Tribal History Notes on the Mandan as told to Col A. B. Welch

A Mandan’s story of his Tribe by Sitting Crow, 1920 … 

A Story of Mandan Traditions by Crows Heart, 1921 …

Indian Village Sites, Berthold to Fort Yates…1902-07 Investigation …      

Mih-Tutta-Hang-Kush Village

           Welch article, 1922 

           Welch article, 1926  

Burnt Village, 1923 article

Federated Villages of Fort Berthold 1868, drawn from memory by Larned, 1926

Early Mandan Village Sites, Welch notations on 1911 Geol. Survey Map

Crying Hill Village

Mandan Daily Pioneer article by Welch, 1924

 Pre-Mandan Fortifications, comments by Welch, 1931

 Old Mandan Villages, talk with Sitting Crow, 1924

 Mysterious Mandan “M” Characters, comments by Welch, 1933

 Mandan Pottery, Welch drawing

Young Man’s Village

Welch visits Young Man’s Village site, 1921

Excavation of Skeleton by Welch, 1925

Lop-Sided Village

Welch unearths Indian Relics, 1923 article

Image found south of Mandan, Crows Heart comments, 1921

Mandans of Upper Missouri River, Welch Address, Rockford, Illinois, 1924

Mandan fortifications near Huff, N.D., Welch examination, 1933

Big Canoe (Sacred Object) of the Mandans, Maynadier visit, 1860

Mandan City History, Welch article, 1923

Mandan City photo, 1883

Mandan Indians, a truly remarkable people, Welch article, 1939

Six Generations of Mandan Indians, Welch discussion with John Sitting Crow, 1933

Last of Full-Blood Mandan Indians, discussion with old-timers, 1934

The Mandans, who are they?… Welch article, 1922 



A Mandan’s story of his Tribe by Sitting Crow, 1920  


Mandan, N.D., November 9th, 1920, visitors Sitting Crow, full blood Mandan, about 65 years of age, Little Wolf, full blood Mandan, about 50 years of age.  Interpreter, Ed Crows Heart, three quarters Mandan, about 49 years old.

This visit occupied nearly all one forenoon.  I knew that they had some particular reason for coming to see me but did not know what it was.  After they told me that they were all members of the South Side Antelope Society (75 men of the Mandans belong to this old soldiers society, all living south of the Missouri river, hence the name) they asked me to accept as a present a certain butte in the reservation which belongs to the society and upon which there is a soldier’s grave.  This soldier’s name was Big Mouse and he died in a hospital during the World War.  They said they wanted me to keep it always as a graveyard for soldiers and to keep other people from digging there.  Finally, ‘the time’ came and the oldest man started in without any hesitation upon the following story.  The preservation of the old story was their motive for coming to me and telling it to me.  I am writing this the same evening from memory.

“I heard a long time ago when I was a boy and since then, too, that we (Mandans) came from the mouth of the Missouri river, where it flowed into the big water there (Mississippi).  These old men who told the story did not know how long we had been at that place.  We started to follow up the great river way and, after a long time, we got with some people who came out of the ground and we made them our friends and traveled along together.”

“One day we found a white man.  It was the first one we had ever seen.  We walked around him many times and said ‘He is a beautiful man.  He is all white.’  We had never seen any white man like that and we made him our friend also.  One day he was gone.  We do not know where he went.  We did not harm him.”

“We came along the river way until we reached where we are now, the Heart river mouth where it flows into the Missouri.  We met some people coming from the Devils Lake.  They lived there then.  They were the people known today as the Gros Ventres.  We made them out friends.  Then another people came to us from the southeast and we made friends of them, too.  They were the Arikara.  So, we three people have always been friends since that time and when we went to war we went together.  That is the story we want you to keep and print in your papers so all the people will not forget it.”

Question:        Was this white man a spirit or a real man like I am?

Answer:         I heard that he was a real man and not a spirit.

Question:        Did these people you met who came out of the ground, really come out of a hole or out of houses made of dirt like you used to live in?

Answer: Those old Mandans did not know.  They said ‘out of the ground,’ but it might have been out of ‘ground houses.’

Question: Who taught you people how to make pottery?

Answer: We have always made pots of clay, I think.  I do not know.

Question: Who taught you how to make round houses of logs and sod?

Answer: I heard that these people we first met in the river way did it.

Question: Did any of the Mandans have any other colored eyes than brown or black?

Answer: Yes.  There were many blue eyes and there are some today.

Question: Can any of you make pottery today?

Answer: There is one old woman who can.  She is 100 years old.  She can make any kind she wants to make.

At this time I showed them some native Mexican (Aztec) pottery with faces and other symbols upon it.  Also a burned plaque with the ancient Zodiac Signs of the Aztec upon it.  They examined them for a long time and talked about them.  They said that some people of the Mandans made some signs on pottery at different times, but not often.


Dec. 2nd, 1920

On this date appeared the men named in the beginning of this article with the exception of Sitting Crow.  Another man was with them, named Huber.  They said they were ready to go to the Governor and give him the land mentioned, as I had suggested to them in November.

We went to the Capital Building at Bismarck, saw the Curator of the Museum and also the Governor (Fraser) and made arrangements to transfer the land to the State for a park.



A Story of Mandan Traditions by Crows Heart, 1921 

Mandan, March 4th, 1921.  Story Teller is Crows Heart.  Interpreter Chas. F. Huber.  Both men are Mandans.

biog81-crows-heart-photo“The story of the old men is that the Mandans came up here from the south.  They came from the ocean there and followed the Missouri river, but it was the Mississippi, I guess, at that place.  They came to this place here and made a village, probably that old one by Fort Lincoln.  They call that village ‘Slant Village’ because it was on a hillside.  After they were there a long time, some Indians crossed the river there and came in.  They were Gros Ventre and they came from the water of Devils Lake. They made friends with them but after a while there was quarreling and the chief of the Mandans, by the name of Good Fur Blanket, told these Gros Ventres to go away.”

