Lewis and Clark’s winter camp in Washburn, North Dakota

Lewis and Clark
Greeting visitors to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center are Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Mandan Chief Sheheke.

What do you do when there are a few inches of snow on the ground? Break out the snow blower? Snow scoop? Ice on the roads? Wait until the city treats the streets?

Imagine what it must have been like dealing with a North Dakota winter more than 200 years ago. Strong winds, temperatures as cold as 40 degrees below zero, snow and ice. This is what the Lewis and Clark expedition experienced during their winter camp at Fort Mandan in central North Dakota. All had to be dealt with manually and with the tools they had available. The Missouri River’s conditions could frequently change.

The Army Corps of Discovery spent their first winter in North Dakota, from Dec. 21, 1804 until April 6, 1805. About 50 people camped at Fort Mandan. Construction on the fort started in early November and was completed by Dec. 21. Corps members spent the winter resting and preparing for the spring journey westward.

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Replica of Fort Mandan.

A replica of the original fort sits near the Missouri River, north of Washburn, about 30 miles north of Bismarck. Fort Mandan was named in honor of the local Native American tribe. The original fort was flooded by the river during a time course changes were common. The replica is located within a few miles of the original fort, state officials believe.

Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark roomed together at the fort. They worked on reports and plans during the winter stay.

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Lewis and Clark shared their quarters.

The rest of the team had to share quarters. In order to ensure there was enough room for everyone, some of the enlisted men’s quarters had a second floor, covered with hides for warmth.

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Second floor “accommodations” for the enlisted.

The fort was organized well. Beyond the sleeping quarters, separate rooms were set aside for food storage, as well as additional supplies.

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Supplies needed to be stored for the winter.

As the spring thaw came, the leaders determined it was time to move and continue the journey to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition would visit North Dakota on its return trip to St. Louis. That visit didn’t last as long as the winter 1804-05 stay.

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A view of the Missouri River near Fort Mandan.

A short drive from Fort Mandan is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Home to the Lewis and Clark Gallery, the interpretive center is impressive. With more than 100 items on display, the gallery includes interactive exhibits highlighting the expedition.

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An exhibit highlighting Capt. Clark writing in his journal. Clark kept detailed notes of the journey.

Exhibits include items Lewis and Clark found along the trip and sent to President Jefferson. Included were a prairie dog and buffalo hide.

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Items “discovered” by the soldiers along the trail that were sent to President Jefferson.

A second gallery highlights the travels of Europeans Prince Maxmilian and artist Karl Bodmer. The duo traveled the United States during the 1830s, learning about Native Americans. Bodmer created several art pieces based on their expedition.

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Art piece in the Maximilian and Bodmer gallery.

A third exhibit – Fort Clark – explores the history of fur trade and the region’s Native American culture.

North Dakota played a major role in the Lewis and Clark expedition with the winter encampment. We enjoy learning about the expedition whenever we can. We recommend visiting the attractions located along the Lewis and Clark trail. Definitely, check out the Washburn attraction.

For more information on Fort Mandan and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, please visit www.lewisandclarktrail.com and www.ndtourism.com.