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
  Arts and Artists
Recommended Web Sites

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

1806- Clark, William and Lewis, Meriwether Map of Part of the Continent of North America from Moulton, Gary E., Editor Atlas of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, 1983
1855- Warren, Lieut. G. K. Military Map of Nebraska and Dakota, Courtesy of Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana, Missoula. U. S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, Preliminary Report of Explorations in Nebraska and Dakota 33rd Congress, 1st Session. Printed by order of the U. S. Senate.
1876- Raynolds, Capt. William F. (1859-60 survey) with additions by Maj. Gillespie, Walter M. Camp, and Brig. General William C. Brown, Ret. Map of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and their Tributaries Courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society - State Archives
1884- Cram, Geo. F. Dakota
Courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society - State Archives
Fort Berthold, a few miles below the confluence of the Little Missouri and the Missouri, and a Gros Ventre village just outside it.
Nicolas Point, 1847.
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
Village of the Mandan Indians in the foreground.
Nicolas Point, 1847
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
image Mandan earthlodge village, Mih-tutta-hung-kush, by Karl Bodmer Courtesy of State Historic Society of North Dakota C0593
Arikara village near a fort
[Fort Clark] at the junction of the Grand and Missouri rivers.

Nicolas Point, 1847.
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
image Fort Clark and Mandan village by Karl Bodmer.
Courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota CO594.
Fort Berthold sketch
by Granville Stuart, May 1866 (Stuart: 1963).
Portion of Nicolas Point map of the Missouri River and forts,
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
Treating trauchoma, Ft. Berthold
Photo courtesy of the University of Montana Photo Archives, #72-767.

Knife River > Culture > Fur Trade
Forts, traders, artists, priests
"The Hidatsa leadership did not like the Lewis and Clark Expedition; they called them strangers. Why? They were accustomed to French and English traders who brought things of value to barter. Our people were eminently practical; if they had nothing to trade, what use were they and what were they doing here?

The majority of the other traders came from the north and traveled in smaller parties. The expedition came from the south and could have been considered interlopers. They came with a show of military might and gave pompous speeches telling our people to pledge allegiance to some unknown "great father". It is no wonder they were disliked."
Calvin Grinnell
Charles Mackenzie, a trader with the Northwest Company, was present in 1804 when Meriwether Lewis was inhospitably treated, and recorded in his narrative some words from Mandan and Hidatsa chiefs:
(Catlin: 1891)

"…they could not be reconciled to like these strangers as they called them:- 'Had these Whites come amongst us,' said the Chiefs, 'with charitable views, they would have loaded their Great Boat with necessaries. It is true they have ammunition but they prefer throwing it away idly than sparing a shot of it to a poor Mandane.'

'Had I these White warriors in the upper plains,' said the Gros Ventres chief, 'my young men on horseback would soon do for them, as they would do for so many wolves for,' continued he, 'there are only two sensible men among them-the worker of Iron, and the mender of Guns'" (Wood and Thiessen: 1985).

(Catlin: 1891)
Mackenzie's narrative continues on the subjects of the beaver trade and outside influence:

"The Indians in this quarter seldom use Guns for Buffaloes, Wolves &c for these they make use of arrows. Beavers are plentiful but the Indians will not take the trouble of attending to them. They often remarked to me that they would think it a pleasure to supply us with beavers if they could be secured the same as Buffaloes by a chace on horseback-but they consider the operation of searching for them in the bowels of the earth to satisfy the avarice of the Whites not only troublesome, but very degrading.

"White people," said they, "do not know how to live-they leave their homes in small parties; they risk their lives on the great waters, and among strange nations, who will take them for enemies:- What is the use of Beaver? Do they preserve them from sickness? Do they serve them from beyond the grave?"

