Maps can be extremely valuable. They can help you find your way to a location, they can show you the exciting features of a landscape or city, and they can help you visualize data in different ways. But what about unexplored and unmapped areas? This was the challenge faced by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804 when President Thomas Jefferson gave them the job of exploring the Louisiana Purchase.
In the 1770s and 80s, before the Louisiana Purchase, the Arikara people had settled into three villages at the northern edge of their traditional territory. The population of the tribe had declined dramatically due to smallpox epidemics. The arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition represented a diplomatic opportunity: reconciliation with their Mandan neighbors, and a trading relationship with their new “Great Father” in Washington.
While many people have heard of Sakakawea, who helped guide Lewis and Clark, few would recognize the names of other Native Americans who aided the expedition. One such native was Arikara leader Too Né. It was on this date in 1804 that he joined Lewis and Clark on an expedition to a Mandan Village on the Knife River. The aim of the trip was to negotiate a temporary treaty between the Arikaras and Mandans.
Lewis and Clark would later convince Too Né to make the journey to Washington, D.C., to meet the “Great Father” Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, he died there in April of 1806, but he left behind an important document, having mapped the Arikara territory for Jefferson. It provided an important base for Clark’s later “master map” of the American West.
Too Né’s map was re-discovered in a French archive after 200 years in storage. Christopher Jenkins, historian and editor of We Proceeded On, the journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, said “Monumental doesn’t fully cover the importance of this discovery...This map deepens our understanding of how dependent Lewis and Clark were on Native American geographers.”
Dakota Datebook by Jacob Clausen