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Epilogue “We proceeded on” Dayton Duncan One January afternoon years ago, I found myself huddling next to a fire inside an earth lodge near Stanton, North Dakota. The temperature outside had managed a high of only 3 degrees below zero. A north wind howled across the prairies. The sun was slipping below the horizon, to be followed by nearly sixteen hours of darkness. The word cold does not begin to express where the night was clearly headed. Across from me, patiently feeding the fire with cottonwood logs, sat Gerard Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa and park ranger for the National Park Service . He had built the earth lodge as a “living history” demonstration for the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, where three Hidatsa villages once stood when Lewis and Clark wintered in the area. I was retracing the explorers’ route, trying to connect their experience with my own over a gap of nearly two centuries and had asked if I could spend a night in the earth lodge, which with a dusting of snow looked something like a sod igloo. Gerard had seemed bemused by my request, but he agreed to accompany me, even provided our supplies. First he smudged the interior in all four directions with the smoke from a bundle of sweetgrass. “For the spirits,” he explained. Then, in an iron pot, he boiled potatoes, onions, red peppers, and buffalo tripe, the spongy membranes of a buffalo stomach—a rubbery meal that we ate with our hands. I told him tales about my trip upriver from St. Louis, about all the changes I had seen compared to what the captains had described in their journals. He shared stories of his ancestors and sang some Hidatsa chants. Outside, the northern lights began to dance while the temperature kept sinking. It was time to go to bed. Gerard had brought along five large buffalo robes, and he advised me to 275 place one of them, fur up, on the dirt floor as my mattress. The other four, he said, would provide more warmth stacked on top of me, fur down. “But what about you?” I asked, thinking that he was taking Indian hospitality to a foolish extreme. In the back of my mind, I recalled Clark’s journal entry about the two Indians who had stayed out all night on the frozen prairie and survived—proof, he wrote, that the “customs and habits of those people have inured them to bear more cold than I thought possible for a man to endure.” The smudge ceremony, the meal of buffalo, the stories around the campfire, and now this, I thought. History was repeating itself. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” I insisted. Gerard smiled at me, his eyes twinkling in the firelight. “I’ll be all right,” he answered, and he unrolled a fancy down-filled sleeping bag next to my buffalo robes. “This one’s guaranteed to twenty below.” I have been out and back across the entire Lewis and Clark trail two complete times since that evening in the earth lodge with Gerard. And more times than I can count, I have visited individual sites along their route. Yet every time my path has crossed theirs, I have wondered what the two captains would think if somehow they were magically transported back to life in the modern world and sent out as, say, a Corps of Rediscovery. What would they recognize? What would confound them? What would they regret? What would they appreciate? Certainly, a frigid night on the Northern Plains would be almost painfully familiar to them. These were two Virginia-born gentlemen, accustomed to the mildest of winters; I doubt that they could ever forget their experience at Fort Mandan, where they were exposed to one of the harshest weather extremes this continent has to offer. I, too, have stood on the banks of the Missouri and been awestruck by its raw power as huge chunks of ice floated relentlessly downstream, only to be even more stupefied the next morning on finding the mighty river frozen solid, conquered by the coldness. It’s something you remember. (In my case, the memory is aided by a minor case of frostbite in my nasal passages: it still acts up whenever the mercury drops below zero.) In the column titled, “unchanged,” place a big checkmark for the ferocity of winters on the upper Missouri. Nor would the captains find anything new in a meal of buffalo...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520937147
Related ISBN
9780520238220
MARC Record
OCLC
55749588
Pages
298
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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