Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1804-1805 on the Missouri River. On this date in 1804, they established Fort Mandan. The Mandan Indians had been very hospitable, and the fort was named for the friendly tribe.
The expedition cut lumber for the fort from the riverbanks. This was the sturdiest and most comfortable of their three winter camps. Lewis stated that his men were in excellent spirits at Fort Mandan. The winter was harsh, but the hunting was good. They were snug and well fed in their temporary home.
Lewis and Clark were busy over the winter. They wrote reports on their observations and prepared specimens to ship back east. They also interviewed the local inhabitants about what they could expect as they ventured west. They carefully drew the first draft of the new map of the Northwest, and made plans for heading west in the spring.
Lewis and Clark knew they needed a guide to help them. They interviewed several trappers. On November 11, fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau came to visit Fort Mandan. He brought 4 buffalo robes as gifts. When Lewis and Clark learned that his wife Sacagawea spoke the Shoshone language, they knew she could be very useful. They hired Charbonneau as much for his wife’s talents as for his own.
Sacagawea is the third most famous member of the Corps. She was about seventeen when she joined, and she accompanied the expedition for 16 of the 28 months they traveled. She gave birth to a son at Fort Mandan in February, 1805. Her interpretation skills did indeed prove invaluable, but she was never on the expedition payroll.
The Corps of Discovery set out from Fort Mandan for the Pacific Ocean in April of 1805. They stopped at Fort Mandan on their way back in 1806. They had fond memories of the place and were disappointed to discover that the fort had been destroyed by fire. They continued on to St. Louis while Charbonneau and Sacagawea remained in what would one day be North Dakota.
The Missouri River eroded the bank and shifted, covering the remains of the fort. In the early 1970s a historical group constructed a replica – a full-size reconstruction a few miles downstream of the original site. It was built using the plans and descriptions left by Lewis and Clark. It includes a visitor’s center and an interpretive exhibit.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
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Lewis and Clark Trail. "http://www.lewisandclarktrail.com/section2/ndcities/BismarckMandan/fortmandan.htm" http://www.lewisandclarktrail.com/section2/ndcities/BismarckMandan/fortmandan.htm Accessed 18 August, 2014.
State Historical Society of North Dakota. "http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/lewisclark/ftmandan.html" http://history.nd.gov/exhibits/lewisclark/ftmandan.html Accessed 18 August, 2014.