“He told them that they should take their camp and go north and that they would see a light at night time.  This was a spirit light.  When this light moved, or when they could see it, they should stay wherever they were.  So they moved when they saw the light and, at last, they got as far as Stanton and they did not see the light any more so they stayed there.  The light has never come again, so they still stay in that country there.”

“These Gros Ventres came from Devils Lake and my father told me that there were many buffalo in that lake and there were four big chiefs of them there.  When the Gros Ventres came away one of these very large buffalo chiefs put his nose up out of the water and they cut it off.  It is very large (about 14 inches across as he held his hands while telling the story). They kept that as a good medicine and they have it yet.”

“The Mandans have three turtle-shell drums.  They were given to them by a spirit man by the name of Elder Man, who wanted to introduce them among the people.  They are about 20 inches across them and have skin heads on.  I have seen one of them, but not all of it.  They are very sacred.  They were kept by 34 Priests. When one Priest died another took it (34 generations).  The last Priest was my Grandfather whose name was Moves Slowly, and he was 85 years old when he died.  He was the last one and, when he died, my mother kept the drum he had and Ben Benson, a full blood, took the other two and they have them now.  My mother is now 85 years old.  Her name is Scatter.  I heard that the story says there was a little buffalo inside these drums but I don’t think so.  I never saw the buffalo.  A woman is not supposed to keep the drum, but my mother was his daughter.”


“The village down by Fort Lincoln place is called ‘Slanted Village.’  Then there was one on the south of the Heart River and this was called ‘Big Village.’  East of that village, and on the flats, was another called ‘Timber Village.’  Then there was another on the flats between the two railroads where they run now, and it was ‘Tatoo Face Village.’  The highest butte to the north, somewhere near the Court House now, is called ‘Crying Butte,’ because the children and old people used to go up there and sing and cry.  It was a holy place.”

“North of that hill, about a half a mile, are some pits and holes in the ground.  The Mandans made these holes.  They were seven or eight feet deep and covered with small sticks and grass.  They used to catch animals in them.  Sometimes a wolf or coyote or any animla like that and sometimes a deer would fall in.  People did, too, if they did not know the ground there pretty well.  There was always lots of animals around that hill and that’s the way they caught them then.”

Welch note:  Good Fur Robe was first chief when the Mandans came up out of the ground, the second chief was Head Rattle (Pagosinanda), the third was Rawhide Loop (Warupshaguske), and the women which is supposed to have been associated with them was named Swinging Corn (Kahohe).  I have been told that the skull of Good Fur Robe is still in possession of his descendant.  But I cannot find out who this man is.



Indian Village Sites, Berthold to Fort Yates…1902-07 Investigation 








Mih-Tutta-Hang-Kush Village

Welch article, 1922 

At the present Fort Clark, N.D.


Feb. 1922 article written by Welch for “Highway Magazine.”

In 1800 and 1801 the first serious effort of the different, contending Fur companies to establish strong trading posts, in the territory which is now North Dakota, was made. The Hudson Bay Company and the North-West Company were the principle contenders for the rich fur trade of the Crees, Chippewas and Assiniboine Indians of the western and northern territories, and they established strong stations along the Red River of the North in the years mentioned, as did also another Company, the “X-Y.”  After many years of intense rivalry, these three companies were consolidated and continued their operations under the Hudson’s Bay Company regime until 1871 within the limits of this state.

Following closely the development of these advanced posts along the Red River, whose factors and trappers and picturesque voyageurs and Bois Brule came in by way of the Great lakes portages, other trading posts were established along the shores of the Missouri river beyond the mouth of the Heart River.  One of these posts became the second important outpost in the fur trade and was located among the Mandan Indians a short distance above the present city of Mandan and, is today, an important and prosperous town named Fort Clark.

An old legend of the Mandan Indian relates that “The Lord of Life and the First Man, whom he created, moved over the waters (for there was no land) and met a duck which was continually diving and appearing again.  The First Man told him to dive and bring up some ground.  This was done and First Man scattered the earth upon the waters and, after singing some prayer, he commanded the dry ground to appear  – and it appeared at once.  But the land was naked and had no grass or other vegetation upon it.  Soon after that First Man met some water animal and commanded him to dive and bring up some grass, which was done, and vegetation covered the earth and animals appeared.  The Lord of Life then fashioned the western side of the Missouri river and the First Man built the land upon the eastern shore.  When the Lord of Life saw the eastern shores, he compared it with the country on the western side of the great river and decided that that part upon the western shores was the best place for man to live in, on account of the trees and springs and the beautiful river which flowed into the  Missouri and, standing at the mouth of this river, the Lord of Life and the First Man declared that This shall be the center of the World and this river shall forever after this be known as the Heart River,” and it is so-called to this day.

In the immediate vicinity of the “Center of the World,” the Mandans built five villages of permanent lodges, where they continued to dwell until the flood which, according to traditions, swept away many of their people.  However, those who had taken advantage of the advices and teachings of the Lord of Life, who had commanded them to build a great tower upon a certain hill on the south banks of the Heart River (which hill is now within the corporate limits of the City of Mandan), sought refuge within the tower, and were saved from sharing the miserable death of those stubborn ones who had not listened to his voice. Before this flood, however, these people had lived underground.  Among the first to ascend was a great Chief by the name of Mihti Pihka, meaning The Smoke of the Village, who changed his name however, after they had come out upon the surface of the earth, to Mihti Shi, or The Robe with the Beautiful Hair. Following this great and famous Chief, the Mandans, whose name for themselves was Numangkeka, removed from the Heart River to a point some distance above that place and on the west side of the Missouri.  Here they founded and built a fine village of permanent houses and the settlement flourished and prospered.  Just what this year was, we do not know, but from this beginning, four other villages were established by the same tribe of Indians, and were visited by the Frenchman, Verendrye, as early as 1738-39.  That this early explorer did not first-hand knowledge of these people there is little doubt.  A lapse of nearly fifty years intervenes between that visit to the next authentic mention we have of these Mandan Villagers  – who, as far as we know, were the first settlers in what is now North Dakota.

