Of a voyage from St. Louis, Louisianna, to the Mandan Village, undertaken by the St. Louis Missouri Fur company, for the purpose of conducting Sheheken, the Mandan Chief to his nation, and to establish trading houses on the head waters of the Missouri;
by Dr. Thomas, Surgeon to the party.
On the 17th of May last, we set out from St. Louis with 10 barges and 160 men, well equipped, amongst whom were a few Delawares and Shawnese employed for hunting. On the next day we passed the beautiful village of St. Charles, being 18 miles by land, and about 30 by water from St. Louis; ascending to the river Gasconade, the country is very thick settled, particularly in the spots called Boon's settlement, and near the little village called Charrette. I am informed that the territory of Louisianna is apportioned out to six districts; St. Charles is the uppermost, comprehending that immense tract of country, west of the Mississippi and north of the Missouri; the tide of emigration appears to direct itself to this highly favored spot, and indeed we are not surprised that the farmers of the United States bend their attention this way, as every advantage both of soil and climate, render it far preferable to Kentucky or Ohio.
From the Charrette village to the Osage river we experienced nothing extraordinary: having agreed to wait here for the party, we took advantage of the delay, to saunter over the country; this place is said to be about 40 miles from the frontiers, although there is a small village opposite its mouth, on the north side of the Missouri, in a beautiful rich prairie; the inhabitants consist of emigrants from below, principally French; these people raise a sufficiency of grain for the consumption of the settlement, and employ the rest of their time in hunting and trading with the surrounding Indians. The Osage river, situate on the south side, from its magnitude at the mouth forms an important appendage to this country; I was informed that boats ascended to the old Indian villages, about 100 miles up; its waters are pure, gentle, and well tasted; its banks discover to the naked eye the riches it possesses; iron ore of the best kind cover a great portion of its surface. Here the botanists could enjoy a feast; Savannas are filled with innumerable plants pregnant with all the sweets florists could desire; the lovers of hunting could not fail of finding on this river plenty of amusement, for I am sure no place I have yet seen, can equal it for fish and wild fowl.
Mine river empties itself into the Missouri, a few leagues above, is navigable for small crafts up to the salt works; there are two establishments here, I am informed that 200 kettles are continually employed in making salt; a gentleman who rode over the country where these salt licks abound, says that 10,000 kettles might be employed as strong water springs are numerous in every direction. On the 3rd of June we were visited by a hail storm, and to render the scene more disagreeable, one of the hunters, John Stout, had this thumb blown off and his hand much lacerated by the bursting of my gun.
On the 28th, all the boats having arrived we set out, and on the 8th of July arrived at Fort Osage, which we saluted by a discharge of several guns from our ordinance barges, and were politely answered by an equal number from the fort; here we experienced many civilities from the gentlemen of the garrison. This place appears to be the general rendezvous of all the Missouri Indians, whose continual jars keep the commandant on the alert. Osages, Ottas, Mahas, Ponnis, Cansas, Missouri, Souex, Sac, Fox, Ioway, all mingle together here, and serve to render this quarter a most discordant portion of the continent.
July 11th, we got all ready for embarcation, having laid on vegetables, &c.
and bidding adieu to the face of civilized life pushed on our way. The face of
the country on each side of the river, is so monotonous up the river Flat, that
one day's journey would nearly give the history of every thing, worthy of
notice.' The banks in general are low, and an extreme rich dark brown loam
covers the face of all its borders, except were the cliffs approach the water;
in several places they put in on both sides, so as to compress the river to the
breadth of 25 or 30 yards; to these bluffs vegetation is denied; having ascended
many without being gratified with the sight of a plant; however our toils were
often repaid by the discovery of various petrifactions; the bones of the
buffaloe, elk, goat, with the various kind of wood which grow in the
neighbourhood, are found on the tops of these cliffs, completely petrified, yet
few are to be found in the low land.
