After the purchase of the Louisiana from the French, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a team of explorers, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore the newly acquired territory. Lewis, Clark, and the rest of their team left in 1803, returned in 1805, and kept extensive records of their journey. Read the documents below to determine how the party interacted with the Native Americans they met.

Letter to Meriwether Lewis – Thomas Jefferson

Source: The passage below is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis on June 20, 1803. The letter gives detailed instructions on how Lewis and Clark should treat Native Americans.
  • To Meriwether Lewis esq. Capt. of the 1st regimt. of infantry of the U. S. of A.:
  • ....
  • In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey, satisfy them of its innocence, make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the U.S. of our wish to be neighborly, friendly & useful to them, & of our dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them; confer with them on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums, and the articles of most desireable interchange for them & us....
  • If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to call on our officers, on their entering the U.S to have them conveyed to this place at the public expense. If any of them should wish to have some of their young people brought up with us, & taught such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct & take care of them. Such a mission, whether of influential chiefs or of young people, would give some security to your own party. Carry with you some matter of the kinepox; inform those of them with whom you may be, of it'[s] efficacy as a preservative from the small-pox; & instruct & incourage them in the use of it. This may be especially done wherever you winter.
  • Th. Jefferson
  • Pr. U.S. of America


  1. How did Jefferson want Lewis and Clark to treat the Native Americans they meet?

Diary Entries of William Clark

Source: All the men on the journey kept diaries about their experiences. Below are two entries from William Clark’s diary. The first describes the ritual of the “Buffalo Dance” among the Mandan Indians. The second entry describes setting up camp near The Dalles Indians in present day Oregon.
  • January 5, 1805
  • A Buffalo Dance for
    nights passed in the 1st village, a curious custom the old men arrange themselves in a circle & after smoke[ing] a pipe which is handed them by a young man, dress[ed] up for the purpose, the young men who have their wives back of the circle go [each] to one of the old men with a whining tone and request the old man to take his wife (who presents [herself] naked except a robe) and -- the girl then takes the old man (who very often can scarcely walk) and leads him to a convenient place for the business, after which they return to the lodge; if the old man (or a white man) returns to the lodge without gratifying the Man & his wife, he offers her again and again; it is often the case that after the 2nd time without kissing the husband throws a new robe over the old man, etc. and begs him not to despise him & his wife (We sent a man to this Medecine Dance last night, they gave him
    girls) all this is to cause the buffalo to come near so that they may kill them.
  • November 21, 1805
  • Several Indians and squaws came this evening I believe for the purpose of gratifying the passions of our men, Those people appear to view sensuality as a necessary evil, and do not appear to abhor this as crime in the unmarried females....


  1. According to Clark, what happens at the Buffalo Dance?
  2. According to these diary entries, what is one way that Lewis and Clark’s men interacted with the Native American tribes they met?

Diary Entries on Sacagawea - William Clark

Source: Many people have heard the name of Sacagawea, the Native American woman who (with her husband and newborn baby) accompanied Lewis and Clark on their journey and served as a translator. Below are Clark’s diary entries about Sacagawea.
  • May 11, 1806
  • We were crowded in the lodge with Indians who continued all night and this morning great numbers were around us. The one eyed chief arrived and we gave him a medal of the small size and spoke to the Indians through a Snake boy Shabono and his wife. We informed them who we were, where we were came from & our intentions towards them, which pleased them very much.
  • August 17, 1806
  • We also took our leave of T. Charbono, his Snake Indian wife and their child who had accompanied us on our route to the pacific ocean in the capacity of interpreter and interpretess... I offered to take his little son a beautiful promising child who is
    19 ;mathrm{months}
    19 ;mathrm{months}
    old to which they both himself & wife were willing provided the child had been weaned. They observed that in one year the boy would be sufficiently old to leave his mother & he would then take him to me if I would be so friendly as to raise the child for him in such a manner as I thought proper, to which I agreed, etc.


  1. Based on these two passages, how would you describe the relationship between Sacagawea’s family and Lewis and Clark?