In the original journals of Lewis and Clark, which left St. Louis in 1803, having for its objective the mouth of the Columbia River by way of the Missouri and the Rocky Mountains, mention is made of meeting a French trapper at the Arikara villages a few miles north of the mouth of Grande River ins which is now South Dakota.  This man’s name was Garreau and he told the explorers that he had come into the country of the Mandan and Arikara Villagers in the summer of 1785.  He was there upon their return and apparently well-satisfied to remain.


The members of this expedition spent the winter of 1803-1804 at the great fortified village of the Mandans, Mih Tutta Hang Kush, which is but a short walk from the present beautiful little railroad town of Fort Clark, some twenty miles north of Mandan.

In the summer of 1797 a French-Canadian, by the name of Charbonneau, came among the Mandans at this village and lived with them.  He purchased the woman known as Sakakawea who became the famous Indian-woman guide for Lewis and Clark.  We have no authentic information as to how or where Charbonneau met his death, but it is known that he was still with the Mandans in 1834, after living with them for over thirty-seven years.

This adventurous Frenchman tells an interesting battle story of the Fort Clark Village.  He says that the year he arrived among these people, the Sioux, to a number of 1,400, reinforced by a band of 700 Arikara, who were also at war with the Mandan Villagers, made a united attack upon the village of Mih Tutta Hang Kush.  The strength of their fortifications may be better understood when it is know that the besieged withstood a protracted and well-directed advance against them and, at last, several hundreds of the enemy were destroyed and the savage army of the Tetons and their allies were driven in utter route for a great distance.  This battle took place in the first deep draw north of the present Fort Clark.

History of Fort Clark, N.D.


Probably the first trading post in the country of the Mandans was built by the Spaniard, Manuel Liza, in 1811, about twelve miles north of the mouth of the Knife River and on the banks of the Missouri.  This fort was in the immediate vicinity of the Manitari (now called the Gros Ventre Indians) but he also drew fur trade from the Mandans.

In 1822, mention is made of Pilcher’s Post, eleven miles north of Fort Clark, and tis is the same man who was in command of over 700 Dakotah Indians who assisted Col. Leavenworth in his reports to Washington, and was accused by the Colonel of having ordered his savage allies to burn the villages when the military withdrew, thereby creating a spirit of revenge which would demand a great toll of lives in the future.  And this, indeed, was the case, for the Arikara, for many years, were the most vindictive and resourceful enemies of the whites.

In the same year that Pilcher is mentioned as a post trader, a hardy adventurer named James Kipp, with only five white men, built a post a short distance from Mih Tutta Hang Kush.  But the location was found to be unfavorable and, after being held a virtual prisoner in his fort for a whole year, by the Arikara, he wrecked the fort and abandoned the location, moving to Mih Tutta Hang Kush in safety, where he completed his new fort in 1824.  Bisonette was the principal trader for the American Fur Company here at the new fort and, in the autumn of 1825, Mr. Kipp succeeded in reaching him with a keel boat load of supplies from St. Louis.

A very accurate description of this village and the trading post is given by Maximillion, Prince of Wied, a scientific German explorer, who spent the winter of 1833-1834 at that place.  There was another Mandan village three miles upstream from Mih Tutta Hang Kush which was called Ruptare.  The exact spot where Lewis and Clark had erected their winter house, thirty years before, was gone and river flowed over the ruins.

He describes the trading post as a well-fortified place, with a palisade of heavy logs set in the ground on-end, and with two block houses at opposite corners of the enclosure.  The exact location was 300 paces south of the walls of Mih Tutta Hang Kush; 80 paces from the river bank, while 200 paces below the fort was a stream which had cut its way deeply into the valley soil.  The measurements of the enclosure were 132 by 147 feet and, in the palisade was a heavy postern gate, by which stood the press where the skins were bound into bundles for transportation, each bundle being of ten buffalo hides and weighing 100 pounds.

At the time of his visit to Fort Clark, Mr. Kipp had a $15,000 stock of trading goods and some 800 bushels of corn which he had obtained from the Mandans, who raised it.

The nearest trading post was one on Apple Creek (near present-day Bismarck) on the left bank of the Missouri, two days journey to the south.  This fort was commanded by a Frenchman by the name of Honore Picotte, who represented the American Fur Company among the Yanktonaise branch of the Sioux, who roamed that part of the country.  This man became a great influence among the Dakotah and married among them.

The old village of Mih Tutta Hang Kush was a rough circle of heavy logs set in the ground on end, close together, situated upon a steep bluff directly above the flowing waters of the Missouri.  Within this fortification there were about sixty-five lodges, round, and very permanently constructed of logs and with a vaulted roof.  Upon and over the log walls were willow mats and grass, and over all this, sod was placed, which, in turn, was plastered with clay.

The lodge of Mr. Kipp’s father-in-law, The Medicine Bird, was typical of the others, and was sixty feet in diameter with special places for the horses, divided from the living quarters of the people by a plaited willow mat six feet high.  In the center of the lodge was the fire place, above which was a hole in the roof to allow the smoke to escape, and with benches around the rock floor where the fire was kindled, opposite the entrance, which was hung with a skin and protected by another willow mat, were the enclosed sleeping cases, made of rawhide lacings and hung with leather and piled high with warm sleeping firs.

