Idaho Chapter

Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

On-the-ground amongst the greatest number and
least disturbed Lewis and Clark sites in the nation!

Indians Visit Washington City

by Norman Steadman
Idaho Chapter – Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

Sauk and Fox Indians

Historic painting of Mississippia Indians

Image by Karl Bodmer, 1840–43. Courtesy Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. "Saki und Musquake Indianer. Indiens Sâkis et Renards. Saukie and Fox Indianians." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 28, 2019.

In 1805, more than 60 Indians traveled from their homes to St. Louis. Some had traveled more than 1500 miles. They had been invited by Lewis and Clark or other federal agents to visit the President of the United States. Indian agents were to provide the transportation from St. Louis to the Federal City of Washington.

Meriwether Lewis sent a letter to President Jefferson dated April 7, 1805. This letter was sent from the Expedition's winter camp at Fort Mandan. It was transported to St. Louis on the barge (keelboat). This letter did not indicate that any Indians would be on the barge.

May 22, 1805, Pierre Chouteau (Indian agent at St. Louis), wrote William Harrison (Governor of Indiana Territory) "The barge of Capt. Lewis arrived day before yesterday, he has sent by this opportunity 45 Chiefs or Considere's of the nations. Ricara's, Ponsas, Sioux of the Missoury, Makas, Otto's and Missouri's."

March 9, Chouteau wrote to Harrison and told him that nine Sioux Chiefs had arrived in St. Louis.

There were 54 Indians in St. Louis asking to be conducted to the Federal City to see President Jefferson. Chouteau needed special permission from Harrison to take any Indians to see the President. Apparently, Chouteau and Harrison had corresponded about the trip. They decided not to attempt it in the summer, fearing many of the Indians would become ill. They thought it would be better if the Indians traveled in the fall or winter. Chouteau did not want to take 50 or 60 Indians to the Federal City, and asked for further instructions from Harrison.

May 27, 1805, Harrison wrote to Henry Dearborn (Secretary of War) and forwarded Chouteau's letter of May 22, by special messenger. He asked Dearborn if the Indians should now go forward to the Seat of the Government. If so, he would have them inoculated for the small pox.

May 27, William Henry Harrison wrote to Pierre Chouteau. Harrison said the arrival of the Indians at this time was certainly an unfortunate circumstance. He gave Chouteau the following instructions: "Tell the Indians of the inconvenience that they will attend on their going at the present. Explain that you will arrange for their spending the summer in the neighborhood of St. Louis. Also the President and Heads of Department would be absent from the Seat of the Government after June." He told Chouteau to use all his power to diminish the number of Indians, by sending as many as he could back up the Missouri. He stated that Chouteau should "give them as few articles as they would accept and tell them to tell their nations of the departure of their friends to the Seat of the Government."

September 22, 1805, James Wilkinson (Governor of Louisiana) wrote Henry Dearborn. He asked that Dearborn reduce the number of Indians going to the Seat of the Government to twenty. He gave instructions for travel and expenses.

The same day, Chouteau arrived at St. Louis with another seven Chiefs from the Republican Panis who were going to see the President.

Wilkinson was very concerned about the expense in transporting the Indians to the Federal City. He said "The Chiefs will be equipt each with a course capot, two shirts, a hat, leggings & clout, a blanket, hankerchief for the head, and mocassins, on the cheapest terms of the place."

October 21, 1805, James Wilkinson wrote to Amos Stoddard (Captain U.S. Army). Wilkinson instructed Stoddard to proceed the next day with the Indian deputation to visit the President in the Federal City. He told Stoddard to take a stage, the most expedient route. Wilkinson had drawn $1450 from the Secretary of War to transport the Indians.

October 22, 1805, James Wilkinson wrote Henry Dearborn. In this letter, he stated that some additional Indians had arrived from the Kickapoos. He does not state how many. Prior to the Kickapoo's arrival, there were at least 61 Indians that had traveled to St. Louis. Wilkinson said that Captain Stoddard was leaving with a deputation of twenty-six persons from eleven nations; Otto's, Missouri, Panis, Canzes, Osage, Sacque, Reynard, Ayona, Kickapoo, Pottowa Homee, and Miami's. Eight of those nations were strangers to Wilkinson and Chouteau. Seven of the nations had belligerents among them, and they were trying to make peace. After this letter was written, another Sioux Chief agreed to go to Washington. Twenty-seven Indians went from St. Louis to Washington City.

Many of the Indians that came down the Missouri to St. Louis became very sick. Some of this sickness was due to the climate change and exposure to new diseases.

There is no indication when the Indians arrived at Washington City. President Jefferson made his address to the Indians on January 4, 1806. On the same day, the Indians made a long speech to President Jefferson and Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. The Indian speech was much longer than the President's speech.

