Lewis & Clark

On April 7, 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from Mandan, the winter quarters they had built near a Mandan Indian village north of present day North Dakota. They were heading west up the Missouri River. That same day they sent a small team down the Missouri River to St. Louis delivering artifacts collected on the First part of their journey. Expedition reports and maps were also sent. The Westbound portion of the expedition then disappeared.  As time passed, the expedition was given up for lost. Then, on September 23, 1806 about a year later than expected, the expedition returned to St. Louis. Some of the items collected on the rest of the trip were sent to President Jefferson at Monticello. He had proposed the expedition and selected Meriwether Lewis to be the leader. Most of the artifacts went to the Peale Museum in Philadelphia. The artifacts became important links to the cultures from which they originated.

An exhibition, “Lewis and Clark: Gifts of the Mandan,” consisting of over thirty items replicating various artifacts collected by the expedition was on display at The Coffey County Historical Museum from October 4, 2004 to November 18th 2004. The exhibit, prepared by Sioux Replications of Hot Springs, South Dakota, consists of artifacts recreated in the manner of the originals collected by Lewis and Clark.

After wintering with the Mandan, the expedition was well into its journey. The Mandans were found to be one of the most peaceful of the Plains Indians and white men were generally well received. An important element of their culture was the presentation of gifts, a tradition found among the Plains Indians. For the Mandans, gift-giving reached a point rivaling heroic acts in war and were recorded along with war exploits.

Many of the original objects have been lost, even though they survived the trip back to St. Louis. Shortly after their arrival in Washington, Jefferson wrote Lewis of the loss of 25 boxes of artifacts when a ship carrying them to Richmond was stranded. Expedition members kept a few of the artifacts. Near the turn of the century items from the Peale museum passed on to P.T. Barnum and his friend Moses Kimball. Two fires in Barnum’s buildings are believed to have destroyed many more of the artifacts. The few that survived went to the Boston Museum and finally the Peabody Museum at Harvard. They are housed today in special environments to protect them.

The traveling exhibition of replicated items is a unique opportunity to view Native American craftwork as collected during 1804-06 by the Corps of Discovery. Today, the replication process is very important to the preservation of the memory and knowledge of these cultures. Craftsmen study the original artifacts and artistic renderings of those objects; they review the journals of various expedition members regarding the construction of items. Using the information discovered in their research, the artifacts are replicated using historic methods and materials. Native Americans brain-tanned their leather. In this method, the brains of an animal are worked into the hide making a leather of particular suppleness, surpassing that produced using commercial methods. For thread, the Native Americans use sinew made from the tendon that runs along the backbone of a buffalo. Porcupine quills, a favorite material for decoration, are dyed with plants and sewn in place with sinew. Among the objects displayed are a Shoshone woman’s dress (such as Sacagawea wore), a man’s society buckskin shirt with quilled leggings, and a war bonnet made with ermine and buffalo horns. Similar items were received as gifts or in trade from the Mandan Indians. At their high point, the Mandans provided an important trading center and tribes from the surrounding area came to obtain horses, metal objects, beads and corn. Through the efforts of Larry and Doris Belitz of Sioux Replications, methods used by the Native Americans are created exactly such as the use of porcupine quills. The dyed and flattened quills decorated most Native American objects before Italian beads became plentiful. Many items in the exhibit were made from parts of the buffalo, which provided for most of the needs of the Plains Indians. The exhibition includes information about the historic data of each artifact. There is a Touch-and-Feel board of sinew, buffalo hide, buffalo horn and other material utilized in the construction of the items. A Teachers Guide is available for classroom use.