The Cansas river on the south side, so called from a nation of that name, who reside about 150 miles up this river, is about 40 miles from the garrison; this river is considerable, affording navigation for trading boats, up to the village'The Cansas have long been the terror of the neighbouring Indians, their temerity is hardly credible; a few weeks since a band of 100 warriors entered Paunie village, or what is more generally called the Paunies Republic, and killed the principal chief and his family consisting of 15 souls; they were immediately pursued and upwards of 40 of them cut to pieces; these people cannot be at peace with the white or red people; they rob, murder and destroy when opportunity offers; fortunately for their neighbours, they are few in number, and their daily outrages serve to lessen their number still more, their country abounds with game, particularly beaver, deer, buffaloe, elk, black bear, &c. &c. and afford the Cansas (hardly less savage) an abundance of food and raiment.
On the 29th of July, we arrived at Messrs. Cooks and M'Clelland's old hunting camp, we lodged in their house, these gentlemen had constructed comfortable quarters, the house having three rooms, when they occupied it, the Ottas and Paunies resorted to them in great numbers.
August 1st, arrived at the river Platte on the south side, met with Mr. M'Clelland, waiting for the Ottas, whom he expected in great numbers to trade.
Mr. M'Celland has weathered many storms in his life, and it appears that each day seems to throw something bitter in his cup; brave, generous and kind, he meets the untutored Indian with the smile of complacency; or if the temerity of the savage should exceed the bounds of honesty, or approach to menace, then M'Celland discovers exalted courage, surrounded with Indians, with his rifle, pistols, and sword, he bids defiance to whole nations; threatening or executing extermination to all who attempt to plunder him.
The river Platte is about half a mile wide at its mouth, it has almost as many mouths as the Mississippi, having numerous sand bars at its Junction with the Missouri; its waters have the muddy hue of the Missouri; its extreme rapidity and shoal water, prevent the traders ascending it; the Otta villages are about 40 miles from the mouth; the Paunies reside a considerable distance above, and extend to near the head waters of the Arkansa; these people living in the neighbourhood of the Spanish villages, near St. Fee, trade alternately with them and the American traders. These Parthians of the west ought to be cherished, as through them we may obtain an extensive trade with that portion of Mexico, most adjacent to the mines.
On leaving the Platte we take leave of the exuberance of vegetation; a
broken country, a sandy soil, course short grass, a dirth of timber, and in fact
nothing to console the view but what Providence has kindly given man, viz.
Buffaloe, and Deer whose abundance feed and clothe the wretched wanderers of
From the river Platte to the Maha Village, about 250 miles, we experienced good weather; and on our way we passed the Ioway village, now deserted, and had a view of the Council Bluff. Here Lewis and Clark had a talk with the Paunies on their ascending the river. This hill or bluff is on the south side, about 50 feet high, without stone to support it from the daily washings, and undermining from the current below; from its top the river and surrounding country can be viewed as far as the eye can reach. A few miles from the bluff the river takes a northerly direction for several miles, and meanders abruptly to the south. Although we ascended twenty miles that day we were not more than 500 yards from the spot we had encamped the evening before. At the commencement of this bend, near the river, on the south side, we observed the hill on which the great Maha chief lies interred: the Mahas frequently visit his grave and pay him those honours only due to the Diety. His tomb is constantly covered with presents, believing his spirit to rest on the summit of the hill, empowered with the means of dispensing good to his people.
On the 11th of August we arrived at the Village of the last mentioned people. It is situate on a prarie on the south side, 4 miles from the river, resembling at a distance, the stack yard of an extensive farmer, having their huts in the form of a cone, about 15 feet high. Their council house is built in the centre, large enough to contain 300 men; the materials consists of split sticks and pieces of timber; covered with earth. Here we were served with the first dish of dog meat, it is esteemed delicate, and none partake of it but those they wish to honour. These people are very filthy in their dress and food: the former consits of skins, and the latter of the flesh of the animals of that country, with corn, pompions, &c. They had a skirmish with the Souex a few days before we arrived, in which they lost several of their warriors; this nation contains only 4 or 500 men able to bear arms, and are in danger of being exterminated by the Souex, who boast they are able to muster 15,000 men; and these latter people reside on the north side of the Missouri, extending from the neighbourhood of the Richarees to the Mississippi and the North Western Lakes. On our arrival, Shehekeh expressed a wish to visit the village, being invited by the principal chiefs. Having put on an elegant full dress suit of regimentals, with his horse covered with the most showey ornaments, he set out accompanied by thirty Maha chiefs on horse back, in their best dress. The whole nation were lost in astonishment at the plended figure of the Mandan, so much superior to any thing their chiefs could display. Before dinner a council was held with Mr. Chouteau for the purpose of requesting a trader to reside among them, and to beg presents, in which the Mandan preserved the dignity of the superior; indeed Shehekeh's manners would grace any circle; he took great pains to copy the manners of the first characters of the United States whom he was acquainted with.
