Lewis & Clark: A Canadian Perspective
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Art. I. Lewis & Clark : A Canadian Perspective, by A. Gottfred.


The Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804-1806 is justly famous as a great American voyage of exploration. Surprisingly, however, there were some important connections between the Lewis & Clark expedition and the Canadians of that time. The expedition had several 'Canadian' members, who provided specialized skills. Fur traders from the North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company provided important geographical information which was used by the expedition to draw up maps and plan the expedition's route. Finally, the expedition had some significant political effects on the Canadian fur traders.


The purpose of the Lewis & Clark expedition was to find out more about the immense tract of land known as the Louisiana Purchase, which the United States bought from France in 1803.

Actually, that is a bit of a simplification. At the beginning of 1803, the western border of the United States of America was the east bank of the Mississippi River. In January 1803, President Thomas Jefferson secretly proposed to Congress that the United States send an exploring expedition up the Missouri River, a western tributary of the Mississippi. Congress agreed, and authorized $2,500 to fund the expedition. The proposed expedition would pass through territory which, at that time, was owned by the French and occupied by the Spanish, but Jefferson felt that there would be no difficulty getting permission for the expedition from Spanish officials (Lewis & Clark (L&C) 1:xxn).

At the same time, American representatives in France were engaged in serious negotiations ; they wished to purchase New Orleans and the west bank of the Mississippi from France. To their surprise, in April 1803, France suddenly offered to sell the USA all of Louisiana, a vast tract of land which extended roughly from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The Americans accepted, and by December of 1803, the sale was finalized. The planned exploring expedition took on new significance.

Captain Meriwether Lewis (Jefferson's personal secretary) and Captain William Clark were put in command of forty-three soldiers who made up the Corps of Discovery. They planned to start from St. Louis and travel up the Missouri River by boat to the Mandan villages (near Mandan, North Dakota). There, sixteen of the men would be sent back and the remainder would winter with the Mandan Indians. In the spring, they would carry on up the Missouri. After portaging around the Great Falls of the Missouri, they intended to travel to the Missouri's source, which was thought to be in the Rocky Mountains. Somewhere along their travels, they hoped to find a Native to guide them through the Rockies and on to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition would return after wintering at the mouth of the Columbia River. The goal of this ambitious journey was to gather valuable information about the land and Native people in the United States' new possessions to the west of the Mississippi.

When Lewis & Clark left St. Louis, they soon entered unfamiliar territory. The westernmost European settlement they passed through was the French hamlet of La Charette, on the Missouri at about 91° west longitude. To the north, in British territory, the situation was quite different. In 1793, Alexander Mackenzie and his voyageurs became the first Europeans to reach the Pacific by an overland route. Their voyage began at Fort Fork (near today's city of Peace River, Alberta), at 117° W; this was at least 1600 kilometers west of La Charette. By 1804, the North West Company's Rocky Mountain House & the Hudson's Bay Company's Acton House (both near 115° W, near today's Rocky Mountain House, Alberta) had been operating in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for almost five years, supported by a string of fur posts extending east to Hudson's Bay and Montreal. In 1804, Peter Fidler of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was exploring and mapping the area east of the Rockies, and David Thompson of the North West Company (NWC) was searching for a practical trade route through the mountains to the Pacific.

The part of Lewis & Clark's proposed route for which they had the least information, the leg from the Mandan villages to the Pacific, passed a relatively small distance south of the Saskatchewan River and Assiniboine River, both of which were major travel & trade corridors for the NWC and HBC. Both companies also were actively trading along the upper Missouri River. The Corps of Discovery and the British fur traders were bound to meet.

Canadians Travelling with the Corps of Discovery

The journals of the Lewis & Clark expedition describe several members of the expedition as 'Canadians'. Although all the men of the expedition had to enlist in the United States army, the Canadians were sometimes referred to as engagés, since they were enlisted (engaged) solely for the duration of the expedition, and would be discharged from the army after its return. Most of them had special skills that the expedition could not obtain any other way.