I (Mackenzie) remarked that the Northern Nations were very industrious and great friends to the white people:

"We are no slaves," rejoined the Chief, "our fathers were not Slaves-in my young days there were no white men-and we knew no wants-we were successful in war; our arrows were pointed with flint, our lances with stone; and their wounds were mortal-Our Villages rejoiced when the men returned from war; of the scalps of our enemies they brought many. The white people came, they brought with them some goods: but they brought the small pox, they brought evil liquors-the Indians since are diminished, and they are no longer happy" (Wood and Thiessen: 1985).
Forts, Traders, Artists, Priests
Forts and trading posts with dates of operation.
Map adapted from Ray Wood ("Wood: 1990).
The Lewis and Clark expedition advertised a potentially rich source of trade in the upper Missouri country, the new frontier of the United States. The rush was on in St. Louis and a host of American fur trade companies organized to establish themselves in the strategic homelands of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations. The United States laid claim to those territories and wanted the British out of the trade monopoly. Manuel Lisa built the first American trading post in 1809. It was abandoned in 1812 as the war disrupted trading, however Lisa stayed and was instrumental in keeping the three tribes neutral during the conflict (Cash:1974).

The Indians were always in the middle of fur company rivalries - sometimes to their advantage as they played one against another. Part of the toll was exposure to liquor, corruption, and a new dependence on outside resources. The Hudson's Bay Co. absorbed the Northwest Company after a bitter rivalry which was finally resolved in outright war in 1821. Throughout the 20's the Columbia Fur Co., the American Fur Co., and the Hudson's Bay Co. all competed in the same region. In 1827, John Jacob Astor's American Fur Co. merged with the Columbia Fur Co. and formed a division known as the Upper Missouri Outfit.
"Steamboat Ontario going up the Missouri"
Painting by Mat Hastings, DeSmetiana Collection
Courtesy of the Midwest Jesuit Archives, St. Louis, MO

Ft. Clark was built in 1831 (by the Upper Missouri Outfit) next to the Mandan village Mih-tutta-hang-kush. The first steamer arrived in the Mandan villages in 1832 and heralded the acceleration of trade, more visitors, and more entrepreneurs heading upriver. The beaver trade slowed by 1832 as silk had replaced the skins in fashion

George Catlin arrived in the summer of 1832, and Karl Bodmer, with Prince Maximilian, was there during the winter of 1833-34. Fr. Nicolas Point drew sketches of the villages in 1847. Jesuit priest Pierre Jean DeSmet visited several times, and accompanied leaders of the three tribes to Fort Laramie treaty grounds in 1851. Swiss artist Rudolph Kurz sketched, painted, and worked as clerk in Forts Clark, Berthold, and Union in the late184o's and early '50's. Granville Stuart recorded his impressions as he passed through in 1866.

The fur trade was over by 1867, marked by the abandonment of Fort Union. The era had brought some technological advantages to the Indian and a slightly higher standard of living, but the price they paid was indeed exorbitant by any standard (Cash: 1974). Everything had changed, and much was lost.

The most brutal outbreaks of smallpox came in 1780 and again in 1837. The plague year of 1837 took half the population of the Hidatsa nd Arikara people, and reduced the Mandan population from 1800 in June to less than 100 by the end of the year.

Victims suffered horrifying symptoms, leaving disfigured corpses. The effects were staggering and demoralizing. There were no means to fight this enemy. Witnessing the ferocious all-consuming disease overwhelmed the Mandans physically and psychologically. Four Bears, the beloved Mandan chief and long-time friend of the whites, made a dramatic speech calling for vengeance. The reduced and grieving people were incapable of launching any kind of attack.

The Mandan were nearly lost, and abandoned their Knife River villages for refuge with the Hidatsa and Arikara camps. Eventually, in 1844, the bands joined the Hidatsa in a new village site on the east side of the Missouri, Like-a-fish-hook. This village became the permanent home of the two tribes and the beginnings of Fort Berthold. People struggled to maintain traditional lifeways and knowledge with so many leaders gone.

In early June of 1843, Audubon walked through prairie and ravines around Fort Clark. He observed:
"As we walked over the plain, we saw heaps of earth thrown up to cover the poor Mandans who died of the small-pox. These mounds in many instances appear to contain the remains of several bodes and, perched on the top, lies, pretty generally, the rotting skull of a Buffalo" (John James Audubon: 1897).

Small pox was the most dreaded epidemic, but many others were devastating as well: cholera, influenza, measles, and streptococcal infection. Rudolph Kurz recorded in his journal in 1851:

"August 29. Today old Gagnon...came back from a visit to the Arikara. He says eight people died there in one night from the same disease that is prevalent here and called cholera; the symptoms are violent cramps and vomiting, and usually death results in a few hours. Gagnon was guilty of a mad act in running his Arikara woman away from here to Fort Clarke; by so doing he spread the contagion in the Arikara village. Dorson thinks as I do, however, that cholera was brought in those bales of goods that we opened. Perhaps he welcomed the occasion that Gagnon's arrival afforded him to throw blame on the opposition. Gagnon had to make his escape by night when he realized the results of his imprudent act. The Arikara have also abandoned their village for the most part and are seeking another distant location" (Kurz: 1969).

