Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara
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Since Time Immemorial
All My Relations
Village Life & the Turning of the Seasons
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Eagle Trapping
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  Intertribal Trade
The Fur Trade
Story of a Medal
Making Treaties
The Shrinking Reservation
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Reckoning Time


   A Mandan Winter Count
Given by Foolish Woman at Independence, July 11, 1929, to explain the pictured events recorded in his notebook.

In the spring they crossed to the south side of the river, the band split up, and part camped where they had crossed and the other half went up the Yellowstone and made camp about Rosebud creek, in the gumbo tree timber.
That winter camp was down in old Cold Harbor where there is a creek known by Indians as Mussel Shell creek. A man by the name of Turtle did his first deed (of valor) by striking an enemy. A man by the name of Four Bears killed seven Sioux and brought one white horse back that same winter.
In the spring they crossed to the south side of the river, the band split up, and part camped where they had crossed and the other half went up the Yellowstone and made camp about Rosebud creek, in the gumbo tree timber.
A man by the name of Hand was chief of the village and appointed the camp.
A man named One Bull located the winter camp and he took the same site for the village. That winter there was chicken pox.
Next winter Man-with-long-hair established winter camp in the same place. He is said to have been quite an orator. You will find his oration in Washington yet. Many buffalo again, -- they came right into the village.

That summer Foolish Woman's grandfather was shot in the head during battle. The skull used to be lying right there on the battle-field.

(Beckwith: 1934)
Scattered Corn, Mandan mother of James Holding Eagle.She was the daughter of Moves Slowly, the last Mandan corn priest.
From Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 80, plate 2
Photo courtesy Three Tribes Museum.
Holding Eagle, Hidatsa father
of James Holding Eagle.

From Smithsonian Bureau of
American Ethnology, Bulletin 80, plate 2.
"No cows were kept at Fort Berthold on account of the cornfields; the
law prevailing there gives women the right to kill any animal that
strays into their fields. Once I saw a splendid 2-year-old colt half
killed by an Indian woman because it had escaped from its keeper and was
bustling about in the midst of the growing corn" (Kurz 1937:120).

Knife River > Culture > Since Time Immemorial
Photo by Harvey Thompson
A Creation Story
This Hidatsa version told by Mrs. Good Bear (Mandan and Hidatsa woman) and interpreted by Rollo Jones, June 11, 1929.
"It is our Indian custom to tell an old-time story when the corn is ripe. We have a man called Only Man. As he was walking along he came to himself. He stood and thought. A pipe was lying in front of him, over his head flew a raven. And he sang a song which said 'Where did I come from?' He thought, 'Where did I come from? How did I happen to come here? The earth about him was sandy and he could plainly see his own tracks, so he followed them back to see where he came from. He came to a wet spot, then farther on to a great water, beside which was a plant with spotted leaves. A Buffalo Bug was jumping about in the sand.The plant said, "I am your mother, it was I that bore you; that is your father," and the weed-mother told Only Man that he was born to arrange matters on the earth. - "Go back to the wet spot and there you will find a tall weed."

Mrs. Good Bear
Edward Curtis photograph, 1908
"That is for your pipe. I am just a weed, this is all I am for. If anyone has a sore eye or stomach trouble let him take me and boil me up for medicine. Go ahead and create things in the world." When he came to himself he had a wolf blanket and a cane with feathers tied to the end. He came to the wet spot and there grew a tall tobacco weed and around it buzzed a tobacco-fly - buzz, buzz, buzz. The bug said, "I am blowing your tobacco plant, - use it to smoke." Again he sang the same song - "Where did I come from?" and he pulled up the tobacco plant.

"As he was trotting along at a gentle pace another man came up suddenly. The two argued as to which was the older. They agreed "You lie here and I there and the first one that gets up will be the younger." Only Man said he would leave his cane standing and the other turned about and lay down and Only Man sang the same song - "Where did I come from?" He went on his way and traveled over the whole world from one end to the other, then he thought of his cane and returning to the spot where it stood he found it tottering and ready to fall. Grass grew where the other lay. He said, "This fellow can never get up again!" He took his cane and it became like new and he sang his song and was about to trot away when the other man got up from the heap of dust where his body had been and said, "I told you that I was older than you!"

"The two traveled to create the world. They looked for mud but there was sand alone. They came to a great lake where were two mudhens, a male and a female. They called them over and made them their servants and the mudhens dived and brought mud and the men made all creatures. They would throw the mud in the air and at once it became a bird. One bird had no place to go, so it flew over the stoney places and became a nighthawk. Another stuck its head into the red paint , saying it was hungry, and when it pulled its head out the head was red, so they said it should have a hard time to get a living out of rotten trees. This was the woodpecker.

"They made many kinds of different birds and animals and at last a grandmother frog came and said, You are making too many animals; we must make death so that the first ones may pass away and the new ones come." The two said, "You have nothing to say about our business!" and they picked up a stone and hit Grandmother Frog on the back. That is why her legs spread out so. That is how death started, and the child of Grandmother Frog was the first to die. Grandmother Frog came to the men and said, "I am sorry! Let us take it back and have no death!" but the men said, "No, it is impossible, it must be so."
The two said, "Let us improve the earth, it is all sand!" So they took the mud that was left and Only Man took his lump and smoothed it over the earth and the earth was flat. First Creator took a little bit and put it here and there and formed hills and bluffs. Only Man used his cane and leveled the north side of the earth and made lakes. First Creator's idea was that when the snow flies there should be rough land and trees and springs to protect men and animals from the cold. First Creator made nothing but buffalo to roam over the land and in every herd he made a white buffalo and he said that this white one should be precious. From the coast this way Only Man created and First Creator created the south side of the earth. Thus it has been told from generation to generation.

"After the creation Only Man was never seen again. First Creator turned into a coyote and from him came the coyotes today. He never knew where he came from" (Beckwith: 1930).
Oral History

The Origin of Indian Corn in North America
by James Holding Eagle, from a hand-written manuscript archived at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

James Holding Eagle
Photo courtesy of the Three Affiliated
Tribes from Three Tribes Museum
Indian corn
Photo courtesy of Calvin Grinnell
Indian Cornfield 1916,
From Gilbert Wilson Papers,
Minnesota Historical Society.
Neg #82700
Background: Hidatsa drying squash,
Gilbert Wilson photo, Minnesota Historical Society