On the 13th we left the village and a few miles up we met with 3 Souex, who informed us that a party of their nation were waiting for us about 80 miles up the river. Twelve miles further we passed Floyd's river, called after one of the followers of Lewis and Clark, who was buried on an eminence in its neighbourhood; the Indians had mounted a flag over his grave: on our way we passed several banks of coal with chalk.
On the 18th, we arrived at the Yantans, a branch of the Souex, contained 300 lodges. Their huts were placed on the north bank, and we were saluted in the following manner: 50 warriors arranged themselves on the shore, and discharged their pieces loaded with ball into the water at the bows of our barges. Having brought to near the shore, the officers landed and were carried to the council, by six Indians in Buffaloe robes; in the council their demands were similar to the Maha's. They were given to understand that no trader could be left with them, and they could have no presents. Menace took the place of supplication; the principal chief addressed the gentlemen in nearly the following words. "The Missouri has always ran muddy water, which occasions the white people's refusing our demands, but if it was made to run blood they would be adhered to." The commander of the expedition informed them that the goods did not belong to their great father; they were the sole property of those individuals who were present; that were as able to protect themselves as willing to cultivate the friendship of the Souex. The gentlemen conceiving it their interest, established a trading house here. During our stay the chiefs had stationed 6 men to guard the barges from pillage. These people subsist entirely on the Buffaloe, except sometimes a dog. They resemble the Arabs, having no place of residence, following the buffaloe as the seasons change, without any wish or desire to raise corn, or vegetables. They hunt on horse back, armed with bows and short guns. They have their nation parcelled out into tribes, viz. Yantans, Titons, Chians, Punkas, &c.. Whether they acknowledge these appellations I am not positive, but rather think they received them from those traders who have been in the habit of visiting them. They are the terror and in fact lordly masters of all their neighbours, claiming tribute (presents) from all other tribes.' Their dress consists of the skins of the deer, elk, buffaloe and beaver, handsomely decorated with porcupine quills. As they remain but a short period in one place, they have very little baggage: a few kettles, their arms and clothing, are prepared in small bundles sufficiently large for a dog to drag along by a sled. These animals are of wolf breed, and know by instinct when the band is in motion: on stripping the huts which are covered with skins, they set up a most piteous howl, and endeavour to escape their intended labour by hiding from their owners.
On the 20th we set out, and - the next day passed the Panka river on the north side. A band of the Souex called the Punkas, resort to this river to hunt. A few miles above, the Lukakon, or running water, puts in with the greatest velocity. This river is about 150 yards wide at its mouth, being navigable a considerable distance for small trading boats. Here we met with several bluffs of coal, chalk, pigments, slate, &c. and for the first time observed the goat, prairie dogs, and a number of magpies.
On the 26th we arrived at a camp of the Titons, another band of the Souex, amounting to 100 lodges, where the same transactions took place as at the Yantas, and we promised them a trader, who was left at fort, Loisel, on Cedar Island, a few days journey from the village, near White River, a gentle stream which puts in on the south side, about 150 yards wide at its confluence with the Missouri. A few miles farther we got into the Great Bend, which performs a circuit of 40 or 50 miles, and approaches within two miles of the commencement of the circle it forms. From this place to the Richaree villages we had a brisk wind from the right quarter, which enabled us to use the sails every day. We passed several rivers and brooks, which to us were nameless, except the Chien on the south side, on which a branch of the Souex called Chiens reside: it is upwards of 200 yards wide at the mouth.
