Let us strive to celebrate not just the famed explorers but also the native cultures on which they reported, remembering that the reporters were seeing through white men’s eyes. We must all make sure those cultures are maintained treasures that they truly are. After all, this is not just Indian history but part of the history of all Americans. Wilma Mankiller, first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Lewis & Clark’s expedition – a fast-forward history

In January 1803 President Jefferson sent Congress a secret funding request for an expedition to explore the interior of the continent of North America and to find the most direct and practicable water communication across the continent. Actual estimated funding to finance the trip: $2,500.

Thus was seeded the epic voyage that would become the first great American transcontinental adventure. It was led by two capable Army officers, Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.1

On May 14, 1804, Lewis & Clark’s party of about 40 members – the Corps of Discovery – started rowing upstream from St. Louis on “Big Muddy” Missouri in one keelboat and two poplar pirogues, one painted white. The 55-ft. keelboat – with its retractable roof and 32-ft. mast – wintered in today’s North Dakota, returning with a small party the following spring. The rest of the Corps spent another year and a half crossing the rest of the continent, and the white pirogue returned in triumph on September 26, 1806, to St. Louis, whose residents Huzzared three cheers to greet the voyagers. Two nights later, Lewis & Clark were feted for their perilous services [that] endear them to every American heart. 2

Well, to many American hearts, anyway.

The Encounter Tribes

Come and meet the descendants of the people who provided shelter to Lewis and Clark 

Amy Mossett, tourism director for the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Tribes, on greeting bicentennial tourists 3

We knew, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’

James Craven, Blackfeet tribe member, reflecting on the expedition’s encounter with the Blackfeet on July 26, 1806, during which Lewis killed a Blackfeet. 3

Our people have for too long put on beads and feathers and danced for the white man. Yes, we’ll show how our ancestors lived when Lewis and Clark came up the trail. But then we must say what happened to them since. I’m tired of playing Indian and not getting to be an Indian.

Ronald McNeil, great-great-great grandson of Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux. 3

All this wonderful salmon everywhere, and along come Lewis and Clark to our village. Two days later they leave again, and we’re looking around, and our people are saying, ‘Hey, what happened to all our dogs?’

Bill Yallup, Jr., Chinook Tribe in Oregon, commenting on the explorers’ eating preferences. 4

During their 8,000-mile, 28-month trek, the expedition encountered nearly 60 Indian Tribes, of which a score are prominently marked on Clark’s masterful map of the West.5   Many of the tribes have since disappeared under the relentless pressure of subsequent intruders; other tribes were driven off the rivers that sustained them and forced onto arid reservation lands.  Like other European adventures into the Americas, the sequel to Lewis and Clark’s foray was a disaster for most Native Americans. 6

And yet, like the honorable Wampanoag during that first planting season after the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock, American Indians played a central role in the success and survival of the expedition. By the winter of 1804-05, the Corps of Discovery lucked upon one extraordinary Indian teenager – the now-legendary Sacagawea. 7

Kidnapped as a child by the Hidatsa, sold to a French-Canadian trader, who married her and later joined the expedition as an interpreter, Sacagawea was a Shoshone who accompanied the Corps from North Dakota to the Pacific and back. Her resilience and diplomacy saved the Lewis & Clark party when meeting the first band of Shoshone at the Continental Divide in August 1805. Incredibly, the Shoshone were led by Sacagawea’s long-lost brother, Cameahwait. The Tribe would provide the invaluable horses that carried the party, frozen and starving, across the Rockies.

Flags of the Encounter Tribes Q & A

What’s this all about?

This is the first time all flags of tribes encountered by the Lewis & Clark expedition have been thoroughly researched, carefully rendered with state-of-the-art computer graphics, screen-printed on high-quality bunting – and made available as an integrated collection.

It has been my company’s contribution to the commemoration of the Bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery, 1804-1806, and a salute to all Americans.

First time? What took 200 years?

Most tribes did not adopt flags until the last few decades of the twentieth century.

By lucky coincidence, that was also the period when a remarkable flag-enthusiast, Donald Healy, launched a one-man ‘Flag-Discovery Corps’ to identify tribal flags and present their symbolism to a global audience. Owing to the generous and willing participation of tribal members across the US, his project has so far identified and described some 220 tribal flags. 8

Describe the collection?

The collection comprises all 45 flags of Encounter Tribes in 3x5-foot size, finished with two brass grommets for indoor or outdoor use. The materials of construction are highest-grade, 200-denier polyester or nylon bunting. 9

How did you decide on which Tribes to include?

