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Sheheke, Sheheke-shote, translated as White Coyote, and also known as Coyote or Big White (1766–1812), was a Mandan chief.

His names is also at times spelled Shahaka.[1]

Sheheke was at the time of the arrival of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark among the Mandan in late 1804 the main civil chief at Mitutanka.[2]

Sheheke traveled with Lewis and Clark to meet United States President Thomas Jefferson On October 20, 1804, two Mandan leaders, each considering himself the principal chief of Matutonka, came to visit the captains. Having missed the previous day’s meeting, they asked the Americans to repeat their speeches. "They were gratified," Clark reported, "and we put the medal on the neck of the Big White to whom we had Sent Clothes yesterday & a flag." The captains meant well, but as usual they acted hastily, and only worsened an enmity they would have to deal with later. Furthermore, they had sealed a relationship with Sheheke that would bear bitter fruit. Upon their return in late August 1806, Sheheke reaffirmed his friendship, and promised that his people would "Shake off all intimacy with the Seioux and unite themselves in a strong alliance and attend to what we had told them.” Amid good feelings all around, they smoked, and took a walk together. "The Mandan Chief," Clark observed, "was Saluted by Several Chiefs and brave men on his way with me to the river."

The captains, still eager to fulfill Jefferson’s wish to show Indian leaders the advantages of American culture and civilization, invited Sheheke to return to the East with them, but their gesture only ignited old rivalries, and they had to rely on the able diplomacy of the trader and interpreter René Jusseaume to sort it all out for them. Sheheke finally agreed to go if he could take his wife and son, and if Jusseaume could take his family along, too.

Because of resistance from Sioux and Arikara warriors, his return home required two attempts in two years, involving a collective force of more than 600 soldiers, cost a total of $20,000 plus four American lives and one limb (of George Shannon), and brought down the careers of at least two great leaders — himself, and Meriwether Lewis. The trip cost him his once respectable reputation among his people, perhaps because of his long absence, but also because his people didn’t believe his tales of the wonders he had seen.

If it is true that Sheheke really wanted to spend the rest of his life among white people, then Jefferson’s policy, as carried out by Lewis and Clark, was vindicated. The irony of his story, however, is that he was killed in his own village by Sioux raiders in 1812. .[3] His descendant is Edward Lone Fight


  1. ^ Shirley Christian, Before Lewis and Clark (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) p. 149
  2. ^ James P. Ronda, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984) p. 69
  3. ^ Potter, Tracy (2003). Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat--the Story of White Coyote, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark. City: Farcountry Press. ISBN 978-1-56037-255-4.