The palisade was furnished with a heavy gate and, at nearly equi-distances, were built four bastions of logs and earth, with loop holes.  These bastions formed a “V” shaped angle and were open toward the lodges.  These bulwarks were of double construction and filled with earth.  In the middle of the village was an open space and in the center of it was a memorial of the tower which saved the people from the flood.  At the north side of this open space was the great Medicine Lodge.  The number of inhabitants did not exceed 1000 souls in 1834.

Such is a brief history of the immediate vicinity of Fort Clark, which may be reached by way of the Mandan-Killdeer Mountain Highway.  A side trip to this interesting locality will well repay the tourist, who will find the people of the little city to be courteous and abundantly able to care for the stranger within their gates, with good clean hotels, well-stocked places of business, banks and auto repair shops.


Feb. 23rd, 1922.


           Welch article, 1926  

This village was first built by the Mandans after they had evacuated the Heart River Villages, sometime after Verendrye’s last visit to them in 1742 and when Sharbonneau appeared among them there at Fort Clark in 1797.  As Sharbonneau never spoke of the village being a new one, it is possible that it was many years old when he came.


The village was built in the same manner as those which were visited by Verendrye and was uninfluenced by contact with white men and their customs, such as log houses, streets, etc.  It is quite probable that the Mandans deserted the Heart River villages in the latter part of the 18th century and before 1790.  The Sioux Teton were quite firmly established on the western side of the Missouri by that time, as well were the Cheyennes.

The removal to the Fort Clark sites where the Mandans built two villages on the left banks of the Missouri, and in the near-neighborhood of their old allies, the Gros Ventre, separated them by a considerable distance from the disputed borderland which lay between the Heart and Cannon Ball river and contact with the warlike enemies, the Sioux.

Before they were finally well-established at the Fort Clark sites it is also quite probable that they occupied other sites south of them, in the immediate vicinity of what is now Price, Sanger and Hensler.  This supposition is upheld by the several village sites where earth lodge ruins, pottery, etc., are still to be plainly seen at this date. The debris and other indications do not advance the theory that these last-mentioned sites were occupied for many years.  However, it is our belief that the sites certainly were occupied for at least ten or fifteen years, which assuming that they had been established before the Fort Clark village was built, would bring the time of their removal from the Heart River to a still more narrow space of time, say between 1742 and 1775.  Evidently there had been no great breaking-up of camp or village sites between the times of Verendrye’s first and last visits, 1738 and 1742, for there was no mention of any such change, or contemplated move, in the short records kept by the Verendrye’s. Neither did the explorers mention whether or not the Gros Ventre lived with the Mandans.

The legends of these two tribes tell how the Gros Ventres left the Mandans, following the appearance of a great and mysterious light high in the heavens, as foretold to a Mandan in a dream.  From this evident separation of these allies it might have left the Mandans so much weakened of fighting men, that they were, at last, forced to desert their Heart River villages and go to join their former allies at the new settlement of the Gros Ventre, who had removed to the Knife river, about 50 miles north, but on the same right bank of the Missouri.  If this theory correct, it is plain to be seen that the circumstances would take several years to develop, say ten years after 1742, so we assume from these things that the Mandans left the Heart River sometime between 1752 and 1775.

In this connection it has been repeatedly told to me by men of the Gros Ventre and Mandan tribes, that the Gros Ventre were the first to build villages in the vicinity of the mouth of the Knife River (#33,34,35), which is just above the Fort Clark sites of the Mandans (#30 and #31).  These Knife river villages were built after the separation of the Gros Ventre from the Mandan people, and who had followed the “great light” into the north, with instructions to follow the light until it finally came to rest.  It finally disappeared to be seen no more, just south of the Knife River, where the Gros Ventre were found in three villages by Lewis and Clark in the fall of 1804.

These people had been in touch for several years with traders from the English posts far to the north when first seen by Lewis and Clark and, Charbonneau had known the Mandans at Mih Tutta Hang Kush ( #30) for at least seven years. Verendrye speaks of the broad well-traveled Indian road which led from the Missouri river into the north and toward the Assiniboine river and to Lake Manitoba and Winnipeg and from there on toward the English on Hudson’s Bay.  This road was evidently used by the Mandans and Gros Ventre and it is logical to suppose that it started on the left bank of the Missouri river at the old, well-known ford across the river, called by the Indians since white men came into the country  – “The Fish Hook Ford.”  This ford is about twenty miles from the Knife river mouth and the villages of the Gros Ventre and Mandans of 1800 and gives some credence to the story of Crows Heart and Sitting Crow (Mandans) to the writer, in which they stated that the Mandans had a gun in the tribe before Verendrye came among them.  This article had evidently come into their possession either from traders from the north coming among them at their Heart river settlements ments; by their having been to the Hudson’s Bay Trading Posts or that it was a sacredly-kept relic of their contact with early Spanish explorers, or taken from an enemy who had been in touch with either the Hudsons Bay people or Alvarado’s men of his expedition into Quivera in 1541.

The Mandans lived at Mih Tutta Hang Kush, as their principal point in 1837, when the small pox was introduced among them.  Several thousands of them died and left them a weak people as compared with their enemies, the Sioux, who lived in skin tipis and were constantly upon the move and, therefore, did not suffer as much as did the Mandans in their permanent villages.