Private Pierre Cruzatte

Pierre 'Cruzatte' (Croisette?) is described by the official records of the journey as a French Canadian, and was with the expedition from beginning to end (L&C 1:254n). He was its 'principal waterman' throughout the journey, piloting canoes and keelboats the breadth of the continent and back (L&C 2:681). Like Canadian voyageurs, he seems to have been fond of dog meat ; he bought a dog to eat when the expedition was wintering near the Pacific ocean in 1806 (L&C 2:809). Cruzatte was also a fiddler, and took his violin with him to the Pacific and back. He often played the fiddle so that the other men on the expedition could dance, sometimes for exercise and sometimes to amuse the Natives (L&C 2:667). He was effectively blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, which explains how he accidentally shot Captain Lewis while hunting. Fortunately, this was closer to the end of the expedition rather than its beginning! Despite this near-tragic accident, Clark described him as an 'attentive and industerous man and one whome we both have placed the greatest confidence in during the whole rout[e]' (L&C 3:1176n).

Private George Drewyer

George Drewyer was also with the expedition from the beginning. (His real name was probably Georges Drouillard (L&C 1:256n-257n).) He was hired to serve as a hunter and interpreter (L&C 1:2). Lewis and Clark's journal describes him as 'the offspring of a Canadian Frenchman and an Indian woman [who] has passed his life in the woods.' He was best hunter on the expedition ; several entries in Lewis & Clark's journal praise his hunting skill (L&C 2:754, 3:935). He also trapped beaver along the way (L&C 2:801). In 1807, after the expedition had ended, he helped establish a fur post on the upper Yellowstone River (Russell, 7, 51-53, 152).

Private François Labiche

François Labiche was also with expedition from the beginning (L&C 1:2). He served the expedition as a 'waterman', and his name and role suggest he was French or Canadian He seems to have been a thoroughly useful member of the expedition : Lewis noted that 'he has rendered me very essential services as a French and English interpreter, and sometimes also as an Indian interpreter' ; he was also a good hunter (L&C 1:255n, 3:1144). This may be why he was chosen to be part of the advance party to the Pacific Ocean (L&C 2:712n).

Pierre Dorion

As they were going up the Missouri River to the Mandan villages, the expedition met Pierre Dorion and his son. They were travelling down to St. Louis on a raft loaded with furs and buffalo tallow. Dorion had twenty years of experience with the Sioux, so Lewis & Clark asked him to accompany the expedition. He served as an interpreter at the Mandan villages, and apparently did not go with the expedition any further. His son, Pierre Dorion Jr., was killed by Indians about 1813 (L&C 1:21, 21n, 204; Henry 2:886n-887n).

Private Jean-Baptiste Lepage

Jean-Baptiste Lepage is described in the expedition journal as a 'Canadian Frenchman' who had travelled with the Cheyennes, and had valuable geographical knowledge of the Black Hills and Little Missouri River area (L&C 1:189). The journals do not explain how he came to meet up with the expedition, but he was not part of it in the summer of 1804. He was enlisted as a private at Fort Mandan (the expedition's winter quarters at the Mandan villages) on November 3, 1804, to replace John Newman, who deserted. He went all the way to the Pacific and back (L&C 1:255n).

Private Toussaint Charbonneau

The expedition met Toussaint Charbonneau ('Chabono', 'Shabono') sometime after they arrived at the Mandan villages. Charbonneau sometimes served as an interpreter for the expedition at the Mandan villages (L&C 1:213n, 224-5, 229n, 232). The Lewis & Clark journals do not give any information about Charbonneau's background, but Elliott Coues states that Charbonneau had worked for the North West Company (NWC) , and spent the winter of 1793-1794 at the NWC's Pine Fort on the Assiniboine River (Henry, 50n). Charbonneau certainly seems to have been well-known to the NWC ; wintering partner Charles Chaboillez sent Charbonneau some clothing, NWC interpreter Lafrance claimed that Charbonneau owed him a horse, and Charbonneau took three horses from François Larocque, a NWC clerk. When the expedition was returning down the Missouri, he was discharged when they neared the Mandan villages ; 'he was offered conveyance to the Illinois if he chose to go. He declined...observing that he had no acquaintance or prospects of making a living below...' He was reportedly given the expedition's blacksmithing tools (Russell, 361, citing Patrick Gass' journal). After the expedition had ended, Lewis described him as 'A man of no peculiar merit. Was usefull as an interpreter only...' (L&C 1:190n). In fact, there were many times when Charbonneau was distinctly unhelpful. His greatest contribution to the expedition was probably his young wife, Sacajawea.


