MHA Nation History

This Resource Guide is written for the purpose of providing basic information about the histories and cultures of the  Three Affiliated Tribes - the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish. The tribes believe their presence in North America is from  the beginning of time. The Mandan call themselves "the People of the first Man." The Hidatsa were known as Minnetaree, or Gros Ventre. Hidatsa was formerly the name of a village occupied by these tribes, which has been said to mean  "willows." The name Minnetaree, spelled in various ways, means "to cross the water." Oral historians say the names  "Arikara, Arickara, Ricarees, and Rees" were given to them by the Pawnee and other informants to describe the way they wore their hair. It is important to be mindful that the people call themselves Sahnish, which means, "the original  people from whom all other tribes sprang." Although sharing cultures and histories for so long, the people keep a  distinct sense of tribal relationships.

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Historical overview

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish live in the Missouri River area. Historians document the first tribe, to occupy this area was the Mandan with the Hidatsa, and the Sahnish moving up the river later. The Mandan and Hidatsa people were originally woodland people who moved to the plains at various times. One theory is the Mandan moved from the area of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to the plains in South Dakota about 900 A.D., and slowly migrated north along the Missouri River to North Dakota about 1000 A.D. The Hidatsa moved from central Minnesota to the eastern part of North Dakota near Devils Lake, and moved to join the Mandan at the Missouri River about 1600 A.D. The Mandan and Hidatsa believe they were, created in this area and have always lived here. According to anthropologists, the Sahnish people lived in an area that extended from the Gulf of Mexico, across Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. Dates of migrations all Three Tribes have been, determined by archeological investigation of village sites constructed along the Missouri and elsewhere. Many of these sites, although collapsed and abandoned long before, were excavated along the Missouri River during the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the 1995 the North Dakota Historical Society completed the Missouri Trench National Historical Landmark Theme Study, that summarized the archeological investigation of the Missouri River area from southern South Dakota through North Dakota to Montana. Many of the sites were of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish origins. Ethnographers (people who study cultural societies) group people by the languages they used or were likely to be used by a single group at one time. Indian nations were divided into several linguistic groups. The Mandan and Hidatsa tribes belong to the Siouan linguistic group, along with the Crow, Dakota, Lakota, Yanktonai, Assiniboine, Iowa-Oto- Missouri, Quapaw, Omaha-Ponca-Osage-Kansa. The Sahnish belong to the Caddoan linguistic group, along with the Pawnee, Caddo, Wichita, Anadarko, Skidi, Tawakoni and Waco. This guide links the oral and written histories of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish to provide a more accurate viewpoint. The oral tradition preserved the history and ceremonies of the Tribes through a strict and sacred process, thereby adding to the validity of oral tradition.


The Mandan tribe

The first known account of the Mandan is that of the French trader, Sieur de la La Verendrye, in the fall of 1738. McKenzie visited the Mandan in 1772. Written accounts came from Lewis and Clark who arrived among the Mandan in the fall of 1804. They furnish only the location and early condition of the archaeological remains both of the Mandan and Arikara. Alexander Henry, a trader for the Northwest Company, came to trade fur with the Mandan in 1806. After Henry Brackenridge and Bradbury came to the area together in 1810. They wrote additional information about the Mandan, but mostly about the Arikara.

The next visitor was the artist, George Catlin, who visited in the spring of 1833. Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, spent the winter months of 1833-34 among the Mandan. Maximilian may be recognized as the best of the various authorities. (Will, Spinden, pp. 86-88). According to McKenzie and Sieur de la La Verendrye, the nine villages they visited in 1738 and 1772, were the oldest villages. Verendrye described the Mandan as being in full power and prosperity. The Mandan had not yet suffered the losses by disease and war, which caused them to leave these villages.

Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals on March 10,1805, "The Mandan's formerly lived in six large villages at and above the mouth of the Heart River. " Maximilian says, "After the first alliance with the Hidatsa, the Mandan's lived in eight or nine villages at and above the Heart River." These villages were abandoned between 1772 and 1804. (Will, Spinden, p.90).

The Mandan had a origin narrative of coming out of the earth. In relating their story to Maximilian, they came from the east out of the earth and entered the Missouri at the White Earth River in South Dakota. The eastern origin corresponds with that of the rest of the Siouxan stock to which the Mandan's, both linguistically, and to a considerable extent, culturally belong. The Ohio valley would seem to have served as a point of dispersal where the Plains members of the Siouxan stock are supposed to have moved in four successive migrations. The earliest group to leave consisted apparently of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Crow, and of these the Mandan were probably a number of years ahead of the other tribes.

The Mandan's have vivid recollections of the coming of the Hidatsa many years later and established fixed villages on the Heart River. They describe the Hidatsa as a wild wandering people whom they taught to build stationary villages and to raise corn, pumpkins and other vegetables, and who soon moved up to the Knife River. (Will, Spinden, p. 97). In the earliest historical accounts the Mandan were firmly established in stationary villages in the neighborhood of the Heart River. Verendrye says they were a large and powerful nation and feared none of their neighbors. Their manufactures were almost necessities among the other tribes, and in trade they were able to dictate their own terms. Their forts were well fortified. The smallest village he visited had one hundred and thirty houses. Verendrye's son visited one of the larger villages, declared that it was twice as large. There were at least one thousand houses in several villages. Lewis and Clark declared that in the two villages of one hundred huts there were three hundred and fifty warriors. At this rate there should have been at least fifteen thousand Mandan in 1738 dwelling prosperously in large and well-fortified towns. (Will, Spinden, p. 99).

The Mandan had created an focal point of trade on the Missouri River. All of the plains tribes came to barter for agricultural good and products. Called the "Marketplace of the Central Plains", the Mandan established what was to be the forerunner of trading posts that came later to the area. There is little information for the next sixty-six years. The Mandan prospered and grew powerful up to 1772. Their remaining history is summed up in their own tradition as related to Lewis and Clark and Maximilian. Formerly they lived happily and prosperously in nine large villages on the Missouri near the mouth of the Heart River. Six or seven of these villages were on the west side and two or three were on the east side of the river. For a great many years they lived there when one day the smallpox came to those on the east side of the river. The survivors then proceeded up the river some forty miles where they settled in one large village. After the smallpox reduced the villages on the west to five, the five went up to where the others were, in the neighborhood of some Arikara, and settle in two villages. A great many Mandan had died and they were no longer strong and fearless. They made an alliance with the Arikara against the Sioux. All this happened before 1796 and is chronicled in Henry and Schoolcraft. Lewis and Clark found the two villages one on each side and about fifteen miles below the Knife River. Both villages consisted of forty to fifty lodges and united could raise about three hundred and fifty men. Lewis and Clark describe them as having united with the Hidatsa and engaging in continual warfare against the Arikara and the Sioux.

The description given by Lewis and Clark agrees with the conditions two years later when Henry visited them. In 1837, smallpox attacked them again, raged for many weeks and left only one hundred and twenty-five survivors. The Mandan's were taken in by the Arikara, with whom they intermarried. They separated, again forming a small village of their own at Fort Berthold. In 1850 there were three hundred and eighty-five Mandan, largely of mixed blood, living. There are only a few of the full-blooded Mandan left. The culture has changed, the language has changed, and as a nation the Mandan are practically extinct. (Will, Spinden, p. 101). In 1700, the entire section of the Missouri from the Cannonball to the mouth of the Yellowstone was occupied by groups of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Crow. The largest villages were near the mouth of Heart River. The Nuptadi and Nuitadi bands were living on both banks of the Missouri.

The Awigaxa band of Mandan and the Awaxawiband of Hidatsa lived further upstream at the Painted Woods. All these bands practiced agriculture and were less nomadic than the Awatixa band of Hidatsa and the Crow. These groups moved little until the close of the 18th century, when their populations were sharply reduced by smallpox and other epidemics. Each village had an economic unit, hunting and protection for older remaining people, and each had a garden section. The Mandan were divided into bands while living at the Heart River. The bands were Is' tope, meaning "those who tattooed themselves"; Nup'tadi (does not translate), which was the largest linguistic group; Ma'nana'r "those who quarreled"; Nu' itadi "our people"; and Awi' ka-xa (does not translate). These groups combined as the tribe was decimated with each smallpox epidemic. (Bowers, 1950).


the hidatsa tribe

Accounts of recorded history in the early 18th century identify three closely related village groups to which the term Hidatsa is applied. These groups are identified as the Hidatsa Proper, largest of the three, the Awatixa, a smaller group, and the Awaxawi. The three Hidatsa village groups spoke distinct dialects. The largest of the three were the Hidatsa Proper ( Hiratsa) whose own name for themselves meant "willows."  

