Golden Days of Lewis and Clark
The Corps of Discovery enjoyed a pleasant day on this date in 1804 as the expedition pulled up the Missouri River near present-day Huff, North Dakota. One historian said that if ever the party was like a bunch of guys on a long camping trip, it was now for Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their men.
Clark noted much timber in the river bottom, along with the Big Muddy's brackish water. He saw many herds of bison, as well as elk, deer, pronghorn and swans.
He and three men went hunting that day, returning with three elk and seven deer. The skins were distributed among the men. Clark made note of the conical hills in the area, Morton County's Sugarloaf Butte among them. An Arikara chief had earlier told him the golden eagle lived in holes in these hills.
If Lewis kept a journal during this time, it is lost, but he spent much time that fall walking the Missouri River. Sometimes with a party of men or alone with his dog Seaman, Lewis could cover 30 miles in a day. He carried his rifle, pistol, knife, powder horn, balls, wooden pike, compass and notebook. He often collected specimens on his walks while Clark commanded the keelboat.
On this day, the expedition also saw some of the first Mandan ruins. The Mandans had abandoned the earth lodges some 20 years prior, fleeing from a smallpox epidemic and attacks from the Sioux and Arikara. The Mandans had relocated farther north near the Knife River. The expedition found squash and beans still growing in abandoned gardens. The party also saw bones and other remains in the village lodges that lined the river.
The men made camp north of Huff and south of the mouth of the Heart River. That campsite is now underwater.
The men were nearing the Mandan and Hidatsa villages where they would spend the winter – over 1,500 miles from the mouth of Missouri. A long winter was ahead, but lucky for them, their neighbors were friendly, the game plentiful and the whiskey months from running out.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura
Ambrose, S. E. (1996). Undaunted courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the opening of the American West. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.