As the Corps of Discovery moved up the Missouri River during the summer of 1804 they heard stories from some of the Native Americans about a hill that was the home of little devils. The tribes were terrified of the place. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were determined to see it. On the morning of August 25, along with nine men and Seaman, Lewis’s large Newfoundland dog, they left the river and headed north. The hill was about nine miles from the river.
Seaman didn’t make it. After about 4 miles the heat and humidity left the dog exhausted and dangerously overheated. The commanders sent Seaman and two men back to the Vermillion River.
They arrived around midday. They discovered no little devils but found the country delightful and loaded with game. The view from the hill gave Clark and Lewis their first expansive view of the plains. They were impressed. Clark wrote, “from the top of this Mound we beheld a most butifull landscape; Numerous herds of buffalow were Seen feeding in various directions.”
The Missouri River of Lewis and Clark is not the Missouri River of today. In the 214 years since the Corps of Discovery muscled its way upriver the Missouri has shifted; changed course, and, later, was impounded. There are few places where those in the footsteps of the explorers can stand where they stood; see what they saw. This is one of them.
Clark’s Hill of Little Devils is today known at Spirit Mound. It’s located six miles north of Vermillion, S.D., just west of highway 19. www.spiritmoundsouthdakota.org.