Sex, Dog Meat, and the Lash: Odd Facts About Lewis and Clark

Anthony Brandt
for National Geographic News
December 8, 2003

Did you know that men of the native tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered frequently offered their wives and daughters to the explorers? Or that the Corps of Discovery frequently ate dogs? That Lewis and Clark got lost? These are only a few of the little known oddities about the famous expedition of 200 years ago.

Book editor Anthony Brandt highlights some of the oddities about one of the greatest adventures in history.

Did you know that men of the native tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered frequently offered their wives and daughters to the whites?

There's nothing like a little sex to cement relationships among different cultures. In fact there was a lot of sex, and the offers had nothing to do with fellowship among men.

The tribes of the High Plains had very different attitudes from white men about these matters. Plains Indians believed that spiritual power passed between people during the sex act. By sharing their wives, they could appropriate the power of the other person. Nobody seemed to have more power than a white man, with his guns, his ability to work metal, his technological prowess.

One young member of the Corps of Discovery was offered four Mandan women in a single night. Clark's black slave, York, was even more magical to them. The Indians Lewis and Clark encountered had never seen a black man. York made out like a bandit.

But sex with Indian women had a down side, too: venereal disease. Previous encounters with French and British traders had infected many Indian women with syphilis, and Lewis and Clark had to treat some of their men for this disease, for which there was no cure then, only the dubious palliative of mercury pills.

Old Indian traditions claim that the expedition left children behind as well. In the 1870s a blue-eyed, blond-haired Nez Perce told the Western photographer William H. Jackson that he was William Clark's son.

Did you know that the Corps of Discovery frequently ate dogs?

Puppy chops haven't made it into any of the recent cookbooks offering recipes from the Lewis and Clark expedition, but the Indians ate dogs and so did the members of the expedition when nothing else was available.

In the dry areas of what is now eastern Washington, in fact, where there was little if any game and the only other choice was dried salmon, usually impregnated with sand, the men came to prefer dog.

Their favorite foods were always elk, beaver tail, and buffalo, and when they were struggling up the Missouri the men ate prodigious amounts of it, up to nine pounds of meat per man per day. But dogs would do if dogs were all that they could get. Only Clark abstained. He couldn't bring himself to eat dog meat.

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