Sacajawea was the younger of Charbonneau's two wives. In the expedition journal, she is described as one of 'two squaws, prisoners of the Rock [Rocky] mountains, purchased by Chaboneau' (L&C 1:192). Later, as the expedition leaves the Mandan villages, the expedition journal notes that '...we hope [Sacajawea] may be useful as an interpreter among the Snake Indians. She was herself one of that tribe, but having been taken in war by the Minnetarees, she was sold as a slave to Chaboneau, who brought her up and afterward married her' (L&C 1:256-257). As it turned out, Sacajawea's contribution was vital ; without her help, it could have been very difficult to trade with the Snakes for the horses needed to cross the Rocky Mountains. She also was helpful as a guide on a few occasions.

There is a slim chance that Sacajawea or one of her parents was born in Alberta. The Snake Indians are also known as the Shoshone people, and the term 'Minnetaree' in the Lewis & Clark journals is used for both the Hidatsa and the Atsina people. The Atsina were also known as the 'Minnetaree of the North,' Fall, Rapid, or Gros Ventre Indians (Macdonald, 35). The Shoshone and Blackfoot were at war from the 1730's onward (the Gros Ventre were allied to the Blackfoot.) During that time, Shoshone territory included a substantial part of southern Alberta. As late as 1781, Shoshone camps extended into the Red Deer River valley in central Alberta. Then the Shoshone were struck by a double tragedy : smallpox, and the acquisition of firearms by the Blackfoot. By 1800, the Blackfoot had driven the Shoshone south of the Missouri River (Ewers, 21-22, 28-30). The site at which Sacajawea was captured was near the Three Forks of the Missouri River, right on the border between the Shoshone and Blackfoot Indians (L&C 2:448). Had her band perhaps roamed further north not many years before? If so, it is possible that Sacajawea or one of her parents was born within the modern borders of Canada. But this is far from being proven!

Were They Canadian?

There is evidence that members of the Lewis & Clark expedition were considered Canadians in 1804 ; however, it is very unclear whether any of them would be considered Canadians today. The difficulty lies in the fact that in 1804 the term 'Canadian' was apparently used for any French-speaking North American, whether from Quebec, New Orleans, or the Great Lakes. The 'Canadian Frenchmen' engaged by Lewis & Clark were all widely travelled, and it would be quite a challenge to find out where they originally hailed from.

There is, however, another group whose Canadian-ness and influence on the Lewis and Clark expedition was strong and indisputable : the fur traders based in what is today Western Canada.

Meeting at the Mandan Crossroads

When the Corps of Discovery arrived at the Mandan villages, they entered the trading area of two fur trade rivals : the Montreal-based North West Company and the London-based Hudson's Bay Company. Throughout the winter at Fort Mandan, Lewis & Clark had a steady stream of European visitors from the fur posts to the north.

The Old Mandan Hands : McCracken & Jussaume

Hugh McCracken and René Jussaume were the fur traders most familiar with the Mandan villages, so it should not be surprising that they were the first Canadian fur traders to meet the expedition as they arrived.

On October 26, 1804, Hugh McCracken met the expedition as it neared the villages. Five days later, he left the villages for the NWC's Fort Montagne à la Bosse fur post on the Assiniboine River, carrying a letter from the two expedition leaders to NWC wintering partner Charles Chaboillez.