Previous to this time, peace had been made between the Mandans at Mih Tutta Hang Kush and the Arikaras, who lived in the vicinity of the Grand River, South Dakota, but the terms of the treaty were soon violated.  Lewis and Clark had brought about this treaty, and the Arikaras came to live in the vicinity of Fort Close, close to their new friends, the Mandans.  But upon the return of the Captains in 1806, war had once more broken out between them.  No lasting peace was made for many years, but after the small pox scourge in 1837, the Mandans were forced to desert their village and the Arikara moved into their lodges and village site, and forced the Mandans to hunt up new places.  Most of them moved up and took refuge among their old friends, the Gros Ventre at the Knife river, a matter of but a few miles.  From this time the village became Arikara village and so remained until the Arikara, in turn, were forced to evacuate it by the Sioux in 1862.

No definite date has been found as to when the Mandans left Mih Tutta Hang Kush, but it certainly was after the small pos year of 1837.  It may be safely deducted from correspondence between George Catlin and Kenneth McKenzie, Chief in charge of Fort Union at the mouth of the Yellowstone.  One of these letters, dated June 1839, limits the time when the Mandans moved to a point “three mills up the river, and there they have now fifteen or twenty huts, containing, of course, only that number of families.”  (Quotation from Journal of James Audabon, in Missouri River Journals, dated June 7th, 1843).

McKenzie wrote to Catlin as follows:

Fort Mandan, Mandan Village, Upper Missouri,

June 1839

To George Catlin, Esq., City of New York.

Dear Sir:

“……..I have sent this day by our boat……; but as the Riccarrees have taken possession of the Mandan Village, they have appropriated everything,….Of the Mandans forty or fifty were all that were left after the disease subsided. ….A few months before the Riccarrees took possession they were attacked by a war party of Sioux and, in the middle of the battle, the Mandans, men, women and children, whilst fighting for the Riccarrees, at a concerted signal, ran through the pickets and threw themselves under the horse’s feet of the Sioux and, still fighting, begged the Sioux to kill them ‘that they might not be dogs of the Riccarrees.’  The last of the tribe were here slain.”

Yours truly, Kennith McKenzie

As the small pox did not subside until late in 1838 and the Mandans were still there, as McKenzie says “several months after the Ricaras had taken possession,” it, perhaps, was in the spring of 1839 when the Mandans succeeded in building or, at least, maintaining themselves in the Gros Ventre villages, managed to keep the strain of the remarkable people from extinction.

In Culbertson’s Journal, June 1850, we read again of Mih Tutta Hang Kush, which was now an Arikara settlement:

“June 12, 1850 …. The steam boat ascending the Missouri, reach Fort Clark, a small fort, about 100 feet in length on each side.  Just above the fort was the village of the Arikara.  The village is composed of two hundred lodges as near as I could learn from the interpreter…..”

It will be remembered that the small pox took terrible toll among the Gros Ventres as well as the Mandans, and the Arikaras to a less degree.  This left the Mandans and Gros Ventres, living together at the mouth of the Knife (a few miles above Mit Tutta Hang Kush, now a Recara village) in a very weakened condition and, on account of repeated forays by war parties of Sioux, the Gros Ventre hunted up a new location for a village.  They place the Missouri between them and their greatest enemies, the Teton Sioux tribes, and selected a location in Township 147 Range 87, where they erected their earth lodges and removed from the Knife river locations in 1845.  The Mandans soon followed them to the left bank of the river there they built together.  The Arikaras, however, did not remove to that place until August 1852.  In time this became known as Fort Berthold.

In June 1850 (per Culbertson (1), pp 118-119) they built a pickit palisade and fortification about the Indian village. In 1865 at Fort Berthold, Matthews mentions that this pickitt fortification was taken down and burned for fuel.  Culbertson says that the appearance of the Fort Berthold village did not differ from other Mandan, Gros Ventre or Arikara villages in 1859.  In the fall of 1872 Dr. Matthews, then on a hunting party into the far west, says that “Dr. C.E.McChesney, physician at the Berthold Agency, counted,, with great care, the buildings in the Indian village there, with the following results:

Ree lodges, old style 48

Ree log cabins 28 71

Earth Lodges of Mandans and Gros Ventre 35

Log cabins             do                    do 69 104 Total 175


In January 1926, the writer received a letter from H.H.Larned, Lansing, Mich., who was a clerk at Fort Berthold for Durfee & Peck, 1867-1869.  He also sent a pencil drawing of the entire Indian village and surroundings at Fort Berthold, with names, etc.  In his letter he stated that none of the Indians there in 1869 lived in skin tipis, but that they had them for use when away from the village.  He also stated that there were no log houses at that time, but that Long Mandan showed him where they had been behind a wall of pickitts.



Burnt Village, 1923 article

Mandan Village near Sanger, Oliver Co., N.D., October 1st, 1923, accompanied by Arthur Pearson, Mandan, N.D.

This little village is situated on the west bank of the valley of the Missouri, on an extensive flat north of a range of hills and buttes which extend some miles north of Harmon.  This range starts just north of Square Butte Creek and extends to Price.  Here the flat begins.  The range is full of deep valleys and there are many high flat-topped buttes and there is no logical location for an Indian camp such as the “Villagers” had.

As we came out upon the flat, I began looking for villages and, as we came to within a mile or closer to Sanger, the road we were following cut directly through several lodge sites.  I recognized them and, while Pearson was attending to some insurance work in town, I walked over the site.

It is on the flat “first bench” above the river flat, about thirty feet or more above flood water.  At the cut of the highway and also in the railroad cut, I picked up 50 or 60 specimens of pottery fragments.  These are of the usual designs found at other similar villages, as the “lines,” thickness and finish.  Also, I picked up a good bone awl for buckskin’ a half rib, smoothed off to a rounded point at the end; some buffalo teeth and many flint objects, knives, scrapers, etc.

The village site has not been plowed and the lodge sites are very clear, with mounds of from one foot to three feet high.  The unoccupied central space is clearly to be seen, and there is a heavy rock directly in the middle of this space.  Some of the lodges, paced, measure from six to twenty paces, from crest to crest.