G. K. Warren was on reconnaissance for the Corps of Topographical Engineers in Dakota and Nebraska Territories when he filed this report in 1857:

"The Mandans live in a village, six miles above Fort Clark, in the same manner as the Gros Ventres. They seem to be the last remnant of a distinct tribe from any of those around them. They have, through the agency of the small-pox, rapidly diminished since they were visited by Lewis and Clark, and now number about 250 souls. They live in constant dread of the diseases which white men have been at times introducing among them, and the main and oft-repeated request which they made to the Indian agent when I was there in July, 1856, was that he would keep sick white men away. When I returned there in September, and saw them again a victim of that scourge, the small-pox, brought among them that year by the steamboat of the rival company to the American Fur Company, and saw the despair depicted on every countenance, it made me feel heart-sick to think what wrongs these poor savages have suffered from the cupidity of my own race. The authors of this calamity, which visited all the tribes in this region, are fully exposed in the report of the Indian agent, Colonel Vaughan, in 1856-'57…

"These three little bands, the Gros Ventres, Mandans, and Rees, are fast dwindling away. They never can work much harm to the whites, and their mode of life at a fixed abode requires them to be peaceful. They exist now rather by sufferance of the Dakotas than by their own power, for the Dakotas could soon destroy them if they chose, as they did the villages of the Pawnees, on the Loup Fork, in about the year 1836. The Dakotas find it convenient for themselves to permit the existence of these villages, as their produce of corn, &c., forms a valuable commodity of trade between them" (Warren: 1857).

Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, a scientist accompanying the Warren expedition, observed in 1855:

"When the survivors had rallied and recovered, they left the village at the fort, and took up their residence in the other cabins, a few miles above. Here some attempt was made to reorganize their social system, but the race could only be propagated by intermarriage without regard to relationship, unless closely allied. To this they were forced by circumstances. The disease had only left one family, here and there, and no choice was offered for new connections. However, they conformed as nearly as practicable to their customary laws...

"The Mandans at this time (1855) number about thirty-five or forty huts, perhaps nearly three hundred souls, raise corn, squashes, beans, &c., same as the Minnetarees and Arikaras, and hunt buffalo when these animals are near their village. The destroying and humbling effects of the disease referred to could not change their indomitable spirit of pride and independence. They will not join with the other nations near whom they reside, connect themselves with them by marriage, nor practise any customs but those of their ancestors. Their religious rites and ceremonies are preserved entire, and the system of self-inflicting tortures is practised at the present day. Being too few in number to form war-parties, they remain at home and defend themselves" (Hayden: 1862).

As the buffalo disappeared and other game diminished, the people became more dependent than ever on food subsidies. Health impacts were numerous.

"When subsisting for the most part on fresh meat, these Indians had the soundest gums and teeth; and no flesh when wounded healed more rapidly than theirs. Lately, however, since the increase in the consumption of bacon and flour among them, and the destruction of their game, there have been many cases of scurvy, a disease which was particularly fatal to them in the winter of 1868-'69; and a tendency to abscesses, to suppurative terminations of diseases, and to a sluggish condition of wounds, manifests itself. The quantities of fresh meat they are able to consume are enormous. Sometimes, after a day's hunt, the hunters will sit up all night cooking and eating"" (Matthews 1865).The faith of the Mandan in their sacred objects was unshaken by two severe smallpox epidemics. They speak of these epi­demics as unfortunate and explain the impotency of their rites to protect the tribe on the grounds that, when the original cere­monies were introduced into the tribe, the sacred beings made no promise of tribal immunity to the white man's diseases. They believe that the tribe would have been exterminated by their enemies subsequent to the last smallpox epidemic had the cere­monies been abandoned" (Bowers: 1965).