The French and English traders called them Gros Ventre, mistaking them for an Algonquian-speaking tribe living in north-central Montana. A smaller group, the Awatixa, lived near the Hidatsa Proper.  Lewis and Clark referred to them as the "Little Minnetaree Village" in contrast to the "Grand Village of the Minnetaree." The most separate group, in culture and dialect, from the others were the Awaxawi, who lived further south of the Knife River and were closely associated with the Mandan. Another name traders and travelers used for this group was Wiitas how nu, a Sahnish term used to name all the Hidatsa groups, which translates both as "well dressed men" and "people of the water." (Matthews, 1877, p.36B). 

During 1600-1700, these groups of Hidatsa moved westward, occupying sections of the Missouri and its tributaries. The Awatixa band of Hidatsa became agricultural and settled at the mouth of Knife River. According to the traditions of both the Mandan and Hidatsa groups, the last migration was of a nomadic people who had lived northeastward of Devils Lake. This group separated after quarreling over the division of a buffalo. Those who moved farther upstream along the Missouri and Yellowstone became known as the "Paunch" Indians, those who remained near the other Hidatsa villages were known as the Hidatsa. During the period of recorded history, beginning with Thompson in 1797 and continuing to 1837, the Hidatsa were three, independent, closely related, village groups whose size remained unchanged.  Thompson visited these groups in their winter camps in 1797 and gave the following figures for households by village groups: Awatixa, 31 earth lodges and 7 tipi's; Hidatsa, 82 earth lodges; Awaxawi and Mandan, 15 Awaxawi and 37 Mandan; Mandan 153 earth lodges. Thompson estimated the population to be 1,520 Mandan and 1,330 Hidatsa.  Maximilian in 1833 estimated the total population to be between 2,100 to 2,200. (Bowers, 1992, p. 11).

Subsequent explorers and fur traders such as Mackintosh in 1771, LeRaye in 1802, Lewis and Clark in 1804-1805, and Alexander Henry in 1806 were aware of the different cultures of the three Hidatsa villages and the Crow. Catlin in 1832 did not recognize the Awaxawi as a separate tribe. In 1833, Maximilian reported that the Hidatsa groups were in the same villages when Charboneau came to the Missouri in 1797. The Awatixa and Awaxawi were not living at the mouth of Knife River when Maximilian described an attack by the Sioux. This incident provides a date for the final union of the three Hidatsa village groups at the mouth of Knife River. There they remained in close associations until 183 7 when they scattered to escape a second smallpox epidemic. (Bowers).

THE AWAXAWI The Awaxawi at one time, lived as nomads in the east, as agriculturists, and later at Devils Lake. They later lived downstream of the Heart River and beyond the Crow to the west and the other Hidatsa Crow group to the northeast and upstream. They lived in the Painted Woods region around the Square Buttes where they remained on friendly terms with the Mandan. The Awaxawi were downstream near the Mandan of the Hensler-Sanger region where Lewis and Clark described ruins of their villages in 1804. Prior to the epidemic of 1782, they had few enemies. The Hidatsa hunted upstream from the earth lodge villages at and below Knife River of the Missouri.  Here, between the Knife and Yellowstone, they were numerous enough to withstand attacks of the Assiniboine, who hunted in the area but rarely wintered on the Missouri River. During this time, the Awaxawi moved upstream and attempted to build a permanent village above the Knife River only to be driven out by the Hidatsa Proper. War broke out between them that lasted three years. The Awaxawi moved downstream near Fort Yates and built a village near the friendlier Cheyenne. This conflict with the Hidatsa Proper and temporary residence below the Mandan was prior to 1782, as the Awaxawi were in the Painted Woods region during the first recorded smallpox epidemic. (Dunn, 1963, p.159).

THE AWATIXA Early history and migrations of A watixa have them occupying positions on the Missouri, specifically around and upstream from Painted Woods. They have no traditions of permanent residence elsewhere. It was in this area that they believe the clans originated.

THE HIDATSA PROPER The group known as the Hidatsa Proper lived on the north bank of the Knife River. They were an agricultural and nomadic group. Their territory ranged upstream along the Missouri, its tributary regions to the west, the Mouse River and Devils Lake regions to the northeast. The Hidatsa Proper were recognized by Thompson to be formerly agriculturists living at the headwaters of the Red River. They were a confederation of nomadic Hidatsa who came from the north to settle near the Mandan, where they adopted agriculture and permanent villages. At the close of the 18th century, Canadian fur traders from the north, and St. Louis traders from the south, visited the Hidatsa who were reported to have two thousand members living in three villages located near the mouth of the Knife River near the two villages of the Mandan. During the years 1804, 1832,  1833, and 1834, travelers to the three Knife River villages indicated these villages remained the same since 1796. There was no change until the epidemic of 1837, when the survivors of the three villages formed as one on the Knife River. They remained there until 1845, when the Hidatsa and the Mandan moved up the Missouri and established Like-a-Fishhook Village (Matthews, 1877, p. 40). 

the arikara (sahnish) tribe

The oral history of the Sahnish people is taken from sacred bundles and is verified by archeological findings.  Ancient objects and ceremonies are part of the oral history of the people.  The Sahnish history has its roots in eastern Nebraska where numerous village sites were found. Oral history tells of a person called "Chief Above" who brought these villages together in a union for protection against waiting tribes. Archeologists confirm there was a drawing  together into large villages on the Elk Horn River in what is now called Omaha, Nebraska, at the end of the prehistoric and beginning of the proto-historic period. 

In 1714, explorer "Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont, who spent several years with the Sahnish, described three Sahnish villages on the west bank of the Missouri above the Niobrara River and 40 villages still farther up river on both banks. By 1723, the Sahnish had gone up the Missouri into South Dakota near the Arickara River (called Grand River today). 

In 1738, Pierre de Vamess Gaultier de La Verendrye, a French fur trader from Montreal, seeking a route to the Pacific Ocean, reported villages of the Panaux and Panai (Sahnish) living a day's journey from the Mandan villages near the mouth of the Cannonball River. In 1743 La Verendrye's son arrived at the Sahnish villages at the mouth  of the Bad River and was met by the Little Cherry Band of Sahnish. La Verendrye commemorated the event by planting a tablet that today is kept in a museum at Pierre, South Dakota. Jean Baptist Trudeau, a French fur trader, found the Sahnish living at the mouth of the Grand River around 1794-95. Trudeau was the first trader to live with the Sahnish for a long period of time. 

Their westward movement has sometimes prompted historians to promote the myth that the "Arikara seemed to have wandered aimlessly up the Missouri River."  According to Sahnish oral historians, the extensive movements of the tribe were not at random or without purpose, but was the westward migration in fulfillment of the directive given to them by Neesaau ti naacitakUx,  Chief Above, through an ancient tradition and from a sacred being called "Mother Corn." (Dorsey, 1904). Lewis and Clark encountered the Sahnish people at the mouth of the Grand River in 1804, and found them living in three villages that numbered about 3,000.  

The first village was on an island two miles above the Oak Creek and contained about sixty lodges. The whole island was under cultivation.  The other two villages were on each side of a creek, which from its references, appears to be the Cottonwood Creek of today. On June 10, 1833, George Catlin passed the Sahnish villages at the Grand River but did not come ashore because he considered them hostile. He sketched their villages from the deck of the steamer "Yellowstone." That same year, the Sahnish left the banks of the Missouri River after two successive crop failures and conflicts with the Mandan. They rejoined  Pawnees in Nebraska on the Loop River, where they stayed for three winters. Because this location made them susceptible to attack by the whites and the Sioux, after only a few years, the Sahnish moved back to the Missouri River area. Upon their arrival back to the Missouri River area, they were stricken with an old enemy, smallpox. In June 1836 and into 1837 the Sahnish people were decimated by the third epidemic of smallpox at their village below the Knife River near Ft. Clark. 

In 1856, the fourth smallpox outbreak occurred in the Star Village at Beaver Creek. The smallpox outbreak and the constant raids by the Sioux forced the move in August of 1862 of some Sahnish to Like-a-Fishhook Village, while some remained at Star Village at Beaver Creek. Their bout with smallpox was the final blow that left the Sahnish people weak. They lost almost half of their population. Later, fire destroyed the old Mandan lodges, and they built a new village their and remained until the abandonment and destruction of Fort Clark in 1861. In 1862, the Sahnish moved up to join the Mandan and Hidatsa at Like-A-Fishhook Village. 

three affiliated tribes history

Each tribe maintained separate bands, clan systems, and separate ceremonial bundles.  After the devastation of the small pox epidemics of 1792, 1836, and 1837, homogenous societies evolved for economic and social survival. The three tribes lived in earth lodges, were farmers, hunted wild game and relied heavily on the buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and animal pans for making various utensils and garden tools.  They maintained a vast trading system and were considered middlemen by neighboring tribes with different types of trade products. 

