Smithsonian Institution Logo Gavins Point Dam—Lewis & Clark Lake
Geology, Paleontology, Archeology, History
NPS Logo


In the late summer of 1804, the joint commanders of the great exploring expedition to the Northwest had brought their men into the middle reaches of the Missouri Valley. The trip had been arduous and dangerous—sailing, paddling, and towing against a swift current in an uncertain and treacherous river. The course, often found only by frustrating trial-and-error, threaded through tortuous channels constantly threatened by hidden obstructions and unpredictable sandbars. Early on the morning of August 28, the party left its overnight campsite near the mouth of the Riviere aux Jacques (the modern James River) and moved upstream toward what was to become the city of Yankton. Unfortunately, before reaching their goal, one of the expedition canoes was pierced by a snag, and in near-sinking condition was brought to shore for repair. Camp was made opposite and slightly below Yankton, and here the party remained through the 31st. Late in the afternoon of the 29th, Sgt. Pryor and the interpreter, the elder Dorion, who had been sent on the previous day to invite the principal Indian chiefs of the region to a council, arrived opposite the camp with five chiefs of the Yankton Sioux and a large group of their men. The next day, a grand council was held a short distance upstream near the landmark of Calumet Bluff, which is now the site of the Gavins Point Powerhouse. Here, after two days of conference and ceremony, the assembled Indians promised to seek peace with their enemies, the Oto and Missouri, and agreed to send a delegation to Washington City the following year. Again the interpreter Dorion was called upon for diplomatic duties, this time to accompany the Yankton chiefs to the White Man's East.

The council having been concluded, the expedition proceeded upriver, covering some sixteen miles before coming to camp on the evening of September 1st. The site chosen lay near the lower point of Bon Homme Island, today part of the southern or Nebraska mainland.

The following morning, September 2nd, the men passed the head of Bon Homme Island, but after traveling only about four miles, violent winds forced them to shore. Camp was established "under a Yellow Clay Bluff 110 feet high". Recent shifts in the river channel make the exact location dubious. On the 3rd, the expedition set out at sunrise, proceeded to the mouth of Emanuel Creek, where solar observations were made, and camped some five miles beyond. During the day they saw "a great many Beaver Sign & Cabbins on (the river)...." On the 4th of September, after investigating the lower Niobrara River, the Lewis and Clark party passed beyond the extent of the reservoir.

Late in the summer of 1806, on the return trip from the Pacific to St. Louis, the explorers again passed through the area. This time, with the swift current of the Missouri speeding them on, the passage was a brief one, and they moved rapidly beyond the range of our story.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008