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historic expedition, Lewis and Clark used the Native American tribes to their advantage in many ways. The expedition had been charged with several important objectives, including furthering proclaiming American sovereignty in the west, advancing American trade, and promoting peace between Indian tribes. These aims were often complicated by the incredible diversity of the Native American tribes and culture. Importantly, the expedition relied upon the Natives for supplies along the way, and often relied on the Native American tribes for basic necessities like food and information about the uncharted west. The expedition often had to trust the Native American tribes and vice versa, and Sacagawea played an important role in establishing that trust. Not all relationships with the Native American tribes were positive, and the expedition suffered pilfering at the hands of the Clatsop and a direct raid on their guns by the Blackfeet.
Slightly less than 200 years ago, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to locate the rumored Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. This was the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, which played a crucial role in opening the west to European influence. The Lewis and Clark expedition was often the first point of contact between many of the native peoples of the area and the white colonizers, and Lewis and Clark's relationship with the Native Americans played a crucial role in the success of their mission (Center for Educational Technologies).
From the beginning, Thomas Jefferson had charged the expedition with determining a great deal about the Native Americans in the west. He provided Lewis and clark with detailed instructions that included complex questions about seventeen different areas of Indian culture, including language, law, trade, technology. Notes Ronda, "The explorers were to record what the Indians wore, what they ate, how they made a living, and what they believed in" (3). Jefferson specifically said to Lewis "You will therefore endeavor to make yourself acquainted as far as a diligent pursuit of your journey shall admit, with the names of the nations & their numbers" (3).
Jefferson saw an understanding of the native American presence as important to expanding the American presence and commerce in the far west. He saw the native tribes as being crucial to the interests of fur traders and other entrepreneurs eager to market to the west (Ronda).
Importantly, Jefferson also saw the expedition as a crucial part of forging a peaceful relationship with the Native Americans in the region. Ronda notes, "(Jefferson) believed that accurate information about Indians was essential in order to shape a peaceful environment for both peoples" (4). Underlying this admirable aim was the assumption that this peace with the Native American tribes could be enjoyed if the natives would only reject their savage ways and instead adopt the civilized manner of the whites. He assumed that "a benevolent government would use such information (gathered by the expedition) to civilize and Christianize Indians (Ronda, 4).
The expedition had a number of aims that related directly to the Native American presence in the west. Specifically, the Corps of Discovery struggled with proclaiming Americain sovereignty in the west, advancing American trade, and promoting peace between Indian tribes (Ronda).
During the expedition, Lewis and Clark were expected to further the policy goals of the Republic regarding Indians. For the tribes east of the Mississippi, federal policy "sought to acquire native lands at low cost while urging tribal people to shuck off hunting and breechcloths for plows and trousers" (Ronda, 4). National expansion was a primary goal for these areas. For tribes West of the Louisiana purchase, Jefferson saw policy in a different light, envisioning the area as a place of trade rather than agricultural settlement. Western delegations such as Lewis and Clark's focused largely on trade and trade negotiations.
Promoting peace between the Native American tribes was a complex process for which Lewis and Clark were little prepared. The Lewis and Clark expedition came upon the American Natives long after complex and lengthy histories of intertribal warfare had developed, making any intervention by the expedition temporary at best, and futile, at worst (Ronda).
The intricate trade network systems among the native tribes played an enormous role in the relative successes and failures of Lewis and Clark's inroads into Native American culture. Lewis and Clark knew little of the complexities of trade among the tribes, including the demanding and complex trade alliances between the Assiniboine and Manda/Hidata, and the trade between the Arikara and Teon Sioux (Ronda).
During their expedition, Lewis and Clark encountered nearly 50 Native American tribes (PBS), each with distinct and often characteristic responses to the white presence. As such, their experiences with each tribe were different, with some tribes providing the expedition with a great deal of assistance, and others hindering the expedition. For example, the Arikaras were apprehensive, while the Shoshones were initially friendly and likeable, and the Columbia River Indians were often pilfering and difficult as well. In contrast, the Teton Sioux were intimidating and sometimes difficult (Ronda).
The cultures and lifestyles of many of the tribes were profoundly different, bringing further challenges to the expedition's objectives in dealing with the Native American tribes. The Teton Sioux guarded their territory fiercely, and lived in teepees and hunted buffalo. In contrast, the Manadan tribe were corn farmers who lived in earth lodges, and were agreeable to trading with the white men. Some of the tribes had never seen either a white or black man before the expedition passed their way, while other tribes had had previous contact with Europeans by sea (PBS).
Importantly, the nature of Lewis and Clark's expedition meant that the leaders often had to trust the Native American tribes. Sacagawea, a young Native American woman, and the wife of one of the expedition members, Toussaint Charbonneau, played an important role gaining the trust of many of the tribes. Having a woman and child on the expedition was important in assuring Native American tribes that the expedition was of a peaceful and scientific nature. Further, Sacagawea played an important role as a translator between the expedition and the Shoshones.
Lewis and Clark used the Native Americans to their advantage in many ways. Importantly, the expedition relied upon the Natives for supplies along the way. Sacagawea was crucial in acting as an interpreter with the Shoshones, and ensuring that the expedition could purchase horses from the Shoshones, allowing them to cross the Rocky Mountains. Here, trade with the Native Americans provided a valuable resource (horses) needed for the success of the expedition itself (Center for Educational Technologies).
The expedition often relied on the Native American tribes for basic necessities. During the expedition's stay at Fort Clatsop, the expedition members relied almost solely on the Clatsop and Chinook tribes for food. However, the leaders were unhappy with the prices charged for food, and the continual pilfering of camp supplies. The Mandan tribe also supplied the expedition with food during their stay. In addition, several members of the Lewis and Clark expedition accompanied the Mandans on a buffalo hunt when the expedition was low on food Further, the expedition traded goods for horses with the Nex Perce tribe, and trusted the tribe tot the extent that they temporarily left the horses with the tribe (PBS).
Lewis and Clark's expedition also relied upon the Native American tribes for information about the uncharted west. For example, the Clatsop tribe gave Lewis and Clark important information on the location and availability of elk near the Columbia. This information led the expedition to build Fort Clatsop nearby. In addition, the Clatsops informed the expedition that a whale had washed ashore nearby when the expedition was running low on food. The Hidatsas tribe provided the expedition with important information about the route ahead of them. Twisted Hair and other members of the…[continue]
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