1738-39 La Ve´rendrye visits Mandan villages, with Assiniboin escort. He leaves two Frenchmen from his party at the villages to learn the language.
1742 La Ve´rendrye's sons, Louis-Joseph, the Chevalier, and Francois, spent May 18 to July 23 with the Mandans.
1771-1781 A series of smallpox epidemics nearly wipes out Arikara villages along Missouri, reducing number of villages from about 30 to 2, near mouth of Cheyenne River.
1772 Mackintosh, a Canadian fur company trader visited the Mandan villages.
1782 Smallpox epidemic and abandonment of Heart River villages.
1793 John McDonnell visits the Mandan villages; mentions Rene Jussaume and other French traders residing with the Mandan.
1795 Jay Treaty (U.S. - British trade)
1795-96 Truteau establishes trade with the Arikara near the Cheyenne River.
1796 Toussaint Charbonneau moves to Knife River Villages.
1796 Arikara move north to the Grand River
1797-98 David Thompson visits the Mandans.
1800 U.S. Capitol moved from Philadelphia to Washington.
Sakakawea kidnapped by a Hidatsa raiding party near Three Forks.
1801 Thomas Jefferson inaugurated as the third president of the United States.
1802 Pierre Antoine Tabeau came up the Missouri with Loisel in 1802 when Fort aux Cedres was built. Tabeau returned and lived among the Arikara near the Grand River in 1803 - 1805.
1803 April 30- United States buys Louisiana ($15 million).
Clark establishes base camp at Wood River, December.
1804 Lewis and Clark camp below On-A-Slant Village, Oct. 20.
L & C arrive at the Knife River villages, Oct. 26.
L & C report a frenchman, Garrow, living in the villages.
(Also, Luttig reports Garrow served as interpreter at Ft. Manuel Lisa in 1812.)
Men move into unfinished Fort Mandan, Nov. 16.
1805 Sakakawea's son Pomp born, Feb. 11.
Barge departs for St. Louis and expedition leaves Mandan villages for the Pacific, April 7.
1806 Expedition returns to present-day North Dakota, Aug. 3. Leaves Aug. 20.
Lewis and Clark reunited, Aug. 12.
Expedition leaves Knife River villages, Aug. 17.
1806 Alexander Henry, a Northwest Co. trader, resided with the Mandan and Hidatsa for several weeks.
1809 Manuel Lisa builds first American trading post.
1810 Brackenridge, an American, and Bradbury, an Englishman with scientific interests, spend time in the villages and with the Arikara.
1812-13 John C. Luttig, clerk for the Missouri Fur Co.'s expedition up the Missouri; keeps a journal during his travels and residence at Manuel Lisa's post.
1812 A woman thought to be Sakakawea dies at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota, Dec. 20.
1823 Arikara attack Wm. Ashley's party, from the villages on Cottonwood Creek. The U.S. govt., led by Leavenworth and aided by hundreds of Sioux lay siege to the villages. Under cover of night, the Arikara eventually escaped to the north to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages at Knife River, where they spent a year before returning to their villages on Cottonwood Creek.
1825 Atkinson & O'Fallon peace and trade treaties signed with Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.
1828 Fort Floyd established at the mouth of Yellowstone (renamed Fort Union, 1830).
1829 Jean Baptiste Charbonneau returns to the Upper Missouri country.
1831 Fort Clark built.
1832 First steamboat reaches the Mandan villages. For the next 30 years, one or two steamers a year brought goods and people to the Knife River Villages.
1833 In the spring, George Catlin visited Knife River villages.
1833-34 Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, and Karl Bodmer winter in the Knife River villages.
1837 Smallpox epidemic nearly eliminates Mandans; Hidatsa and Arikara greatly reduced.
Four Bears last speech given. Consolidation of villages
1840's Jesuits Priests Nicolas Point and Pierre Jean DeSmet visit the villages on their travels.
1842-43 John James Audubon visits the Upper Missouri.

Like-A-Fishhook Village established
1845 Fort Berthold built near the new village
1850 Cholera
1851 Four Bears Treaty, the Fort Laramie treaty grounds, De Smet accompanies the three tribes' delegation.
Rudolph F.Kurz, Swiss artist, in the Mandan villages and trading posts.
1856 Smallpox
Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren leads topographical exploration through the Upper Missouri country, gathering data for the military.
1861 U. S. Congress establishes Dakota Territory.
1862 Arikara seek refuge from the Sioux in Like-a-Fishhook village.
Background from Nicolas Point Map of the Missouri River and forts, courtesy of Loyola Press.