On the 12th of Sept. we arrived at the villages of the Richarees, who appeared much alarmed, and refused to come to council on that day, or at all, unless hostages were exchanged.
Having agreed with the Rees for an exchange of hostages, their fears were somewhat allayed, and a friendly intercourse took place. In the council they were asked why they had attacked the party on the former expedition under Lieut. Prior: they replied that they were informed by a Frenchman, who resides among them, that the goods and barges were sent to them by their great father the President of the U. States as presents; that Lieut. Prior only gave medals, which they at first accepted, but on discovering that the goods were retained, they stamped on the medals, and attacked the boats; these circumstances together with the solicitations of the aforesaid Frenchman to fire upon the white people, was the cause of the unhappy misunderstanding.
The commander of the expedition, Mr. Pierre Chouteau, demanded the Frenchman; he was informed that he lived with a tribe of their nation called Scions, about 50 miles south; that he was married, and had a family.
On Mr. Chouteau's insisting to have him delivered up, they agreed to send a party of their young men to accompany Mr. C's. detatchment to the village: however, when the party was prepared to set out, they refused to send the escorts so the affair was abandoned for the present.
We found that the Richarees and Mandans were at peace. A party of the latter were on a visit at the village, and were much pleased to see their countryman (Sheheken) returned safe. In the council the Ree's demands were similar to the Souex. They expressed extreme sorrow at the recollection of their own differences with Lieut. Prior; and their profuse hospitality in given corn and meat, evinced their satisfaction at the return of friendly intercourse. Two of principal Souex chiefs, having accompanied us to the village, also made peace with the Rees. However the latter expressed their sentiments very freely of the Souex: they said they only came to beg presents and smoke for horses; that they would pay little attention to their engagements; that they would break the treaty when opportunity offered. Sheheken appeared perfectly at home. He handed the calumet round the council room with all the gravity of an aginal statesman and warrior.
The Richaree towns are built on a handsome prairie, on the south side, about 500 yards apart, having a small river between, which puts into the Missouri.' Their lodges are built somewhat similar to the Mahas, with the addition of having a covered entrance of 8, 10, or 15 yards. They appear to live much more comfortable than any of the other tribes, having their huts divided into chambers, with a neatness in their construction, which we had not witnessed before. Their corn fields, which border the Missouri, are well fenced, and better cultivated than many farms on the frontiers of the United States. Corn, pumions, simlins, beans, peas, melons, and a variety of other vegetables, are raised in abundance. Tobacco is not forgotten. This plant is much attended to; so much so as to form a considerable article of their trade.
The Rees believe in the existence of a Supreme Being. They also believe in an evil spirit, whom they worship in order to be on good terms with him, as they conceive he has power to spoil their hunts, and destroy their corn and vegetables. Among the multitude of domestic deities shall mention two kinds. A number of buffaloe heads are fixed on poles, in close and regular order, fantastically painted and decorated with feathers. The other consists of a box filled with small bones, buttons, beads, burnt feathers, and a variety of other trash, which is generally in the possession of their conjuror and doctor. He visits the sick, performs a number of fantasies, such as swallowing knives and arrows, blowing on and rubbing the patient. While this is performing, the miraculous box is hung over the sick. Should these efforts fail in restoring the sick, he is carried to the margin of the river, in view of the Buffaloe heads, where stones are heated, and a place erected over them to lay the patient: he is then covered with buffaloe skins or blankets, and a steam is created by throwing water on the hot stones. A violent perspiration is soon produced, in which state he is thrown into the river. This is the last trial, which if not efficacious, the tormenters cease, and the wretched being is left to his fate.
The women are rather handsome than otherwise. They are treated in the same manner as among the other tribes. All the labours of the field, preparing food, dressing skins and fur, and making clothes for their brutal masters, fall to their lot. The men buy their wives, and consider them as beasts of burden. The men occupy their time in hunting, smoking, and the care of their horses. The company left a small boat with goods to exchange for horses with these people.
