Damn! Those horses were the very last "dollars" he had in his pocket, and they were part of a plan. A politically significant plan. A crucial plan. Clark surely suffered some sleepless hours, fretting over this turn of events, plotting how he'd cuss 'em out if he ever met 'em. Meanwhile, he thought about the speech that he and Lewis had drafted before they separated at Travelers' Rest, which Clark would polish off with a few important additions around July 23. He hoped to deliver it to the Crows as soon as he met them face to face: a friendly greeting, a veiled accusation, a stern warning, a pledge of friendship, and a sincere invitation.1
While holding their attention with his eyes and some emphatic, admonishing, kindly one-handed gestures, he would have read it aloud in English. Deliberately, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase. At climactic points, word by word. It would be a spellbinder. Gibson, who apparently claimed to have had experience in Plains Indian sign language, might have had enough of a vocabulary – Drewyer was with Lewis's contingent up on the Marias River – to convey it directly to the assembled Crows though his jesticulations. If not, then undoubtedly François Labiche would stand beside the captain, listening closely, searching through his memory for the French equivalent of every word, every idea. Labiche would convey it in French to Charbonneau, who was familiar with the Crows' Missouri Valley dialect of the Siouan tongue, and who might have addressed their listeners directly, or perhaps – although this seems doubtful – he would have discussed his choices of Hidatsa translations with Sacagawea, who had lived with the Hidatsas for four years, and may have been more articulate in the Crows' language than her husband. In that case she could have been the final link in the chain of communication. One cannot help but wonder how Labiche, Charbonneau or Sacagawea transmitted the several subtler Lewisian expressions, such as "Benevolent, just, wise & bountifull," "Consult together," or "within practicable distance," but most of the rest of Clark's harangue would have been very thought-provoking in any language.
They begin with a crisp invocation . . .
. . . then proceeds, punctuating his discourse again and again with that formal salutation, a civility as necessary but faintly aimless as "ladies and gentlemen" or "dear sir." "Children!" he says again, and proceeds to clarify the relationship that is to be the basis of an international friendship.
He summarizes his credentials and his mission, and acknowledges his co-captain.
(Listen to his Virginia-via-Kentucky accent. He spells out his pronunciation of red in two syllables–"RAY-ud.")
Children. We have been to the great lake of the west and are now on our return to my country. I have seen all my read children quite to that great lake and talked with them, and taken them by the hand in the name of their great father the Great Chief of all the white people.
Let's get personal: He levels the playing field, invites a little empathy. We're all travelers.
Let me get to the point.
He disarms his listeners with just a hint of a smile. Lowers his voice. Shrinks his profile. Leans toward them in a gesture of confidentiality.
Can Labiche translate his mood into French? Will Charbonneau or Sacagawea? Will anybody get the joke? Never mind. Drop the subject and go on.
President Jefferson's instructions to the captains have spelled out his declared policies and objectives that Lewis and Clark are to foster wherever they go, whoever they talk to, so keep those orders in mind: "In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey, satisfy them of it's innocence, make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the U.S., of our wish to be neighborly, friendly & useful to them, & of our dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them; confer with them on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums, and the articles of most desireable interchange for them & us."2
Clark abbreviates those "commercial dispositions."
(Wait! Is that really what he meant to say? His speech, pretty good up to this point, almost trips him up. "A very low price." For "such things as you may want"? Or "for your skins & furs"? How will that come across in translation?) Better fix it on the fly, captain.
Move on to a little power-diplomacy:
Again, the personal appeal.
Jefferson's peace plan in a nutshell:
One more point regarding our horses those boys stole. He wags a figurative finger.
Now let's get down to business!
A few more reassurances, and then to Jefferson's other instruction:
If any one two or 3 of your great chiefs wishes to visit your great father and will go with me, he will send you back next Summer loaded with presents and some goods for the nation. You will then see with your own eyes and here with your own years what the white people can do for you. They do not speak with two tongues nor promis what they can't perform.
Clark never got the chance to deliver his speech, for the Crows kept to the shadows and the skyline, and they kept their own counsel. Some Crow people still smile at the recollection of that horse incident. "We didn't steal 'em," one told me. "We just . . . took 'em."
But hey, they really missed a good speech, didn't they?
1. This draft probably was written after July 21, 1806, according to Moulton. However, judging from the overall refinement of the spelling, grammar and syntax it clearly resembles Lewis's style. But Lewis was on Cut Bank Creek, approaching the disappointing climax of his exploration of the Marias River. The two men had discussed their conceivable fortunes on their respective detours, and Clark had good reason to expect he would meet the Crows in person. To ad lib a formal speech would be risky. It made good sense to be prepared.
2. Jackson, Letters, I:60.