Monday, August 26, 2013

Tracking Lewis & Clark's Dog and the Corps of Discovery on Highway 83

Statues of famous men and women can be found all along Highway 83, but down along the Missouri River on its banks near Washburn, N.D., sits a rendering of one of the most famous dogs in American history, Seaman, the Newfoundland, or Newfie, that accompanied Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
And so I thought on National Dog Day, Aug. 26, that it would be a good time to highlight a little canine history found along the road.
In 1803, Meriwether Lewis bought Seaman in Pittsburgh, Pa., for $20 as he was waiting for the boats he would take up the river to be constructed.
The name of the breed and that given to Lewis’ dog is a clue to his maritime origins. Newfies were working dogs that assisted fisherman. It is a large, imposing canine, well suited for guard duty. They are powerful swimmers, and according to information on the lewisandclarktrail .com website, are at home in the water as they are on land.
They were known to carry ropes from ships to docks or to drowning men, and were strong enough to be used to haul carts of fish. 
The Newfie also has a thick oily coat that allows it to swim in cold water and remain warm. Interestingly, it does not “doggie paddle,” but rather it does the breaststroke.
Of course, the Lewis and Clark Expedition would be spending most of its time traveling on rivers, the highways of its day. We don’t have any historical record of what Lewis was thinking when he paid what was then a large sum of money for Seaman, but the Newfie’s size and experience working in water probably factored into his thinking. In short, it is hard to imagine Lewis choosing a better breed to accompany the expedition.
There are numerous references to Seaman in the journals kept during the expedition. Seaman chased off buffalo bulls, sounded the alarm when bears came too near, and was apparently beloved by most members of the expedition.
There are no journal entries mentioning Seaman while the expedition wintered somewhere near present-day Washburn where the statue sits.
As the expedition continued west, there are mentions of him tracking down a deer wounded during a hunt that escaped into a river, drowning it, and carrying it back to the party — an example of Seaman’s power and swimming ability.
On the return trip, some Native Americans reportedly stole Seaman, but Lewis managed to get him back.
By the time the Corps came back through this area in 1806 on its trip home, the journals had gone silent on Seaman.
In fact, the historical record makes no further mention of Seaman and his ultimate fate. It is assumed, but never proven beyond a doubt, that he made the journey back with the expedition.
There was one clue, a mention of a dog collar that was once in an Alexandria, Va., museum, that suggested that Seaman did survive and stayed with Capt. Lewis until his death in 1809. You can read more about that here.
Although most of the land that Seaman and his masters saw as they traveled the Missouri is now under the waters of lakes Sakakawea and Oahe, travelers on Highway 83 can stop at the interpretive center in Washburn, then make a short drive into the valley to see this statue and a reproduction of Fort Mandan, where the Corps wintered. They can also stop at Lily Park in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, which is where the Bad River empties into the Missouri.
Here, the Corps of Discovery met the mighty Lakota (Sioux) Nation for the first time, and spent a tense day entreating with the Brulé (Sicangu) Lakotas. This did not go well, and it resulted in a tense standoff.
Many historians agree that if this had turned into a full-fledged fight, it would have been a disaster for the Corps, and could have well meant its premature end, rendering Lewis and Clark as footnotes in history books instead of the household names they are today.
Fortunately, cooler heads on both sides prevailed.
The story of Seaman, Lewis and Clark, and the BrulĂ© Lakotas are just one of many that can found along Highway 83. 

The National Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn, N.D., on Highway 83 is 38 miles north of Bismarck and hard to miss. Check the website for current hours of operation. To find Lily Park in Fort Pierre, S.D, from Highway 83, turn east on East Cedar Ave. and follow the signs for two blocks.  

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at


Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available at: The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn; Home Sweet Home and Main Street Books in Minot; and the North Dakota Heritage Center and Museum gift shop in Bismarck. Also available on and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. And The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)

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