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HUNTING WITH SHEHEKE, 'White Coyote' And An Expedition Member Approach Ft. Mandan Winter 1804-1805

'If we eat, you shall eat. If we starve, you must starve also.' These are the words of hospitality that Sheheke, offered to the men of the Corps of Discovery early in the winter of 1804. He was to become one of the true friends that Lewis and Clark encountered on their trek west. One of the missions President Jefferson charged Meriwether Lewis with in the planning stages of the expedition was the recording and study of the various Indian tribes that the Corps expected to engage with along the way. Often these native people seem to have been viewed with a detached and scientific eye and were relegated to the status of mere ‘savages'. But occasionally a deeper chord was struck and the two leaders were able to establish a relationship with an individual on a more human and equal basis. Their friendship with Sheheke was one such relationship; one built on a foundation of respect and understanding that was strengthened by their frequent visits. As the diplomatic chief of Mitutanka, one of two Mandan villages and the closest to Ft. Mandan, one of Sheheke’s roles was to provide hospitality to these visitors while gauging their strength and keeping their mutual trade during the winter working to the Mandan’s advantage. The Mandan had long been the trade center of the Northern Plains and they were recognized as being highly skilled in the arts of commerce and diplomacy. The Corps was dependent on the food that the Mandan had to trade, their hunting prowess and the knowledge of the country west of the Mandan villages. All of these the Mandan willingly shared. The journals mention frequent hunting trips with the Mandan that winter. My painting depicts just that type of friendly outing. The Mandans legendary indifference to cold is exhibited in Shehekes choice of nothing more than a buffalo robe for his upper garment. That, and a pair of leggings and moccasins were typical of a warrior’s clothing. Sheheke’s are decorated with both quillwork and trade beads in traditional Mandan patterns. His moccasins are trimmed in red trade cloth and fox fur and fox tails dangle from the heels. His quiver is panther skin. Though Mandan men often spent hours dressing and painting themselves, I’ve chosen to show Sheheke in a more informal, utilitarian style of dress that may have been more typical for hunting. Sheheke’s companion is wearing one of the few watch coats that were brought on the expedition. Made of trade blankets, they were the warmest garments issued by the U.S. Army at the time. His fur trimmed Canadian cap was made during the long hours spent indoors at the fort. He’s armed with a 1792 contract rifle, the most accurate official weapon brought along on the expedition. His moccasins might have been stuffed with dried moss or lined with fur to ward off the bitter cold. As the two men work their horses down the bluffs towards Fort Mandan from the plains above, their thoughts may have been on the warmth of the fires and friendship that the Mandan and Americans forged at the fort and the villages during that long winter of 1804-1805.

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