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A Winter with Lewis and Clark

1/11/2016:

The Corps of Discovery spent more time in what would become North Dakota than in any other state during its expedition west to the Pacific Ocean from 1803 to 1806. In their 213 days here, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent over five months with the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. They wintered at Fort Mandan, built near their friendly neighbors, just west of today’s Washburn, North Dakota.

On this date in 1805, Clark recorded the day as “verry cold.” He sent six men to hunt along the river. Private Joseph Whitehouse wrote that two of the hunters brought back elk. Sergeant John Ordway noted the “cold clear morning,” and that “nothing extroordnary accured.”

Clark wrote of Mandan chief Black Cat’s visit and night at Fort Mandan. He noted that one of interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau’s wives was sick, possibly Sacagawea, who was eight months pregnant. Several of the Corps’s men visited a ceremonial dance on the opposite bank of the river, thought to be a wolf ceremony assuring success on the warpath.

The winter at Fort Mandan proved long and cold with temperatures sinking to 45 degrees below zero. Low temperatures froze the expedition’s liquor solid in 15 minutes. Frostbite affected nearly all the men. A hunting party led by Lewis that fall during a cold November day left the men stranded on a sandbar, “out in the water abt 2 hours,” Ordway wrote, adding that ice ran against their legs while their clothes froze and one man suffered frostbitten feet.

While on the prairie in December, men in another hunting party suffered frostbitten feet, and one a frozen ear. The temperature: 1 degree below zero. The day after, Clark led a search for game in 12 below zero weather. More men suffered frostbite, including his slave York. The frostbite proved so bad that Lewis had to amputate toes from both feet of a native boy in January.

Of course, the expedition survived its winter at Fort Mandan, and by early April, the river was running again. Soon, the expedition departed – a party of 33 people rowing upstream on the Missouri River, carrying the journals and specimens that would one day find their way to President Thomas Jefferson.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources

"http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/greatplainsresearch/750/" http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/greatplainsresearch/750/

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"http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=1805-01-11.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl" http://lewisandclarkjournals.unl.edu/read/?_xmlsrc=1805-01-11.xml&_xslsrc=LCstyles.xsl

"http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/lewisclark/journey/" http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/lewisclark/journey/