Yellowstone River Expeditions

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YELLOWSTONE RIVER EXPEDITIONS (1819– 1825) were planned by John C. Calhoun, secretary of War under President Jame Monroe, to intimidate British fur traders and the American Indians of the upper Missouri. Calhoun's decision to initiate these expeditions emerged from his expansionist political philosophy. Having supported the recent war against Britain (1812–1814), he was suspicious of decades-old alliances between the British and many American Indian tribes, and he devised strategies to secure United States control of the North American continent. The Yellowstone Expeditions were part of a larger military policy that included the reorganization of the war department, the maintenance of a standing army, and the development of infrastructure—particularly roads—that the army could use for defense.

The Yellowstone expeditions to navigate and survey the region produced mixed successes. General Henry Atkinson commanded the initial expedition of five steamboats, which were supposed to carry 1,100 men up the Missouri River in 1819. The river, however, proved un-navigable by steamboat. Two turned back at the start, and only one reached Council Bluffs (in present-day Iowa), halfway to the Yellowstone. Continued Indian attacks on American fur traders resulted in a second expedition in 1825 with 476 men under Atkinson. The party traveled in eight keelboats, arrived at the Yellowstone in August, and returned the same season. Ultimately, the Yellowstone River Expeditions furthered many of Calhoun's strategic goals for the Northwest. The parties surveyed and mappped out the Missouri River and its tributaries, built roads and forts to secure the region, and concluded treaties—which confirmed United States control of the territory—with fifteen Indian tribes.


Bartlett, Irving H. John C. Calhoun: A Biography. New York: Norton, 1993.

Mancall, Peter C. American Eras: Westward Expansion, 1800– 1860. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1999.

Tate, Michael. The Frontier Army in the Settlement of the West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

BlissIsely/s. b.

See alsoExploration of America, Early ; Fur Trade and Trapping ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Treaties ; Leavenworth Expedition ; Long, Stephen H., Explorations of ; Missouri River Fur Trade ; Western Exploration .