Hugh Heney, Key Figure

Hugh Heney had been an innkeeper in Montreal before becoming a free trader in 1800. In 1804 he joined the North West Company, a bitter rival of the long-established Hudson's Bay Company.1 As a free trader he had established a positive relationship with the Sioux Indians who were, according to Clark, "Visious," but had "behaved tolerably well to the only trader Mr. Haney."2 Stationed at the North West Company's Fort Assiniboine, near the mouth of the Souris (Mouse) River, Heney, whom Lewis characterized as "a gentleman of rispectability," made two trips to the Mandan villages during the winter of 1804–5, and shared a considerable amount and variety of information with the American captains. Moreover, Heney had expressed his willingness to help their government in dealing with the Indians he knew best—perhaps seeing this as a way of subverting the HBC's power among the Indians in that part of the continent.3 Although Lewis and Clark had nothing particular to suggest at that time, they kept his offer in mind.

Sometime before the Corps of Discovery's arrival back at Travelers' Rest at the end of June, 1806, the captains composed a long letter to Heney, reminding him of his offer and appealing to his personal interests as well as those of the United States. They asked if he would try to persuade "the most influensial Chiefs" of the Teton, Sisseton and Yankton Sioux, to visit President Jefferson, and himself escort them back to Washington, D.C., preferably in company with the returning Corps. They especially wanted Teton Sioux chiefs included, because their people would "always prove a serious inconveniance" to fur traders aiming for the upper Missouri or the Yellowstone.

Lewis and Clark were confident that the Indians would gain:

an ample view of our population and resourses, become convinced themselves, and on their return convince their nations of the futility of an attempt to oppose the will of our government, particularly when they shall find, that their acquiescence will be productive of greater advantages to their nation than their most sanguine hopes could lead them to expect from oppersition.4

The captains assured Heney that their country's intentions would always be friendly in nature, but that she would not tolerate interference with her citizens' commercial traffic up and down the Missouri River by "a fiew comparitively feeble bands of Savages who may be so illy advised as to refuse her proffered friendship." They acknowledged that the Sioux Indians' "long established prejudices in favour of the Traders of the river St. Peters will probably prove a serious bar to your present negociations," unless the government had already taken action on the report he had submitted in April of 1805.5 In any case, they said, the Indians should be informed that the United States now controlled all the tributaries of the Missouri, and could prevent them from dealing with their "accustomed traders."

Heney's personal fortunes would be enhanced, too. He would earn one dollar per day for the duration of his own expedition to the East Coast and back, a fairly generous offer, considering a private's pay was five dollars per month, and a captain's $40. The captains would give him enough horses for his purposes, and assure him an allowance of $200 for gifts to use in bargaining with the chiefs. Finally, Lewis would recommend him for an appointment as Indian agent at a projected trading post near the mouth of the Cheyenne River, at a salary of $75 per month, plus a daily subsistence allowance of $1.20 per day.

The linchpin in the captains' plan to graft Heney into the future of American trade on the upper Missouri was Nathaniel Pryor.

1. The Hudson's Bay Company was organized in England in 1670, not only to carry on fur trading with Indians in the territory surrounding Hudson Bay, but also to search for the legendary Northwest Passage to the Pacific.

2. "Estimate of the Eastern Indians," in Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (13 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983–2001), 3:417. The captains also engaged Pierre Dorion, Sr.

3. Their conversations must have been wide-ranging, for Heney also sent two messengers on a 300-mile round trip from Fort Assiniboine to deliver a specimen of "a plant common to the praries in this quarter," the root of which he claimed to have used successfully in the treatment of "the bite of the made wolf or dog and also for the bit of the rattle snake." The plant has not been positively identified, and the specimen, which Lewis sent to Jefferson along with a few pounds of the root, has never been found. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783–1854 (2nd ed., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 1:220.

4. Ibid., 1:308.

5. The "traders of the river St. Peters" was a reference principally to Murdoch Cameron, whose post was situated in the very heart of Sioux country, on the river now known as the Minnesota. In his "Estimate of the Eastern Indians" Lewis warned Jefferson that the Sioux were "the vilest miscreants of the savage race, and must ever remain the pirates of the Missouri, until such measures are pursued, by our government, as will make them feel a dependence on its will for their supply of merchandise. Unless these people are reduced to order, by coercive measures, I am ready to pronounce that the citizens of the United States can never enjoy but partially the advantages which the Missouri presents." Gary E. Moulton, The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (13 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983–2001), 3:418.