Published on May 23, 2013 by Amy
The northeastern section of present-day Montana and the adjoining areas of Canada were home to the Assiniboins, a tribe that once belonged to the Sioux nation. At the time of Lewis and Clark, these regions had been claimed by the British. As a result, the Assiniboins and the British had established a trading relationship. A tribe of hunters, the Assiniboins exchanged dried meat for British guns, brass kettles and cloth.
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But the British could not meet all of the Assiniboins’ trading needs. So each fall, taking their own goods and supplies obtained from the British, the Assiniboins headed south for the villages of the Mandans. The Mandan villages were a hub for trade in the Upper Missouri; Crow, Cheyenne, Cree, Assiniboin, and occasionally, Teton Sioux delegates arrived to exchange guns, buffalo hides and horses for Mandan corn.
In autumn 1804, the Assiniboins travelled to the Mandan villages and learned of the presence of the Corps of Discovery. The Mandan chief Black Cat arranged for a chief and several prominent men of the Assiniboins to meet with Lewis and Clark. Clark awarded the Assiniboin chief with some ribbons, and the meeting went on without incident.
During the next several days, however, a festival was held to iron out trade relations between the Mandans, Hidatsas, Crees and Assiniboins. The Assiniboin representatives mocked the Mandans’ developing friendship with the expedition. New trade between the Mandans and Americans, the Assiniboins threatened, could result in military retaliation. When the festival had ended, Black Cat told Lewis and Clark about the Assiniboin challenge. Clark noted in his journal on November 18, 1804, “The Ossiniboins &c. have the trade of those nations in their power and treat them badly, as the Soux does the Ricarees.”
When spring came in 1805, the Corps of Discovery departed Fort Mandan, heading west. Lewis and Clark were well aware of the Assiniboin bands that hunted the coming stretch of the Missouri, and were eager to avoid them. Throughout the month of April, the expedition found signs of the Assiniboins – tracks, empty camps and abandoned rafts – and constantly feared an encounter. But that encounter never came.