SPIRIT MOUND TRUST
P.O. BOX 603
VERMILLION SD 57069
August 25, 1804
Additional excerpts from the journal of William Clark:
"...droped down to the mouth of White Stone River where we left the Perogue with two men and at 200 yards we assended a riseing ground of about Sixty feet, from the top of this High land the Countrey is leavel & open as far as Can be Seen, except Some few rises at a Great Distance, and the Mound which the Indians Call Mountain of little people or Spirits
...we left the river at 8 oClock, at 4 miles we Crossed the Creek 23 yards wide in an extensive Valley
...at 12 oClock we arrived at the hill...heat...&...thirst...deturmined us to make for the first water which was the Creek in a bend N.E. from the mound about 3 miles
...w[e] Set out on our return down the Creek thro: the bottom of about 1 mile in width, Crossed the Creek 3 times to the place we first Struck it where we geathered Some delisious froot Such as Grapes Plumbs, & Blue Currents
...we Set out on our back trail & arrived at the perogue at Sun Set we proceedd on to the place w[e] campd. Last night and Stayed all night..."
Where Two Captains Stood
On August 24, 1804, a hot, humid Saturday, Captains Lewis and Clark took eleven other men and Lewis’ dog Seaman and crossed the Missouri from their camp on the south side, while the rest of the expedition proceeded on up the river. They left two men to guard their canoe and walked nine miles to the Mound. Their journals describe the day in vivid, enthusiastic detail.
Clark's 1804 Route Map of
the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
(click to enlarge)
It was a hard trip, and Seaman, suffering from the heat, had to be sent back to the Vermillion River. Despite the rumors of danger, the men approached the hill and climbed to the summit, which they determined to be about 70 feet above the surrounding plain and to be of natural origin, not man-made. They also noted the abundance of insects near the top, which attracted great flocks of swallows (“so gentle that they did not quit the place until we arrived within a few feet of them”), and the Captains speculated that it was the birds that gave the mound its air of mystery.
The men were deeply impressed by the view from Spirit Mound. Clark wrote:
"from the top of this Mound we beheld a most butifull landscape; Numerous herds of buffalow were Seen feeding in various directions, the Plain to the N. W & N E extends without interuption as far as Can be Seen- … no woods except on the Missouri Points…if all the timber which is on the Stone Creek [Vermillion River] was on 100 a[c]res it would not be thickly timbered, the Soil of those Plains are delightfull."
This was the first time that the Captains had been miles away from the river valley and viewed from a high point the tallgrass prairie that they had been sent to explore. It was also the first time that they had seen buffalo herds. Besides the buffalo and elk (“upwards of 800 in number”), they found burrows of either badgers or “prairie wolves” (coyotes), and saw meadowlarks, swallows, blackbirds, wrens, an american bittern, and the first bat they had seen on the expedition.
They also marveled at the abundance of wild fruit: “here we got Great quantities of the best largeset grapes I ever tasted, some Blue currents stil on the bushes, and two kinds of plumbs, one the Common wild Plumb the other a large Yellow Plumb…about double the Size of the Common and Deliscously flavoured-“
Suffering from heat and thirst, when they left the mound they detoured to the northeast three miles to the closest point of the Vermillion River. After resting there for about an hour and a half they followed the valley back to the Missouri and resumed their voyage the next day.