McCracken, an ex-artilleryman, was already a frequent and longtime visitor to the Mandan villages by the winter of 1797-98, when he and René Jussaume guided the NWC's David Thompson to the Mandans. He seems to have been a pleasant travelling companion : David Thompson called him a 'good-hearted Irishman' (Thompson, 160). In July 1806, McCracken guided NWC partner Alexander Henry the Younger to the Mandan villages (Henry 1:304). Henry's party narrowly missed meeting Lewis & Clark ; Henry left the Mandan villages just a fortnight before the expedition returned there from their successful voyage to the Pacific (Henry 1:405; Lewis & Clark 3:1177). It is unclear whether McCracken worked for the North West Company or was a freeman (independent trader).

The expedition met René Jussaume (Jussome) when they arrived at the Mandan villages. He lived at Fort Mandan and interpreted for Lewis and Clark (L&C 1:202). Jussaume helped Sacajawea during her labour by giving her a treatment of crushed rattlesnake rattle (L&C 1:180, 189, 232). He accompanied the expedition on their homeward leg, from the Mandan villages to St. Louis, so that he could go to Washington with Mandan chief Gros Blanc and interpret for him (Henry I:333; Lewis & Clark 3:1184n).

Jussaume had been living and trading with the Mandans as a freeman since about 1790 (Thompson, 160; Henry 1:302n). He helped establish a NWC fur post to the Mandans, which operated from 1794 to 1796 (Gates, 112, 113n). In 1797, he went with David Thompson to the Mandan villages as a guide & interpreter (Thompson, 160). Unlike McCracken, Jessaume seems to have been a bit of a scoundrel. In 1806, Jussaume served as an interpreter during Nor'wester Alexander Henry the Younger's visit to the Mandans. Henry called him 'that old sneaking cheat Monsr. Jussaume, whose character is more despicable than the worst among the natives' (Henry 1:401). He felt that Jessaume and some of his friends were trying to steal goods from Henry's party.

The Nor'westers

Senior North West Company partner Charles Chaboillez was in charge of the Assiniboine district; every Nor'wester that Lewis & Clark met was under his control. Shortly after Lewis & Clark arrived at the Mandan villages, they sent Chaboillez a letter explaining the purpose of their expedition and inviting him to visit them ; Chaboillez declined the invitation but offered to help the expedition in any way possible. Although the expedition was running a bit low on trade goods and provisions, and the captains had a letter of credit with which to pay, they did not take up Chaboillez' offer ; national pride seems to have kept them from obtaining goods from the British fur traders.

A party of seven Nor'westers arrived at Fort Mandan on November 27, 1804 : François Antoine Larocque, Jean Baptiste Lafrance, Charles McKenzie, William Morrison, J. B. Turenne, Alexis McKay, and Joseph Azure. Lewis & Clark heard that Lafrance had 'undertaken to circulate among the Indians unfavorable reports' about the expedition, and ordered them to cease and desist or suffer the consequences (L&C 1:203). They also warned Larocque not to give medals or flags to the Indians. Lewis & Clark were giving out flags and medals, as tokens of their country's esteem for the recipients, and the expedition leaders seem to have felt that the Nor'westers were acting on behalf of the British government. In fact, the fur traders' distribution of flags to leading Native traders was a well-established trade practice, and medals were sometimes used by the NWC to reward 'really deserving' Natives.

In March 1805, the expedition leaders suspected that 'British traders' (probably Nor'westers) were behind Charbonneau's sudden reluctance to go to Pacific 'except on certain terms— such as his not being subject to our orders, and his doing his duty or returning whenever he chose' (L&C 1:246).

In general, however, relations between the Nor'westers and the expedition seem to have been fairly good. Lewis & Clark loaned one of their Mandan-language interpreters to Larocque and McKenzie on the understanding that it would be strictly for business interpretation. Larocque and McKenzie were also frequent vistors to Fort Mandan throughout the winter of 1804-1805, often staying overnight (L&C 1:226, 228, 232, 235, 238, 240, 245, 248).

Jean Baptiste Lafrance

In 1804, Jean Baptiste Lafrance was a NWC clerk and interpreter (Henry 1:301n). He worked for the North West Company from 1793 to 1804, but by the time the Corps of Discovery returned to the Mandan villages, in August 1806, he was working for the rival Hudson's Bay Company (Henry 1:329).