I saw no signs of a ditch, unless a small, washed place to the south might have been the original ditch on that side.  On the north is a small gully with steep sides on the village side, and several good springs along the course.  The west is protected by a high range of hills at distance of less than a mile.  The main river probably flowed close to the bank on the east at the time of occupancy.

The site covers perhaps five or six acres, although Pearson thought about 6 to 8 acres.  I think these lodges were excavated a foot or more but made no excavations.  Many heavy, cracked bones are strewn around, but the pottery I found was inclined to be rotten, but this was on account of having been exposed so long, I believe.  Digging would no doubt bring to light many articles and good specimens.

I have not yet identified this site from Lewis and Clark’s Journals, but it is close to the place where the Arikara joined the Mandans for protection against the Dakotah, about 1799. but I hardly think this site was occupied then, and that the Mandans had been living in villages to the north some miles, when the Arikara came.

Location is 27.0 miles, by auto, north of Mandan Postoffice.

July 3, 1924:  Sitting Bear, Mandan, and Foolish Bear, Gros Ventre, told me this was Mandan and called “Burnt Village.”



Federated Villages of Fort Berthold 1868, drawn from memory by Larned, 1926












Early Mandan Village Sites, Welch notations on 1911 Geol. Survey Map




Crying Hill Village

Examination of pre-white pottery, taken by me from the site of the old Mandan Village of the Crying Hill.  This village site is in the city limits of Mandan, N.D……Sept. 2nd, 1923

I am told by old Mandans, especially in an interview with Crows Heart, the Principal Chief, who lives at the mouth of the Little Missouri, that this was quite an extensive village but “very old.”  He called it “The Crying Hill Village.”  Explained that it received that name because the women went to the top of the hill north of the village and mourned for lost relatives.

Indications are that it covered the territory between Sixth Ave and Tenth Ave NE and up the slopes of the hill as far as Second St, and lodge rings are plainly discovered south as far as Main Street.  First Street cuts directly through a large lodge site, perhaps 65 feet in diameter, the debris being at this time about five feet high.  This mound where the street cuts through on both east and west sides, is thickly strewn with broken pottery and heavy buffalo bones.

One of the logs of the lodge may still be seen, three feet under the surface at the cut on the north side of the cut and the east side of the lodge ring.  I also examined several caches (probably in their corn fields) to the south of Main Street when the sewer ditch was dug several years ago.  So, their fields were probably on the flat south of the village and run to the Heart River bank, which, at that time, flowed in a bend, just south of the present NPRy tracks.

Bones of humans were unearthed this present summer (1923) while digging water ditches for mains along Second Ave NW, indicating that their old burial place was about at the intersections of Seventh and Eighth Avenues with Second Street.  The skull of a man which I found was but a foot and a half under the present surface, indicating that it had fallen from the scaffold and the skull filled with earth and finally covered by the storm wash from the hill. Other human bones were found in the same locality at no great depth.

My belief is that the village covered the ground as far east as the point of the hill, just west of the present NPRy branch line to Stanton-Killdeer, covering several acres.  Houses cover most of the western portion of this village now, but vacant lots show the lodge sites plainly.

This is probably one of the Mandan Villages visited by the LaVerendrye’s several times between 1738 and 1743, the last date being their return from the west where they discovered the “Shiny Mountains” (The Big Horn Range).  I judge that this village was even larger than the Slant Village at old Lincoln site, which Lewis and Clark said covered “six or seven acres”  – covering some 15 acres or more of ground, and well-calculated to be important, as it was near water, wood, forage and lowlands for fields and well-protected from winter storms and winds on the north by a heavy range of hills.

I find no indication of any “ditch” surrounding this site, but the whites have been in this vicinity since 1878 or even before.  I have found many “eagle pits” and animal pit traps in the hills east of the court house and in the vicinity of the present reservoir of the water company on the hill northeast of the court house.  I am inclined to think that the main Missouri river channel swept the east end of this range of hills and directly south to the east point of Motsif’s Farm (the site of the Young Man’s or Big Village) and that the mouth of the Heart was at the present underpass of the Mandan-Bismarck Road, or in the lowlands a little east of that point, at the time when this village and the Big Village were inhabited, and that the people of these two villages united at a “winter camp” in the timber of the lowlands to the south of the then channel of the Heart.  Talks with old Mandans indicate this to have been the custom of these two villages.  Of course all traces of this lowland winter camp is washed away by change of Heart River channel to the south.



          Mandan Daily Pioneer article by Welch, 1924


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          Pre-Mandan Fortifications, comments by Welch, 1931

While flying over Mandan in the summer of 1931, I noticed, very plainly, a fortification upon Crying Hill.  August 14th, I went up on the hill and made a sketch of contours and ditch, etc.

The east end of the hill has had a level place, which is presumed to have been a strong point; then, from there a level roadway has been dug out of the side of the hill, with at least two leveled places higher than the roadway, which is a few feet from the top, on the north side.  It is plainly to be seen and followed. At the northwest end of the hill it comes onto the level ground and continues in a regular ditch, average depth about three feet and eight to ten feet wide.

The northwest corner is a perfect redoubt in a circular form, about 15 paces each way.  The ditch continues for 15 paces to the corner of another redoubt, which is slightly smaller, being about 11 paces across.  From the south corner of this, the ditch continues for 10 paces, where it is lost on the steep slopes of the south side of the hill, but it appears that it might have run down the slopes for some distance, but this indication is, possibly, the result of volumes of rainwater emptying on the hillside, from the ditch, during storms.

Along the edge of the south side of the hill, and east of the south redoubt, is another leveled place, and might have been a strong-point there.  If this is true, there is no dead space in any direction.

