June 17, 1833
17 June: Early in the morning, overcast sky, some wind, intermittent light rain. At 5:30 the area is flat and devoid of attractive features; to the left, gray-green prairie with very flat hills; to the right, wooded lowlands. Before us several bluffs rise. Soundings are taken. To the right, in the river near the woods, a big wolf [is] sitting on a tree trunk lying in the water. Half an hour farther on, we saw Square Hill (la Butte Carrée) and several unique sections in the hill chain. To the right a bison bull stood within shooting range in the dense willows. Mr. Mc Kenzie shot and missed. In the territory of the Mandans, one is said to find these animals at any time. These Indians have a legend according to which the First Man (NumánkMáchana) had first made the left bank of the river too level and with too few gradual hills; one could not shoot buffalo [there]. Then, however, the Lord of Life made the right bank and provided hills and valleys where one could stalk the buffalo (because the Indians in earlier times did not have any horses).
When the brush to the right came to an end, we saw two magnificent gigantic bison bulls to the right in the prairie walking 300 paces beside us. They looked majestic; their beards hung far down, and the wind ruffled their manes. They began to trot and then soon quieted down. To the left, a new island with sandbars. The beautiful mountains are coming closer and closer. Urubus are soaring in the air. To the right before us on the green bank, a large bison; [it] did not wait for us, however, but trotted toward the hills and then hastily dashed up them at a gallop. They are rather easily startled into flight.
At eight o’ clock, 62°F [16.7°C]. We were at the widest part of the Missouri, which was at least half a mile wide; soon afterward it became narrow. The wide spot is a short distance before the mouth of Hunting Creek (as Lewis and Clark call it), which empties to the left. Now the river is falling again. Very fresh grass on the prairie to the right; here [are] traces of prairie fire. Everywhere white buffalo skulls and bones glisten. To the right beautiful prairie hills soon appear. On the promontory to the right, with the steep bank, is a green plateau where a Mandan village once stood. The Dacotas (from the [St.] Peters [Minnesota] River) totally destroyed [this settlement] about forty years ago and killed most of the people. We saw another bison. Rain obscures the region. Farther away to the left, beautiful prairie with short bushes, good places for buffalo, behind which rises the hill chain with picturesque contours. To the left in the prairie, beautiful black and white ricebirds (Icterus agripennis Bonap.) were perched singly on the bushes. At this place, about a year ago, Lachapelle and several other white men came upon a war party of Mandans and Hidatsas who fired on the mackinaw boat, since it would not land. Such war parties are never to be trusted.[Page 2:124] Even if they do not kill, they still plunder. The even worse Arikaras always kill whites. After the Indians had fired, they immediately hid in the bushes. On the bank, Fulica americana; soon another bird of this species [can be seen] above in the copses of the prairie. In a dense bush, an Indian hut for hunting and war. To the right and the left [are] flat lowlands with woods and thickets. The river makes several bends. To the left along the hills, scattered boulders; beautiful woods to the right; trunks gnawed off by beavers; and [beaver] paths to the water. A Viburnum is in blossom. Blackbirds in the woods.
At ten o’ clock [we] halt to the right near the forest along the shore. Elk antlers of ten and fourteen points were found, very large—also yesterday, a gigantic one of twelve points and one of a Virginia deer (chevreuil) such as we find everywhere. Wide, heavily trodden bison paths crisscross the forest in all directions; hair hangs on the bushes. We found buffalo horns, from which powder horns are made. One cuts off the points of the elk antlers to make gunpowder measures from them. The forest consists of cottonwood, ash, elm, Negundo (box elder)—which has big, nearly ripe seeds—and undergrowth in the form of roses, red willows, [and] the poire (Mespilus [— —]). Near the prairie hills behind the woods grows a low-lying shrub, Juniperus (Juniperus prostrata) with switchlike twigs. [We] also saw two bison on the hills. Dreidoppel pursued a new bird (Icteria viridis Bonap.) with a beautiful bright yellow throat and breast; [this bird] sings well and utters all kinds of notes in the dense forest. I found Viburnum [— —] and Galium. The mosquitoes were more troublesome.
After about an hour we continued. Smooth, long, naked ridges, exactly like ramparts, follow the forest. To the left we see the Butte Carrée, toward which the river now turns; we sail toward it. The ash trees in the woods along the bank are only now beginning to leaf; [there are] also stands of oak, undoubtedly the result of the prairie fire. Along the right bank, which we follow, [are] beautiful thickets and sparse forests between the river and the hills; the woodlands [are] narrow. A small creek.M51The Hidatsas call it la Rivière où l’on vomit les graines de boeuf [the river where one vomits buffalo berries], Máhhiji-Ihkadeh-Áhji (‘j’ as in French). The Mandans have two names for it: [1)] la Rivière de la maison des oiseaux de proie [river of the house of birds of prey], Sísso-Ottí-Pássahä; and 2) la Rivière où l’on tue beaucoup de loups [the river where many wolves are killed], Cháratä-Hon-Ohktä-Pássahä (‘Ch’ velar, ‘on’ as in French, ‘O’ somewhat full [quality]). The Arikaras [call it] Tschíh-Issu (entirely as in German, all short
and together, ‘Issu’ very softly, strong stress on ‘Tschíh’) as in
German; the Crows, [——]. Gray bluffs soon take the place of the forest. Soon along the left bank, beautiful prairie with short thickets, then cottonwood forest; behind it, the unusual hills called the Butte Carrée.[This is] a strange hill chain, smooth on top, with clefts and fronting domes and hills like fortresses, everywhere uniformly covered with short grass. The hill chain along the river has five main domes. On the bank, [there are] partly dark, shady, freshly green forests with short, thick oaks, ash, Negundo, elm, and the like, with much undergrowth and tall grass—excellent grazing for wildlife. Here someone on board shot a white wolf, which fell into the river. Somewhat farther [on], an Indian hunting shelter made of poles and wood under shady trees; half an hour later, a creek to the left.
