Crossing the Indian Country, 1804 1806
What was Known? 1804 Mandan Winter Salish Rescue Nez Perce Refuge Chinook Country Columbia River Two Dead Blackfeet New Indian Experts


The New Indian Experts

When the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis in the fall of 1806, the explorers were immediately acknowledged as experts on the Indian country. Sergeant Gass’s frequently reprinted Journal (1807) and Nicholas Biddle’s History of the Expedition (1814) provided vivid descriptions of the territory, clarifying its size and identifying its major geographical features.

Their ideas and impressions about the region and its inhabitants were quickly codified and informed the next generation of westward travelers. Although certain aspects of Indian culture, such as the importance of gift giving, became central to future Indian-white relations, Native values and customs that the Corps had misunderstood, or disapproved of, were considered “backward” or “ludicrous.” Since Native voices were not included directly in the production of this new knowledge, it became increasingly difficult to convey to the American public the humanity and complex reality of Indian life.

The members of the Corps of Discovery made the most of their expert status, but after Lewis’s death in 1809 no one exceeded William Clark in stature or prominence. Initially appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Louisiana, Clark became Governor of Louisiana Territory in 1809. Those posts gave him authority over licensing fur traders in the West, negotiating treaties with tribal leaders, and mediating disputes between Native Americans and settlers.