Lewis & Clark’s giant dog puts North Dakota on map

Lewis & Clark’s giant dog puts North Dakota on map

By Shannon Kelly 

Fort Mandan State Historic Site’s Seaman statue after an April blizzard. Entitled “Sunshine and Snowflakes for Seaman,” the photo by Shannon Kelly won the Public Lewis and Clark Art category in the 2022 photo contest sponsored by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

Fort Mandan State Historic Site’s Seaman statue after an April blizzard. Entitled “Sunshine and Snowflakes for Seaman,” the photo by Shannon Kelly won the Public Lewis and Clark Art category in the 2022 photo contest sponsored by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

The Midwest takes its mammoth roadside attractions seriously, and North Dakota is no exception. The Peace Garden State boasts supersized sculptures such as the world’s largest Holstein cow, sandhill crane and buffalo—and those are just the ones along Interstate 94.

I hail from Idaho where our artificial megaflora and fauna include a giant traveling potato sculpture and Sweet Willy, the world’s biggest beagle.

Little did I know when I first started working as a ranger at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn, N.D., that another delightful giant (who I once had the honor of playing in my fourth-grade class’s Lewis and Clark musical) would lurk nearby.

The giant is local artist Tom Neary’s adorable statue of Seaman, the faithful Fido of none other than explorer Meriwether Lewis of the 1803-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The bronze Dog of Discovery was installed in 2006 along the Missouri River near the Fort Mandan replica and visitor center. He obediently sits greeting visitors and looks as if he might be awaiting a juicy bison treat from Capt. Lewis himself.

Seaman’s worth

During a 2011 flood, the Seaman statue was trucked from its location near the Missouri River and placed temporarily in front of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn, N.D. Admired by visitors to the center, Seaman spent some quality time with Sheheke and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Upon the invitation from the two expedition captains, Sheheke (also known as Sheheke-shote) and his wife Yellow Corn visited Washington, D.C. He was the principal chief of the lower Mandan village.

During a 2011 flood, the Seaman statue was trucked from its location near the Missouri River and placed temporarily in front of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn, N.D. Admired by visitors to the center, Seaman spent some quality time with the statues of Sheheke and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Upon the invitation from the two expedition captains, Sheheke (also known as Sheheke-shote) and his wife Yellow Corn visited Washington, D.C. He was the principal chief of the lower Mandan village.

Lewis never documented where or when he bought Seaman—many theorize he purchased the pooch in Pittsburgh during the summer of 1803 while equipping the expedition—but he does mention paying $20 of his own money for the dog.

Seaman earned his keep as a hunter, retriever, sentry, and lifeguard.

The dog proved his worth at the journey’s very beginning. Less than two weeks after leaving Pittsburgh, Pa., and heading by boat down the Ohio River, Lewis spotted on a couple of days a migration of squirrels swimming across the river. He sent Seaman swimming after them. The dog killed squirrels and swam with them in his mouth back to Lewis. In his usual unique spelling style, Lewis penned in his journal, “They wer fat and I thought when fryed a pleasant food.”

Seaman was certainly an alert sentry. On the evening of June 19, 1805, after the expedition made camp in the area of today’s Great Falls, Mont., the dog’s barking may have scared off a buffalo that seemed ready to charge willy-nilly through the camp.

Facing danger

Seaman is pictured with expedition member Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea, during their first visit to Fort Mandan. The artwork, titled “Sacagawea’s First Gift,” is by noted Lewis and Clark artists Michael Haynes.

Seaman is pictured with expedition member Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea, during their first visit to Fort Mandan. The artwork, titled “Sacagawea’s First Gift,” is by noted Lewis and Clark artist Michael Haynes. Learn about Michael Haynes.

The greatest danger in that area, however, came from grizzly bears. They were everywhere, always a threat, lurking about day and particularly at night, probably attracted to the explorers’ campsites from the smell of cooking food.  “…my dog,” stated Lewis’ journal entry of June 27, 1805, “seems to be in a constant state of alarm with these bear and keeps barking all night.” Seaman’s good use of his vocal cords probably helped the explorers avoid many bear encounters in the darkness of night.

Expedition members came to refer to Seaman as “our dog.” It’s likely there was great concern on April 11, 1806, on the Columbia River not far from what today is Portland, Ore., when Indians stole Seaman—most likely for the dog to become their meal.

In his journal, Lewis recorded his reaction: “…sent three men in pursuit of the thieves with orders if they made the least resistance or difficulty in surrendering the dog to fire on them.” After a 2-mile chase, the three men saw the canine kidnappers, who, upon spotting their pursuers, abandoned the dog alive and fled.

A dog of a different color?

