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[photo] Fort Union today
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, image 01-04-23a

The Corps of Discovery arrived at a "long wished for spot" (DeVoto 1997, 101) in the area of Fort Union, near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, in late April 1805. The men set up camp and "spent the evening with much hilarity, singing & dancing, and seemed as perfectly to forget their past toils, as they appeared regardless of those to come" (101). Exploration of the area on April 25 revealed:

. . . the whol face of the country was covered with herds of Buffaloe, Elk & Antelopes; deer are also abundant, but keep themselves more concealed in the woodland. the buffaloe Elk and Antelope are so gentle that we pass near them while feeding, without appearing to excite any alarm among them, and when we attract their attention, they frequently approach us more nearly to discover what we are . . . (DeVoto 1997, 99)

Confluence of the Missiouri and Yellowstone rivers
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, image DTC-2990

This area was also home to animals never before seen by an American citizen--the "white bear" and the bighorn, or Rocky Mountain, sheep. On April 14 Clark saw his first "white bear," a creature so dreaded by the Indians that they would only hunt them in groups of eight or 10 men. According to Lewis, before a hunting party set out in quest of a grizzly, the Indians performed "all those superstitious rights commonly observed when they are about to make war uppon a neighboring nation" (Jones 2000, 35). Even still the hunting parties often returned having lost one or more men.

On the return journey in 1806, Lewis and Clark split up and led divisions of the Corps on separate explorations of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. The confluence of the rivers was the meeting point for the two groups; however, Clark arrived first and moved downriver to escape the mosquitoes. While hunting nearby, Pierre Cruzatte, who apparently mistook his commanding officer for an elk, accidentally shot Lewis in the buttocks. Lewis spent much of the next few weeks traveling in a canoe, lying on his stomach.

John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company built Fort Union Trading Post in 1828. It became the headquarters for trading bison hides, beaver and other furs with the Assiniboian, Crow, Blackfeet, Cree, Ojibwa, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes.

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark, is administered by the National Park Service and located just off North Dakota State Hwy. 1804, 25 miles southwest of Williston, North Dakota and 24 miles northeast of Sidney Montana. The site is open from 8:00am to 8:00pm daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and from 9:00am to 5:30pm Labor Day through Memorial Day. Please call 701-572-9083, or visit the park's website for further information.

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