Friday, February 20, 2009

Corps of Discover, Pt. 2: The Teton Sioux

Thomas Jefferson gave Captain Meriwether Lewis these instructions regarding the Indians the expedition would encounter:

"You will endeavor to make yourself acquainted as far as a diligent pursuit of your journey shall admit, with names of the nation & their number."

The leaders of the Corps of Discovery were thus tasked as ethnographers, entrusted with preparing the ground for the traders and trappers who would follow. However the president was also fully aware that conflict was possible, and reminded Lewis that his chief responsibility was to bring the mission back safely, and not risk its destruction.

Jefferson gave instructions regarding one tribe only, the Teton Sioux, whom we know as the Lakota:

"On that nation we wish most particularly to make a favorable impression, because of their immense power . . .(the Sioux) are desirous of being on the most friendly terms with us. . ."

Jefferson had heard the stories of the Teton Sioux’s great power. Able to line both sides of the river with warriors armed with bows and trade muskets, they were able to virtually halt French and Spanish traders on the river unless the proper “toll” was paid.

By the end of August 1804, the Corps of discovery sailed, rowed, poled and dragged their little flotilla up the Missouri River. The Corps met with many Indian tribes: the Omaha and Otoes, the Kansas and Yankton Sioux. Each meeting seemed to take on the same form. The men of the Corps would dress in their finest uniforms and parade under the American flag. The Captains would honor the local leaders and promise what would come-trade goods and the protection of the United States. All that was asked was peaceful relations as white flooded across their hunting lands (oops, that’s me being cynical.)

Then the Corps would show off their power-musket displays, Lewis would fire his air rifle, they would demonstrate burning glasses, and fire the keelboat’s swivel. Finally the Corps would offer presents of tobacco, kettles, peace medals, and flags, occasionally a little whiskey, while the Indians pleaded their poverty.

In what is now Cedar County, Nebraska on August 30, 1804, they met with the Yankton Sioux, and Ar Ca We Char Che, a chief among this tribe, spoke of the other Sioux bands, they could be persuaded to peace:

"But I fear those nations above [upriver] will not open their ears, and you cannot I fear open them . . ."

The Corps’ encounter with the Lakota began on September 23rd near the present location of Pierre, S.D. Two small boys brought word to the captains that about 80 lodges were located a short distance up river. The following day began inauspiciously when Pvt. John Colter brought word that a band of Sioux had stolen one of the two horses used by the expedition. This word arrived as Lewis and Clark prepared to meet with the Sioux leaders. They sent word to the Sioux that this meeting would not occur until the horse was returned. A Sioux leader, Buffalo Medicine, invoking the rule of plausible deniability, knew nothing about the horse.

The crisis broke the next day. Lewis and Clark were visited by the Sioux leaders where they offered them whiskey and other presents. Clark stated that they also showed ‘many curiosities.” The Sioux became “troublesome” as they either became drunk or feigned drunkenness and demanded more presents. Both banks of the Missouri were crowded with Sioux, including many warriors. The captains refused further gifts and took the Sioux leaders, Black Buffalo and the Partisan to shore in a pirogue. Clark, with only a small escort, was quickly surrounded, and Black Buffalo took hold of the pirogue’s painter rope. Clark wrote:

"Stateing he hand not recved presents Sufficient from us, his justures were of Such a personal nature I feldt my Self Compelled to Draw my Sword, [NB: and made a Signal to the boat to prepar for action] at this motion Capt. Lewis ordered all under arms in the boat, those with me also Showed a Disposition to Defend themselves and me, the grand Chief then took hold of the roop & ordered the young warrers away, I felt my Self warm and Spoke in verry positive terms."

Black Buffalo finally did avoid a disastrous conflict, but the following two days of contact between the Sioux and the Corps were surrounded by mutual distrust and enmity. On the 28th, they attempted to take their leave, but found themselves surrounded by 200-300 warriors whose leaders demanded more presents. With considerable chest thumping by both sides the three vessels finally made their way upriver toward the Mandan villages, near today’s Bismarck, N.D.

The conflict with the Sioux did not end there. On February 14th Lewis sent four men with two horses and sleighs out into the frigid weather to bring in meat cached by hunters. They were surrounded by 106 Sioux warriors that took their horses. The next day Clark took a party of twelve men on foot in pursuit of the Sioux. However, with their day’s head start, Clark had little hope of catching them. Instead he found the place where the meat was burned. The party returned on the 21st with two sleighs of meat, but the pursuit was fruitless.