Additional History for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara



At the turn of the century, Indian lands were a primary focus of government interest. It was evident to the white man that the Indians had too much land.  Continuous pressure was brought to bear on Congress and the Federal Government by many outside interests. Through the successive allotment acts, and encroachment, Indian lands were being lost at a phenomenal rate. Jurisdiction over Indian lands continued to be the responsibility of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but seemed likely to disappear as the Indians became independent landowners when they received patents and ownership of their own lands. It was the Indian Bureau's idea of ending the task of administering Indian lands by allowing their lands to be transferred to whites. In the 1901 Annual Report of the Indian Commissioner, Agent Richards stated that the annuities had expired and the agency would have to operate on the saving from the ten installments they had received since 1891. The agent thought they could sell a strip of land twelve miles wide on the north side of the reservation. A special agent later that year suggested selling off  200,000 acres on the west side.  

Congress passed a law on March  3, 1901 to provide employment of a number of special agents to visit Indian reservations and negotiate for the sale of 'surplus' lands. James McLaughlin, veteran agent with many tribes, arrived at Fort Berthold in June, 1902. He proposed that the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish sell about 315,000 acres of their land. They opposed. Upon reaching an agreement, the tribes agreed to sell 208,000 acres at $1.25 per acre, to build a fence, and to purchase bulls, mares, mowing machines, and rakes. The remaining funds were to be distributed equally to each individual. For unknown reasons, this proposal submitted to Congress was never ratified. A bill was introduced to effect the opening of the reservation land. The tribes objected because the government failed to hold a council with them and get their consent to the proposed legislation. The Act of June 1, 1910, provided for the outright cession of thirteen full and eight fractional townships and the rest of the reservation north and east of the Missouri except for allotments made to individuals. Certain lands were also reserved for agency, school, and mission purposes on the left bank of the river, and provision was also made for the protection of the site of Like-a-Fishhook Village. Allotments of 160 acres of agricultural land or 320 acres of grazing land were to be made to every member of the Tribes, over and above all previous allotments. Individuals were to receive a sum equal to the appraised value, not a flat sum as proposed. Although this represented a victory for the Indians, not all were satisfied. The reservation was becoming a narrow strip on both sides of the Missouri.  More land went out of Indian ownership. 


Congress passed the General Allotment Act of 1887, about the time the tribes moved out of Like-a-Fishhook Village. This Act was to put an end to the Indians' tribal rights to reservation land and make them individual land owners. It was also a well orchestrated and thought out scheme to separate the Indians from their lands. Any un-allotted Indian land could then be deemed government surplus, and dealt with however the government saw fit. It was given over for homesteads of settlers. 

The Executive Order of 1891 provided for the allotment of the Fort Berthold Reservation. This order restricted the sale of un-allotted lands and reserved them for future members of the tribe.  The reservation was to be divided into standardized plots-heads of families received 160 acres each, women and men over the age of 18 who were not heads of families were allotted 80 acres each, children received 40 acres each. The actual allotment of reservation land began in 1894. The General Allotment or Dawes Act of February 8, 1887, is an example of a change in the Governments ' policy towards Indian leadership that encouraged Government officials to deal with individuals or families, to bypass tribal leaders, and to ignore tribal governing structures. Had the Act been successful, the allotment policy would have brought an end to the reservation system. When people moved onto individual allotments, they were each given one of the following:  a cook-stove, a yoke of work oxen, a breaking plow, a stirring plow, a cow, a wagon, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a hand rake, a scythe, and a pitch fork. They were expected to build a frame or log house on their allotment. All adult males were to work to support themselves, and children between eight and eighteen were to attend school. Farming on the bench lands did not go well those early years because of the lack of rain and poor soil. 

The agency recommended cattle, sheep, and swine be added to supplement grain crops. This policy and practice contradicted Indian beliefs and practices. The Indians traditionally thought of land in terms of communal use and never as individually owned. Individual ownership made it easier for white people to purchase Indian lands. Millions of acres were lost as a result of this Act. The Dawes Act granted to individual Indians selected rights and privileges, but included constricting regulations, bringing then under control and watchful eye of the government. The goal of allotment was to replace tribal culture with the white man's culture. On December 14, 1886, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish signed away 1,600,000 acres of Fort Berthold land and the reservation was opened to white settlement. By 1891, through successive executive orders, epidemics, Indian agents, and allotments, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish) were stripped of their property and disorganized as a group.  Expected to assume a philosophy of individualism, they were, as individuals, pushed to lower and lower social and economic levels. (Dunn, 1963)


During the late 1880s and early 1890s, a severe drought gripped the country. Bad weather and severe droughts destroyed crops of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish.  Government attempts to “civilize” and “christianize” the Indians governed Federal policy, as was the blatant focus at breaking up their land base. In 1883, Secretary of the Interior Henry M. Teller initiated the Court of Indian Offenses. His goal was to eliminate "heathenish practices" among the Indians. (Secretary of Interior Report, Nov. 1,1883). 

J.D. Adkins, Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1885 to 1888 exerted great influence and pressure to promote use of the English language in schools attended by Indian children stating "A wider and better knowledge of the English language among them is essential to their comprehension of the duties and obligations of citizenship." (Report of September 21, 1887, in House Executive Document, No.1, part 5, vol. II, 50th Congress, 1st Session, serial 2542, pp. 18-23). 

School age children were sent to school and encouraged to become farmers. Indians were to follow the laws of the Court of Indian Offenses, which punished them for having more than one wife and for participating in dances and traditional religious ceremonies. Although many men agreed to become farmers or wage earners, difficulties were encountered in doing large-scale farming. Year after year, the crops were killed by droughts, early frost, insects, or other disasters. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were accustomed to farming only the floodplain of the Missouri for their crops, but the government wanted them to plant and raise surplus crops away from the river bottom. 

In 1871, Indian agent Tappen reported that the men had broken 640 acres in the flood plain and grew enough corn and squash to last the winter. As a reward, the men were given wagons and horse harnesses. Later, they would grow wheat and oats, which was turned over to the agent to sell and the agent controlled the money made from the sale of these grains.  

Agent Tappens' 1873 report, described the general surface of the land as not fertile, sparsely timbered, and without water. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were surrounded by wilderness of prairie for hundreds of miles where very little game lived, hardly a good location to start an agricultural economy. They worked diligently with the primitive implements given them and had nine hundred acres under cultivation. Corn, wheat, oats, barley, field peas, potatoes, turnips and garden varieties were raised. Agent Tappan requested proper accommodations for himself and his employees, a schoolhouse, with a dwelling for the teacher, two or more storehouses, a hospital building, where native doctors could be kept from patients, and a new building for a sawmill. 

Indian agent, L.B. Sperry succeeded Tappan in 1874, and initiated a policy of giving annuities directly to the families instead of a chief. This policy eroded the role of the chief and the tribal system of the people. In 1874 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Edward P. Smith, urged the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish) to leave Fort Berthold, with its unproductive soil, unfriendly climate, scant supply of wood, poor water, high winds, dust, drought, frost, flood, grasshoppers, and the Sioux. That year a delegation from the Three Tribes went to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to investigate the possibilities of moving to that area. Although pleased with the country, they refused, fearing it would be too warm, dreading the long journey, and, most of all, losing their attachment to the place of their birth and homes of their dead. (Dunn, 1963). See letter in the Appendix. 

Early COnflicts war of 1823

A part of a national policy to show Indian nations the strength of the United States, the government requested that tribal people be brought to the east as representatives of their nations. In some cases, it was an effort on the part of the explorers and traders to show case their discoveries. The result of this policy can be seen with the incident at Leavenworth.  

The incident began when explorers Lewis and Clark negotiated the trip that sent the Sahnish village chief, Ankedoucharo (Eagle Feather) to Washington, D.C. where he died. There was no explanation of how and why he died. Lewis and Clark, fearing the wrath of the Sahnish, did not tell them until a year later. When the Sahnish found out about his death, they became rightfully angry. President Thomas Jefferson tried to appease the Sahnish with the following eulogy: He (Chief Ankedoucharo) consented to go towards the sea as far as Baltimore and Philadelphia. He said the chief found nothing but kindness and good will wherever he went, but on his return to Washington he became ill. Everything we could do to help him was done but it pleased the Great Spirit to take him from among us. We buried him among our own deceased friends and relations. We shed many tears over his grave. (Delegates in Buckskins). The President's explanation did not impress the Sahnish.  

