioux in a buffalo robe to the council house, where they smoked the pipe of peace; and a repast was served which consisted of dog and "pemitigon [pemmican],--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."

Here they saw a scalp dance, and were fairly deafened by the noise of the drums. They noted every detail of Sioux life about them; saw the buffalo-skin lodges, the punishment of wrongdoers by officers appointed by the chief, noted the Indians themselves, with their heads shaven except for the scalp lock, their faces painted with grease and coal, and their robes of buffalo skin adorned with porcupine quills.

In spite of the Sioux professions of friendship they became troublesome again. They held the boat until the soldiers made ready to fire; then followed with others along the bank, alternately threatening and begging, until finally this rascally tribe was left behind and the expedition passed into the country of the Arikaras.

Nature's Fortifications
Nature's "Fortifications"
(From the plan drawn by Lewis and Clark)

Here there were not only "goats" and "prairie cocks" but "white bear." This was the famous grizzly bear. The explorers also saw "a species of animal which resembled a small elk, with large, circular horns." This was the Rocky Mountain sheep, or bighorn. French fur traders were found as far in the wilderness as this, and they aided the travelers in calling a council, which differed from the others in one respect, --the Arikaras very sensibly refused whisky, saying that it would make them fools.

It was now October, and the weather was growing cold. The friendly Arikaras were left behind them, and on October 21 they reached a creek then called "Chisshetaw," and now Heart River, which joins the Missouri opposite the city of Bismarck, North Dakota, where the Northern Pacific Railroad now crosses the Missouri. The future site of Bismarck was then occupied by villages of the Mandan Indians. Since the cold weather would soon stop their progress it had been decided that they would winter among the Mandans.

1 "Aricaris, commonly called Rickarees, Rickrees, or Rees. The accepted spelling is now Arikara." — Coues’s "Lewis and Clark," Vol. I, p. 143. In the journal this is spelled Rickara.
Return to text.

Chapter 13

Back to Legacy

© 2001, Lynn Waterman