A week later a French trader made his way to Fort Mandan with word that the Sioux threatened war against the Mandan and the Arikara, whom the Corps had visited earlier. Sgt. John Ordway wrote in his journal:

". . .they Say if they catch any more of us they will kill us for they think we are bad medicine and Say that we must be killed . . ."

Though the Corps and the Sioux never did come to serious conflict, their encounters were ever unfriendly. The Sioux viewed the Corps of Discovery as a direct challenge to their pre-eminence over Missouri River traffic. Their promise of extending their protection to other tribes such as the Omahas, the Mandans, Hidatsas and Arikaras threatened their standing as the most powerful tribe on the plains. Though the Corps managed to avoid further conflict with the Sioux on the return journey, the chemistry on the plains was already shaken. The Arikaras were allied with the Lakota and had attacked the Mandans. Previously peacefully disposed toward the whites, the death of their leader while he was visiting Jefferson in Washington D.C. turned them against the Americans. As the Corps raced down the River toward St. Louis and home they passed the Sioux camp. Clark stopped and met with three young warriors on an island near shore:

"This Chief I knew very well to be the one we had seen with his band at Teton river which band had attempted to detain us in the fall of 1804 as we assended this river and with whome we wer near comeing to blows. I told those Indians that they had been deef to our councils and ill treated us as we assended this river two years past, that they had abused all the whites who had visited them since. I believed them to be bad people & Should not Suffer them to cross to the Side on which the party lay, and directed them to return with their band to their Camp, that if any of them come near our camp we Should kill them certainly. . . after we passd. him he returned on the top of the hill and gave 3 Strokes with the gun [NB?: on the earth—this is swearing by the earth] he had in his hand this I am informed is a great oath among the indians"

Though the expedition avoided conflict with the Sioux, it is clear the latter regarded the Corps as the first of many whites who might upset the power structure on the plains, one the Sioux dominated. The subsequent harassment and threats throughout the Mandan winter was a clear indication that the tensions between the Corps and the Sioux were high, and could have erupted into warfare. Despite their caution Lewis and Clark were ready to fight. Ahhh, the makings of a scenario

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lewis and Clark Resources

Lewis and Clark, like Abraham Lincoln, like the American Civil War and so many other topics in American history have spawned an extensive collection of literature. Some of it may be helpful to those with an interest in the military aspects of the expedition, but much, while fascinating, is not useful. I'd like to offer some suggested reading.

First-always first-are Lewis and Clark's journals. There were several different editions of these journals-first Nicholas Biddle, then Elliott Coues, and lastly Reuben Gold Thwaites. These have all been superseded by those edited by Gary Moulton at the University of Nebraska. Twelve volumes, about 50-60 bucks a pop (except for the Atlas which is volume one at $175.) I know because I own them all. However there's been a recent development. These are all on-line, thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Nebraska Press, among others.

The journals are very searchable by date, so you do kind of need to know what you're looking for. The atlas is also available and very easy to use. (Mine is enormous and I can only look at it on the kitchen table.) The site is also chock full of great illustrations, audio files, you name it. I spend hours there. It is an incredible gift to those interested in the Corps of Discovery.

Another equally wonderful on-line resource is the U.S. Army's site devoted to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. It covers the Army's activities during the bicentennial (2003-2006.) However it also provides little snapshots about every member of the Corps of Discovery from the captains to the NCO's and enlisted personnel, to the boatment who hired on. There is also a great little section devoted to uniforms and what the men might have worn when they weren't in dress blues. It's another site that is totally worth your time.

I've added both these sites to my list of useful links.

Last, but not least, I'd encourage you to take a look at the historic art of Michael Haynes. He has done a fabulous job of capturing Lewis and Clark on canvas. He has a series of Osprey-like color plates, and then has gone on to illustrate the Corps in its various contexts, whether recruiting at Fort Massac in 1803, breaking a mast on the keelboat, or stuck in the Dismal Niche at the mouth of the Columbia. I've also included this link. You should find it useful to determine what the soldiers wore and the equipment they carried. Haynes also illustrated a wonderful book on the Corps of Discovery called Tailor Made, Trail Worn by Robert J. Moore, Jr. Not a cheapie by any means, but I've gotten a lot of use out of it as I work on this project. It's available from Amazon.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lewis and Clark progress

I've made some progress this weekend on the Lewis and Clark project. First up are soldiers from the Spanish Louisiana Regiment. These are your basic Spanish infantry in Europe and in North America. Their uniforms had not changed appreciably from the Seven Years War. These are soldiers Lewis would have encountered in St. Louis during his winter at Camp DuBois when he made his way into town. The Spanish passed authority over to the French and then the Americans March 9-10, 1804. While it is unclear whether line fusiliers would have taken part in a pursuit of the Corps of Discovery, I decided to include them. They look nice and regular infantry steadies the militia and Indians. I'm really pleased with how they turned out--perhaps my best painted figures since the early 90's.

The miniatures are from the Spanish range by London War Room. TLWR has an entire range of 18th century Spanish figures that are impressive. All my Spaniards will come from this range. Unfortunately, it seems that The London War Room will soon be gone, which is quite sad. They were always a pleasure to work with.

The next couple of figures are of my scratch-built keelboat. The work on this was done entirely by Mark Waddington, my good friend, and expert model builder. I included articles and a whole series of pictures of the keelboat in December. I will be adding a couple more vessels to Captain Lewis's flotilla in the not too distant future. The keelboat was accompanied by a pair of large dugout canoes called pirogues. I am not going to go the scratchbuilt route with these. I'm going to use two of the longboats from Merrimack Shipyards by Old Glory. These look nice, and will serve the purpose after mounting them with a mast and small swivel cannon.

Last, I've included a picture of my Lewis and Clark figures on top of the sterncastle of the keelboat. Yes indeed, these are real live Lewis and Clark figures that are purpose-built. The figures are based on a Michael Haynes painting of Lewis and Clark on the trail attired in how they might have appeared in their undress uniforms. It is certain that the two officers had many extra sets of clothing, including extra dress coats and cocked hats that they gave away on the trail, exchanging them for food, a canoe, and horses. When the expedition was over, Lewis presented the government with a bill for $135 for a dirk, a pistol and many items of officers uniform exchanged with the Indians on the trail.

The figures are from Old Glory, and there is a great story that goes with it. In 2005 Bruce Meyer our NHMGS treasurer was back at Cold Wars, as he is each year, and he invited Russ Dunaway out to be our guest at Enfilade. When Russ agreed it was quite a coup. We knew he'd tell the world about our little convention. Russ, in his generosity, also wanted to do something special for us, and he asked if there was a figure he model for us with a Northwest theme. Being quickest on the draw, I suggested Lewis and Clark, and so it was agreed. I possess the only known stash of these babies, where they live in my garage. They were gifts we gave to those who pre-registered, hosted games, or volunteered in some other way.

Lewis is in green and Clark is in blue. They were such an interesting team. Lewis was the visionary, the organizer, the naturalist. He was a bit of a dreamer, and a bit short-tempered with those who didn't share his view. Lewis was almost certainly mentally-ill, self evident through his suicide in 1809. However, we can see his mood change in the voyage home when he becomes more combative with the Indians who hover about the expedition on the upper Columbia, stealing tools, even stealing Lewis's Newfoundland dog Seaman. (That's what I really need is a Seaman miniature!!!) William Clark is the younger brother of George Rogers Clark and was Lewis's commanding officer in the army. He is more laid back, a man of judgment and a good balance to his partner's occasional rashness. His talent is on the river as a boatman, and he is the surveyor of the expedition. The maps he made of the upper Missouri and out to the Pacific are known for their incredible accuracy.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Case for Corps of Discovery, pt. 1

I've moved on to my new project. Yes, you could see it coming. I'm working on my Lewis and Clark project. Yes, I hear your protests, this was a peaceful expedition. However this was luck; luck because both the captains used good enough judgment to avoid a serious incident with the Indians. Luck because the vastness of the Great Plains was too great to allow their Spanish pursuers to find them.

There are four hypothetical conflicts that make the Lewis and Clark expedition a viable subject for miniature wargaming, and here I'll take on the first.

When Thomas Jefferson signed on the dotted line to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France it was the end (sort of) of a long and bitter process to secure New Orleans and control the mouth of the Mississippi River. As more settlers spilled over the Alleghenies into the Kentucky and Ohio territories, and Indian resistance was largely ended with the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, western farmers and traders poured their products down the Ohio to the Mississippi River through the port facilities at New Orleans. At this time Spain controlled East and West Florida, Louisiana, and the prize of New Orleans. Louisiana and its chief port were ceded to Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris which ended the French and Indian War in 1763.

Though the United States importuned Spain repeatedly throughout the early Federal period about ceding these territories to the new nation, the Spanish were adamant in retaining them. Though American agents threatened seizure, Spanish officials saw the future: America was an expansionist power in North America and rolling over to their demands would lead to only more demands and further expansion. Spain negotiated trade regulations with the U.S., but New Orleans and Louisiana would remain Spanish.

When Napoleon seized power as First Consul in 1800, one of the first things he did was to cast an eye toward the New World, particularly the lost French empire of Louisiana. He wangled a deal with the Spanish in which he traded the Italian territory of Etruria to the Duke of Parma for Louisiana. This was approved by the Spanish king's adviser, Manuel Godoy, on the condition that Louisiana not be transferred or sold except to Spain. Napoleon's minister, the wily Talleyrand, obligingly said yes, and Spain agreed to take possession in 1803.

However Napoleon's plans to begin a new empire in the Western Hemisphere were wrecked amid the the yellow fever that killed 50,000 French troops fighting the slave insurrection on Haiti. With events heating up in Europe, the First Consul had less interest in sending military force to Louisiana.

Jefferson's emissaries persisted in their efforts to acquire New Orleans at a heated intensity as the Spanish withdrew the "right of deposit" from Americans trading through that port. Word on the frontier was that westerners would form a militia to take the city themselves. American regular forces began to mass at key points along the Mississippi, and Spanish troops began fortifying places such as Natchez and Chickasaw Bluffs.

In the summer of 1803 the Spanish received the shocking news that France had sold New Orleans and the immense vastness of Louisiana to the Americans. With its huge undefined borders the Americans acquired the means to hold a gun to the head of New Spain. Already negotiating with the Spanish for a passport to explore the upper reaches of the Missouri for a dozen or so men, Jefferson again requested that a somewhat larger expedition on Meriwether Lewis be permitted to cross Spanish territory on an exploring mission.

The Spanish were quite fearful of the military expedition and the threat it posed to Spanish possessions in New Mexico. The source for the knot of rivers that converged with the Missouri was unknown, and were believed to perhaps originate in what is now the Colorado Rockies, then an important part of New Spain and not far from Santa Fe, its capital.

When Lewis assembled his Corps of Discovery, he wisely located it at Camp Dubois on the east bank of the Mississippi River, just downstream from St. Louis. It Spanish control until November of 1803, passing to French control at that time, before reverting to American sovereignty in early 1804. Though his relations with the Spanish commander were friendly, it was equally clear his status as a military commander and expedition leader was one of a rival, and Lewis's plans were reported to the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Charles Delassus.

Delassus, through his career as Louisiana governor from 1799-1804, deftly maintained peaceful relations with the United States despite their bellicose demands for Spanish territory as well as their liberal interpretations of the borders of American lands. Believing the Lewis and Clark expedition to be a danger to Spanish claims, he authorized a military expedition to set off, intercept the expedition, and arrest its leaders. The composition of the intercepting force is unclear. Richard Dillon, Lewis's biographer states it was about a hundred men composed wholly of militia that unfortunately ran afoul of the Pawnee on its way to the Platte River's intersection with the Missouri. Another source states that the Spanish force was composed wholly of Comanche allies. Yet another has a mix of Spanish troops and Comanches.

In any case, locating the Corps was a bit like finding a needle in the vastness of the American wilderness. It didn't happen. A second expedition was sent out to catch them in their return trip, but again no connection.

It's difficult to speculate what might have happened if the expedition and Spanish had met. Would Lewis have meekly capitulated? Both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were men of grit and determination, and it's unlikely that they would have ended their mission without a fight. It was well armed, and many of the men were skilled woodsmen and marksmen. However, Jefferson's directions to Lewis required that he avoid putting the Corps into any hazards that might result in its destruction, that the scientific information they were gathering was too important. All the makings of a good hypothetical action