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Birds and Mammals Observed by
Lewis & Clark in North Dakota

List of Mammals Observed


For the convenience of students of the journals of Lewis and Clark the mammals have been listed showing the names used by the explorers printed in italics. These are followed by common and scientific names now in use together with explanatory notes (click highlighted links to view included photos and illustrations). The mammals have been arranged according to Bailey's Biological Survey of North Dakota. The numbers killed by the expedition in North Dakota are shown. These numbers vary slightly in the different journals. Even more were killed than these figures would indicate as a number of times the journals refer to several killed and as there is no way to accurately count these they were not included in the totals.

American Bison. Bison bison bison.

Probably the most common mammal numerically that was seen in North Dakota. Lewis and Clark repeatedly mention that vast herds were seen covering the prairie. 63 killed.
"Elk"
American Elk. Cervus canadensis canadensis.

Vast herds of elk were seen all along the valley of the Missouri. 111 killed.
"Cabre," "Cabri," "Cabra," "Cabra ko ka,"
"Antelope, " "Goats"

Pronghorned Antelope.
Antilocapra americana americana.

This mammal appeared next in abundance to the buffalo although few were killed by the party. Generally referred to in the journals as goats. 13 killed.
"Big Horn" "Mountain Ram"
Audubon Mountain Sheep. Ovis canadensis auduboni.

This mammal was first seen by the Lewis and Clark expedition along the badlands of the upper Missouri in North Dakota. Horns of this mammal, procured from the Indians, were sent home with the collections from Fort Mandan on April 7, 1805.

(Coues, page 284, April 26, 1805) "The country, as far as he (Joseph Fields) could discern, resembled that of the Missouri, and in the plain he met several of the bighorn animals but they were to shy to be obtained." This refers to a trip Fields made up the Yellowstone river a short distance. 2 killed.

"Deer"
Plains White-tailed Deer.
Odocoileus virginianus macrourus.

When Lewis and Clark referred to other than the White-tailed variety they specified mule or black-tailed deer, otherwise they simply called them deer. Owing to its secretive habits large numbers were not seen but they must have been very abundant due to the large numbers killed for the use of the party. Venison and Indian corn were the principal foods of the expedition while in North Dakota especially at Fort Mandan. 243 killed.
"Black-tailed Deer," "Mule Deer"
Mule Deer. Odocoileus hemionus hemionus.

Usually called black-tailed by Lewis and Clark. Now properly called the mule deer as it is a distinct species from the Black-tailed deer of the Pacific coast. As this deer inhabits the rougher and higher land back from the river bottoms not many were seen by the explorers and it was probably much more common than the number killed would indicate. Three were killed on April 23rd, 1805. 4 killed.
"Animal Resembling the Prairie Dog or Barking Squirrel"
Richardson Ground Squirrel. Citellus richardsonii.

See under Prairie Dog (below).

"Burrowing Squirrel," "Prairie Dog," "Barking Squirrel"
Black-tailed Prairie Dog. Cynomys ludovicianus ludovicianus.

(Coues, page 271, April 14, 1805): "We halted for dinner near a large village of burrowing squirrels, which we observe generally selected a southeasterly exposure, though they are sometimes found on the plains."

Coues in footnote 30 seems to think the name "burrowing squirrel" was applied by Lewis and Clark to any of the spermophiles in the region but especially to the Richardson Ground Squirrel and seldom to the Prairie Dog. However in the original journals (Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 291, April 9, 1805) Capt. Clark has this to say: "I saw in the prarie an animal resembling the Prarie dog or Barking Squirel & burrow in the same way, this animal was about 1/3 as large as the barking Squirel."

Lewis commenting on the same thing says (Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 289, April 9, 1805): "Capt. Clark walked on shore to-day and informed me on his return, that passing through the prarie he had seen an anamal that precisely resembled the burrowing squrril, accept in point of size, it being only about one third as large as the squirrel, and that it also burrows."

Lewis then goes on to describe the works of another mammal, which is the pocket gopher, and in the Biddle text the animal reported seen by Clark or the Richardson Ground Squirrel and the pocket gopher described by Lewis are assumed to be one and the same animal. It is evident, however, that the animal seen by Clark was the Richardson Ground Squirrel, as the prairie dog is much larger and the pocket gopher is more nearly of the same size. The animal they compare it with is the prairie dog. Thus we find the prairie dog referred to as the barking and also as the burrowing squirrel.

Two skins were sent back from Fort Mandan with the collection on April 7, 1805.

"Hare," "White and Gray Hare,"
"White Hare," "Hare of the Prairies"

White-tailed Jack Rabbit. Lepus townsendii campanius.

A description is given on page 129, Vol. 6 Thwaites. While a few of these references may have been to the Varying Hare (Lepus americanus americanus) there is nothing in the journals to indicate that anything else but the White-tailed Jack Rabbit was referred to. 4 killed and a skeleton sent back with the collections from Fort Mandan.
"Bean Mouse"
Bean Mouse. Microtus pennsylvanicus wahema.