For the next twenty years they were hostile to white people. The inexplicable death of their chief was the major reason for their so-called belligerence. The most notable of these hostilities was in the 1823 battle where the Sahnish took revenge for the death of their chief on General Ashley and his men who were coming up the river from St. Louis. The Sahnish killed several men, took some of their goods, and set their boats adrift in the river. The attack angered the white military forces and they set out with soldiers, artillery, cannons and 800 to 900 Sioux for Leavenworth to "teach the Arikara (Sahnish) a lesson." (Leavenworth Journal). The Sahnish had fortified their villages well. The Sioux were first into the battle, and when they met the Sahnish, they both lost lives. The Sioux, fearing Leavenworth was losing the battle met with the Sahnish. It was presumed they wanted to join the Sahnish. They then left the battle taking with them corn and other crops of the Sahnish leaving Leavenworth's forces to their own tactics. The Sahnish were surrounded by the United States military who lobbed cannonballs and other artillery into the village of men, women, and children. The Sahnish, realizing they were outnumbered and at risk, began negotiating for surrender.  Before the battle could be settled, every man, woman, child, horse, and dog disappeared during the night. 

According to a traditional story told among the people, a sacred dog led the people under the river and to safety. This time in history was a turning point in the relations between the Sahnish and whites. Prior to this battle, traders and travelers had described the disposition of the Sahnish towards the whites as "friendly." After this war, there were reports of hostilities and murders on both sides. The result of the Leaven worth battle infuriated the traders who further antagonized the Sahnish worsening the already deteriorating relationship between the Sahnish and the whites. 

Early education and civilization

In the mid 1870s, assimilation in the form of education was now the focus of government policy. The agent declared that families who did not send their children to school would have rations (government annuities of food) withheld. Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish children at Fort Berthold were attending school at Fort Stevenson boarding school or C. L. Halls' Congregational mission school. Many children were taken forcibly from their homes and sent off to schools such as Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, and Hampton Institute in Virginia. According to oral historians, the children were forced to wear uniforms and carry wooden guns. They were given Christian names and in some cases, lost their original names completely.  

Elders say many of the Indian people's ancestors became confused because the government agents were careless in keeping records and assigned names randomly.  Many children ran away from the schools because the environment, food, clothing, language, and school personnel attitudes were unfamiliar to them. They were often caught and returned to the schools. They were not allowed to speak their own languages. If they did, they were severely punished. As a result of this, parents were afraid to allow their children to speak their own language. Very little English was spoken which hampered the children's ability to learn in school. 

Early reservation life indian agents

U.S. Government agents were assigned to various forts along the fur trading routes. These agents, who were former military officers, were entrusted to carry out federal policies put forth by treaties.  Distribution of annuities, yearly cash payments, and provisions promised to the three tribes, were sometimes never received. They became more restricted in their range and their ability to live from hunting and became more dependent on the United States for subsistence. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish and the Sioux had been unfriendly for centuries. The three tribes, numbering two thousand, were at a disadvantage to the forty thousand Sioux.  During the period of the early 1860s, several bands of the Sioux, deprived of their home by the flood of whites into what is now Minnesota, pushed westward onto the plains of the Upper Missouri. When the Civil War started in 1861, military obligations in the Upper Missouri were neglected. Problems increased as whites passing through tribal lands to the gold fields caused restlessness among the Sioux.  

The military became lax in their obligations to the military forts along these territories. Because the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish) remained friendly to the government and the whites, they were repeatedly attacked by Sioux. (Dunn, 1963, p. 201). Only after Fort Berthold and the surrounding villages were burned by raids did the government see fit to move the fort 17 miles further east. The new military post, known as Fort Stevenson, was built in 1867, on the north bank of the Missouri River at the mouth of Douglas Creek, near present-day Garrison.  

At the same time as the Sioux signed several treaties to remain on friendly terms with the whites and other tribes, exploitation by Indian agents and fur traders continued cheating and depriving the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish of their provisions from the government When the Arikara Chief, White Shield, refused to sign a receipt for goods he did not receive, Agent Mahlon Wilkinson was angry and declared White Shield removed as chief and declared him ineligible for his $200 annuity.  Agent Wilkinson replaced White Shield with a younger man, Son-of-Star, as chief of the tribe. Agent Wilkinson said to White Shield, "My friend, you are getting too old.  Age troubles your brain and you talk and act like an old fool. “The honorable Indian replied firmly, "I am old it is true.  But not so old as not to see things as they are and even if, as you say, I were only an old fool, I would prefer a hundred times to be an honest red fool than a stealing white rascal like you." (de Trobriand, Army Life). 

A severe smallpox epidemic ravaged the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish in 1866.  Their fall crops were a failure. After being robbed of their annuities, the authorities refused them any assistance. De Trobriand stated that the agents of the Indian Bureau were nothing but a vast association of thieves who made their fortune at the expense of the Indians and to the detriment of the government. Between 1866 and 1870, the Indian wars began to die out and the fur trade dwindled because of the scarcity of game. Immigration increased ten-fold and the railroads cross-cut the prairies, invading the homelands of the tribes. In 1870, a group of Hidatsa and some Mandan, who wanted to maintain their traditional way of life, left the village and moved 120 miles up river (outside the reservation boundary) and established themselves at Fort Buford, near what is now Williston, North Dakota. There were a number of reasons for the move, but one may have been a disagreement between Crow Flies High and government-supported leaders, Poor Wolf and Crows Paunch.  One reason cited was over the distribution of rations.

Economic and social change

As a means to economic stability and the livelihood of tribes, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (On October 17,1988). This legislation authorized Class III casino gaming on Indian Reservations.  The act also afforded Indian tribes the opportunity to enter into management agreements with outside investors to develop gaming facilities. In the early 1990s, the Three Affiliated entered into a gaming compact with the state of North Dakota.  The tribes undertook renovation of the existing Four Bears Motor Lodge, (a 1974, Office of Economic Opportunity Project), the conversion of the small gas station to a convenience store, and the construction of a recreational facility. The Four Bears Casino and Lodge was opened to the public July 16, 1993. Over 90 percent of the 322 employees were tribal members.  The Four Bears Casino and Lodge currently offers lodging, restaurant, live entertainment, several forms of gaming, and a video arcade. A bingo hall was added to accommodate over 300 players.


By 1888, Like-a-Fishhook Village was practically deserted as people were encouraged to establish communities on other parts of the reservation. Some of the people moved twenty miles up river where they established the new community of Elbowoods. A few elders refused to move and they remained at the Fishhook village. Again the government took land from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish tribes. It was declared that the "Indians are desirous of disposing of a portion thereof in order to obtain the means necessary to enable them to become wholly self-supporting by the cultivation of the soil and other pursuits of husbandry.” (From Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties). 

The agency of Elbowoods was located on the east-side of the Missouri, so most people moved to the west-side of the river, away from the agent. Many people settled in small communities near the river, where they had previously wintered or hunted. 

They situated themselves near a steep, sloped hill with a flat top, on the west bank of the Missouri, and on the east-side of the river. The Elbowoods agency later included a boarding school, hospital, agency headquarters, and a jail. 


After European contact, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish were subjected to several devastating smallpox epidemics that nearly destroyed them. They had no immunity and were trusting. Unprotected from these diseases, they became infected.  Whole families, clans, specific bands, chiefs, spiritual leaders, and medicine men died quickly, taking with them many of their social and spiritual ceremonies and clan rites.

The great plague of smallpox struck the Three Tribes in June of 183 7, and this horrible epidemic brought disaster to these Indians. Francis A. Chardon's journals state that on July 14, a young Mandan died of smallpox and several more had caught it. The plague spread with terrible rapidity and raged with a violence unknown before.  Death followed in a few hours after the victim was seized with pain in the head; a very few who caught the disease survived. The Hidatsa scattered out along the Little Missouri to escape the disease and the Arikara hovered around Fort Clark. But the Mandan remained in their villages and were afflicted worst; they were afraid of being attacked by Sioux if they ventured out of their villages.  By September 30, Chardon estimated that seven-eighths of the Mandan and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa were dead. Many committed suicide because they felt they had no chance to survive. Nobody thought of burying the dead, death was too fast and everyone still living was in despair. The scene of desolation was appalling beyond the conception of the imagination. The Mandan were reduced from 1800 in June to 23 men, 40 women, and 60 to 70 young people by fall.  Their Chief Four Bears, had died. (Shane, 1959, p. 199). 

