Lewis & Clark – Ft. Mandan

Bismarck, ND

Today we drove 40 miles north of Bismarck to the site of Ft. Mandan, a small fort built by the Lewis and Clark expedition for their winter home as they headed west during the winter of 1804-05.   Lewis and Clark arrived at this location in November of 1804. A large concentration of Mandan and Hidatsa Indian villages were located across the Missouri River. The total population numbered from 3000 to 5000 Indians which was larger than the population of St. Louis at the time. Lewis and Clark decided to make their winter camp here near these friendly and hospitable people, and they built Fort Mandan. The original fort has long since disappeared and is thought to lie somewhere beneath the waters of the continually shifting Missouri River. These photos show a replica built according to the descriptions given in the journals of Lewis and Clark.

Entrance to Ft. Mandan

Entrance to rooms on one side of the fort

Inside a room with weapons and uniform

Were it not for Pvt. John Shields, the Corps of Discovery might not have survived its first winter on the Missouri River.  Using a forge and bellows the expedition had brought, Shields had set up shop at Fort Mandan. In exchange for corn, he fixed everything possible for the Mandans—hoes, axes, firearms. The problem was that by February he had pretty much fixed all he could. The need to find another service to trade for corn was obvious, especially since the Corps was about to run out of meat.  Hunting was difficult because of the conditions.  Shields thus became a frontier arms dealer.  Not firearms—the captains would not supply the Indians with new guns.   But Shields found he could forge just as highly a prized possession—the battle ax.  Meriwether Lewis didn’t have much use for Shields’ design, calling the blade too thin and too long, the handle too short, and the overall weight too light. Altogether, an “uncertain” weapon, Lewis declared.  No matter, the Indians loved it. Shields used a nearly burned-out stove for sheet iron. Other men cut timber to fire the kiln to increase production. Still, demand outpaced production.  The Corps and the Mandans agreed to a price: seven to eight gallons of corn for each piece of metal. Both sides thought they were getting a bargain.

Our guide with a battle axe as described by Meriwether Lewis

Two miles from the fort is the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center.  In front of the center is a steel sculpture called “Mandan Winter” depicting Lewis and Clark meeting with the Mandan chief, White Coyote who was friendly to the Corps and reportedly stated “if we eat you Shall eat, if we Starve you must Starve also.”

The dog in the sculpture is Seaman, Lewis’s faithful companion.

The highway to Fort Mandan presented a few interesting sites.  One of the sites is the large number of windmills turning in the consistent winds of the prairie.  In 2011 nearly 15% of North Dakota’s electricity was generated by wind.

The other interesting site was fields of canola.  North Dakota grows over 90% of U.S. grown canola and the fields of bright yellow provide beautiful scenery.

North Dakota apparently has a large number of dirt roads still in use.  We know that because of the large number of very dirty cars we have seen.  They have had a great deal of rain recently and many cars reflect that.  The car below was actually a light tan, rather than the dark brown you see.  At least someone washed off parts of the rear windows!

We have one more day in the Bismarck area and will visit the city and Fort Abraham Lincoln tomorrow.  Wow, this blogging every day or so is hard work!

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1 Response to Lewis & Clark – Ft. Mandan

  1. Marsha says:

    Since we have been out here in Oregon and Washington and have visited so many Lewis and Clark places, I have such a great admiration for them. I saw a couple of books that I want to read about there adventures. Boy I wish I would have listened more when I was in school. How amazing these two guys were!

    Love the steel sculpture. Makes me use my imagination about what might have actually happened.

    I would have never guessed that 15% of ND’s electricity was generated by wind. I don’t even think of it as a windy state. Learn something new EVERY DAY!

    Canola…I had no idea how it grew. Boy are you two giving the educational tour today. WONDERFUL!

    Sometimes after we tow our car in the rain, it looks exactly like that van. YUCK!

    Hope you two have another wonderful day of touring.

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