Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara
Traditional Culture
  Who's Who
Since Time Immemorial
All My Relations
Village Life & the Turning of the Seasons
Great River
Eagle Trapping
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
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  Relationship with U.S.
  Intertribal Trade
The Fur Trade
Story of a Medal
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
References Cited

September 17, 1851
Fort Laramie

Boundaries of the Gros Ventre, Mandan, and Arrickara nations defined as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Heart river; thence up the Missouri river to the mouth of the Yellowstone river; thence up the Yellowstone river to the mouth of Powder river, in a southeasterly direction, to the head waters of the Little Missouri river; thence along the Black hills to the head of Heart river; and thence down Heart river to the place of beginning.

Source: 18th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1896-97, J.W. Powell, Director


From Discovering Lewis & Clark(TM)>"Discovery Paths">"Native Nations">"Three Tribes">"Our Land-Our Home."
Joe Mussulman
Reproduced by permission
Made by E. Faber Co., late 19th century
Minnesota Historical Society 1986.100.5

Knife River > Culture > Making Treaties
Treaty Making
"Among a number of other customs, was a treaty making with other tribes. This was well described by Henry [Alexander Henry, 1806] who accompanied the Mandans and Hidatsa when they went to make a treaty with the Cheyennes. Most of the people went on these treaty visits; the band marched in a procession of fixed order and a number of ceremonial objects were carried exposed throughout the march. The party was met with great ceremony by the new allies and its members were taken into their houses. Several days of ceremonial feasting occured and finally the head chief of each party adopted a son from the other tribe. After this there was more feasting and several days of trade between the two bands, when both returned home" (Will and Spinden: 1974).

The first major treaties made with tribes in this region were made in 1825. A group under Indian Agent Benjamin O'Fallon and General Henry Atkinson traveled up the Missouri to the Yellowstone with nine keelboats and a large military escort, making treaties with the Teton, Yankton, and Yanktonai Dakota, Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. In these treaties the Indians acknowledged the supremacy of the United States, which in turn promised them its protection. The Indians agreed not to trade with anyone but authorized American citizens. They also agreed to the use of United States law to handle injury of American citizens by Indians and vice versa(MHA Nation website).

They Touched the Pen
This segment comes from "They Touched the Pen", the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Treaty of Fort Laramie September 17, 1851. An Exhibit at the Three Tribes Museum, New Town, North Dakota, August 2001

"Grandfather. Your talk is very good. My ears and the ears of my people have not been on the ground, they have been open and we feel good in our hearts at what you have told us . The ground is not now as it used to be. We come here from a long way off from the Missouri River. We come hungry for we are very poor and could find no buffalo, but we found friends and they gave us something to eat. This made our hearts glad. We are poor and we live far away; but we will do the best we can to satisfy our Grand Father. We hope he will send us more buffalo."

Words of WAHATA-UH, an Arikara Chief
Treaty Grounds near Fort Laramie, L.T.
September 8th, 1851
The Missouri Republican

"Years ago, back in 1851, the United States commissioned a number of men to come up and meet with us at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. We had representatives there, and we drew up obligations and agreements and declarations between the United States Government s and ourselves. Those agreements and declarations and treaties are still binding with us."

-Words of Martin Fox, Hidatsa
October 9, 1945


July 31 - The Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Assiniboine delegation leave Fort Union and follow the Yellowstone River to the southwest. They are accompanied by Alexander Culbertson, Agent in charge at Fort Union, and Fr. Jean-Pierre DeSmet, Jesuit Missionary

Aug. 7 - In the evening sky, the delegation observes four circles of azure, purple, black, and white around the moon. This causes the travelers some concern. (see Frontier, Dipps)

Aug. 11 - The delegation arrives at Fort Sarpy at the mouth of the Rosebud. They wait 6 days for Crow leaders who do not show up.

Aug.17 - They leave Fort Sarpy following the Rosebud River.

Aug. 22 - Reach headwaters of the Rosebud and follow what will later become "The Bozeman Trail." Camped north of what is now Buffalo, Wyoming, by a small lake now named "Lake DeSmet." They then crossed the Big Horn Basin.

Aug. 27 - Travelers reached the Powder River and met 3 Crow Indians. They follow the serpentine Powder on an arduous journey through what they would later call "The Valley of a Thousand Miseries."

Sept. 1 - Arrived at the Red Buttes east of what is now Casper, Wyoming. Fr. DeSmet estimates they are 160 miles west of Fort Laramie.

Sept. 2 - Reach the Oregon Trail which the Indian leaders call "The Great Medecine Road of the Whites."

Sept. 7 - Delegation arrives at Fort Laramie at sunset and finds that treaty site has been moved to Horse Creek about 30 miles southeast.

Sept. 8 - The Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Assiniboine delegation arrive at the Treaty Grounds on Monday and take their place at the Council completing their journey of 800 miles.

Sept. 17 - Fort Laramie Treaty is signed by the Chiefs, the Commissioners and interpreters.

Background for the Long Journey from Warren: 1855,
National Archives Record group 77, file Q579-50.

"In the early days, treaties were made by Four Bears, and we do not want to break them."

Words of George Parshall
May 27, 1946

"In the years that have come and gone, the time when Four Bears was alive (his statue is standing in front of the office), he was the one who made treaties with the Government that this land be ours forever. For that reason, we are here today. As I said before, we were here before the white man ever came and we are going to remain here forever."

Words of James Driver, Sr.
May 27, 1946

"Under the Four Bears treaty, the Government promised that the Indians would continue to live on their land forever. Now the United States becomes a poor guardian for its wards."

Words of Thomas Spotted Wolf
September 25, 1947

"In the treaty of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, September 17, 1851, the Fort Berthold Indians were assured by the Federal agents that their land would be secure and would be free from danger of dispossession in the future for any reason whatsoever. The Indians had great faith in this treaty and always hoped someday everything would be righted."

Words of Carl Sylvester, Hidatsa
May 2, 1948

"The history of the reservation as given by the Indians is substantially correct. So far as I have been able to determine, these Indians were at their present reservation location 140 years ago, when Lewis and Clark went through that country. They have never been removed, as many other Indian tribes have, from their original homeland. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 is only one of a series of treaties, going back, as far as I know, to 1825, recognizing the rights of these Indians in that area. Originally, the area was very much more extensive than the area which they now hold. I have here a map showing the original extent of the Fort Berthold area as recognized back is 1851.

Felix S. Cohen, Associate Solicitor, Department of the Interior
October 9, 1945
Background image: 1838 Samuel Parker map of Oregon Territory