On July 28, 1837, Chardon wrote:  "the second chief of the Mandan was the brave and remarkable Four Bears, life-long friend of the whites, recipient of the praises of Catlin and Maximilian, and beloved by all that knew him. 

Now, as his people were dying all about him, he spoke: My friends one and all, listen to what I have to say- Ever since I can remember, I have loved the whites. I have lived with them ever since I was a boy, and to the best of my knowledge, I have never wronged the white man, on the contrary, I have a/ways protected them from the insults of others, which they cannot deny. The Four Bears never saw a white man hungry, but what he gave him to eat, drink, and a Buffalo skin to sleep on in time of need. I was a/ways ready to die for them, which they cannot deny. I have done everything that a red skin could do for them, and how have they repaid it? With ingratitude! I have never called a white man a Dog, but today, I do pronounce them to be a set of black-hearted Dogs, they have deceived me, them that I always considered brother, has turned out to be my worst enemies. I have been in many battles, and often wounded, but the wounds of my enemies I exalt in, but today I am wounded, and by whom, by those same white Dogs that I have always considered, and treated as Brothers. I do not fear Death my friends.  You know it, but to die with my face rotten, that even the Wolves will shrink with horror at meeting me, and say to themselves, that is the Four Bears, the friend of the Whites -listen well what I have to say, as it will be the last time you will hear me. Think of your wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends, and in fact all that you hold dear, are all dead, or dying, with their faces all rotten caused by those dogs the whites, think of all that my friends, and rise up all together and not leave one of them alive: The Four Bears will act his part. (Abel, p.124, 1932). 

After the devastation of the smallpox epidemic of 1837, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish combined forces for protection, economic and social survival. They still maintained separate ceremonies, clan systems, and bands and maintained their cultural identity. 

fort berthold indian reservation

Another concern was disagreement over how the $7,500,000 appropriated by Congress in 1949 was to be distributed. On November 13, 1950, land appraisers arrived at Fort Berthold and invited the people to accept or reject the appraisals made in 1948. According to an agency official, an overwhelming majority of the landowners accepted the appraisals. By January 1951 road surveys were completed, and construction to begin as soon as funds were appropriated. The relocation committee devised a relocation plan identifying agricultural potential and how a typical tract of land should be used, and reference to classification of the soil was given to each household. Unlike the soil of the bottomland that was Class I and Class II, these tracts were Class III to Class VI. 

By the fall of 1954, relocation was complete. A new road system was constructed, school buildings were built, churches and cemeteries were moved, the agency was housed in its new quarters at New Town, the Four Bears bridge was removed from its original site, and installed as part of the new bridge west of New Town, ND. 

The immense loss of natural resources by the flooding of the Garrison Dam was only a part of the adjustments that had to be made by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish. In the following years, as the dams was under construction, no attempt was made to reestablish the small village environment that existed. Families were forced to relocate on isolated holdings throughout the reservation. Many moved off the reservation. 

fur trade

"The fur trade era with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara was the motive for much of the early exploration of  the frontier. It was also a prime factor in the destruction of their traditional cultures. The trade in the Upper Missouri became highly competitive, and in their quest for profits, corrupt traders resorted to the most brazen forms of deceit and trickery. Most harmful was the unrestrained use of whiskey in trading with the Indians, who were physically and spiritually defenseless to alcohol.  Little regard was shown for the Indians' welfare by the fur companies, but the damage could not have been nearly so devastating had it not been for the cooperation of the Indian agents of the United States government. The crime of traders, politicians, and other exploiters during this era, was that not only did they steal the Indians' land, they crushed their spirit and destroyed their cultures. " (Dunn, 1963, p.235). 

garrison dam

According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the territorial lands of the Three Tribes was an area of more than 12 million acres, extending from east of the Missouri River into Montana. In the following years, to justify taking more land, the Federal Government, through several allotment acts and the Homestead Act, reduced the reservation further to less than 3 million acres. The flooding of the prime river bottomland was yet another assault on the autonomy and cultures of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish. Flooding the reservation bottomlands reduced the reservation even further, leaving approximately 1 million acres of individual and tribally owned lands. 

The Corps of Army Engineers built five main-stem projects that destroyed over 550 square miles of tribal land in North and South Dakota and dislocated more than 900 Indian families. The most devastating effects suffered by a single reservation were experienced by the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) whose way-of-life was almost totally destroyed by the Garrison Dam, as a part of the Pick-Sloan project (Lawson, p.27). 

The construction of Garrison Dam on their land resulted in the taking of 152,360 acres. Over one-fourth of the reservations total land base was deluged by the dam's reservoir. The remainder of the Indian land was segmented into five water-bound sections.  The project required the relocation of 325 families, or approximately 80 percent of the tribal membership. For many successful years as ranchers and farmers, these industrious people lost 94 per cent of their agricultural lands. (Lawson, p.59). 

The Corps of Engineers entered Fort Berthold Reservation to begin construction on the dam in Apri1 1946. The first of the army's Pick-Sloan project on the main stem of the Missouri River was Garrison Dam, which became America's fifth largest dam at a cost of over $299 million. (Lawson, p.59) 

The Corps of Engineers, without authorization from Congress, altered the project's specifications in order to protect the city of Williston, North Dakota, and to prevent interference with the Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects, but nothing was done to safeguard Indian communities. When the army threatened to confiscate the land it needed by right of eminent domain, the Fort Berthold Indians protested in Washington. The tribes succeeded in having Congress halt all expenditures for the Garrison Dam project until they received a suitable settlement.  This legal action was based on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which provided that land could not be taken from the tribes without their consent and that of Congress. (Lawson, p.60). 

Negotiations with the army began in earnest. The Tribal Council offered an alternative reservation dam site free of charge. This optional site, whose selection would have caused considerable less damage to the Indians, was rejected by the Corps of Engineers because it would not permit adequate storage capacity. Army negotiators did offer to purchase an equal amount of land in the Knife River Valley to replace that lost to the Garrison project, but the Indians found it unsuitable for their needs. In 1947, the Three Affiliated Tribes finally had to accept the $5,105,625 offered by Congress and the Corps for their losses. This settlement, considered generous by many on Capitol Hill, meant that they received about $33 for each acre of their land with improvements and severance damages. From this amount they were expected also to pay relocation and reconstruction expenses. The agreement did not permit them to claim additional compensation through Congress or the courts. The Indians were determined to exercise this option, and they petitioned for more money and additional benefits, such as exclusive rights to a small portion of Garrison's hydroelectric power production at a reduced rate. After a private appraisal claimed damages to the tribe were $21,981,000, legislation requesting that amount was introduced in Congress. 

Following two years of debate in the House and Senate finally agreed to a compromise figure of $7.5 million.  Legislation for this final settlement received President Truman's signature on October 29, 1949. (Lawson,p.61). The total compensation of $12,605,625 was over $9,000,000 less than the Indians felt was the fair market value of the damages they sustained.  The final piece of settlement legislation denies their right to use the reservoir shoreline for grazing, hunting, fishing, or other purposes.  It also rejected tribal requests for irrigation-development and royalty rights on all subsurface minerals within the reservoir area. The petition for a block of Garrison Dam power was denied on the grounds that the granting of exclusive rights to the Indians would violate provisions of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. The legislation provided for distribution of funds on a per capita basis and its failure to bar the collection of previous individual debts from this money proved to be a serious handicap.  Because the law required that it was a final and complete settlement of all claims, the Three Affiliated Tribes were unsuccessful in their twenty-year struggle to have its deficiencies corrected by amendatory legislation. (Lawson, p.61). 

The lands that the Fort Berthold people were forced to give up were not just some undesirable tracts assigned them by a government more concerned with encouraging the westward movement of the American pioneer than with the fate of the native inhabitants. The river-valley environment of the Three Tribes had been their home for perhaps more than a millennium, albeit not the particular segment of the valley that lay above the Garrison Dam.  They had developed techniques of adjustment to this environment over a time-span nearly inconceivable to white Americans. Moreover, they had emotional and religious ties with it that no American descended from Old World immigrants can fully comprehend. (Meyer, p.234). 

The blame for building the dam in the first place must fall on Congress and on those segments of the public who brought pressure on their elected representatives to have it built. The Corps of Engineers must bear part of the blame, to the extent that Colonel Pick imposed his plan rather than accept that of W. Glenn Sloan when the two were presented to Congress. For the way the Fort Berthold  people were compensated and their wishes in matters overridden by considerations of expediency, the responsibility falls squarely on Congress, especially the Senate for its high-handed revision of  House Joint Resolution 33. Nor are the Indian people themselves without responsibility, as some of them recognized after the ordeal was over.  By rejecting the lieu lands offer, they denied themselves the opportunity to build anew their cattle and farming enterprises on a more nearly adequate land base than they were left with when the waters of the Garrison reservoir backed up over their former homes. And by their persistent demands for per capita payments, they destroyed the possibility of long- range economic benefits such as tribal development programs might have provided. (Meyer,  p.233). 

