Visitors in Yankton, South Dakota can visit this memorial marker dedicated to Pierre Dorion who lived among the Yankton Sioux at the time that Lewis and Clark passed through in the early 1800s.
It was the middle of June 1804, in the middle of today’s state of Missouri, when the men of the Corps first met Pierre Dorion as he floated down the Missouri River with a load of furs and buffalo tallow. Of French descent, Dorion was born in Quebec City in 1740, but had already migrated to the area around today’s Yankton, South Dakota by 1774. By 1804, he was considered a seasoned veteran of the region, and his knowledge of the geography and the Lakota people and language made him invaluable to the captains. So they hired him to be a translator and consultant, at least until they passed the Lakota’s territory.
When the Expedition reached the mouth of the James River (just east of the city of Yankton today), Dorion was dispatched to gather members of the Yankton Sioux for a meeting at Calumet Bluffs. There he translated Lewis’s long speech and helped the Captains document details about the Native peoples’ culture.
A few days later, Lewis and Clark convinced several chiefs of area tribes to go with Dorion to St. Louis and on to Washington to meet President Jefferson. When Dorion traveled south (downstream) with the chiefs, the Corps returned to their upstream journey.
Dorion continued trading in the region and in 1806 was commissioned by the U.S. War Department to be a sub-agent along the Missouri and the western tributaries. He assisted William Clark in 1807 by coordinating a meeting with several chiefs.
Dorion died in 1810 and was buried along the Missouri River, where his body remained until about 1890 when Yankton brick makers digging for clay uncovered it. The location was lost through time, but was rediscovered by local historians around 1999. Since then, Yankton officials erected a monument in 2002 at the intersection of West 2nd and West Riverside Drive in Yankton, at the grave’s location.