François Antoine Larocque

On January 30, 1805, Francois Antoine Larocque visited Fort Mandan and asked to travel with the Corps of Discovery. He was anxious to join them, but Lewis & Clark turned him down (L&C 1:228). In March, 1805, Larocque and the rest of the Nor'westers returned north to their fur post. Larocque was still going to go west, however. On June 2, Larocque, McKenzie, Lafrance, and two voyageurs left Fort Assiniboine for the Mandan villages. There Larocque met some Crow Indians, and went with them to a point near the junction of the Yellowstone and Big Horn rivers. He was back at Fort Assiniboine by November 18, 1805 (Russell, 152; Henry, 301n). He spent the summer of 1806 in charge of Fort Assiniboine (Henry, 301).

Charles McKenzie

Charles McKenzie joined the NWC as an apprentice clerk in 1803, and was promoted to clerk in 1804 (Henry 1:345n). McKenzie was based in Fort Assiniboine, near today's Brandon, Manitoba (Henry 1:207n). Along with Larocque, he was a frequent visitor to Fort Mandan during the winter of 1804-1805. He returned to the Mandan villages in February 1806, and again in June. He was still there when Alexander Henry the Younger's party arrived in July 1806. Henry reproached McKenzie for wearing 'Indian costume' (Henry 1:345, 346n).

In 1806, as the Corps of Discovery returned to the Mandans, Clark heard that the Assiniboines had turned against the NWC, perhaps because they were trading with the Assiniboines' enemies, the Atsina ('Minnetarees'). The Assiniboines were blockading the Mandan villages to keep the NWC out, & were said to be planning to ambush Mckenzie and kill him when he left (L&C 3:1174). They were not successful, though : McKenzie continued in the fur trade for another forty years.

The Bay Men

The rival Hudson's Bay Company also had traders at the Mandan villages during the winter of 1804-1805, but information on the Bay men is less detailed. Charbonneau claimed that HBC men were circulating negative rumours about the expedition among the Turtle Mountain Minnetarees (L&C 1:225). The HBC's 'Mr. Henderson' visited Lewis & Clark at Fort Mandan on December 1, 1804. His post was eight days' journey almost straight north. (L&C 1:207).

Hugh Heney

Lewis & Clark also dealt with fur trader Hugh Heney. It is a little unclear which company Heney worked for at this time. In 1807, he was definitely employed by the HBC (Henry 1:424-426), but some passages in the expedition journals suggest strongly that Heney was working for the NWC during the winter of 1804-1805. For example, Heney carried a letter from Nor'wester Charles Chaboillez to Lewis & Clark at Fort Mandan. He gave the expedition leaders some information about the expedition's proposed route, and he favourably impressed the two expedition leaders, who wrote that 'From Mr. Haney, who is a very sensible, intelligent man, we obtained much geographical information with regard to the county between the Missouri and Mississippi, and the various tribes of Sioux who inhabit it' (L&C 1:212-213; Henry 1:424). Heney later sent some snakebite medicine to Lewis & Clark (L&C 1:238).

A further proof of the respect that the expedition leaders held for Heney came when, on the expedition's return from Pacific, Clark sent Sgt. Pryor and some men ahead with a letter to 'Mr. H: Heney' on the Assiniboine River (L&C 3:1145n). This letter requested Heney to persuade some Sioux chiefs to go to Washington. (L&C 3:1065). (Pryor didn't deliver the letter because his party's horses were stolen (L&C 3:1169-1170).)

The Maps

The information that Lewis gleaned from the fur traders during the winter of 1804-1805 is clearly reflected on the map that he sent to Jefferson in the spring of 1805, before the expedition continued up the Missouri. This map, A Map of part of the Continent of North America, was, according to its subtitle, 'compiled from the Authorities of the best informed travellers'. It shows the NWC, HBC, and XY Company posts along the Assiniboine River. Clark's 1814 Map of Lewis and Clark's Track, Across the Western Portion of North America also shows the route that the traders took from the Assiniboine River to the Mandan villages.