At noon, 70°F [21.1°C]. Very warm air, portending thunderstorms. Farther on, along the left bank, [are] a few more hills, strangely flattened on top. Farther inland, to the right, cottonwood forest with willows and buffalo berries. Farther inside the forest, the beautiful white snowballs of Viburnum. Far away we have a beautiful view back toward the hills of the Butte Carrée. To the right and left, timber and forest along the bank. The prairie hills are now low and level, so that they barely peer over the tall timber. Loss of time because of sandbars and shallow spots. Half an hour later, many beaver slides and gnawed-off trees in the beautiful forest along the bank. An Indian hunting hut like the previous one, and a smaller one like those of the Sauk and Iowa [Indians]. After about three-quarters of an hour, this forest comes to an end; here there are low clay bluffs of slight extent. The river turns right, its banks covered with vegetation; the forest [is] burned black in several places. To the right, a creek, which flows from a small lake. To the left, [another] white wolf. Two pairs of beautiful white swans; with a rifle, Mr. Bodmer shot one that did not want to leave its young. In the twilight we heard several shots before us on the right bank and saw the flashes in the dense willow thickets of the bank. Several shots soon followed. We were concerned that this might be a Mandan war party and deliberated about what we should do.[Page 2:125] Such war parties are always dangerous, for they like to attack everything that they come upon. As we came closer, we saw odd-looking figures standing on shore among the willows; everybody waited with tense anticipation. When we came closer, they shouted to us and said they had peaceful intentions and wished to come on board. The interpreter Ortubise talked with them and told them we would land somewhat farther upstream. When we put in, the Indians were beside us; the big black figures in their fur blankets looked like ghosts. Within ten minutes there were twenty-three Indians sitting in a row on one side of the cabin. Mr. Mc Kenzie and the rest of us gathered and sat down beside them; the interpreter Ortubise spoke with them.
They were mostly strong, slender, good-looking men with long, wildly disheveled hair. [They were] mostly naked; some of them had buffalo-hide blankets, others blankets [as well as] fine bags and hides embroidered with beads and porcupine quills. But most of them were dressed simply, because they were on a hunting expedition. They were a party that had [come] from three hundred [tipis] in the vicinity; [they] had shot buffalo nearby. The entire band consisted of the three tribes of the Hunkpapas (Tetons), the Pabaskas,M52(Severed Head); they are Yanktonais. and the Yanktonais,M53Twenty words as a language sample of the Yanktonai tribe can be found in the note on page 137. who usually live along the Sheyenne River, which flows into the northern Red River; their usual territory is near Devils Lake and the sources of the St. Peter’s [Minnesota] River, where they have often killed whites, particularly Englishmen. During the winter they often come to the Missouri, and it was merely a coincidence that we met them here now. Once they were on good terms with the Mandans, but for about a year now [there has been] a rift [between] them, because the Mandans had shot [and killed] a Dacota. Now they wanted to make peace with the Mandans and had sent three of their men to the Mandans with proposals to this effect. In front of Mr. Mc Kenzie they emptied a bag of black, not bad tasting but very malodorous pemmican, which all of us tried. Then the pipe made the rounds.
The principal chief among them, dressed in a red uniform with blue shoulder straps and white braiding, his hair bound into a big knot on his forehead (which the Dacotas often do), was Dead Buffalo (Tatánka-Ktä́), [a man with] a characteristically dark brown Indian face. The principal chief of the three hundred [tipis] had stayed home; his name is Jäwitscháhka. After we had been sitting for a long time, the chief stood up, shook hands with each of us in turn, and then, in [a speech of] short, broken-off sentences and many gestures (during which he often paused to deliberate with thoughtful expression), stated [that] they were here by chance, and when they saw their father coming up the river, they had wanted to greet him. They wished to make peace with the Mandans so that they could better trap beaver here along the river. They hoped that Mr. Mc Kenzie would take them along to the Mandan villages tomorrow and assist them in their plans.
Mr. Mc Kenzie responded [by saying that] if they would behave as well as the Dacotas of the Missouri, who never killed white men, he would be happy to do what he could. He asked them to consider whether it would be better for them to go to the villages on foot or by ship. He was willing to take them along, but he did not know how they would be received there by the young men. After they had spoken for a long time, they showed [us] a large, beautiful, tanned whitish bison hide (a great rarity), which they wanted to present as a gift to the Mandans, who prize white buffalo hides highly. They had also sent a white bison calf there.
Not until later were these Indians taken to another room, where they received something to eat, and they slept on board. The next day, however, they went ashore and followed the ship on foot. There were several big handsome men among them. One [was] dressed in a blue, very old-fashioned uniform with red lapels and collar [and] white braiding and borders. [These uniforms look] comical on their bare bodies. Some of them had crowns of feathers in their hair, a sign that they had killed a like number of enemies. The chief and an old Indian who had lived for a long time with the Mandans [each] moved an eagle’s wing back and forth in their hands, fanning themselves.[Page 2:126] Lightning and rain during the night.