Two-hundred-seven (207) years ago today, the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed into what is now North Dakota. During their time, it was known as the Upper Missouri, or the Great Bend of the Missouri, or Upper Louisiana. For Lewis and Clark, North Dakota was the transition zone between the familiar and the unfamiliar, between lands that had already been mapped, named and described and terra incognita.
They hadn’t originally planned to winter with the 4,500 Mandan and Hidatsa Indians of the Knife River earthlodge villages. Clark planned to get as far as the “Rock mountains” before winter and Lewis expressed uncertainty about where they would stop. But when the captains began to notice ice forming on their rowing oars and experienced their first northern plains snowfall on October 21, 1804, they realized that they must soon establish winter quarters. Five days later, they made their first substantial contact with the Mandan Indians, who had a reputation for being friendly to visitors. And they ended up staying 197 days on that outward journey.
North Dakota continues to have a welcoming and friendly reputation. In fact, Cambridge University called North Dakota the most friendly state to visit. And here, the Lewis & Clark story can be discovered by modern explorers.
A reconstructed Fort Mandan is a full-size replica refurbished in the era. (The original fort burned down sometime before the expedition’s return voyage in 1806.)
At Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Stanton, visitors can step into a reconstructed earthlodge, walk to the Sakakawea Village site, and in the modern visitors center, view traditional clothing, tools, art and more.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn is the comprehensive stop to learn, see and experience the Corps of Discovery. These sites are open year-round and winter events at Fort Mandan mean you can step back into the period when Lewis and Clark walked the same trails.
Details of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in North Dakota can be found in the book, A Vast and Open Plain, written by Clay Jenkinson.