Bad Gun or Rushing Eagle (Charging Eagle) in full ceremonial
dress. From the photographic archive of the State Historical
Society of North Dakota Museum Collections 0410-066.
Courtesy of Three Tribes Museum
|In 1946, a Boundary Convention was held at Shell
Creek (one of the villages before the Garrison Dam),
to discuss the territorial boundaries established by
the Fort Laramie Treaty. At this time, it was confirmed
that "Pipestone, Minnesota, is said to be a Mandan Village once upon a time."
Hazel Blake tells Hidatsa origin story.
|Knife River > Culture > Who's Who
of Knife River Villages, from pictograph by Sitting
Courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota
The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (Sahnish) now live
together as the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort
Berthold Reservation in west-central North Dakota, encompassing
Lake Sakakawea. Origin stories and anthropological evidence
document a complex sequence of movements prior to the
arrival in the Knife-Heart region of the Missouri River
by various bands of the Mandan with the Hidatsa over
the last 900 years, followed by the Arikara in the early
The cultural roots of the Siouan-speaking Mandan
and Hidatsa are very different from those of the Caddoan-speaking
Arikara, but for the last thousand years they have lived
similar lifestyles along the Missouri River. At the
time the Magna Carta was signed in Europe, the grandparents'
grandparents of these Missouri River tribes were raising
corn, beans and other cultigens and participating in
a vast network of inter-tribal trade.
The ancestors of the Hidatsa and Mandan came from
the same roots, long, long ago but their migration traditions
are separate and distinct. The Hidatsa are believed
to have separated from other proto-Siouan-speakers over
two thousand years ago, based on the study of language
differences among the different groups. The Mandan appear
to have separated somewhat later, perhaps sixteen centuries
ago. Prior to arriving on the Great Plains, along the
Missouri River, their stories tell of living in the
woodlands to the east.
a Mandan man, and his daughter in 1904
. Olin D. Wheeler photograph courtesy of the Newberry
Before the smallpox epidemic of 1837, when so many
Mandan people died, they called themselved Numakaki,
or simply "People" (Matthews 1877:14). The
Mandan retain two distinct origin stories; one in which
they originated in their traditional territory around
the mouth of the Heart River, and another in which they
originated on the west bank of the Mississippi at its
mouth, near the ocean, where they emerged from beneath
the earth, bringing corn with them (Bowers 1950:156-163).
Photo courtesy of Calvin Grinnell
|Long, long ago the Numakaki
traveled northward along the Mississippi to the mouth
of the Missouri, where they lived for a time. Then they
moved far to the north along the Mississippi, planting
corn as they went. Later they traveled overland to the
southwest and settled near the pipestone quarries in
Minnesota. Then one clan moved to a place north of the
Turtle Mountains where they stayed for a time before
moving to the Missouri River. The other clans moved
southward, then westward to the Missouri, where they
settled opposite the mouth of the White River. According
to tradition, the Awigaxa band vanished around this
time. Some of them returned later, but they talked differently.
The rest of the tribe moved northward until they settled
around the mouth of the Heart River. Here the ancestral
Buffalo People were created.
At the same time that one group of Mandans settled
the Heart River area, other Mandans remained far to
the south, still wandering. According to their oral
tradition, for a time they even lived away from the
Missouri, around the Black Hills, where they fought
with the Cheyenne (Schlesier 1994:343). Eventually
they settled around the mouths of the Cheyenne, Moreau,
and Grand Rivers (Bowers 1948:96). About 500 years ago,
these villages moved to the Heart
and Knife River area, where they settled with some of
the Hidatsa people.
The traders had many different names for the
Hidatsa Indians. They were often called Gros Ventres
or the English translation of that, Big Bellies, and
also Minnetares. The name Minnetaree, spelled in various
ways means, "to cross the water," a name given
to them by the Mandans when they first came together,
and the Mandans helped them to cross the water. They
were also called the Willow Indians tribe and the Ena-sa,
which is what they called themselves. Hidatsa was formerly
the name of a village occupied by these tribes, which
has been said to mean "willows." Some people
mistakenly believe they were called the Flying Fall,
or simply Fall, Indians, but this was a term used to
refer to the Gros Ventres of the Prairie, the Atsina,
not the Gros Ventres of the Missouri.
