While Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to see much of what would become the western United States, those same lands had long been occupied by native peoples.
Over the course of the expedition, the Corps of Discovery would come into contact with nearly 50 Native American tribes. Quickly, the captains learned how many different definitions there really were for the word “Indian.” The Mandans lived in earth lodges, farmed corn and were amenable to trade with America. The Teton Sioux slept in tepees, hunted buffalo and guarded their territory fiercely against anyone who passed through, whether foreign or Indian. Some tribes had never seen a white or black man before Lewis and Clark. Others spoke bits of English and wore hats and coats they received from European sea captains.
The Meeting Ceremony: Over the course of the expedition, Lewis and Clark developed a ritual that they used when meeting a tribe for the first time. The captains would explain to the tribal leaders that their land now belonged to the United States, and that a man far in the east – President Thomas Jefferson – was their new “great father.” They would also give the Indians a peace medal with Jefferson on one side and two hands clasping on the other, as well as some form of presents (often trade goods). Moreover, the Corps members would perform a kind of parade, marching in uniform and shooting their guns.
A Selection of Tribes: The tribes listed in Native Americans represent the Indians who had the most significant interactions about Lewis and Clark. Each short article provides basic, introductory information about each tribe, and touches on the tribe’s relationship to the expedition. For more information about the Native American tribes listed here, please try some of the references listed in Online Resources section of the Archive.
SDHC and Deadwood History Inc. are sponsoring Brad Tennant to present Lewis & Clark & American Indians.
Funded project of the South Dakota Humanities Council. The South Dakota Humanities Council is a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.