The Spaniard at Fort Clark
James Evans, a Spaniard employed under the newly-formed Missouri Company of St. Louis, raised a Spanish flag over the Mandan-Hidatsa trading post near Fort Clark on this date in 1796. It was the first and last time that a Spanish flag would fly in the vicinity, despite the fact that the area was in Spanish possession for over thirty years.
In 1763, the territory of Louisiana, along with all trading rights, was ceded to Spain by France. Unfortunately for the Spanish, British traders of the Hudson Bay and Northwest Companies largely ignored these land claims. This was especially the case along the Upper Missouri River, where traders made enormous profits exchanging metal and ceramic goods with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Assiniboine in exchange for valuable furs, which were sent east to Europe. The Spanish government in the New World, largely based out of St. Louis, had little power to control northern trade; in fact, until 1796, Spanish explorers had failed to even reach the Mandan villages along the Upper Missouri. Because of these failures, Spanish merchants in St. Louis formed the Missouri Company in 1794. The merchants’ goal was to limit British intrusions in the north by taking firmer control of trade along the Missouri. They commissioned James Mackay to travel up the Missouri and take control of these trading posts. Mackay was accompanied by James Evans and a small contingent of men. Mackay mapped the Missouri in Nebraska, while Evans traveled further north to the Knife River Villages and sent details to Mackay in the south. The map that the two traders produced was published in 1797, and was the most detailed and accurate produced at the time. President Thomas Jefferson even sent a copy to Lewis and Clark in 1803 to use on their expedition.
When Evans reached the trading post set up by the North West Company near Fort Clark, his first assertion of power was to hoist a Spanish flag and distribute a proclamation to British traders. Evans had no way to enforce his control, however, and the mutually-beneficial trade between the British and Mandan continued. In fact, Evans’s attempts to control the trade so angered the Indians that they threatened to kill him and his men. He was forced to retreat to Fort Charles in Nebraska in 1797, forever ending Spanish influence along the Upper Missouri.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job