What is now known as the Hidatsa tribe is the amalgamation
of three groups, the Hidatsa proper, the Awatixa, and
the Awaxawi (or Amahami) (Bowers 1965). These groups
had different histories and only came together after
they settled on the Missouri.
The Amahami have a tradition similar to that of the
Mandan, where they emerged from the earth, long ago,
far to the southeast. Like the Mandan, they traveled
northward, where they settled at Devil's Lake. Later
they moved westward to the Painted
Woods (near Square Buttes) and settled near a village
of Mandan and another of Awatixa.
The Awatixa originated not from the earth, but from
the sky, led by Charred Body (Wood and Hanson 1986:34).
According to their tradition, their first people lived
near Painted Woods, "where they were created"
(Bowers 1948:17-18). After that they always lived between
the Heart and Knife Rivers along the Missouri.
The Hidatsa proper, still with those who would become
the River Crow, separated from the Amahami in what is
now western Minnesota. First they settled to the north,
then later moved south to Devil's Lake. In their travels
they met the Mandans and then moved westward and settled
with these distant relatives north of the Knife River.
Later they moved to the mouth of Knife River.
Anthropologists place approximate dates on all of
these migration stops based on archaeological evidence
and linguistic information. The Mandan are believed
to have moved from the area of southern Minnesota and
northern Iowa to the plains in South Dakota in about
900 A.D., and slowly migrated north along the Missouri
River to North Dakota around 1000 A.D. The Hidatsa moved
from central Minnesota to the eastern part of North
Dakota near Devil's Lake, and moved to join the Mandan
at the Missouri River about 1600 A.D.
Oral historians say the names "Arikara",
"Arickara", "Ricaree"s, and "Rees"
were given to them by their relatives, the Pawnee, to
describe the way they wore their hair. In the Arikara
Genesis as told by Four Rings, Priest of the Hukawirat
Sacred Bundle, Sahnish means "people". Melvin
Gilmore tells that,
"Arikara is not the name by
which this people call themselves, but the name by which
they were called by the Mandan. They call themselves
Sahnish, meaning "people". Other Indian people
they call saNIsahnis, while they call white people sahNIstaaka,
'take' being word for 'white' in their language."
Like the Mandan and Hidatsa, the Sahnish are comprised
of many small bands or villages of Caddoan-speaking
people who ultimately, after much traveling and strife,
came to live together and to be recognized by others
as one people. These groups, along with those who became
the Pawnee, lived for hundreds of years along the Platte
and Loup and other rivers in the Central Plains, where
they raised crops and hunted. They were living in northeast
Nebraska when the Omaha arrived, and the Arikara taught
them to build earthlodges and to plant and tend corn
(Fletcher and LaFlesche 1911).
chief White Parfleche (White Shield),
drawing by Philippe Regis Denis de Keredern de Trobriand(Manchou).
Photographic archive of the State
Historical Society of North Dakota, no. 87.35.3.
According to Arikara tradition, they came from the
east. They faced many dangers and obstacles, but continued
moving westward until they stopped at a beautiful place
where Corn Mother taught them how to live and work.
They say that this beautiful place was along the Loup
River, where they lived before they wandered westward,
and eventually settled along the Missouri. The story
upon which this is based was passed down from an Arikara
elder named Hand to a Skiri Pawnee who could speak Arikara
(a related language), and published by George Dorsey
in 1904 (Schneider 1994:29-30).
Although sharing cultures and histories for so long,
and governing the reservation jointly, the people keep
a distinct sense of tribal relationships. They have
their own communities on the Fort Berthold Reservation
where they continue to practice their own distinct traditions.