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Mandan Indian Chiefs and Leaders

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Shahaka (She’-he-ke, ‘Coyote’ ). A Mandan chief, more commonly known as Le Gros Blanc, or Big White; born about 1765. He was principal chief of Metutahanke, the “Lower Village” of the Mandan, on the Missouri below the mouth of Knife river, and rendered friendly service to Lewis and Clark while at Ft Mandan in the winter of 1804-5, in recognition of which he was given a medal. Brackenridge described him as a fat man, of mild and gentle disposition, not much distinguished as a warrior, “and extremely talkative, a fault much despised amongst the Indians”; and, again, as “a fine looking Indian, and very intelligent, his complexion fair, very little different from that of a white man much exposed to the sun.” When the expedition returned to the Missouri from the Pacific, Lewis and Clark persuaded Shahaka to accompany them to St Louis with a view of making a visit to President Jefferson, and Jefferson later invited Lewis to visit Monticello with Shahaka for the purpose of showing the latter his collection of Indian objects from the N. W. Shahaka remained in the E. for a year, and while there, evidently in Philadelphia, St Mémin made a portrait of him with the aid of a physionotrace, the original of which now belongs to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. Shahaka left St Louis for his home in May 1807, the party consisting of himself and his squaw, man interpreter, Rene Jessaume, with their wives and one child each, escorted by 2 noncommissioned officers and 11 privates under the command of Ensign Nathaniel Pryor, who, as a sergeant, had accompanied the expedition of Lewis and Clark. There ascended the Missouri at the same time a deputation of 24 Sioux, including 6 children, who were provided with a separate escort; and also 2 trading parties, one of which, consisting of 32 men under Pierre Chouteau, was designed to traffic with the Mandan. The expedition proceeded slowly up the Missouri, reaching the lower Arikara village on Sept. 9, where it was learned that the Mandan and the Arikara were at war. The demand of the chief of the upper Arikara village that Shahaka go ashore with him being refused, the Indians became insolent and aggressive, and afterward opened fire on the boats, which was returned. Pryor then ordered a retreat downstream, but the Indians followed along shore, killing one of the Sioux, mortally wounding one of Chouteau’s men, and wounding several others, including Jessaume. Pryor now proposed to Shahaka that they attempt to cover the rest of the distance about 3 days’ journey-by land, but this the Mandan refused to do on account of the encumbrance of the women and children and the wounded condition of their interpreter, whereupon the party returned to St Louis. By an agreement entered into with the Missouri Fur Co. in the spring of 1808 for the safe conduct of the Indians to their home, another expedition, consisting of about 150 men having Shahaka and his companions in charge, started from St Louis about the middle of May 1809, and although the Sioux at first showed a disposition to be troublesome the Arikara were found to be friendly and the party reached its destination Sept. 24, laden with presents. Shahaka fell into disrepute among his people by reason of what were regarded as extravagant tales of his experiences among the whites. He was killed in a fight with the Sioux on an occasion when he went out to watch his people drive them off. Shahaka’s wife was Yellow Corn; his son was White Painted House, whose son was Tobacco, whose son (Shahaka’s great grandson) is Gun that Guards the House, who is still living and who preserves, with Shahaka’s medal bearing date 1797, the story of his great grandfather’s exploits.

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Index of Tribes or Nations


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