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Index Inside the Corps The Native Americans The Archive Living History Into the Unknown Forum with Ken Burns Classroom Resources Related Products Interactive Trail Map Search Lewis and Clark navigation Introduction The Corps To Equip an Expedition Circa 1803 Lewis and Clark navigation
 

Pierre Dorion, a talented trapper and interpreter, was engaged by the captains as an interpreter in July 1804 just prior to an August confrontation with the Teton Sioux Indians. Considered “a shrewd, hard-twisted, semiliterate half-breed,” Dorion had lived intermittently with the Yankton Sioux Indians for 20 years prior to the arrival of the explorers. In dire need of a Sioux interpreter, the Americans paid Dorion not only an interpreter’s salary, but also purchased from him 300 pounds of buffalo grease, “which we use to repel insects.”

The captains called the Sioux to counsel at Calumet Bluff on August 30, 1804. Dorion, whose son resided with the Yankton Sioux, was integral in these political communications. He translated Meriwether Lewis’ “children” speech and helped with the “making chiefs” and other rituals. Dorion also helped the explorers document ethnographic data about the Yankton Sioux culture, and urged the Yankton to make peace their neighboring tribes.

In September 1804, when the Corps was negotiating passage into the upper Missouri with the Bois Brule Teton Sioux, Dorion’s skills would again prove valuable. In order to help ease relations between the warring Omaha and Bois Brule Indian tribes, Clark persuaded the Bois Brule to release 48 prisoners of war by turning them over to Dorion, who resided downstream with the Yanktons. The Bois Brule agreed, and Dorion helped the captives find their relatives.

As the Corps progressed up the Missouri River, Dorion was commissioned to collect and transport selected chiefs from the Yankton Sioux, Omaha, Oto, and Missouri tribes downstream to visit St. Louis and Washington. These visits were critical in helping President Thomas Jefferson cement and formalize relations with the tribes.


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