43. Fort Mandan

Replica, near Washburn, North Dakota

View north

Aerial view of Fort Mandan in winter

© 2000 Airphoto—Jim Wark

Most Perfect Harmony"

Mr. Jefferson had outlined their mission through the Northwest in a set of orders containing more than a hundred separate directives to look, listen, taste, smell and touch; to count, measure, weigh and describe.

So here, in the most carefully, sturdily constructed of their three winter encampments, they prepared reports on all they had observed and done so far, and arranged botanical, biological and mineralogical specimens for shipment back east. They quizzed their neighbors about the land that lay westward, and visited with traders from Fort Assiniboine, 150 miles to the north. They drew the first draft of the new map of the Northwest that ultimately—though only for a few decades after its publication in 1814—would be one of the most useful outcomes of their expedition.

Here they wintered-over near the Mandans, "the most friendly, well disposed Indians inhabiting the Missouri . . . brave, humane and hospitable." They talked peace and commerce, American style, to all who would listen. On 7 April 1805, rested and refreshed, and tested by the rigors of a winter on the Northern Plains, they embarked again, "to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden."

Lewis confidently attested that his men were "in excellent health and sperits, zealously attached to the enterprise, and anxious to proceed; not a whisper of murmur or discontent to be heard among them,"—in those days the noun murmur commonly meant "a grumbling, private complaint"—"but all act in unison, and with the most perfect harmony."

In short, it all came together at Fort Mandan, even the final travel schedule. "You may expect me to meet you at Montachello in September 1806," Lewis wrote to his commander-in-chief. He almost made it on time.


From Discovering Lewis & Clark from the Air
Photography by Jim Wark

Text by Joseph Mussulman
Reproduced by permission of Mountain Press