Seaman’s coat likely resembled that of “Lion: A Newfoundland Dog” in this painting by English artist Edwin Henry Landseer. Wikimedia Commons.

Seaman’s coat likely resembled that of “Lion: A Newfoundland Dog” in this painting by English artist Edwin Henry Landseer. From Wikimedia Commons.

Seaman will probably forever be represented as a modern-day black, chunky Newfoundland, but the breed in his era was almost universally black and white after what is known today as the Landseer Newfoundland after English painter Edwin Landseer. (Landseer famously captured the breed’s distinctive coat pattern on canvas during the 1800s.)

Contemporaneous artwork and descriptions of the breed also indicate a sportier build than today’s Newfoundlands. No records remain of Seaman’s appearance beyond his impressive size.

Lewis held his furry friend in such high regard that in July 1806, on the expedition’s return trip to St. Louis, he named a creek in present-day Montana “Seaman’s Creek.”

Interestingly, a Masonic museum in Virginia at one time apparently housed a dog collar that may have been donated by William Clark in 1812, although the original is now lost. The inscription on the collar stated: “The greatest traveler of my species. My name is SEAMAN, the dog of captain Meriwether Lewis, whom I accompanied to the Pacifick [sic)] ocean through the interior of the continent of North America.”

Besides the fact that this tail-wagging trailblazer was large, what does any of this have to do with giant roadside attractions?

The biggest dog statue

Recently it occurred to me that Fort Mandan State Historic Site just might have the world’s biggest Newfoundland dog. I reviewed my own photographs and scoured the internet for Newfoundlands in public art.

Seaman is the most oft-sculpted member of his breed and certainly the greatest traveler of his species. St. John’s in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador only has a life-sized Newfoundland statue. Then there’s the salmon-eating incarnation of Seaman (part of the “End of the Trail” statue) I encountered during a 2002 family spring break trip to Seaside, Oregon. But that was no competition either.

Placing a close second in size is a statue of Seaman on a Lewis and Clark monument that has duplicate casts at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Iowa and the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum, St Charles, Mo. The monument was done by Pat Kennedy.

Placing a close second in size is a statue of Seaman on a Lewis and Clark monument that has duplicate casts at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Iowa and the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum, St Charles, Mo. The monument was done by Pat Kennedy.

The closest in stature to the State Historical Society’s Seaman I could find is the one included on artist Pat Kennedy’s Lewis and Clark monument, which has duplicate casts at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Iowa and at the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum in St. Charles, Mo. I contacted staff at both sites and requested measurements of their statues. That Seaman is approximately 6 feet, 3/16 inch tall, with a head circumference of 7 feet.

Armed with this knowledge, I measured our own pup with a measuring tape and a stepstool to determine dimensions. Our dog nosed ahead with a height of 7 feet and a head circumference of nearly 8 feet.

I contacted the Newfoundland Club of America, which had been involved with the statue’s 2006 installation and reinstallation following a 2011 flood. The representative who responded was delighted. Our Seaman is now on the map in the Newfoundland world.

So, when you’re looking to go on an adventurous expedition, come see what all the fuss is about, and snap a selfie with the great Dog of Discovery himself. Woof! Woof!

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And where’s the smallest Seaman statue? It’s likely at the Dismal Nitch Safety Rest Area on Highway 401 (also known as the Lewis and Clark Trail Highway) near Point Ellice near from the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. The rest area is the home of a high-relief bronze sculpture artwork and monument by sculptor Gareth Curtis and mason Bill Clearman. Seaman, shown toward the lower right of this photo, is approximately three inches tall at his shoulders. Photo by Jim Sayce, president of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. The Lewis and Clark explorers were stranded on the shore there Nov. 12, 1805, due to a bad storm and high waves. During low tide, they moved into a cove that became known as the “Dismal Nitch”—and dismal the area was. William Clark’s journal entry for that time: “It would be distressing to See our Situation, all wet and Colde our bedding also wet, (and the robes of the party which Compose half the bedding is rotten and we are not in a Situation to supply their places) in a wet bottom Scercely large enough to contain us, our baggage half a mile from us and Canoes at the mercy of the waves, altho Secured as well as possible, Sunk with emence parcels of Stone to wate them down to prevent their dashing to pieces against the rocks.”

And where is the smallest Seaman?

Seaman, three inches tall at the shoulders.

That’s what you’ll find in statuary along the Columbia River in Washington. It’s likely the smallest of Seaman representations.

The statuary of Seaman, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacajawea is at the Dismal Nitch Safety Rest Area on Highway 401 (also known as the Lewis and Clark Trail Highway) near Point Ellice close to the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. The rest area is the home of the high-relief bronze sculpture artwork and monument by sculptor Gareth Curtis and mason Bill Clearman.