Before leaving St. Louis, Lewis & Clark had access to a variety of maps. These included the maps from Alexander Mackenzie's journal of his voyages to the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which was published in late 1801 (Newman, 67n). They also had Aaron Arrowsmith's Map Exhibiting all the New Discoveries in the Interior Parts of North America. This map included information gathered by Canadian trader-explorers David Thompson and Peter Fidler (L&C 2:357-358). Both these maps had a definite influence on the expedition.

Lewis, Clark, & Mr. Fidler at the Forks of the Missouri

The toughest navigational challenge of the Lewis & Clark expedition came when they reached the Forks of the Missouri. Native informants had told them about the Great Falls of the Missouri, but had neglected to inform them that there was a major fork in the river below the Great Falls. So the expedition was shocked when they arrived at the fork of the Marias River and Missouri River (about 75 km below Great Falls, Montana) and found two rivers of roughly equal size (L&C 1:345). To determine which river was the 'true' Missouri, and would lead them to a pass over the Rocky Mountains, Lewis & Clark took a number of factors into account : the size and flow rate of the rivers, the colour of the water from them, and Native information about what the Missouri was like at the Great Falls. They also consulted Arrowsmith's map, paying particular attention to 'Mr. Fidler's discoveries' (L&C 2:357-358).

'Mr. Fidler' was HBC trader-explorer Peter Fidler. In 1792, Fidler traveled into southern Alberta with a party of Peigans. They went as far west as the Porcupine Hills, and south to the Oldman River ; Fidler used dead reckoning and celestial navigation to plot his course (Haig, 43-44). His most southerly position was somewhere along the Oldman between Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod, Alberta. The information from Fidler's trip was forwarded to Arrowsmith for inclusion on his map of North America, and Lewis & Clark carefully scrutinized it for guidance when deciding which route to take. They knew that their choice of the south fork was correct when, after three days' travel, Lewis came to the first of the Great Falls of the Missouri.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

When Clark arrived at last at the Pacific Ocean, he found that Lewis, whose party had preceded his, had marked his name on a tree. Clark wrote in his journal, 'I also engraved my name, & by land [i.e. the words 'by land'] the day of the month and the year, as also [did] several of the men.' (L&C 2:712n). This inscription ('William Clark, by land, Nov. 18, 1805') is strikingly similar to Alexander Mackenzie's grease-and-vermilion painting on a rock by the Pacific Ocean in 1793 : 'Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three' (Mackenzie, 378). Was this a coincidence or a tribute from one explorer to another? As mentioned earlier, Lewis & Clark had read Mackenzie's published journal, and so they may have been following his example.

Who Was Trading with the Peigans?

In July 1806, when returning from Pacific, the expedition split up for a while. Lewis' party met a Peigan band on Two Medicine Lodge Creek. They said that they traded on the Saskatchewan River, six days' easy travel away (L&C 3:1100). The obvious candidates for the trading post used by the Peigan are the NWC's Rocky Mountain House and HBC's nearby Acton House (on the North Saskatchewan River, just outside today's Rocky Mountain House, Alberta). These posts were closed in 1802, & replaced with smaller posts downstream, but Rocky Mountain House was reopened by the time Thompson arrived there in October 1806 (Dempsey, 12). If Rocky Mountain House was closed, then the Peigans would have gone to Boggy Hall or Muskeg Fort, on the North Saskatchewan River below Rocky Mountain House.

The Peigans told Lewis that there was a white man with another band, about a day and a half's travel away, 'on the main branch of Maria's River, near the foot of the Rocky Mountains' (L&C 3:1100). Who was it? Many well-known fur traders were trading and exploring in the Canadian Rockies around this time, but my preliminary research has ruled out David Thompson (Thompson, xci), Simon Fraser, Peter Fidler, Alexander Henry the Younger, and (probably) Jaco Finlay (Thompson, xci, 273n). This traveller would have been unusually far south, and is doubtless recorded in a journal somewhere; it is quite likely that he was a company trader or freeman travelling en derouine with the Peigan.

