On November 11, 1804, Larocque and six companions, with nine horses, five of which were loaded with trade goods, set out for the Mandan settlements at the mouth of the Knife River on the Missouri.1 The trade goods included tools such as axes, knives, awls, flints and steels for fire-starting, and a quantity of powder and ball. There was tobacco, too, and personal items such as combs and beads. Fourteen days later, on November 24, the party arrived at the middle Minitari (Hidatsa) village, known as Metaharta, where Larocque was to look up an interpreter named Toussaint Charbonneau—the very same Charbonneau who would be hired by Lewis and Clark the following March 18.2 Charbonneau was not at home.
The next day, however, on the road to the nearby Mandan villages, young Larocque chanced to meet Charbonneau, the free trader René Jusseaume, and Meriwether Lewis. For about a quarter of an hour he chatted with Lewis, who invited him to Fort Mandan, "& appeared very friendly."
But one of Larocque's party, the interpreter Baptiste Lafrance, immediately spread rumors about the expedition's purpose, and the captains issued a stern warning, through Larocque, of "the Consiquinces if they did not put a Stop to unfavourable & ill founded assursions &c. &c."3 Three weeks later the traders were still under suspicion, as Gass reported: "The object of the visits we received from the N. W., Company," he says, "was to ascertain our motives for visiting that country, and to gain information with respect to the change of government." What Larocque really wanted, as he would inform them toward the end of January, was to join the expedition and be a part of the adventure. But the captains were unwilling to share their geographical discoveries and information about Indian tribes that the North West Company or the British government could use against the United States, and they declined his offer.
Nevertheless, after a sour start, Lewis and Clark proceeded to provide Larocque with ample, if sometimes contradictory, details about their history and their aims.
1. One of Larocque's companions was a free trader named Charles McKenzie, who also kept a journal that contained many ethnographic details about the Mandan and Hidatsa people. W. Raymond Wood and Thomas D. Thiessen, Early Fur Trade on the Northern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 221–96.
2. Concerning the five Mandan and Hidatsa communities at the mouth of the Knife River, see Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (13 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001), 3:206n.
3. Clark, November 26, 1804.
Mouse (Souris) River Trail
Isaac Stevens, in the report on his exploration of possible routes for a railroad from the Mississipi to the Pacific, wrote of the Souris, or Mouse, River:
High ridges divide the plateau bordering the stream from that extending into the prairie, with coulées intersecting it and opening into the river on the one side, gradually growing imperceptible as they make into the prairie on the other. The general course of the river, and of its principal branch, the Riviere des Lacs, is nearly parallel to that of the Missouri, for the distance we followed it, of eighty-seven and a half miles to its source,2 and separated from that river by the Plateau du Missouri, varying from thirty-five to fifty-five miles in width. Many of the coulées reach to the edge of the Missouri plateau; and in the examination for a good passage for the wagon train, secluded spots were found where beetling crag and winding stream, venerable trees and greenest sward combined in scenes of much picturesque beauty.
Its valley is from half a mile to a mile wide, about two hundred feet below the prairie level, and is well wooded with maple, oak, ash, and elm. The deep coulées run back from it for fifteen or twenty miles, and must be avoided by keeping far from the river itself. They usually contain a stream of good water, and sufficient timber on the banks for camping purposes. One of the bluffs of the cateau, twenty miles from the Mouse river, was found by Mr. Moffett to be seven hundred and two feet above its level, and a hill seven miles from camp rose to two hundred and fifty-six feet.3
The Stevens expedition, incidentally, traveled by wagon train: "Our experience thus far had shown how well adapted ox-trains were to transportation."
1. Isaac I. Stevens, Reports of Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (1853–55), Vol. XII, Book I, Plate 15.
2. Evidently they didn't quite reach the Souris's source. It begins a short distance west of Carnduff, Saskatchewan, about 10 miles (17 km) north of the U.S.-Canada border. The Riviere des Lacs originates 54 miles (87 km) above the border (49° North), west of Carlyle, Sasketchewan, 144 miles (232 km) from the Souris's nearest approach to the Missouri River.
3. Stevens, p. 84.