Crying Hill is isolated, being about 55 paces across on top at widest place; with a deep valley on the north and slopes to the Heart River valley on the south side;  the west is the only approach, as the sketch indicates, and is protected by two strong redoubts.

At the foot of the hill, on the south side, is a place apparently leveled off and protected by a heavy stone wall, now dilapidated, and could easily have been close to the forest of the valley at one time, and possibly was connected with the ditch, which evidently has been eroded away on the south side of the hill.

Crying Hill is a high knife-blade spur of hill, occupying almost the entire length, east and west, between Sixth Ave NE and Eighth Ave NE, or about 750 feet.  Its width is 55 paces across the top.  Paces were made on grass and irregular ground.  The ditches and level roadway are all grown up to natural grass, which indicates considerable age.

A mosaic of a turtle, about 12 feet long, is to be seen, made of small, easily-handled stone, sort of sandstone, taken from the ledge which forms the cap of the hill, although covered with earth and grass. It is very similar to the fortification north of Sanger, with the same sort of “steps” or leveled roadway along the hillside.

No artifacts or Indian remains were found at any time on top of Crying Hill, although the Mandan-Gros Ventre Village of the Crying Hill, immediately north, furnishes many specimens.  My idea is that heavy pickets were erected outside the ditch and at the lower side of the steps or roadway.  These might have been far enough apart to enable defenders to shoot arrows or hurl lances through the pickets and furnish a level place for those inside.  The ditch furnished protection to fighting men inside the picket wall at the redoubts.  The inside of the ditches are higher than the outside, at both the fortifications  mentioned.


I have never heard any mention of these forts by the Indians, and certainly they were not erected by early military expeditions built them and why?  It has taken an immense amount of work and time, and someone certainly knew how to erect them for the purpose of protection from an assault.

It is not my idea that this fortification was constructed by either Mandans or Gros Ventre.  I has been suggested, however, that it might have been a strong place for the inhabitants of the prehistoric village of Crying Hill, to fleet to for refuge if attacked by a greatly superior foe, but, in that case, they would have to desert their village, houses and cultivated fields, and does not seem probable to me.

Its similarity of construction leads me to believe that it was made by the same people who constructed the Hensler fortification and, in my opinion, it, together with its inhabitants, antedated the coming of the Mandans.

Mandan villages in the Heart River country are still bearing a different vegetation from the surrounding country, while the grass on this high hill has reverted to the original buffalo and other grasses, and while I hesitate to state positively that it is the work of previous people, all indications would appear to so indicate.




          Old Mandan Villages, talk with Sitting Crow, 1924

July 2-4, 1924, Burr  – Interpreter.

Sitting Crow, Head Chief of the Mandans

Crows Heart, Second Chief of the Mandans

Foolish Bear, “Keeper of the Testimonial” for the Gros Ventre.


These well-posted men of the old times confirmed the locations and names of my own record of the ancient villages at the Heart.  They also decided that the site of the village a mile or more south of Sanger was Mandan, but was sometimes occupied by the Gros Ventre.  They gave it the name of “The Burnt Village.”  There was some indecision as to the name of the village on the Boley Farm, which Steinbrueck called the Mortar Village. Foolish Bear said he thought it was named Tattoo Face Village, but the two Mandans said that the village of Crying Hill was sometimes called by that name. They were inclined to call it “North Village,” but I think they called it by that name on account of its position as the northern village of the group of five villages at the mouth of the Heart.  So the name of it is still undecided.

They also said that all of these sites were frequently occupied as camping places by traveling bands of all tribes, and that relics of those tribes might be picked up, having been broken, lost or deserted there.  They all agreed that all of the village sites from the Little Heart to the Knife river were of Mandan selection and founding, and that those upon the left bank of the Missouri between the points named were most likely of Hidatsa origin, but might have been occupied for a period, at different times, by the Mandans or Arikara, after the last-named people finally came to live with them and kept the peace.  But the left bank villages were not popular nor very safe on account of the Santee Sioux bands which claimed that country.



          Mysterious Mandan “M” Characters, comments by Welch, 1933




          Mandan Pottery, Welch drawing




Young Man’s Village

Welch visits site, 1921

(also called The Big Village)

Sunday, August 14th, 1921, I went to the site of the old-time Mandan village which they call “Big Village,” on Mr. Motzif’s farm, south of Mandan.  This village was on an elevated flat bench, which rose from the Heart River on the East, to high hills on the west and dropped very abruptly on the north to the low lands of the Heart, now covered with hay.  At the time the village was occupied, I thing the Heart flowed at the foot of this north bluff and curled around to the east, forming the north and east sides of the village, which is still about twenty-five feet above the river level.  The original site must have been thirty acres as it did not extend west of a little gully where Motzif has his farm, barns and houses.

Most of the site is now in potatoes and corn and, over the entire area, pieces of broken pottery and the heavy bones of buffalo show in the grass and fields.  The highest mounds are in pasture now, and I could not tell, without excavation, whether or not they were the tumbled walls of the lodges or mounds of refuse.  They show roughly circular and, often in the center, it is five or six feet below the tops of the mounds surrounding.  Many holes are seen where people have dug into them.  I am told by Mr. Allen that he has excavated several skeletons from them.  If this is correct, they must have been placed there after the evacuation of the village, or been left there when the inhabitants fled from some scourge or sickness  – as they would not place dead people in their walls or refuse heaps.