The original communities before the flooding of the Garrison Dam were Elbowoods, the central business community, which housed the Indian Bureau, the Indian school, and the hospital; Red Butte, Lucky Mound, Nishu, Beaver Creek, Independence, Shell Creek, and Charging Eagle. The Mandan had settled in the Red Butte and Charging Eagle area, the Arikara/Sahnish settled in the Nishu and Beaver Creek area. Independence was settled by the Mandan and Hidatsa, and Lucky Mound and Shell Creek by the Hidatsa. Elbowoods was a combination of all three tribes. The other communities had government, Indian day and boarding schools, churches, communal playgrounds, parks, cemeteries, and ferries. Although parts of these communities remain, gone were the close traditional gatherings and community living, as were natural resources, such as desirable land for agriculture- timber that provided logs for homes, fence posts-shelter for stock-coal and oil deposits-natural food sources-and wild life habitats, for which most would or could never be compensated.  

garrison diversion unit commission

In the early 1980s, the Three Affiliated Tribes initiated a move for “just compensation" for lands that were lost to construction of the Garrison Dam. A committee was established to gather testimony and evidence in hearings held on the Standing Rock and Fort Berthold Reservations, as well as other sites. The Final Report of the Garrison Diversion Unit Commission pointed out that the Tribes of the Standing Rock and Fort Berthold Indian Reservations shouldered an inordinate share of the cost of implementing the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Programs" mainstream reservoirs. (Final GDUC Report, Appendix F., p. 57). 

This report highlighted the inequities borne by the tribes: The tribes were not only unwilling to sell their land, but strongly opposed the taking of their land. They felt intimidated by the fact that construction on the dams began before Indian lands were acquired. They then felt that the taking of their lands was inevitable. During the negotiation phases, assurances were given expressly or by implication by various Federal officials that problems anticipated by the Indians would be remedied. The assurances raised expectations which, in many cases, were never fulfilled. The quality of replacement homes was inadequate in many respects, but most notably with regard to insulation and construction necessary to meet severe climatic conditions.  

The deficiencies, in many cases, resulted in inordinately high heating bills. Indian lands taken were "prime river bottomland" and the most productive parts of the reservation. The quality of life enjoyed by the tribes on the river bottomlands had not been replicated in the removal areas The rise in the incidence of trauma and stress-related maladies and illnesses following removal suggested a causal relationship. They were not justly compensated by the United States for the taking of their lands and related expenses resulting from the land taken. United States land acquisition practice resulted in the taking of a substantially larger area of Indian land. 

joint tribal advisory committee (jtac)

On May 10,1985, the Garrison Unit Joint Tribal Advisory Committee (JTAC) was established by the Secretary of the Interior.  This committees' role was threefold: 

A) to examine and make recommendations with respect to the effects of the impoundment of waters under the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program (Oahe and Garrison Reservoirs)
B) to study their impact on the Fort Berthold and Standing Rock Reservations
C) to replace what was destroyed by the creation of the two dams. The committee was authorized and directed to examine and make recommendations to the following issues:

  • Full potential for irrigation 
  • Financial assistance for on-farm development costs 
  • Development of shoreline recreation potential 
  • Return of excess lands 
  • Protection of reserved water rights 
  • Funding of all items from the Garrison Diversion Unit funds, if authorized 
  • Replacement of infrastructures lost by the creation of the Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea, the Oahe Dam and Lake Oahe 
  • Preferential rights to Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin Power 
  • Additional financial compensation, and Other items the committee deemed important (JTAC -Executive Summary, 1985)

The substance of the JTAC Report provided the initiative for the Three Tribes to seek legislation for additional economic and financial recovery funds. The tribe's efforts continued until 1992, with the assistance of the state's Congressional delegation.  As a result, Congress, in 1992, passed Public Law 102-575 providing $142.9 million in economic recovery funds to the Three Affiliated Tribes. The fund, known as the Economic Recovery Fund, was to be used for education, economic development social welfare and other needs. Only the interest could be expended. After the Garrison Dam settlement funds were distributed, there was a steady economic decline until about 1961. The three affiliated tribes faced the reality that their settlement funds were gone, the economic base of the reservation was not producing enough wealth to enable them to recoup their losses, the plans for educational and health services were not working, and their relations with federal, state, and local governments were aggravating their problems. The thirty-first legislative assembly authorized the creation of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission in 1949, along with an appropriation of $20,000 and a membership of thirteen.  

The first biennial report stated, the Commission believes that the Indians in the state of North Dakota are now and should remain, the responsibility of the Federal Government until such time as the individual Indian and his family have become assimilated into the social and economic structure of the community in which he lives. The Commission was instrumental in the formation of the Fort Berthold Inter-agency Committee on October 19, 1951. This group held at least six meetings in the following fourteen months, at Stanley, Garrison, Elbowoods, Killdeer, and elsewhere, on such topics as health, education, roads, welfare, law and order, and legislation. The subject concerning the precise boundaries between state and federal jurisdiction (not to mention tribal) were obscure and in a state of flux. (Meyer, p.239). 

Two changes in federal Indian policy in 1953 precipitated state action. The old ban on the sale of liquor to Indians was lifted that year by act of Congress, but North Dakota still had a law of its own on the books. After it was repealed in 1955, the tribal council voted to permit liquor on the reservation. The responsibility of law and order on the reservation was operated on their own codes of law and order, locally administered by tribal courts and police. North Dakota Indians were protected by a provision in the state constitution, but in 1955 the legislature voted to place on the primary ballot for the next year a proposed amendment that would permit the state to assume responsibility for law and order on Indian reservations. Defeated that year because it might increase the tax burden, the amendment reappeared in 1958 and was passed. Because of serious financial problems of the Tribes in 1959, a committee recommended that the state assume civil jurisdiction over the reservation. No action was taken. The Bureau began changing its policies during this time so as to place greater emphasis on decision making by the Tribes and on development of reservation resources. This did not become reality until the Indian Self-Determination Act was passed in the mid 1960's. 

The growing economic crisis in the later 1950s and aggravated by drought became a more serious problem than that of termination. Efforts to meet the crisis took three forms: attempts to retain and utilize the remaining reservation resources, mainly land, attempts to obtain credit through loan programs, and attempts to attract industry to the reservation and the surrounding areas.  Not much success was achieved in any of these directions up to 1962. The use of reservation land was complicated by the fact that the Indians were continuing to lose their lands.  The Indian Reorganization Act had tried to stop of issuance of fee patents. Despite protests from the council, patents were issued and the land in many cases was promptly sold. By the end of 1959 the reservation had dwindled to 426,413 acres, of which only 21,308 was tribally owned.  Sixty percent of the reservation land was being used by non-Indians and of 184 potential agricultural units, only 40 percent were being used by Indians. (Meyer p. 241). 

A more important mineral resource was oil. Only a few individuals benefited from oil leases, and most of these benefits were negligible and temporary. This oil boom did not seem to have any effect on the general economic condition of the reservation. Three pieces of legislation passed by the Eighty-seventh Congress had important long  range effects on Fort Berthold: the Area Redevelopment Act of May 1, 1961, the Manpower Development and Training Act of March 15, 1962.  

The first of these proposed to establish a program to alleviate conditions of substantial and persistent unemployment and underemployment in certain economically distressed areas and specifically mentioned Indian reservations as eligible for assistance. Retraining schools were established and started in the summer of 1962 in arts and crafts, farm training, and stenographic and clerical work. The Manpower Development and Training Act provided funds for a construction carpentry program to begin with at least twelve persons. When a housing program got under way, men trained in these classes did much of the work.  Under the terms of the Public Works Acceleration Act, $50,000 was provided for timber  stand improvement, forest access and fire protection roads, and forest visitor use facilities. (Meyer, p. 245). 

Construction projects, such as the new high schools being built at White Shield, Mandaree, and Parshall, provided only temporary employment for the people, who were looking for permanent jobs. Efforts were stepped up to attract industry to the reservation. One such endeavor was from the Precision Time Corporation to build a watch company to employ 200, but this ran into snags and fell through.  Another attempt made by the Venride Corporation, a manufacturer of coin-operated kiddy rides, employed only six people for several months. Predictions of better things to come never happened. It was forced to shut down in October 1965. Intermittent employment was also provided by the construction of recreational facilities and a museum at Four Bears Park. Besides assisting in providing employment, mainly through public works projects, the federal government invested heavily in programs of greater long -range importance to the Fort Berthold people.  

