Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
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 Jefferson and the West Lewis as Leader William Clark Sacagawea York's Experience Dealing with Natives Animals Discovered Less Known Stories Historical Significance Lewis and Clark navigation
 

What were Lewis and Clark’s objectives with the Indians?

Dayton Duncan
Dayton Duncan

Listen to the RealAudio
Every time that they met an Indian tribe, they had three things they wanted to do. They wanted to find out about them for Jefferson. They wanted to establish trade relations because that’s gonna be part of an empire for the United States. And they wanted to say, “You are now part of the United States. You have a new Great Father.” And part of all of that was, “You gotta stop fighting one another. You know, it doesn’t help us for trade, it doesn’t help us, you know, as a nation if you’re fighting one another.” And they just couldn’t understand how traditional it was on the Plains, and how for tribes to fight one another. I mean, it makes sense, you know, they all had different objectives that they wanted to, things that they want to do. Hunting grounds, raiding, all those things were imbedded in the Plains warrior culture, and they’d thought that if they just said, “Now we’re here, just stop fighting, we’ll give you some goods and it’s OK.” Clark was trying to explaining this one time to an Hidatsa warrior, about well we’ve got these plans for peace and everything. And the warrior listened for a while and then he just said, “But if we have peace, how will we have chiefs?” Because the way that their culture ennobled somebody, to make them rise in the ranks of the tribe, was through warfare. So he said, “If we don’t fight one another, how do we exist, how do we have chiefs?” And I think that moment is, shows the, still this misunderstanding between two cultures.

When Lewis and Clark talked about a new “Great Father” in Washington, how did the Indians react?

Gerard Baker
Gerard Baker

Listen to the RealAudio
I don’t think they would [think about it] a whole lot. They might of for a little bit. Mainly because those are the folks there that did the same thing, before them. The Frenchmen came in for example, the British came in for example from Hudson Bay territory, what is now Canada, and did the same thing. They gave them, they gave them flags. Even during that time of course, the British and the French knew something was happening so they gave them flags and medals and everything else. And I think by then they had been visited by quite a few people, and, and so it wasn’t a, a big thing, but I think by then they realized it was a routine that they had to go through. They would listen to the speeches and, and accepting the medals, accepting different, different gifts, and, and in fact, the tribe at that time expected gifts, and they expected everybody to get one, get something. And, and I know in one instance, I think the ???? talked about not having everybody get everything and so they were upset about that. And so by then they had already started to.
 


Listen to the RealAudio
What was Lewis and Clark’s routine for interacting with the Indians?
You could call their Indian diplomacy the great traveling medicine show because they really did have a pattern, a pattern that they had inherited from generations of Indian policy that began in the Northeast woodlands and then went out into the West. The traveling medicine show worked like this, first there was a parade in which European style technology was shown off. You wanted to show Indians uniforms and guns and the objects of the industrial revolution to impress them and then you wanted to show Indians trade goods and so the great country store was wheeled out. You wanted to show Indians all of those objects that they might gain if they became part of an industrial world that grew out of St Louis. And so, first the parade and then the country store and then came the serious negotiation because Lewis and Clark represented in the traveling medicine show not only military power, commercial power, but also diplomatic power. So the third part of the traveling medicine show was some serious negotiation. Some treaty talk, some council making. And then there was always a showing of the flag, the great American symbol of sovereignty and power.
 


Listen to the RealAudio
What did the peace medal symbolize?
Peace medals symbolized two very different things. And they represent two different things on two different sides of the cultural divide. For Euro-Americans, for Thomas Jefferson’s captains, the peace medal represented a recognition of American sovereignty. If I give you a peace medal, it means that you are now one of mine. That you’ve accepted the sovereignty of the American president. On the other hand, for native people, accepting a peace medal might simply mean a recognition that we are equals. We are not fathers and sons, not fathers and children, but we’re all one. And the peace medal also represented a source of power. Native people often believed that the power that the Europeans had were not in their own bodies, but in their objects. And so the peace medal is a wonderful symbol of difference. Europeans saw it as a sign of subjection. Of accepting European power. But native people who took those peace medals saw it in a very different way. Saw it as a gift. Saw it as recognizing that we are equals.
 

  GM