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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 Arikaras Assiniboins Blackfeet Chinooks Clatsops Hidatsas Mandans Missouris Nez Perces Otos Shoshones Teton Sioux Tillamooks Walla Wallas Wishrams Yankton Sioux Lewis and Clark navigation
 
Fool Bull
Fool Bull

At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Teton Sioux occupied two villages near present-day Pierre, South Dakota. One village was located on the Missouri River itself, while the other was situated off a tributary, the Bad River. Among French and Canadian traders, as well as other neighboring tribes, the Tetons were known for aggressiveness and power. Intent on controlling traffic through their portion of the river, they would demand large gifts from passing merchants. Sometimes, they even used more violent tactics.

Given their reputation, perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Teton culture concerned the tribe’s relationship with their Arikara neighbors. The Tetons made their military might very clear to the Arikaras, yet the Arikaras had one thing to offer that kept their relationship with the Tetons a good one: corn. The Arikara were great farmers, and their corn crop was essential to the survival of the Tetons. In exchange for clothes, guns and other supplies provided by the Tetons, the Arikaras shared their horses and corn.

There would be no kind of similar relationship between the Tetons and Lewis and Clark, however. At the first council with the leaders of the Teton tribe, the expedition went through its practiced ritual for meeting Indians, parading in uniform and demonstrating an air gun. The display did little to impress the Tetons, who perceived the Americans as competitors for control of trade in the region. Tensions increased between the two sides, nearly resulting in an armed conflict. Fortunately, the Teton chief Black Buffalo intervened and brought things back to a more diplomatic level.

Sioux Woman with Papoose
Sioux Woman with Papoose

Over the following three days, the Tetons hosted the Corps, though the expedition kept its keelboat anchored almost a mile away. During the Corps’ stay, Clark made detailed notes of Teton culture. In his journal, the Tetons are described as thin, small and generally ill-looking. Teton men wore hawk feathers about their heads and robes over their bodies, while women dressed in buffalo skins and robes. During the expedition’s stay, the Tetons held a number of celebrations – scalp dances – of a recent war victory over the rival Omahas.

A number of confrontations between the Tetons and the expedition brought the Americans visit to an end. No one in the Corps of Discovery spoke Sioux, and the inability of the two groups to communicate effectively played a significant part in several misunderstandings. After another argument between the Tetons and the expedition nearly escalated into fighting, Lewis and Clark continued upriver.


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