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
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.
of the Mandan Indians in the foreground.
Nicolas Point, 1847
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
earthlodge village, Mih-tutta-hung-kush,
by Karl Bodmer
Courtesy of State Historic Society of North Dakota C0593
Arikara village near
[Fort Clark] at the junction of the Grand and Missouri rivers.
Nicolas Point, 1847.
Courtesy of Loyola Press.
Clark and Mandan village by Karl Bodmer.
Courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota CO594.
by Granville Stuart, May 1866 (Stuart: 1963).
Nicolas Point map of the Missouri River and forts,
Courtesy of Loyola
trauchoma, Ft. Berthold
Photo courtesy of the University of Montana Photo Archives, #72-767.
|Knife River > Culture > Fur Trade
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."
|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:
"…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
'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).
|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
"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.
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.
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:
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).
||La Ve´rendrye visits Mandan villages,
with Assiniboin escort. He leaves two Frenchmen
from his party at the villages to learn the language.
|| La Ve´rendrye's sons, Louis-Joseph,
the Chevalier, and Francois, spent May 18 to July
23 with the Mandans.
||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.
|| Mackintosh, a Canadian fur company trader
visited the Mandan villages.
||Smallpox epidemic and abandonment of
Heart River villages.
||John McDonnell visits the Mandan villages;
mentions Rene Jussaume and other French traders
residing with the Mandan.
||Jay Treaty (U.S. - British trade)
||Truteau establishes trade
with the Arikara near the Cheyenne River.
||Toussaint Charbonneau moves to Knife
||Arikara move north to the Grand River
||David Thompson visits the Mandans.
||U.S. Capitol moved from Philadelphia
Sakakawea kidnapped by a Hidatsa raiding party near
||Thomas Jefferson inaugurated as the third
president of the United States.
||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.
||April 30- United States buys Louisiana
Clark establishes base camp at Wood River, December.
|| Lewis and Clark camp below On-A-Slant
Village, Oct. 20.
L & C arrive at the Knife River villages, Oct.
L & C report a frenchman, Garrow, living in
(Also, Luttig reports Garrow served as interpreter
at Ft. Manuel Lisa in 1812.)
Men move into unfinished Fort Mandan, Nov. 16.
||Sakakawea's son Pomp born, Feb. 11.
Barge departs for St. Louis and expedition leaves
Mandan villages for the Pacific, April 7.
|| 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.
||Alexander Henry, a Northwest Co. trader,
resided with the Mandan and Hidatsa for several
||Manuel Lisa builds first American trading
|| Brackenridge, an American, and Bradbury,
an Englishman with scientific interests, spend time
in the villages and with the Arikara.
||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
||A woman thought to be Sakakawea dies
at Fort Manuel in present-day South Dakota, Dec.
||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.
||Atkinson & O'Fallon peace and trade
treaties signed with Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.
||Fort Floyd established at the mouth of
Yellowstone (renamed Fort Union, 1830).
||Jean Baptiste Charbonneau returns to
the Upper Missouri country.
||Fort Clark built.
||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.
||In the spring, George Catlin visited
Knife River villages.
||Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, and
Karl Bodmer winter in the Knife River villages.
||Smallpox epidemic nearly eliminates Mandans;
Hidatsa and Arikara greatly reduced.
Four Bears last speech given. Consolidation of villages
||Jesuits Priests Nicolas Point and Pierre
Jean DeSmet visit the villages on their travels.
||John James Audubon visits the Upper Missouri.
|| Like-A-Fishhook Village established
||Fort Berthold built near the new village
||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.
Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren leads topographical
exploration through the Upper Missouri country,
gathering data for the military.
||U. S. Congress establishes Dakota Territory.
||Arikara seek refuge from the Sioux in
Background from Nicolas
Point Map of the Missouri River and forts, courtesy of Loyola Press.