This species is now commonly known as meadow or bean mouse. (Coues, page 263, April 9, 1805): "When we stopped for dinner the squaw went out, and after penetrating with a sharp stick the holes of the mice near some driftwood, brought to us a quantity of wild artichokes, (Helianthus tuberosus) which the mice collect and hoard in large numbers." Coues is somewhat confused and refers to these as gophers, whereas they were mice as Lewis and Clark called them.
Dakota Pocket Gopher.
Homomys talpoides rufescens.

The description of its methods of mound building given in the journals for April 9, 1805 (Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 289) leaves no doubt as to the identity of this species.
"Muskrat"
Great Plains Muskrat. Fiber zibethicus cinnamominus.

Occasionally mentioned. One killed on April 14th, 1805, according to Ordway. One killed on April 18, 1805. 2 killed.
"Beaver"
Missouri River Beaver.
Castor canadensis missouriensis.

(Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 343, April 26, 1805). Clark "beaver is in every bend." Very common along the Missouri and tributaries. 91 killed.
"Porcupine"
Yellow-haired Porcupine.
Erethizon epixanthum epixanthum.

Description given on September 13, 1804 in Vol. 6, page 129, Thwaites. This was before the expedition reached North Dakota. Two killed on January 21, 1805 (Coues, 227). 7 killed.
"Loucirvia," "Louservia,"
"Wild Cat of the North"

Northern Bobcat. Lynx uinta.

On page 678, footnote 18, Coues identifies this as the wildcat. A skin was sent home with the collections from Fort Mandan. There is nothing to indicate where this specimen was taken but it is probable that it was secured from the Indians who most likely captured it in the vicinity as it is a common species in the timbered parts of the state.
"Small Fox"
Kit Fox, Prairie Fox, Swift. Vulpes velox hebes.

It is stated in the journals on April 14, 1805 when an old camp of the Assiniboin Indians was passed that these Indians traded skins of the small fox with the British and it is probable these were taken in North Dakota as this species was very common in the state in early days. It is also recorded on January 21, 1805 that a fox was killed. This may have been either the Yellow-red or Kit Fox.
"Red Fox"
Fox. Vulpes fulva regalis.

(Thwaites, Vol. 1, page 262, Feb. 15, 1805): " . . . one man Killed a verry large Red Fox today." 1 killed and 13 skins returned with collections from Fort Mandan.
"Wolves"
Gray Wolf, Buffalo Wolf, Lobo, Loafer.
Canis mexicanus nubilus.

The word wolf usually, indicated this form, as the coyote was referred to as small wolf. 9 killed.
"Small Wolves," "Small Burrowing Wolves"
Plains Coyote, Prairie Wolf. Canis latrans nebracensis.

(Coues, page 280, April 24, 1805): "The hunters went out and returned with four deer, two elk, and some young wolves of the small kind." A specimen of bones and skull was sent back with the collections from Fort Mandan.
"White Weasel"
Long-tailed Weasel; Ermine.
Mustela longicauda Longicaudo.

On November 8, 1804 it is recorded that a white weasel with a black tipped tail was procured from the Indians. One specimen, probably this one, was sent back with the collections on April 7, 1805 from Fort Mandan. This species is brown in the summer and white in the winter.
"Marten"
Marten, Pine Marten, American Sable.
Martes americana americana.

One skin sent back from Fort Mandan with the collections. The journals are not clear but this may have come from the Rocky Mountains. It is doubtful if the marten ever inhabited the Missouri Valley in North Dakota.
"Otter"
Otter. Lutra canadensis canadensis.

A large otter was caught in a trap set for beaver on April 14, 1805 but got away according to Ordway. In the Biddle text for the same date it states that an otter was shot last evening. One otter was also killed on April 21, 1805. 2 killed.
"Blaireau," "Barrow," "Braro,"
"Burrowing Dog of the Prairie"

Badger. Taxidea taxus taxus.

(Thwaites, Vol. 6, page 122): "Barrow are found as low as Council Bluffs." (Thwaites, Vol. 6, page 128): "This day Joseph Fields killed a Braro as it is called by the French engages." 1 killed and 1 specimen sent back from Fort Mandan with the collections.
"Black Bear"
Black Bear, Cinnamon Bear.
Ursus americanus americanus.

On April. 15, 1805, Ordway states: "Saw a large black hair and 2 white ones on the N. S. Cap(t) Clark was near shooting one of the white ones." None killed.
"White Bear," "Yellow Bear," "Grizzly Bear,"
"Silver-gray Bear"

Grizzly Bear, Big Plains Grizzly, Silvertip.
Ursus horribilis horribilis.

A yellow bear procured from the Sioux was sent back with the collections from Fort Mandan. Since it was procured from the Sioux this particular specimen may have come from South Dakota. The grizzly was the most formidable mammal met with by the Lewis and Clark party. 4 killed.
"Leather-winged Bat"

It is impossible to know what species this bat belonged to as no description nor clues are given to identify it. Coues in a footnote remarks that this was in the days when bats were birds and whales were fishes for most people.

(Coues, page 1288, April 16, 1805, in Remarks and Reflections): "Saw first leather-winged bat."


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