National Geographic : 1953 Jun
Following the Trail of Lewis and Clark The 160-foot-high earth fill jutted a mile from the north bluff to the riverbank. A monster dredge sucked chalk rubble from the bank and built a sill across the river. The finished sill will divert the river through a bypass. Then engineers will push the embankment across the old riverbed, completing the dam in 1957. At Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, we asked if we could drive down to river level, to see Calumet Bluff. "Stay over to the right on that construc tion road, keep moving, and don't get in the way of those Eucs," a workman shouted. In a fog of dust we crept down the long slope. A Euclid jounced past, carrying 14 cubic yards of dirt as if it were a shovel ful. A continuous procession of these huge wheeled monsters lurched to river level and dropped their burdens, anchoring the new born dam to Calumet Bluff. What a different scene when Lewis and Clark counciled here with the Sioux! For days the captains had tried to arrange a meeting with the powerful tribe. Many times they "Set the Praries on fire as a signal for the Soues to Come to the River." At last several chiefs arrived at the Calumet Bluff camp. They warily counciled with the strangers. Near by, Lewis and Clark planted a strange banner. For the first time these Indians saw the American flag. Indian Dances: "a Houp & Hollow" Lewis and Clark were honest councilors and able diplomats. The warriors were more curious than hostile. The pipe of peace went around. Thirty Sioux braves danced for the party, moving Sgt. John Ordway to note that such Indian affairs "always began with a houp & hollow & ended with the Same." In the journals I read that the Sioux were "a Stout bold looking people, (the young men handsom) & well made . . . the Warriers are Verry much deckerated with Paint Porcupine quils & feathers, large leagins and mockersons, all with buffalow roabs of Different Colours. the Squars wore Peticoats & a White Buffalow roabe with the black hare turned back over their necks and Sholders." Upstream, near present-day Pierre, capital of South Dakota, I showed the children where the Teton Sioux gave Lewis and Clark some troublesome moments. The expedition barely got through without a fight. Then we came to the domain of agricultural tribes, the Arikaras, Minnetarees, and Man dans, who lived in semipermanent earth-lodge villages along the Missouri. Most of them were in what is now North and South Dakota.* Over modern highways that would have astounded our predecessors, we steered the Orange Crate toward Bismarck, capital of North Dakota. As I drove, my wife quoted from our traveling library. "Lewis and Clark," she announced, "spent the winter of 1804-05 in the region northwest of Bismarck." The Mandan Indians of the area, she told the children, were known by the explorers to be friendly to whites. Lewis and Clark had come 1,600 miles in five months. They built Fort Mandan and settled down for the winter. "Do the Mandans still live in dirt huts like they used to?" Judith asked. "No. Most 20th-century Indians live in houses. The earth lodge is all but forgotten. And soon those big dams you've been seeing will drown most of the old sites." Scientists want to learn more about earth lodge people before the waters come. I talked with Dr. Gordon C. Baldwin, National Park Service archeologist, about their work. "The Smithsonian Institution helps the National Park Service supervise the salvage program," he told me. "The Bureau of Recla mation, Army Engineers, and local groups and universities also participate. We've brought to light hundreds of earth-lodge sites. Search has revealed other places of habitation ranging in date from several thousand years before Christ to the early white era." Near Chamberlain my youngsters spotted a group of men digging in a field beside U. S. 16. We tumbled out of the car and watched. They were high-school and college archeology students, working for the Nebraska State His torical Society. "Gee, someday I'd like to do something like that during the summer," said Mary Ellen. Earth Lodges Restored Near Bismarck The boys showed us a large ceremonial lodge and two earth dwellings they had un covered. These were built by Arikaras about 1750. Hard-packed circular floors were ex posed just a few feet from the highway. A tourist, curious about the activity, asked if the boys were preparing the foundation for a silo. The children quickly learned to spot the dimples that indicate earth lodge sites (page 732). As a climax, in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near Bismarck, we saw five re stored lodges rising like earthen bubbles under the green sod (page 722). One of them was completely furnished, with bunks around the edge, fire pit in the center, cache pits in the floor, and grinding basins for corn. A buffalo skull on a stick made a family altar. It looked so homelike that Will asked, "Are you sure no one lives here?" * See "Indians of Our Western Plains," by Matthew W. Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1944.