WASHBURN, N.D. (KXNET)- Lewis and Clark are well-known as two of the pioneers of westward exploration during the “Manifest Destiny” era in America. Their journey featured a trek across multiple states toward the Pacific Ocean, crossing paths with multiple Native American tribes and landmarks, mapping everything as they went. In many of the states that the duo’s party passed through, there are memorials and museums to chronicle their visit — and North Dakota is no exception.
A writer from KX News visited the Lewis and Clark heritage sites in North Dakota — both located in Washburn, roughly an hour from the state capital — to give a full showcase of the impact ND had on the expedition, and how a well-placed fort in the wintertime could have been the difference between life and death for the party.
Let KX bring you on a virtual tour of both the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the accompanying complete replica of Fort Mandan with some of the best photos taken by our roving reporter.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Standing near the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Interpretive Center offers a full explanation and timeline of their adventures throughout the United States, with a special focus on the cultures and complications of navigating North Dakota.
For a small admission fee, guests can not only tour the main exhibits dedicated to the Lewis and Clark expedition but multiple extra and touring exhibits that happen to also be featured at the location. A standard trip through the entire building takes roughly 2-3 hours, so there’s plenty of time to make other plans for the rest of the day (particularly plans regarding another location we’ll discuss later).
Here are a few of our favorite images and exhibits from our tour of the Interpretive Center.
Trading Post: This miniature replica of a trading post on the Missouri River includes information about the customs process, contraband, life in the trading posts, and a recreation of a trade stall and fort post.
Centennial Farms: This short series of boards and televisions pays homage to North Dakota’s farming heritage with a tribute to the farming styles of the Native Americans, as well as how industry bloomed in the state. There’s also a listing of Centennial Farms allowing visitors to look up any in the state.
Map-Making: This small exhibit is housed in one of the side wings of the center and focuses on the map-making styles of the 1800s. In addition to learning about the type of mapwork that Lewis and Clark themselves practiced, Native American map-making styles and old mapping tools (including telescopes and sextants) are also available to try out.
In addition to the many exhibits on display, the center also features a collection of artwork from a variety of mediums by various artists, all depicting the voyages of Lewis and Clark.
Your journey into Lewis and Clark’s history doesn’t stop after a visit to the museum, though — there’s still another part to the trip, and thankfully, you don’t have to travel all the way to the Pacific Ocean to get there. A short distance from the center, a historic site offers plenty more to see in the form of a replica of the expedition’s fort in the state, as well as a peculiar tribute to man’s (or explorer’s) best friend.
When you do visit the second part of the experience, you’ll probably want to pass by Seaman Overlook on your way there (in fact, you have to, as it’s directly in front of the parking area). Originally purchased by Merriweather Lewis for $20, Seaman the Newfoundland was explicitly referenced in his journals many times as an integral part of the expedition, helping with hunting and tracking. Seaman is now immortalized as a metal sculpture near the Visitor’s Center, with signs nearby giving more information about the dog, his appearances in Lewis’ journals, and the Newfoundland dog breed as a whole.
While not a main attraction, the overlook is certainly a unique tribute to the explorers’ companion and one that’s great to observe while you’re on your way to Fort Mandan. Speaking of that…..
Fort Mandan/Visitor’s Center
The State Historic Site includes a complete recreation of Fort Mandan, named in honor of their neighbors on the Missouri River. This wood-walled encampment was constructed as a place for the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition to spend the winter months between 1804-1805. The location serves as both an important piece of early North Dakota history and a key location in the complete journey — Fort Mandan is also believed to be the place where the group met up with Sacagawea, wife of interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau.
Interestingly enough, while you may be able to experience what the fort is believed to have looked like, you can’t actually do so in its original location: after their departure westward, the expedition was said to have left the fort to the Mandan people — but when they passed the area on their return journey, it was completely missing, having burnt to the ground at some point. The Missouri River has since eroded the land that the real fort stood on. Instead, the replica (and by proxy, the Visitor’s Center) has been constructed ten miles down the river from what was believed to be the original site.
The Visitor’s Center is already closed for the year, but don’t worry: you won’t be missing out on the experience. Tours of Fort Mandan are still being offered on the site, as long as you are nearby at the right time. In intervals between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (ours began at 1:30 p.m.), tour guides will open the gates to the replica and give guided tours of the history and design of the fort.
While there’s no telling what exactly was in Fort Mandan during the time of Lewis and Clark, the State Historical Society did its best to stock the replica with what would be expected in the area. Some of the most common props you’ll find throughout the fort include period dress, food, weaponry, and tools. The fort is a lot smaller than one would expect, but there are a lot of surprises crammed into the building. If it could fit every single member of Lewis and Clark’s party, it stands to reason there is plenty of room for tour groups.
After some short explanation from the guide, guests are more than welcome to explore and interact with the various replica objects, clothing pieces, and weaponry in the rooms, including multiple cabins, a blacksmith, and a storage area.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that not all the explorers were actually in Fort Mandan at the same time. Due to guard rotations, tasks, and hunting trips, around half the residents were around at any given moment — even less when the time came to stock up on food. While the rooms were still crowded, they weren’t usually as crowded as intended (an average room was meant to house four explorers, but only featured two beds). Take a look at this journey to the makeshift fort, as we show you everything we managed to find hidden in the holdout space.
Those who are curious about the Lewis and Clark expedition, and especially their time in North Dakota, should absolutely make a stop at both the Interpretive Center and the Fort (purchasing access to one also grants you free access to the other, so why wouldn’t you?). Anyone nearby may appreciate a visit to the center, at least, to see the models and art on display. If you happen to be in the area or searching for a weekend day trip, take a little expedition of your own into Washburn for a unique taste of North Dakota history.
Admission to both historic sites is $8 for adults and $5 for anyone under 15. Children 5 and under are free. Lodge classrooms and picnic shelters are also available for rent by calling 701-462-8535 for reservation services.
For more information about the Interpretive Center, Fort Mandan, or Lewis and Clark’s travels in North Dakota, contact Fort Mandan at Icic@nd.gov or by calling 701-462-8535, or the State Historical Society of North Dakota via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the phone at 701-328-2666.