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Subduing the Sioux would eventually open up Dakota

Posted in America, Farming, Geography, Historical articles, History, Uncategorized on Tuesday, 8 October 2013

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This edited article about the United States of America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 419 published on 24 January 1970.

Calamity Jane, picture, image, illustration

Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock are buried in Deadwood, South Dakota's most famous mining town

On 14th May, 1804, Lewis, aged 29, and Clark, aged 33, assembled their party and “hoisted Sail and Set out in high Spirits for the Western Expedition.”

The two men, old friends and army comrades, had been given leadership of the expedition by President Jefferson, for whom Lewis had earlier worked as private secretary. Even before the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson had been making preparations for such a mission, and in Lewis and Clark he picked the right men to lead it.

From the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, they made the difficult trip up the Missouri, and reached a point near what is now Bismarck, where they spent the winter among the Mandan Indians. Unlike later travellers, they befriended Indians, many of whom had never seen white men before, and they had only minor troubles with them.

Amazingly, of the 32 people who set out from the winter quarters in the spring, 1805, all returned safely. The only casualty of the whole expedition was a soldier who had died earlier of appendicitis.

It was at the winter quarters that Sacajawea, a young Shoshone Indian girl, and her French-Canadian husband, joined Lewis and Clark. An invaluable asset to the expedition, she helped to guide it, and interpreted for it when Lewis and Clark reached her Rocky Mountain homeland.

Only about 18 years of age, Sacajawea, whose name means “bird woman”, carried a baby thousands of miles on her back throughout the long trek – a fact, among others, that did not go unappreciated by later Americans. There are more statues of her than of any other American woman!

Undoubtedly, the greatest moment of the expedition was its arrival at the Pacific, when it reached the mouth of the Columbia River on 7th November, 1805. After that there followed a cold, wet winter at Fort Clatsop, which was built by the expedition before it set out again. On the way home, Lewis and Clark split up to explore the area more fully. Afterwards they rejoined each other, and arrived back near St. Louis in September, 1806, with a wealth of new knowledge, many maps and a great deal of scientific information. Sacajawea stayed in the West with her husband.

The first recorded account of North Dakota was in 1738, when the territory was visited by a French explorer. France vied with Spain for possession of the area, but, if anything, it belonged to the Indians. This was the territory of famous tribes like the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Cree, some of whom can still be found there.

However, it was the familiar story. When the area became American with the Louisiana Purchase, Indian rights were gradually eroded. Trading posts were soon established, and Fort Union, built in 1829, became the largest post in the West. Though the Sioux rose against the Americans in 1862, they were defeated, and this led to white settlement beginning in earnest. It proved slow at first, because the Indians were continually taking to the warpath to save their lands, but from the 1880s, when the wars had almost ceased, a flood of settlers poured in. It became a state in 1889, and apart from a setback in the 1930s, due to droughts and the fall in grain prices, North Dakota has prospered since.

Nicknamed the Flickertail State, because of the number of these lively ground squirrels found there, North Dakota gets its actual name from a Sioux word meaning “allied tribes”. Covering 70,665 sq. miles, with its capital at Bismarck and its largest city at Fargo, it is a land of vast plains and rolling hills. In the West the country is broken up dramatically by the strange, colourful rock formations known as the Badlands. Cattle are raised in the state, but because of its very fertile soil much of the area is farming country with endless fields of wheat and barley. There are a few industries including coal, petroleum and the making of farm machinery.

South Dakota also became a state in 1889, when Dakota Territory was divided in two. Like its neighbour, it is prairie country, though it, too, has its Badlands, which have been described as “Hell with the fires burned out”!

The early history of the state was much like North Dakota’s – with one great difference. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, and the Black Hills were the sacred lands of the Sioux, many of whom now live on reservations in the state.

In the old days, there was bitter, violent war. Miners invaded the area, and the climax of the events which followed was General Custer’s “Last Stand” at the Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. However, even though it was an Indian victory, their day was done. The 1880s saw white settlers pouring in, and this led to the last Indian outbreak in the winter of 1890-1, which was put down harshly.

Most famous of South Dakota’s mining towns was Deadwood, now a tourist attraction, where Calamity Jane lived for a time, and where the legendary Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back by Jack McCall in 1876.

Nicknamed the Sunshine State, which is self-explanatory, South Dakota covers 77,047 sq. miles, and has adopted Pierre as its capital, while its largest city is Sioux Falls. Apart from large-scale farming, South Dakota has gold, silver and gypsum mines, and timber and meat-packing industries.

Nebraska is not quite as famous as its northern neighbours, though its history was similar. The main difference was that although it had its share of military posts, badmen and Indian problems, it was spared any really major Indian wars.

Known as the Cornhusker State, because of the importance of corn to its people, it became a state in 1867, and it took its actual name of Nebraska from an Indian word meaning “flat water”.

Covering 77,227 sq. miles, it stretches from prairies in the east, through the Great Plains to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Largely farming and cattle country, with a few mineral resources, its capital is Lincoln; its largest city is Omaha, an important livestock and meat-packing centre.

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