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Lewis And Clark Indian Relations

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One of the greatest American adventure stories started on February 28, 1803, when President Thomas Jefferson gained approval for his visionary project. This project was to explore the unknown West with a small expeditionary group. President Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to head this expedition. Both Lewis and Clark had close ties to Jefferson. Meriwether Lewis was one of Jefferson's secretaries and William Clark was a close friend. The initial idea of the expedition was to include scientific inquiry, geographic mapping, and clearing the way for commerce, but the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, on April 30 1903, changed this purpose. The new mission focused more on diplomacy, which required the crew to communicate the transfer of sovereignty to every Indian tribe and foreign interest occupying the lands along the journey.

Thomas Jefferson believed that accurate information about Native Americans was essential in order to shape a peaceful environment for both groups of people. President Jefferson had always maintained an interest in Indian culture and way of life. He once stated, "In the early part of my life, I was very familiar with the Native Americans, and acquired impressions of attachment and commiseration for them which have never been obliterated." President Jefferson had different approaches for addressing Native Americans of each regions. When addressing the Native Americans of the Eastern, President Jefferson spoke of programs for civilization with land acquisition. When speaking to the Native Americans of the Western region Jefferson tended to focus on trade. President Jefferson wanted Lewis and Clark to organize trips of Native Americans chiefs and leaders to visit Washington D.C during their expedition.

Lewis and Clark's crew had preconceived ideas about the Native Americans that they would encounter along their expedition. "The best authenticated accounts informed us, that we were to pass through a country possessed by numerous, powerful and warlike nations of savages, of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous and cruel; and particularly hostile to white men." Patrick Gass, a sergeant on the crew, wrote this description in his journal early in the expedition. Another example of preconceived stereotypes of the Native Americans they would encounter was stated in William Clark's journal on June 28, 1804, "I am told they are a fierce and warlike people."

The expedition had significant effects on the Native Americans and their way of life. Before the expedition, the Native Americans relied on the environment for everything in their life. After the expedition, the tribes Lewis and Clark encountered grew dependent on traders and military for many things. The expedition was the start of Indians going from their traditional way of life to incorporating many traits of the European style of life.

Throughout the duration of Lewis and Clark's exploration they and their crew encountered nearly fifty different Native American tribes. The Crew noticed vast differences between Native Americans of the Missouri Valley and the Pacific region. Many of these Native Americans also varied in lifestyle and experience with Europeans. The Mandans lived in earth lodges, farmed corn, and were open to trade with Americans. The Teton Sioux slept in teepees, hunted buffalo, and guarded their territory fiercely against anyone who wanted to pass through, either foreign or Indian. Some tribes Lewis and Clark encountered had never seen a white or black man before. Other tribes spoke some English and acquired clothes and utensils from different European sea captains.

One of the great attributes Lewis and Clark displayed during their expedition was the ability to avoid conflict with Native Americans while they traveled along. The explorers and Native Americans had many differences between them, but they were able to navigate through dangerous land without major incident. The Native Americans were more in touch with nature and the animals that surrounded them, while many of Lewis and Clark's crew often hunted for the thrill of the kill and not just survival. One area of conflict between William Clark and the Native Americans were the extraordinary that they told. Clark asked one Mandan chief, "Where did you come from?" The chief pointed out several places where he said his nation formerly lived and related this to some extraordinary stories of their tradition. Clark wanted facts, not superstitions, and he wanted honest answers to his straightforward inquiries. Even with these differences Lewis and Clark were able to work with the Native Americans to learn a great deal about the land and Native American culture.

Even with the ability to avoid conflict Lewis and Clark knew they would eventually face difficult situations when dealing with the Native Americans if they were not careful, therefore they used many sources to prepare for these instances. Lewis and Clark used Native American policy that traced back to the Northeast woodlands. The first thing Lewis and Clark's crew, also known as the Corps of Discovery, would do when they first encountered Native Americans was to have a parade in which European style technology was shown off. This display would show the Indians what they could gain if they became part of the industrial world. In the parade, the Corps of Discovery would wear military uniforms and shoot off their guns in a ceremonial fashion. This parade would also display the military, commercial, and diplomatic power that the West possessed. After the parade, the group would immediately begin to gather information about the tribe they were dealing with. In a journal on August 2nd, 1804, Floyd, a member of the crew, explains a celebratory meeting, "The Indians Came who we had expected they fired meney Guns when thay came in Site of us and we ansered them with the Cannon..Capt Lewis and Clark met them at Shakeing Handes we fired another Cannon there wase 6 Chiefs and 7 men and one French man with them who has ived with them for som yeares and has a family with them."

During these meetings the crew wanted to gather information on each tribe in order to report back to President Thomas Jefferson. They also wanted to establish trade relations. To improve relations immediately, the crew would give the Native Americans many presents and tokens of peace. One important token was a peace medal with President Jefferson on one side and two hands clasping on the other. Other presents they would give the Native American groups included such things as: handkerchiefs, beads, tobacco, scissors, and knifes. Finally, they wanted to explain to the Native Americans that they were part of the United States and now had a new "Great Father," Thomas Jefferson.



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