Lewis and Clark conducted formal diplomatic meetings with many tribal leaders. These occasions were dramatic and ceremonial, and often lasted for many hours. Dressed in military finery, the captains read from a prepared script that explained the territorial and political claims of the United States and expressed the desire for peaceful trade and friendship.
Lewis and Clark enacted existing conventions that guided Indian-white "forest diplomacy" in the eastern U.S. Many related protocols, such as gift exchange and pipe smoking, were Indian practices that were developed to frame their relations with Europeans. Early French, English and Spanish officials had established rituals such as the "dressing" of tribal leaders in European military uniforms and the presentation of peace medals. Before the expedition, Lewis purchased and prepared bundles of gifts specifically for chiefs, including specially-made American peace medals, fine uniform coats and hats, and woolen leggings. Tribal leaders reciprocated by presenting customary diplomatic gifts to the American explorers. Afterwards, they often engaged in less formal trade.
The exchange of diplomatic gifts recognized the standing of each nation and formalized the creation of a new relationship between them. The gifts also served as tangible reminders of the mutual obligations that such a relationship entailed.