In poking around I picked up many pieces of pottery which I retained to show their manner of decoration of pots.  I took about 15 different manners of decorating “Herring-bone,” with twisted hide or grass.  One showed indentation of a finger around the lips of the pot, and the finger nail is shown clearly.  One piece must have been decorated all over the pot, with lines checker-board fashion, running at different angles with the others.  I also found large broken pieces of buffalo shoulder-blade hoes and picks and shovels, with which they dug the sod for their lodges and attended to the cultivation of their corn, squashes, beans and sunflowers.  I picked up a perfect flint knife with a circular blade as well as an unfinished one.  I also brought back a perfect war-club head of granite, with the groove around where they tied the rawhide.  This is too small a stone to be used as a hammer for pounding meat or cherries or picket pine.

This village is sometimes called “The Young Man’s Village,” and was an offshoot from the “Slant Village” at Fort Abraham Lincoln. No mention is made by Lewis and Clark, 1804, of either of these villages or, for that matter, of any in this locality at all.  We know that there were also the villages called “Timber Village” and “Tatoo Face Village” here on the Heart River, and I believe they were deserted even as far back as previous to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, either by small pox or the Sioux.  Lewis and Clark found the people at Fort Clark and above along the river in well-built villages of permanent circular sod formation.

          Excavation of Skeleton by Welch, 1925

This is the old Mandan village upon the Motsiff Farm, a short distance southeast of Mandan, N.D., and sometimes called “The Big Village,” by the Mandan Indians.  It was quite probably one of the five Mandan villages in the vicinity of the Heart river, at the first visit of the sons of Verendrye, in 1738.

Part of the original site is yet undisturbed and is used as a pasture.  This part is covered with mounds and depressions of the earth houses.  A horse broke through the surface with his front foot, making a hole six inches across.  Believing that he had broken into a grain cache, I started excavation a few feet to the west of the hole and about six feet in length, north and south and three feet in width.  The surface of the ground was covered with broken bone and flint chips and other evidence of Indian manufacture and life.

At 4 feet I arrived at hard, clayey ground, which indicated the original surface.  This four feet depth contained five well-defined stratas of wood ashes, from one inch to four inches thick.  The ashes were mixed with broken game bones, clam shell fragments, pottery shards, fire-scorched stones, and several of the small smooth stones perhaps used in the making of Mandan pots were also found in this depth.  At two feet down, I found the broken shoulder blade hoes (or spades) of the buffalo.  At the fourth fireplace, two split-rib implements were found, with both ends rounded.  In the lowest fireplace, I uncovered a very highly-polished broken-rib instrument, with one end broken off; the bone was polished upon both sides and had the well-defined “M” (sometimes made like a “Y”) sign upon it.

About two inches below the solid earth, I uncovered three cedar logs of four inches diameter, completely rotted and the centers fallen into a cavity which they had covered.  The entrance to this cavity was roughly 20 inches in diameter and led straight downward, at the same size, for 20 inches.  At that point the excavation began to widen out in a jug shape.  The roof, at all points, was curve and extended down to the bottom or floor, at which point it was nearly perpendicular walls.  The floor was practically flat, upon hard clay.  The walls were in good condition and had not caved in, but dust covered the floor to a depth of six inches or more.  This was cleaned out.  There were no stones, bones or broken pottery in the accumulation of dirt, and it was possible to stand erect within the chamber.  Near the southwest wall was found the remains of a human body, with the head toward the south.  The knees were drawn up to the chin; the hands placed at either side of the face, and the cranium resting upon its right side, facing east.  Remains of a buffalo robe were under the body.  The body  had been placed resting upon the knees and elbows and the spinal column was uppermost.  Cranium was nearly full of fine dust, same as upon the floor of the pit, and the bones were in place in the floor dust.  All bones perfectly clean and undisturbed since burial.

Under the head were found two axe-blade shaped shell ornaments, with perforations, and were probably ear rings.  No other ornaments or articles were found, except two thumb scrapers of flint, in the middle of the floor, where they had probably fallen from the ash heap above the cedar coverings.  Across the body a cedar timber 5 feet long and 6 inches in diameter  – at almost right angles to the body  – rotted clear though, but in shape. This might have been dropped into the pit while covering it and did not appear to have been a part of the burial.  The skull and upper leg bones were taken and are now in my collection.  Teeth ground very flat.  Skull solid.




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Lop-Sided Village

          Comments by Crows Heart, 1923

Crows Heart, Mandan Chief, May 31st, 1923

Joseph Packineau, interpreter

Name of village at Old Fort Lincoln

“This village was the first one up in that part of the country.  We call it Lop-Sided Village’ because the lodges were built on a sloping ground.  We made the floors level by taking off some of the dirt on the upper side, but the lodge was built on the ground, first, and so all the lodges looked like they were falling down all the time.”

“While we were there some people came on the other side and called Manitari? (which means asking to cross over)  We thought that was their name, but we, afterward, found that they called themselves Hidatsa.  Now the people call them Gros Ventre.  The Chief of our people said they could come over in about four days.  But the ceremonies took longer than that, and it was four years before they got across to us.  They lived with us for a long time.  They finally went to the Knife river and built villages.  We had another village in the bottoms close by the Lop-Sided village.  This was for winter use and had many good lodges there.”

Welch note: This is the village which is called often Village of the Slant or Slant Village by the white students.



           Welch unearths Indian Relics, 1923 articlemandan58-mandan-pioneer-article-p1


Mandan Pioneer article, page 2


          Image found south of Mandan, 1923

In May 1921 two boys were following a plowman on the farm of Mr. Welsh, about three miles south of Mandan, for fish bait.  The particular spot is close to the Fort Lincoln Road in a field which was in corn.  It is in the angle formed by the Lincoln Road and the Solen Road, lying east of the second-named and south of the Lincoln Road and north of the little waterway. There has never been a Mandan or Ree village located at that place so far as we know, and, certainly, there are no indications of such.  However, about ten miles to the south, at Old Fort Lincoln site, was formerly located the village of the Mandans called the ‘Slant Village.’  To the north, about the same distance, was also a Mandan village called the ