© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Copper Coin Relic


The city names Bismarck and Mandan naturally go together, like ‘peaches and cream,’ like “summer and baseball,’ or like ‘Lewis and Clark.’ Geographically, Bismarck and Mandan are sister cities, located on either side of the Missouri River. Despite the proximity, they stand as rivals, in football, baseball, and sundry sports.

The two cities also compete in business and reputation. It was in this realm of supremacy that a news story appearing on this date in 1915, told an odd tale of a copper coin found in Mandan.

A young fellow named Glenn Welsh, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Welsh, was playing near a new automobile garage being built by the Connolly Motor Company in Mandan when he uncovered a round coin-shaped copper piece. The coin was deeply-buried, but was in an “excellent state of preservation.”

When the Welsh family cleaned the piece, they recognized it as a “pocket piece,” similar to those carried by all Royal Arch Masons. The coin’s face portrayed a keystone and the words “Franklin Chapter, New Haven, Connecticut, and its obverse bore a triangle and read: “Instituted May 20, 1795.”

Word of the startling discovery spread swiftly in Mandan and many concluded that the pocket-piece had been lost by a Mason in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Some Mandan-boosters rashly claimed that the token was proof-positive that Lewis and Clark had camped smack-dab, right in the middle of Mandan’s business district. Mandan’s Masonic members wrote to Connecticut to inquire if any of Lewis & Clark’s group had belonged to the Franklin Chapter.

The copper coin was newsworthy because Bismarck and Mandan had long-disputed whether Lewis and Clark had camped on the Mandan side of the Missouri River or the Bismarck side during their stops to and from Pacific Coast.

The truth of the matter was that Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery had camped near both cities.

On October 20, 1804, the explorers camped on the west side of the river, four miles south of Mandan, near the abandoned On-A-Slant Village of the Mandan tribe. Then in 1806, on the return journey, they camped on the east side of the Missouri, near Bismarck.

What became of the copper token is unknown, but the tale was picked up by the United Press news syndicate, giving Mandan bragging rights as the story appeared in papers nationwide … in June, 1915.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Pocket Piece Is Discovered [Mandan, N.D., June 3],” Bismarck Tribune, June 4, 1915, p. 4.

“Party Camped On Mandan Side,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 4, 1915, p. 4.

“Masonic Insignia,” Masonic Voice Review, Vol. 18, No. 2 (February 1916): 37.

“Copper Coin Relic Found,” Bemidji [MN] Pioneer, June 30, 1915, p. 1.

“Copper Coin Relic of Lewis-Clark Expedition,” Alton [IL] Evening Telegraph, June 30, 1915, p. 8.

“Where They Camped,” Tacoma Times, June 30, 1915, p. 3.

Clay S. Jenkinson, A Vast and Open Plain: The Writings of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in North Dakota, 1804-1806 (Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2003), p. 59-62, 425-427, 569, 576, and map Plate 32.

Russell Reid, Lewis and Clark in North Dakota (Bismarck: State Historical Society of N.D., 1988), p. 28-30, 342-344.

“Slant (Mandan) Indian Village, N.D.,” National Park Service: Lewis and Clark, Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, "http://www.nps.gov" www.nps.gov , accessed on April 19, 2016.