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Winter Among the Mandan
December 21, 1804-April 06, 1805
The expedition members kept busy during the Fort Mandan winter, repairing equipment, trading with the Indians, and hunting for buffalo. Lewis and Clark learned much about the country to the west from the Mandan and their neighbors the Hidatsa.
Here, they hired as an interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper living among the Hidatsa. Charbonneau, his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, and their baby son, Jean Baptiste, would travel with the expedition when it left Fort Mandan.
Then the spring rains came. The ice on the Missouri—in the winter a solid block across which herds of buffalo trotted without danger—finally began to break up. It was time to move on.
Lewis and Clark had spent much of the winter writing a report about what they had seen so far. They dispatched it and about a dozen expedition members—plus 108 botanical specimens, 68 mineral specimens, and Clark’s map of the United States—aboard the keelboat, which was bound for St. Louis and, eventually, President Jefferson.
Six dugout canoes and the two larger pirogues were loaded with supplies and equipment. The expedition was about to take a step into territory no American had ever entered.