Early in 1965 the Office of Economic Opportunity began making available funds for such purposes as a kindergarten, a remedial education program, a family counseling service, a livestock operator's training course, and credit union assistance. Of all the federally supported programs designed to aid the people was a massive housing project for the reservation and the neighboring towns of New Town and Parshall inaugurated in 1963, the plan proposed two types of housing: low-rent units and "mutual self-help" housing. (Meyer, p.246). 

Another permanent employer was the development of Four Bears Park into a major recreation center. In 1968 the Economic Development Administration approved a tribal application for grant-and-loan financing of a project, estimated to cost about $1,200,000, calling for a forty-unit motel, a seventy-eight place cafe, a meeting room, a lounge, a twenty- four unit trailer pad, a marina building, and a service station. This project was completed in June of 1972 and employed twenty-three members of the Tribes. (Meyer, p. 251). 

A pottery-making enterprise started in 1966 employed only four tribal members. Northrop Dakota, a manufacturer of electronic assemblies for aircraft, including the Boeing 747, began their operations in October 1970, employing thirty people, of whom twenty were Indians. The number increased to forty-five by mid-1973.  Another industrial development from Consolidation Coal Company of Pittsburgh to exploit part of the estimated fifteen billion tons of lignite reserves at Fort Berthold didn't materialize because the Coal Company didn't file an environmental impact statement Public Law 91-229 passed in 1970, enabled the Tribes to receive a $300,000 Farmers Home Administration loan to buy up fractionated holdings and consolidate them into more efficient units. As a result of this, the amount of tribal land has been increasing. The reservation community is changing rapidly, and much of the change is in the direction of acculturation to the larger American society.  As observers recognized at the time the Garrison Dam trauma was occurring, the resultant social dislocation accelerated a process already under way but strongly resisted.  Shortly before that disruptive experience began, Edward M. Bruner studied the Fort Berthold society intensively and offered some considered judgments. Conceding that the observer's biases had much to do with what he saw, Bruner concluded that "the assimilation which goes on within the communities is extremely slow, tends to be relatively superficial, and does not seem to change the prevailing Indian value system. "The picture he got was one of "a native core surrounded by peripheral white borrowings."  

A contemporary judgment, perhaps even more subjective, would see a basically mixed culture, with the non-Indian elements dominant but Indian elements tenaciously and consciously preserved by a people, as adaptable as their ancestors, determined to have the best of both worlds. (Meyers, p. 265)

laws and treaties atkinson & o'fallon trade and intercource treaty of 1825

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.  On July 18, 1825. The Ankara signed the Atkinson and O'Fallon Treaty. (Schulenberg, 1956, p.101). 

In 1851, a tribal delegation of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish accompanied Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet to Fort Laramie to hold council with representatives of the government of the United States.  White Wolf represented the Mandan, Four Bears represented the Hidatsa, and Iron Bear the Sahnish. Colonel M. Mitchell and Major Fitzpatrick represented the government. The boundaries of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish territory were set-aside in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty: Commencing at the mouth of the Heart River; thence up the Missouri to the mouth of the Yellowstone River; thence up the Yellowstone to the mouth of Powder River, thence in a southeasterly direction to the headwaters of the Little Missouri River, thence along the Black Hills to the headwaters of the Heart River; thence down the Heart River to the place of the beginning. (11 Stats., p.749, in Kappler, 1972, p. 594, Article 5). 

This was the largest treaty council ever held. More than ten thousand plains Indians from the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Mandan, Sahnish, Assiniboine, and Gros Ventres (Hidatsa) nations attended. In exchange for fifty thousand dollars a year for fifty years, the nations agreed to allow the United States to construct roads and military posts through their country. The tribes also established the boundaries of their territories and agreed to maintain peaceful relations with one another and with the United States. Several tribes, including the Mandan, Gros Ventres (Hidatsa), Crows, Blackfeet, and some bands of the Cheyenne and Arapahos, accepted reservations. (O'Brian, 1989, p.141). 

Following the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, the government established several forts along the Missouri. In 1864 the cavalry was sent to Fort Berthold and remained there until 1867 when they moved to Fort Stevenson, 18 miles down river. The establishment of forts brought numerous groups up river by steamboat-twenty to thirty steamboats stopped at Like-a-Fishhook Village every summer. By 1869, the railroad had reached the territory of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish, a bustling economic center for the region. By 1871, federal Indian policy shifted radically for several reasons.  An act of Congress in 1871, "Provided that no treaties shall hereafter be negotiated with any Indian tribe within U.S. as an independent nation or people. "Thereafter all Indian land cessions were achieved by act of Congress or by executive order. Indian societies were being transformed radically from a combination of forces -U. S. Army troops stationed at posts near Fort Berthold after 1864, Indian agency personnel resided on the reservation after 1868, and day schools were opening on reservations as early as 1870. 

As more settlers poured into the west, the government, pressured by the railroads and settlers for more land approached the tribes to cede additional lands. On July 27,1866, the Arickara (Sahnish) signed an agreement by which they granted such rights-of-way to territories east of the Missouri, and were to receive in return an annuity of $10,000 for the next twenty years. When the treaty was presented for ratification, Congress added an addendum onto this agreement, including the Mandan and Hidatsa in its terms and provided for cession of a tract of land on the east bank of the Missouri roughly forty by twenty-five miles. (Kappler, 1904-41, report. ed. 1971, Vol. 2, pp. 1052- 56). 

These lands, which were well below the villages of where the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were in 1866, although no longer continuously occupied by them, continued to be used for hunting purposes. In addition, these lands contained ancient burial sites, and like many cultures considered the area as sacred ground. Congress, however, pressured by the railroad companies, was unwilling to recognize the tribes claim to these lands and the treaty was never ratified. (Meyer, 1977, p. 111). 

The Fort Berthold Reservation was established under the Executive Order of 1870.  In the late 1860's the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish) complained of their wood supply dwindling by whites cutting timber on their lands and selling it to passing steamboats. When the chiefs complained to Washington, a Captain Wainwright, officer at Ft. Stevenson, met with the chiefs. They consented to the establishment of a reservation that included most, if not all of the territory claimed by them at Fort Laramie. (Meyer, p. 112). 

Because the Sioux had claimed possession of a parcel of the land in question the previous year, the Government took off the southern boundary of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish territories. The southern boundary of the reservation became a straight line from the junction of the Powder River from the Little Powder River to a point on the Missouri River four miles below Fort Berthold. In order to accommodate the villages then occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish, the United States Government included a strip of land east of the Missouri River.  These provisions became legal in the Executive Order of Apri1 12, l870. (See map on p. 14). 

relocation from the bottomlands

Within a few years the Three Tribe's members were obliged to move to new homes.  Relocation and salvage  procedures established by the Corps proved unsatisfactory. Private movers contracted by the army were unreliable, and tribal members were denied permission to cut most of their timber prior to inundation.  Flooding of the bottom lands rendered the residual reservation useless. Settlement payments were too low to provide full reestablishment of most families. The uprooting of kinship and other primary groups destroyed the community life so fundamental to the Indians' culture. Farms and ranches were liquidated, unemployment  rose as high as 70 percent, and many tribal members were driven to a life of despair in nearby urban centers.  

Millions of dollars in federal funds were pumped into the reservation to counteract social and economic damages. After a generation of hard work the tribes began to show signs of recovery, but psychic scars from the ordeal remained evident today. (Lawson,  p.61-62). The tribal members' concern was to find sites for wells in the area to which most of them were going to move. In April, 1950 actual test drilling began.  By September 27, wells had been drilled in the Western Segment, and possible home sites were being selected. 

present day

The Fort Berthold Agency, formerly situated at Elbowoods until 1953 when it was flooded by the Garrison Dam, is now located in New Town. The reservation lies on both sides of the Missouri, including parts of Dunn, McKenzie, McLean, and Mountrail counties. The seat of tribal government for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation lies four miles west of New Town.  

The Four Bears Area includes the tribal administration building, Indian Health Services Clinic and Dialysis Unit, Casey Family Program, Ft. Berthold Day Care, KMHA Radio Station, MHA Times (tribal newspaper), and the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum. This complex is directly adjacent to the tribe's Four Bears Casino, Lodge, and Recreational Park. 