How Lewis' Party Helped Thompson

After meeting the Peigans, Lewis' party camped with them. The expedition leaders had been warned that the 'Minnetarees of the North' could be big trouble, so Lewis had men take turns standing guard that night. The next morning, while just the sentry was awake, the Peigans made a grab for the party's rifles. In the resulting melee, at least one Native man was killed. Lewis knew that this would lead to more trouble, and the party speedily left the area.

This incident led to some unexpected benefits for another explorer a few hundred kilometres to the north. In the fall of 1806, David Thompson was planning to cross the Rocky Mountains at Kootenay Plains and open up trade on the west side of the Rockies. The only problem was that the Peigans were sure to oppose him, as they rightly feared that Thompson and his men would sell guns to the Peigans' Kootenay foes. But, as Thompson writes in his memoirs, 'the murder of two Peagan Indians by Captain Lewis of the United States, drew the Peagans to the Mississouri to avenge their deaths; and thus gave me an opportunity to cross the Mountains' (Thompson, 273). This was Thompson's first successful crossing of the Rockies, and led to the 1807 establishment of Kootenay House, the first fur post on the Columbia River watershed.

Contributions of Canadian Traders

As mentioned earlier, Lewis & Clark obtained geographical information both directly and indirectly from North West Company and Hudson's Bay Company traders. The expedition journals also include a number of explicit references to other, less vital, information learned from the Canadian fur traders (e.g., Lewis & Clark 1:271, 274, 294, 2:493-4, 3:950). After the expedition returned, Lewis wrote his Essay on an Indian Policy, in which he acknowledges the help the expedition received from the British traders:

'...these people were actuated by the most friendly regard toward the interests of the United States, and at this moment made a common cause with us to induce the Indians to demean themselves in an orderly manner toward our governent, and to treat our traders of the Missouri with respect and friendship' (L&C 3:1223).

However, Lewis' feelings for the gentlemen of the NWC were tempered by his concerns about the effect of the company on American trade and sovereignty in Louisiana.

Effect of Lewis & Clark Expedition on NWC

Lewis' Essay on an Indian Policy has much more to say about the North West Company and the future of the fur trade in Louisiana. Here is Lewis' argument in a nutshell:

For years, the NWC traded at Prairie du Chien and along the Des Moines and Iowa rivers even though they knew that those areas belonged to the Spanish. Furthermore, they reportedly encouraged the Indians to rob Spanish traders. Now that the United States owned Louisiana, there was no reason to suppose that the NWC would treat the Americans any differently than they had treated the Spanish. The NWC were strong competitors, and American traders would not be able to compete with them successfully. British traders would not be likely to encourage Indians to respect the American government and submit to it ; furthermore, the NWC had a well-established track record of selling guns and ammunition to Indians. A number of recent events, most notably the merger of the XY Company with the NWC, suggested to Lewis that the NWC was likely to agressively expand their operations in the Mississippi and Missouri watersheds. He felt that 'future gain from the fur trade of that river was one of the principal causes of the union between those two great rivals in the fur trade of North America' (L&C 3:1226). (Today, historians feel that the two companies would have merged sooner, since the XY was actually composed mostly of former Nor'westers, but NWC head Simon McTavish's animosity to the XY prevented it ; the merger took place soon after McTavish's death.) Lewis felt strongly that the presence of the North West Company could not help but undermine the United States' attempt to bring the Indians under their control. For all these reasons, Lewis strongly recommended that the NWC should no longer be allowed to trade in the United States.


The Lewis & Clark expedition was a major achievement; the small but significant contribution of Canadians to this American success is one of the many interesting stories of North American history.


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Ewers, John C. The Blackfeet : Raiders on the Northwestern Plains. University of Oklahoma : Norman, Oklahoma, 1958. ISBN 0-8061-1836-9.

Fidler, Peter. A Southern Alberta Bicentennial : A Look at Peter Fidler's Journal. Bruce Haig, ed. Historical Research Centre : Lethbridge, Alberta, 1991. ISBN 0-921624-04-2.

Henry, Alexander (the Younger). New Light on the Early History of the Northwest : The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry... Elliot Coues (ed.) Reprint-Ross & Haines : Minneapolis, 1965. Originally published 1897.

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