On the 14th of September we left the Rees for the Mandan villages. Having a succession of charming weather, I went on shore in several places. The only appearance of fertility is confined to the low grounds along the banks of the river.' On the hills, which in many places approach the shore, I observed in several places the remains of volcanic matter.' Pumice is found in abundance, generally of a purple and brown colour. About half way between the Rees and Mandans, the white bear is first seen. From information which I received of the hunters, he is double the size of the black bear, and extremely ferocious, being the despotic tyrant of the plains and forests.
On the 21st we arrived at the first Mandan Village. This tribe had separated from the nation, and had removed 30 miles down the river. Sheheken prevailed on them to return and become friends. Here we discovered that he was the only chief of the one village, were we next day arrived. On our approach a salute was fired from the barges, and answered by the village. On raising the American flag, the barges was soon crowded with natives and mutual congratulations took place.
The gentlemen being invited to dine by Sheheken's brother, we found a plentiful supply of provisions. The ladies had prepared a large stew of meat, corn, and vegetables, and our feast was seasoned by genuine hospitality. In the afternoon we prepared to visit the upper towns. An elegant horse was presented to their travelled chief, who had put on his full dress of uniform suit. His horse was not forgot: he displayed considerable taste in dressing him in scarlet and gold laced housings, with a highly mounted bridle and saddle. Thus equipped, we set out accompanied by 30 or 40 of the natives on horseback. The singularity of our reception is worthy of notice. Having rode to the centre of the village, we remained some time before we were invited to enter the house of the chief. I was informed it was the custom on all occasions to stand in the most public place, and wait the invitation of some of the chiefs; otherwise it would be considered a gross violation of etiquette to enter the dwelling house of any one of these people without a formal invitation.
Sheheken's conduct amused us very much. His splendid uniform and horse furniture, his fine figure, his anxiety to appear to advantage, with the contrast when compared with his brother chiefs, who appeared impatient for the presents which they expected to receive from him, were very striking objects.' These articles Sheheken received from the American government, and they had rendered him, in his opinion, the greatest man in his country. It was expected by his people that he would be pretty liberal in the distribution of some of his valuables. However, their hopes were vain: Sheheken was as anxious to retain his property, as they were to receive it. Murmurs took the place of mirth, and on our departure from the village, his popularity was on the decline.
A few miles above the upper villages the principal trading house was built; and the hunting parties amounting in all to about 100 men, set out for the three forks of the Missouri.
Information was received here, that the Blackfoot Indians, who reside at the foot of the mountains, were hostile; that the British had factories all over the country, and had impelled them to cut off Mr. Manuel Lisa's party. One of the survivors, of the name of Coulter, who had accompanied Lewis and Clark, says, that he, in company with another was fired on by these Indians; that his companion, who made resistance, was killed; that his canoe, cloathing, furs, traps and arms were taken from him, and when expecting to receive the same fate of his comrade, he was ordered to run off as fast as possible; which he coldly complied with. Observing one of their young men following at full speed, armed with a spear, he pushed on to some distance, endeavouring to save his life. In a few minutes the savage was near enough to pitch his spear, which he poisoned, and threw with such violence as to break the handle and miss the object. Coulter became the assailant, turned on the Indian and put him to death with the broken spear. Naked and tired he crept to the river, where he hid in a beaver dam from the band who had followed to revenge the death of their companion. Having observed the departure of the enemy, he left the river and came to the Gros Ventres, a tribe of the Mandans, a journey of nine days, without even mowkasons to protect him from the prickly pear, which covered the country, subsisting on such berries as providence threw in his way.
On our return to the Rees villages we found that the Souex had killed some
of their people, which they unaccountably blamed us for; and being privately
informed they intended us mischief, we set out in the night, ordering the men to
sleep on board. Unfortunately two of the hands, one of the name of Aaron
Whitney, a native of Massachusetts, went into the village, contrary to orders,
and were left behind. We arrived at St. Louis in 40 days from the Company's
trading-house above the Gros Ventres, without any other accident.