The primary sources were the research of Dick Williams of the National Parks Service5 and of Donald Healy, who based his research on The Journals of Lewis and Clark.

Why wasn’t our Tribe included?

Due to the many changes and dislocations in the lives of many of the Encounter Tribes since 1804-06, the selection process is always subject to change and adjustment – hence the list of selected Tribes cannot be considered final. We always welcome information about the flags of tribes wishing to be included in this collection of L&C Encounter Tribes, and apologize in advance for any inadvertent omissions. Note also that often a single flag represents more than one Tribe – for example, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara all fly the Three Affiliated Tribes flag.

How much?

First, allow me to highlight a few guideposts:

Because of the relatively high costs involved, only a small number of the complete flag sets are currently in production.

One complete set was donated to the National Museum for the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C.

Another set was donated to the Corps of Discovery II traveling exhibit, and toured the nation during 2003 - 2006.

Profits from the sale of the remaining sets are being used to finance grants to currently ‘flagless’ Encounter Tribes. 10

The main objectives of this effort are to add as many flags as possible to the cultural patrimony of all Americans, and to showcase the beauty and symbolism of Native flags to an ever-growing audience.

Now can we talk price?

Yes. The cost per flag is just $67, including shipping.

When is the collection available?

Right now.

What if I don’t want the entire collection, just certain flags?

Once the primary goals of the collection are achieved – donations to the NMAI and Corps of Discover II, grants to ‘flagless’ tribes – individual flags will made available as resources and demand allow. The cost will be $87 per flag + $4.50 shipping.

Plans for sizes larger than 3 x 5 feet?

Not as part of this collection, different sizes entail a custom run. Please contact us for a quote.

How about smaller sizes, like 4x6" table flags?

Certainly. A set of 4x6" TableTOP Flags (reading correctly on BOTH sides!) is available on a custom-order basis for only $8.50 per flag, including shipping.

Any ideas about US flags carried by the Corps of Discovery?

Some ideas, shown in Table I. They are based on the work of the late Howard Madaus and the advice of David Martucci. However, this is a field in which others excel – the two gentlemen just named and James Ferrigan, for example. 11

Only one of the flags shown in Table I is an extant Indian Presentation flag from 1803-1812, as might have been carried by the Corps. According to Madaus, this large 58x150-inch flag (A) was supposedly presented by President Andrew Jackson to Chippewa Chief Sheboy-way.12  It has 17 stars because by 1803 four states had joined the original 13 in the Union – Vermont (March 4, 1791), Kentucky (June 1, 1792), Tennessee (June 1, 1796), and Ohio (March 1, 1803); it shows an incongruous number of 15 stripes because specifications for the number of stars and stripes were not finalized by Congress and President James Monroe until 1818.

Design B is simply a rendition of A in today’s more common 3x5 size, as are the next two, for reasons of visual convenience.

Flag C is a 17-star, 17-stripe version known to have been used during the first decade of the 1800s.

Design D is a 15-star, 15-stripe flag, the standard used during that period.

Any other interesting Lewis & Clark websites?

Absolutely. Here goes:

National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council<www.lewisandclark200.org >

< www.monticello.org > The site of the inaugural bicentennial event, 1/18/03.

< www.fallsoftheohio.org > The Kentucky/Indiana staging area for the expedition– the second signature event.

Discovering Lewis and Clark: Issues, Values and Visions. Over 1,000 pages in length, it includes an episode about Jefferson’s other expedition, presented in both English and Spanish. < www.lewis-clark.org >

Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. The national organization whose members study and publicize the expedition. < www.lewisandclark.org >

Missouri/Illinois – the starting line < www.lewisandclarkcenter.org >

Montana – (a) Elderhostel with Lewis and Clark program occurs at Montana Natural History Center, Fort Missoula, Missoula, MT < www.TheNatureCenter.org > (b) < www.pompeyspillar.org > a 200-ft. stone into which Clark carved his name, now a National monument; (c)The Upper Missouri River in Montana still looks much the way it did when the Corps of Discovery traveled through in 1805, and when one party of them returned this way in 1806.< www.mt.blm.gov/ldo/um > (d) Montana Magazine is a bimonthly color periodical with landscape photography for those who love Montana. A secure online bookshop offers Lewis and Clark Expedition related books, large format full-color landscape photography books, and many more. <www.montanamagazine.com >

The Ethnography of Lewis and Clark: Native American Objects and the American Quest for Commerce and Science, by Rubie S. Watson and Castle McLaughlin. < www.peabody.harvard.edu/Lewis_and_Clark >