April 9, 1806, Henry Dearborn wrote to James Wilkinson that several of the Indians had died. One of them was a very respectable and amiable Ricara (sic Arikara) Chief. He died on April 7. Dearborn instructed Wilkinson to have Gravelins (a fur trader & interpreter) sent up the Missouri with some sober and faithful soldiers to explain the great Chiefs death.

They took a big medal, clothes, and trinkets of the Chiefs to his favorite son. They also sent presents to his wives and children. They could spend two to three hundred dollars for these presents. In addition, they sent 100 pounds of gun powder and a corresponding amount of lead to be distributed among the Chiefs of the Ricara and Mandan.

They also took four or five hundred dollars worth of presents to the Osage. This was to wipe away their tears for the Osage that had been killed by the faithless Puttawattamie.

April 10, 1806, Dearborn wrote to President Jefferson and said the Ricara Chief that had died was named Aukedoucharo. Interpreter Gravelins pronounced it Aukie-douch-a-ro. The Indians left Washington on April 10.

On April 11, 1806, President Jefferson wrote a letter to the Ricara Nation. "My friends & children of the Ricara Nation, It gave me great pleasure to see your beloved Chief arrive here on a visit to his white brothers of the United States of America. I took him by the hand with affection, I considered him as bringing to me assurances of your friendship and that you are willing to become of one family with us. Wishing to see as much as he could of his new brethren he consented to go towards the sea as far as Baltimore and Philadelphia. He found nothing but kindness & goodwill wherever he passed. On his return to this place he was taken sick; everything we could do to help him was done; but it pleased the great spirit to take him from among us. We buried him among our own deceased friends & relatives, we shed many tears over his grave, and we now mingle our afflictions with yours on the loss of this beloved Chief But death must happen to all men; and his time was come."

On April 30, 1806, Dearborn wrote James S. Swearingen (title unknown). Apparently there had been some mistakes in procuring suitable boats to transport the Indians down the Ohio River and ascend the Mississippi to St. Louis. Dearborn directed Swearingen to furnish two keelboats and other provisions for their voyage. Each Indian was furnished a musket, one pound of powder, forty balls and three flints. One sick Osage Chief remained in Pittsburgh.

May 9, 1806, Dearborn wrote to Swearingen again. He instructed Swearingen to take particular care of the Osage Chief and to procure a passage for him to Fort Massac. The Chief was to receive a musket, one pound of powder, 40 balls, some flints, two bottles of wine and eight dollars. When the Chief recovered, he was to be transported by boat from Fort Massac to St. Louis.

Apparently, there is little or no information about when the Indians finally arrived at St. Louis; or about how the Indians traveled from St. Louis to their homelands.

September 23, 1806, Capt. Lewis wrote to President Jefferson and informed him of the Expedition's safe arrival at St. Louis. Lewis wrote that he had prevailed on the Great Chief of the Mandan to accompany him to Washington. On August 17, the Mandan Chief, Big White or Sheheke, had agreed to go see the President of the United States. He only agreed to go if his wife and son and his interpreter, Mr. Jessomme, and Jessomme's wife and two children could accompany them. This was agreed to.

The Mandan Chief went to Washington and met with the President. In the fall of 1807, Nathaniel Pryor (former member of the Corps of Discovery) had attempted to take Big White and his family up the Missouri River to their village. On October 16, 1807, Pryor wrote Clark explaining they were compelled to return to St. Louis with the Chief. The Ricara (Arikara) would not allow them to pass through their country.

February 24, 1809, an agreement was signed between Governor Lewis and Manuel Lisa, for the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company, to transport Big White, his wife, child, and interpreter and his family to the Mandan village. This contract was for ten thousand dollars. The Fur Company was to have 125 effective men (of whom forty shall be Americans and expert riflemen). Peter Chouteau, United States Indian Agent, commanded the detachment until they arrived at the Mandan village.

May 13, 1809, Lewis wrote William Eustis (now Secretary of War). Lewis sent a bill for $500 for Indian presents to be distributed among the friendly Indians they met that would accompany them to the Mandan village. Lewis submitted another bill for $440 for presents on May 15. This was a total of $940 for Indian presents.

July 15, 1809, William Eustis wrote to Lewis. He informed Lewis that the Government would not pay the bills for the presents, and that Lewis was responsible to pay for them.

August 18, 1809, Lewis wrote to William Eustis. Lewis was very upset over the letter of July 15. He would travel to Washington and explain why the Government should pay the bills for the Indian presents.

Peter Chouteau was successful in getting the Mandan Chief back to his village and used very few of the presents purchased for the Indians. The remaining presents were sold to the St. Louis Fur Company for $754.50.

Three years after Lewis's death, the Secretary of War (Eustis) decided it had been a mistake to protest the bills for $940. The Government paid the Meriwether Lewis estate $636.25.