1797 - Thompson returns to Knife River villages

David Thompson made his second visit to the Mandan Villages in 1797 and observed many of their ritual dances, such as the Bison dance depicted in this drawing by Karl Bodmer, in 1837. (Library of Congress)

        David Thompson, now working for the North West Company, stayed with the village Indians for about two weeks in the winter of 1797-98.  Thompson was accompanied by Rene Jusseaume, Hugh McCracken, and seven French Canadian traders.  Their Assiniboins guides tried to get Thompson to turn back during bitterly cold weather by telling him stories of marauding Sioux, but the Canadian was undaunted and saw through their chicanery.  He pressed on through deep snow and bitter cold and nearly led his party to perish. 

        Thompson's visit to the Mandan Villages marks the end of an era, though neither he nor the Indians knew it at the time.  As late as 1797, sixty years after LaVerendrye's first contact, these tribes were still living in their natural state. Although they had hosted more than two dozen European trading parties by this time, they were mosty unaffected in any material way by the European traders.  Also, Spanish trade, once regular visitors to the Mandan Villages, were losing ground to the French and British.

         The arrival of Lewis and Clark, in October 1804, would change their world forever.  Henceforth, the Mandans would increasingly fall under the sphere of influence of the white world, and their remarkable thousand year history on the upper Missouri would quickly be reduced to a footnote in the larger story of European expansion across the North American continent.  

         While Sieur de la Verendrye was the only educated European to see the Mandans at the height of their material and political glory, David Thompson was probably the last to see them before they lost whatever glory was left after small pox decimated their numbers, and before the arrival of Lewis and Clark.