Fort Mandan

Washburn, North Dakota

FM - Sign

 

Fort Manda

 November 3, 1804: “We commence building our cabins.”

From: The Journal of William Clark

 

Led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark the Corps of Discovery traveled up the Missouri River from St. Louis for nearly six months. Realizing they needed a place to spend the approaching winter they stopped along the river near present day Washburn, North Dakota.

 

Groves of cottonwoods provided the wood needed for constructing the triangular fort. Bunk rooms, store rooms and work rooms face inward with 16-foot picket exterior. In just three weeks Corps members were moving into the primitive structure, hurrying to finish the roofs before the worst weather arrived. More than 40 men were to spend the harsh winter in tight quarters at Fort Mandan until early April.

 

FM - Bunks 

November 20, 1804: “Capt Lewis & my Self move into our huts, a very hard wind from the W.”

From: the Journal of William Clark

 

FM - L&C Quarters

 

During those months the men hunted bison, established relationships with native tribes, and prepared for the journey westward towards the Rocky Mountains. Trading goods for food with the Mandan Indians living nearby was essential to winter survival. In late February men were assigned the task of carving four dugout canoes; they finished in 22 days.

February 28, 1805: “Sent out 16 men to make four Perogus  those men returned in the evening and informed that they found trees they thought would answer.”

From: the Journal of William Clark

 

Lewis and Clark compiled their observations, notes and specimens to be sent back to President Jefferson in the spring. It was here that Lewis and Clark hired fur-trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. When the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan in April 1805 Charbonneau, his wife Sacagawea and infant son Jean Baptiste served as interpreters and guides.

 

November 4, 1804: “a french man by Name Chabonah, who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars were Snake Indians, we engau him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpret the Snake language”

From: the Journal of William Clark

 

FM - Woodworking FM - Candle

 

When the Corps returned on their homeward journey in 1806 they found that the fort had burnt to the ground.

 

The Missouri River has changed course over two centuries, it is believed the original site of the fort is now underwater. Nearby a replica fort has been constructed, furnished much as it would have been during the 1804-05 winter.

 

Interpreters give guided tours; during our visit our guide was very knowledgable, bringing time at the fort come to life with fascinating details. He noted that several of the doors are hung incorrectly – they swing outward which would have made it impossible to open after the heavy snowfalls. As today’s temperature hovered near 100 degrees it stretched our imagination to feel the -45 degrees the Corps suffered. Many of the men experienced frostbite but all survived.

April 7, 1805: “Sunday, at 4 oClock …we Sout out on our voyage up the river in 2 perigues and 6 canoes, and proceded on to the 1st villg. of Mandans & Camped on the S.”

From: the Journal of William Clark

 

 

FM - Guide FM - Kids

 

A large hands-on activity area in the visitor center attracts youngsters to try on outfits, don hats and climb into a replica dugout canoe.

 

When You Go: Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota (38 miles north of Bismarck), 877-462-8535, www.fortmandan.com.

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