Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Ambrose, Stephen E.

Touchstone, 1996

pp. 156 - 158

The Lewis and Clark expedition to explore and discover a route through the West to the Pacific had to adopt a policy for meeting various Indian tribes along the way. The Indians were used to trapping, fishing, and hunting the rich West without challenge from any strange white visitors—except for Spanish and French traders. But here came these visitors from the East who didn’t want to trade, but wanted to explore. How would they explain their presence to the curious and doubtful Indians? Here’s how Lewis addressed the Oto tribe at a place near present-day Council Bluffs, IA: “’Children,’ he said, ‘we have been sent by the great Chief of the Seventeen great nations of America to inform you, etc.’” that the great Chief recently met with the French and Spanish with the result that this whole area now belongs to the United States so that all of us, white and red “’are bound to obey the commands of the great Chief, the President who is now your only great father.’” He will protect you, receive your requests for favors, and serve you. What must you do in return? You must walk the road to happiness which your great father is pointing out. And what is that great road? Do not obstruct our passage. Make peace with your neighbors. “Avoid the counsel of bad men.” Do not incur the displeasure of your great father, “who could consume you as fire consumes the grass of the plains.”

“Do as we say,” in other words, or no white man will ever trade with you again—i.e. no more whiskey, guns, gunpowder, and trinkets, for your furs. When he was finished Lewis had his captains distribute gifts, which weren’t much: “a breech clout, a bit of paint, and a small medal with the new father’s likeness on it.” The chiefs of the Otos requested gun powder and whiskey, which Lewis provided.