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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Calumet Bluff

Location (approximate): Cedar County, on the south, or west, bank of the Missouri, just off Nebr. 121 about 1 mile west of the village of Aten, some 2 miles below Gavins Point Dam and a few miles upstream and across from Yankton, S. Dak.

At this campsite, where the expedition stayed during the period August 28-September 1, 1804, the first council was held with the Sioux, some friendly Yanktons, on August 30-31.

For some days before, Lewis and Clark had been expecting to meet the Sioux. On August 25, to no avail, the explorers had set fire to the prairie as a signal for the tribe to come to the river. Two days later, near the mouth of the James River, three Yanktons were encountered. They said their village was not far away, about 9 miles up the James. That same day, Sergeant Pryor, Old Dorion, and a French boatman set out to invite tribal representatives to a council.

The next day, August 28, awaiting their arrival, the boat party camped along the south bank of the Missouri on a plain just below Calumet Bluff. It was one of a series of bluffs, lining the river on both sides, that were generally higher on the south side. The bluff, 170 to 180 feet in height, was "composed of a yellowish red, and brownish clay as hard as chalk, which it much resembles."

Late the following day, Sergeant Pryor's group arrived on the opposite bank with five chiefs and 70 men and boys, as well as Old Dorion's son, who lived with the Yanktons. The next morning, they were brought across in one of the expedition's pirogues. The council, for which Old Dorion served as translator, began at noon and continued throughout that day and all the next. On September 1 the expedition departed. Old Dorion stayed behind to negotiate peace among tribes in the area and to try to persuade some of the Yankton chiefs to visit Washington, D.C.

On the return trip from the Pacific, on August 30, 1806, Lewis and Clark counciled warily with some Teton Sioux somewhere in the Calumet Bluff vicinity—the only dealings on the eastbound trek with that tribe, which had been hostile on the westbound journey.

The precise location of the Lewis and Clark camp near the land mark they called Calumet Bluff is impossible to ascertain and may even be inundated by the tail waters of the Gavins Point Dam and be in Knox County, but a careful study of the various sources indicates that it probably was about 1 mile west of Aten, in Cedar County. That area is typical Missouri River bottom land and is about 10 to 15 feet above the river below the bluff line. The privately owned site is cultivated.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004