Chardon’s Journal at Fort Clark, 1834-1839
Thirty years after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through the Mandan villages in present-day North Dakota, the Upper Missouri River region was being plied by fur traders. In 1834 Francis A. Chardon, a Philadelphian of French extraction, took charge of Fort Clark, a main post of the American Fur Company on the Upper Missouri. The journal that Chardon began that year offers a rare glimpse of daily life among the Mandan Indians, including the Arikaras, Yanktons, and Gros Ventres. In particular, it is a valuable and graphic record of the smallpox scourge that nearly destroyed the Mandans in 1837. Chardon describes much of historical interest, including such figures as the interpreter Charbonneau, Sacajawea’s husband, and the fantastic James Dickson, “Liberator of all the Indians.” By the time his account ends in 1839, the fur trade is already in decline.