Today, the Three Affiliated Tribes, as a governmental entity, administers many governmental, economic, health, welfare, and educational programs.  Located in the Four Bears Complex area, the tribal administration operates in a modern complex of business offices. Revenues are generated primarily from various Government enterprises, programs and grants.  From this location, The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes, carry out their sovereign responsibility of governance of the reservation and its people. Although federal government policy and various Supreme Court decisions from the early 1960's to the mid-1980's reflected a period of acknowledgment and support tribal sovereignty , as tribal nations practice and assert their sovereign rights, the mood of Congress and the courts have forced the pendulum to move in a direction that seeks to limit the powers of tribal nations. 

Executive order of 1880

In 1864, when the Northern Pacific Railroad was chartered, it was granted right-of-way forty miles on either side of the proposed line. This right-of -way went through the lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish (Arikara).  Construction of the railroad reached their lands in 1879. The Railroad Company drew up a resolution asking for a reduction of the reservation. This proposal brought the railroad outside the boundaries of the land grant. When asked about the tribes' use of the territory, a Lt. Colonel Dan Huston, commanding officer at Ft. Stevenson, asserted that the land in question was the territorial hunting grounds of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. However, the response was made by a Colonel Nelson A. Miles, stationed at Fort Stevenson, who reported that the tribes did not occupy, nor require the use of the land, and "never had."  The land he said had been reserved for the benefit of the fur traders. (Meyers, p. 113.) 

Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry, endorsed the railroad company's request, ignored Huston's letter, and favored revoking the 1870 Executive Order. The Indian Bureau, represented by Commissioner Roland E.Trowbridge, who came late to the negotiations, wrote to a special agent: "In my judgment, any alterations or change in the present reservation would greatly militate against the interests of the Indian.  He went on, "the land west of the Missouri was better for farming and had more timber, he said, so giving the Indians additional land east of the river; would not compensate them for the loss." (Trowbridge to Gardner, April5, 1880, NARS, RG 75, LS: Kappler, Indian Affairs, vol. 5, p. 745-63) in Meyer, p. 113) 

On July 13, 1880, an Executive Order was issued, depriving the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara of the greater part of their lands. Everything south of a line forty miles north of the Northern Pacific right-of-way was ceded. This involuntary cession also included an extensive tract of land south and west of Fort Buford. The tribes were not consulted when the Executive Order was drawn up.  As compensation, the tribes were granted a parcel of land north of the Missouri River, extending to within thirty-five miles of the Canadian border. This action, viewed as bad faith on the part of the government, did not pacify the tree tribes injured and angry feelings. The land to the north offered in compensation to the tribes was rough and undesirable. The Government believed that because the tribes were confined to an area near their villages, fearful of raids by the Sioux, and the buffalo nearly depleted, they were unable to use the land as they previously had. However, the land had legendary and historic connections for them. This land included their villages on the Knife River, and those villages below on the Missouri River. Within twenty-five years, the Government reduced more than twelve million acres of their territory to one-tenth of its original size. (Meyer, p. 113).

Like most Indian claims cases, those pursued by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara had a long and tangled history. They had never reconciled themselves to the loss of territory resulting from the executive orders of 1870 and 1880 for which they had not been compensated. The reductions suffered by the reservation amounted to roughly 90 percent of what the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara had been acknowledged to own at the time of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. The treaty specifically noted that recognition of these claims and did not imply that the Indian signatories should "abandon or prejudice any rights or claims they (might) have to other lands. " 

The precedent set by the 1880 agreement, together with the history of Indian treaties generally, led the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara to believe that they ought to have been compensated for these reductions. (Meyer, 1977, p. 186). 

In 1898, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara submitted a petition to the President of the United States asking permission to send a delegation to Washington to present their claims. When nothing came from this effort, they tried again in 1911, reminding Washington of the tribes' history of government relations. A delegation was allowed to come to Washington about a year later. This was to discuss the by the different interpretations of the terms of the agreement drawn upon 1909 for the opening of the reservation. They were told to get an attorney to pursue their case.  Another delegation was sent three years later. The only subject the government would discuss with them was the distribution of proceeds from the land sales following the recent opening of the reservation. Besides the land seizures under the Executive Orders of 1870 and 1880, the tribes now wanted to take up the disposition of the Fort Stevenson military reservation. 

When the school at Fort Stevenson was closed in 1894,45,585.75 acres was transferred to the Interior Department.  It was sold a few years later for $71,000.  The proceeds were placed in the United States Treasury instead of being used for the benefit of the tribes. According to Congress, since Fort Stevenson was established before Fort Berthold, the tribes had no rights to the land. (Meyer, 1977, p.187). 

In 1920, Congress passed legislation conferring to the Court of Claims jurisdiction in the determination of the three tribes' dispute with the government. This act stipulated that a suit must be filed within five years and the attorney's fees should not be more than ten percent of the amount to recover. The first Lawyer Tribes hired, a Mr. Lovell from Fargo, did nothing but file a petition with the Court of Claims on December 30, 1922.  This claim was dismissed on December 17, 1923 and Lovell's contract was cancelled. 

Charles Kappler and Charles H. Merillat, were hired by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara in 1924. They filed a formal petition with the Count of Claims on July 31 of that year.  The evidence, both documentary and traditional, prepared by these two men, brought about a court settlement. Because of the impossibility of determining the precise acreage of the territory recognized as belonging to the three tribes in 1851, the court settled on a round figure of 13,000,000 acres, from which 11,424,512.76 acres had been withdrawn without compensation, mainly by executive orders in 1870 and 1880.  From this area were deducted 1,578,325.83 acres added to the reservation by these executive orders and that of 1892, leaving a total of 9,846.93 acres, for which the three tribes were to be compensated at a rate of fifty cents per acre. From the sum of $4,923,093.47, however, congress deducted $2,753.924.89 in offsets-money appropriated down through the years and expended for the "support and civilization" of the Fort Berthold Indians. When the claim was finally settled on December 1, 1930, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara were awarded $2,169,168.58 or $1,191.50 per capita. (Meyer, 1977. pp. 187-88). 


In 1876, a mission, the combination of a church, school, and residence, was built at Fort Berthold, by a Congregational missionary named Charles L. Hall. These missionaries tried to get the tribes to adopt non-Indian ways, but the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Sahnish continued to follow their traditions.  

They occupied their own section of the village, practiced their own religious ceremonies and established their own governments. To encourage the spread of Christianity, the Office of Indian Affairs authorized the Indian agents to punish people who participated in traditional religious ceremonies. Those who did were jailed and had their hair cut off.  

In 1889, Father Craft was assigned to Elbowoods to start a Catholic Mission. A school was built to accommodate one hundred children. 

battle of little bighorn

Some of the bands of the Sioux were on friendly terms with the riverside tribes, but many of the Sioux were openly hostile, and for a hundred years, from 1775 to 1875, the tribes from Pawnees and Otoes in the south to the Mandan,  Hidatsa, and the Sahnish in the north, were constantly under the pressure of Sioux hostility. 

The Assiniboine and other tribes occasionally attacked the villages, but the Sioux danger was the ever-present problem. These wars were fed willingly by the traders who sold guns and ammunition to both the Sioux and the sedentary tribes. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Sioux began to raid the villages of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish, because their sources of food, the buffalo and other game animals were disappearing with the advancement of white settlers and hunters.  The intensity and hostility between the Sioux and the United States Army was leading to war. 

The first scouting expedition for the Arikara scouts, also called "Ree Scouts"*, was in 1874, to assist Lt. Colonel George Custer Sioux country and the Black Hills. In early May and June of 1876, a call was put out for scouts to assist Custer again. This time, it was to find the small, renegade band of Sioux and bring them back to the reservations.  All military reports said these small bands of Sioux were in the Montana territory.  The agent at the reservations had failed to report that large numbers of Sioux were missing from the reservations. An accounting of the Ree scouts surrounding the battle is included in the Appendix. The circumstances that led up to that battle were far reaching and complex.  

White settlers, backed by military forces, began to encroach on the territory claimed and assigned to the Sioux. Skirmishes followed with the Sioux losing most of the conflicts. On June 25, 1876, the Ree Scouts were involved in the infamous Battle of the Little Big Horn in Greasy Grass, Montana where they were pitted against their historic enemy, the Sioux. The Sioux nations defeated a stunned military force of the government. 

In 1874, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs called for Chief Son-of-the-Star to come to Washington, D.C. to meet with him. Son-of-the- Star, Bull Head, Peter Beauchamp (interpreter), Arikara; Bad Gun, Bald Eagle, and Shows-Fear- in-the-Face, (Mandan), met with the officials in Washington and agreed to scout for the military in trade for protection from the vast numbers of Sioux.