Dakota Datebook: Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan

Dakota Datebook:Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan
February 16, 2007


Captain Meriwether Lewis set out from Fort Mandan on this day in 1805 to pursue a group of horse thieves. The day before, a group of Siouans attacked a hunting party sent out by the Corps of Discovery, taking two of the party’s horses. The men arrived back to the fort around 10 p.m. that evening and told Captain Clark of the attack.

One of the horses belonged to a Mr. McKenzie of the Northwest Trading Company, and this man requested that Captain Clark retrieve the stolen animal. Lewis and Clark decided to form a party to set out after the horse thieves, and sent two men to inform the neighboring Mandan groups and ask for volunteers. The following morning, Lewis left the fort with twenty-four men to pursue the Siouans.

The Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1804-1805 at Fort Mandan, located along the Missouri River near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. The Corps built the fort near the three Mandan and Hidatsa villages, today known as the Knife River Indian Villages. During the winter, the Corps relied heavily upon their Mandan and Hidatsa neighbors of the upper Missouri villages. It was in these villages that Lewis and Clark met Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian fur trader. On March 11, 1805, Clark recorded the enlistment of Charbonneau as an interpreter for the Corps; in actuality though, it was the skills of Charbonneau’s wife Sacagawea that Lewis and Clark were interested in. Although she had given birth to her son only a month earlier, Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian. The Shoshones were based around the headwaters of the Missouri, in the direction that Lewis and Clark wished to travel. They foresaw Sacagawea’s presence in the Corps as a favorable asset. In the spring, the Corps left the fort and headed northwest into Montana. Sacagawea accompanied them, along with her husband and her fifty-four-day old son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau.

Although Captain Lewis and his group of twenty-four volunteers never caught up with the Siouan horse thieves on this day in 1805, there is no doubt that the Corps of Discovery greatly benefited by both their time in North Dakota and the friendly neighbors they encountered.




Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public (2007). http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Subject Matter

Social Studies