In the above photograph by Jim Sayce, Seaman seems to be having a good ol’ time studying what one of the explorers is pointing at—others of the expedition trying to canoe through huge swells.

The artwork reflects the dire situation the explorers faced during a bad storm and high waves near the mouth of the Columbia River. They were stranded there on the shore Nov. 12, 1805. During low tide, they moved into a cove that became known as the “Dismal Nitch”—and dismal the area was.

The following is William Clark’s journal entry for that time, shown here with the captain’s unique spellings intact:

“It would be distressing to See our Situation, all wet and Colde our bedding also wet, (and the robes of the party which Compose half the bedding is rotten and we are not in a Situation to supply their places) in a wet bottom Scercely large enough to contain us, our baggage half a mile from us and Canoes at the mercy of the waves, altho Secured as well as possible, Sunk with emence parcels of Stone to wate them down to prevent their dashing to pieces against the rocks.”

Learn more:

Here are informative articles about Seaman published in We Proceeded On, the quarterly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation:

About the author:

Shannon Kelly and Seaman statue

Shannon Kelly and Seaman statue in background.

The author of this article, Shannon Kelly, is the interpretive resource specialist at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan State Historic Site in Washburn, N.D.. She holds a bachelor’s in history from the University of Idaho and a master’s in public history from Colorado State University. Kelly has written a history of the Sound of Idaho Marching Band for the University of Idaho and is a contributor to the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s journal We Proceeded On. She is currently at work on a book exploring the three winters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Much of this article was originally published May 9, 2022, in the State Historical Society of North Dakota blog.

A thank you goes to Jim Sayce for providing the photograph and information about the smallest Seaman and Dismal Nitch. Jim is the incoming president of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

 

Discover Lewis and Clark through new videos

Discover Lewis and Clark through new videos

The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation recently launched a YouTube channel where viewers can learn the Corps of Discovery’s story directly from historians and other experts.

So far, four videos have been published on the channel—more will be posted in the near future. Each video is more than an hour in length and covers different topics in-depth. The speakers are experts on the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, the explorers and related topics.

The Knife River Villages, which played a role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is the topic of one of the new videos offered by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

Sarah Cawley, the Heritage Foundation’s executive director, said viewers of the videos will learn about the speakers’ personal insights, reflections and extensive knowledge about the expedition and explorers that may not be available in books or elsewhere.

“The speakers have a true passion for telling the story of the expedition,” she said. “Their information is intriguing, accurate, sometimes humorous or touching, but always sincere and educational.”

Videos were recorded from live presentations or virtual Zoom talks.

During the Covid pandemic when live meetings were not possible, three of the Heritage Foundation’s chapters used Zoom to present speakers as a way to keep members and others informed and enthused about the expedition. The chapters were the Portage Route Chapter in Great Falls, Montana; Missouri-Kansas Riverbend Chapter, Kansas City, Mo; and the California Chapter.

Here are synopses of the four videos:

  • Chris Hodges, author of Colter’s West Wind, gives an informative and entertaining talk on the topic of “Furs, Land and Sewing Needles on the Frontier” and how the Lewis and Clark Expedition was at the forefront of opening the frontier for future development. Click here to view…
  • Deveney Reber, a graduate student at Brigham Young University, talks about “The Forgotten Brother of Meriwether Lewis: Rueben, the Talented Fur Trader and Indian Agent Along the Missouri.” Reuben was a frontiersman and an even better Indian Agent. His story provides insight into two complicated elements of American history: the fur trade and the precarious United States-Native American relationship. View…
  • Darian Kath, director of the Knife River Center near Mandan, North Dakota, gives a virtual tour of the Five Earthlodge Villages at Knife River in North Dakota. His presentation offers a picture of the villages in an historical context of the Upper Missouri River with an emphasis on the time the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent there. See the video…
  • Joseph Wiegand offers an energetic living history portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt, who was instrumental in preserving land in North Dakota, a state through which Lewis and Clark traveled. Watch the video…

The YouTube channel is part of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s mission and vision to preserve, promote and teach the diverse heritage the story of the 1803-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition for all people

How to view the YouTube channel

You can view the four videos above by clicking on the links at the end of the descriptions. To view videos posted in the future and whenever you want to, you can go to YouTube.com. Once there, type in Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in the Search bar.

The page that then comes up will show a variety of videos related to the expedition

Locate the Lewis and Clark icon that has the title of “Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation” next to it. (Note: when you see the icon, you will have the option to “Subscribe” to be notified when the Heritage Foundation posts a new video.)

Click on the icon or the title, and you will be taken to the page where the Heritage Foundation’s videos are located. Click on the video you want to watch.

There are three ways to be notified when a new video is published.