Exploring the West from Monticello. < www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/lewis_clark/home.html >

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial < www.nps.gov/jeff >

North Dakota – The expedition spent the five months from Nov. 4, 1804 to April 6, 1805 with thousands of hospitable Mandan Indians in their villages (now the Fort Mandan Historic Site). Here Lewis & Clark they signed on the French-Canadian interpreter who brought along his teenage Shoshone wife Sacagawea – a turning point for their venture. < www.fortmandan.com >

Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Companion to the PBS series.< www.pbs.org/lewisandclark >.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail home page. The designated trail extends from near St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, through 11 states that the Corps of Discovery traveled. < www.nps.gov/lecl >; and also honors the “Eastern Legacy” of six more states through which Lewis & Clark traveled to begin their journey.

Nez Percé National Historic Trail has a 38 units and is headquartered at Spalding, ID. The National Historic Trail helps tell the Nez Percé story.  < www.fs.fed.us/npnht > ; also < www.nps.gov/nepe >

Meriwether Lewis at Harpers Ferry < www.nps.gov/archive/hafe/lewis/ >

The Philadelphia Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.  Lewis did a lot of preparing for the trip here. < www.lewisandclarkphila.org >

Idaho – (a) Nez Percé National Historic Park (see above); (b) The Sacagawea multi-cultural theme park < www.salmonidaho.com >

Oregon – Ocian in view! O! the joy recorded Clark, as fearless a speller as he was an explorer, straining to hear the waves of the Pacific when the five Corps of Discovery dugout canoes approached the mouth of the Columbia River on November 15, 1805. The party spent the winter of 1505-06 with the Clatsop Indians at what is today the Fort Clatsop National Monument. < www.nps.gov/lewi>

Washington – The Fort of Walla Walla Museum. The Walla Walla are now a member of the Umatilla Confederation < www.fortwallawallamuseum.org >;

TIME recommends its site < www.time.com/lewisandclark > for additional reading, a look at original pages from the Journal and a L&C guide to the Web – and so do I. The magazine’s July 8, 2002, issue features the best introduction to the Lewis & Clark saga I have come across.

The keelboat flag – www.garylucy.com/

A starter-set of books?

Here are my three quick-picks:

The Essential Lewis and Clark, by Landon Jones.

Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark, edited by Bernard Devoto.


1. Clark was actually a second lieutenant, his promised commission hadn’t come through. He was finally promoted to captain by a vote of Congress and action of President Clinton in November 2000.

2. Landon Jones, Leading Men, TIME, July 8, 2002.

3. Margot Roosevelt, Tribal Culture Clash, ibid.

4. Joel Stein, Have You Ever Tried Ashcakes, ibid.

5. < www.lewisandclark200.org/sovereign_nations/sovereign_nations.html >

6. One example: The Nez Percé – who fed the starving Corps as they came down from the Rockies, introduced them to Indian Nations down the Columbia River, and cared for their horses over the winter of 1805-1806 – were evicted from their homeland by the U.S. Army in 1877. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail helps tell the Nez Percé story. Source: < www.fs.fed.us/npnht>

7. “You can write Sacajawea and say it sack-uh-juh-wee-uh. Or Sacagawea, suh-cah-guh-wee-uh. Those are closer to Shoshone. But when you’re in North Dakota, you have to go with Hidatsa: Sakakawea, suh-kahk-uh-wee-uh.”

Source: < www.lewisandclark.com/facts/storiessaca.html >

8. Don Healy’s award-winning website < http://users.aol.com/Donh523/navapage/index.html > is arguably the best reference on Native American tribal flags anywhere; his poster featuring 130 current and historical flags is still available from his website, and Native American Flags is available from www.amazon.com and the University of Oklahoma Press.

9. Bunting is a strong, loosely woven or knit fabric especially made for flags, which have to withstand environmental conditions many times harsher then those encountered by ordinary fabrics.

10. These are nonvexilliferous tribes, to use an fancy-pants construction derived from “vexillum”, which is Latiniferous for “flag.” Naturally, entities that have a flag are said to be ‘vexilliferous’ by the same tribe of people who use the other word. :-)

11. Howard Michael Madaus, The United States Flag in the American West, Raven, Vol. 5 (1998), pp 72-3. David Martucci is the past President of NAVA, the nation’s largest association of flag experts, see <www.NAVA.org>

12. Most of the above sites are courtesy of < www.lewisandclark.com/links/links.html > and TIME, July 8, 2002.