The Dakotas

Elk Point, South Dakota

Aerial view of Elk Point, a narrowing of the river

In the vicinity of Elk Point, South Dakota, the captains found a variety of unfamiliar minerals, including what Clark believed were arsenic and cobalt. "Capt. Lewis in proveing the quality of those minerals was near poisoning himself by the fumes & taste . . . ."

Missouri River Travails

modern painting of a man in a hunting coat hanging to the side of a cliff

"So far, we have experienced more difficulty from the navigation of the Missouri, than danger from the Savages. The difficulties which oppose themselves to the navigation of this immence river, arise from the rapidity of it's current, it's falling banks, sandbars, and timber which remains wholy, or partially concealed in it's bed, usually called by the navigators of the Missouri and Mississippi Sawyers or planters . . . ."

Elevation of Devilish Spirits

Brown, autumn grasses and plants before a small, conical hill

The visit to Spirit Mound was among the more bizarre sidelights of the whole expedition, but evidently it was not entirely unexpected. Seventy-six years earlier, explorer Pierre La Véndrye called the place the "Dwelling of the Spirits" and reported sparkling stones and gold-colored sand . . . .

The Vermillion River

mouth of the vermillion river

The stream, at the mouth of which the ten-man contingent from the Corps left the white pirogue, and which they followed part of the way to the storied mound, was labeled the Kenvill River on John Evans's manuscript map of the Missouri River. Gradually, during the 190 years between the day the Corps passed it in September of 1806 and the completion of the last of 15 dams on the Missouri River in 1966, the mouth of the Vermillion River migrated about 2.5 miles southeast . . . .

La Véndrye's Golden Sands

Tall river bank cliff with fine, yellow soil La Vérendrye's report contains several puzzling statements. To begin with, the location of the "small mountain" is ambiguous, and the identity of those "sparkling stones" is evidently fanciful. Then there's Pako's reference to that "very fine gold-coloured sand," which suggested that the "little mountain" was located in a fabulous land, an Eldorado, of precious natural riches . . . .

Yankton Sioux Peace Parley

Interactive aerial photo labeling the landmarks

Here they "formed a camp in a Butifull Plain," erected a flagpole, ran up their large flag, and settled in to wait for the Sioux, whom they had invited to meet with them. On August 30, seventy-five Sioux men of the Yankton tribe, or E-hank-ton-wan, "People of the End Village," ceremoniously entered the expedition's camp, eager to parley.

Sandbar Hazards

Braided Missouri River winding among numerous islands

The task of piloting the expedition's boats efficiently through the Missouri's windings and blind leads was the principal responsibility of Pierre Cruzatte, a French Canadian and Omaha Indian mixed-blood who, as a riverman, earned the respect and confidence of every member of the party. The many-talented Cruzatte was also admired as an interpreter, a cache digger, and a fiddler.

Niobrara River

Aerial photo of a muddy river joining a clearer one "We hoisted Sail," wrote Ordway, and "ran verry fast a Short time. Broke our mast." That was the fourth such mishap since they left Camp Dubois on 14 May. The party "came to" on the west side of the Niobrara. There the men made a new mast from the trunk of a tall, sturdy red cedar, which apparently lasted at least until they reached the Mandan villages . . . .

Fort Randall Dam

Aerial view of Fort Randall Dam

Here, Sergeant Gass went out with one of the hunters to retrieve the meat and hide of a buffalo the man killed the previous evening. The hunter had left his hat on the carcass "to keep off the vermin and beasts of prey," apparently believing the scent of a human would scare them away . . . ."

The Big Bend of the Missouri

Aerial view of the Big Bend: a 180 degree turn in the river

The huge meander called the Big Bend, or Grand Detour had been a well-known Missouri River landmark for many years when the Corps of Discovery arrived at its lower bend on September 19, 1805. At about 1:30 on the morning of 20 September 1805, Clark reported, "the Sand bar on which we Camped began to under min[e] and give way which allarmed the Sergeant on Guard . . . ."

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