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[photo] On August 25, 1804, Lewis and Clark climbed Spirit Mound
Photo courtesy of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site

On August 25, 1804, Lewis and Clark, along with several of their men and Lewis's dog Seaman, walked nine miles to Spirit Mound from their camp on the south bank of the Missouri River near the mouth of White Stone Creek in South Dakota. The explorers were determined to see the mound that was so feared by the Indians of the area. In his journal Clark explained the legend of Spirit Mound:

. . . and by the different nations of Indians in this quarter is Suppose to be the residence of Deavels. That they are in human form with remarkable large heads, and about 18 inches high, that they are very watchful and are arm'd with Sharp arrows with which they Can Kill at a great distance; they are Said to kill all persons who are So hardy as to attempt to approach the hill; they state that tradition informs them that many Indians have Suffered by these little people.So much do the Maha [Omaha], Soues [Sioux], Ottoes [Otoes] and other neighboring nations believe this fable, that no Consideration is Sufficient to induce them to approach the hill. One evidence which the Inds give for believing this place to be the residence of some unusial Spirits is that they frequently discover a large assemblage of Birds about this mound . . . (DeVoto 1997, 22)

"Lewis and Clark's Spirit Mound," an artist's rendering
Image courtesy of painter Ron Backer www.lewisandclarkhappenings.com

The intense heat fatigued everyone, especially Seaman who was sent back to the river to rest. Finally, Lewis and Clark reached the top of Spirit Mound where they "beheld a most beautiful landscape; Numerous herds of buffalo were seen feeding in various direction; the Plain to the North N.W. and N.E. extends without interruption as far as can be seen" (DeVoto 1997, 24).

Today, Spirit Mound is one of the few remaining physical features on the Upper Missouri River that is readily identifiable as a place Lewis and Clark visited and recorded.

Spirit Mound is located approximately six miles north of Vermillion, South Dakota on Hwy. 19. A state park, Spirit Mound Historic Prairie, was recently established, and the landscape is being restored. An interpretive sign is located at the I-29 Information Center near Junction City, and a small parking lot and day use area will be established by 2004 at the NW corner of the intersection of State Hwy. 19 and 312th St. For more information, visit the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie website or call 605-987-2263.

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