The Relationship Between the Natives and the Corps of Discovery
For the corps of discovery, the trek was a long and treacherous one with many unknowns. One of their biggest fears was the natives or savages as they called them. On their journey, their goal was not only to discover the new land Jefferson purchased but to make peace with the Indians and tell them they now belonged to the U.S. or their new “Great Father”. This was a difficult task, but in most cases, they succeeded in doing it without bloodshed. However, there were a few occasions where swords were drawn. This essay will detail the relationship between the Indians and the corps from the good, bad and indifferent.
Further along in the expedition near the northwest tip of Oregon on the southern side of the Columbia River, the Corps built Fort Clatsop. While in the process of building they were visited by Coboway, chief of the Clatsop tribe. The Clatsops were a flourishing people who fought few wars and had few enemies. While Coboway was there he traded goods with the expedition and made himself welcomed. During the winter he was a frequent visitor. On his many visits, he aided them in dealing with the harshness of the winter. He told them about the abundance of elk and in time when food was low, he informed them about a beached whale a couple of miles away. At the end of the journey for his kindness, Coboway has left Fort Clatsop. This was one friendly Indian encounter, however, not all tribes were this congenial.
In July of 1806, the expedition met eight Blackfeet warriors. When the Indians found out the corps had come in peace they camped out with them. The Blackfeet were a belligerent tribe. For 20 years they had dominated their rivals the Shoshone and Nez Perce because of their trade with British merchants for guns. This gave them the edge over their neighbours. When the expedition told them that they would now belong to the U.S. they were fine.
However, when it was mentioned that the Shoshone and Nez Perce had already accepted the integration and would receive munitions and supplies the warriors recognized that this posed a threat to the Blackfeet rule. They devised a plan to steal the expedition’s guns, but it was hampered when two warriors were killed by Reuben Field and Lewis. This marked the first bloodshed between the United States and the natives. The surviving warriors returned to the tribe. In future years Blackfeet war parties were the cause of the deaths of three former members of the corps.
On the expedition, there were the highs and lows of Indian encounters, but there were also places to just stop and rest. The Wishrams were one of these destinations. They lived on the northern side of the Columbia River now called the Dalles. During the spring the river was over-flowing with salmon. This village called Nixluidix which means “Trading Place” was where they arrived to a sight of 20 wooden houses and 107 stacks of salmon weighing in at over 10,000 pounds. This village was also a social place for intertribal gambling and meeting women. The corps stayed here for a while peacefully and then left.
Through all types of unknowns this brave group of men with much help from Sacagawea and many Indian tribes succeeded in their goal of discovering the West and peacefully encountering and integrating the natives into the new American country.
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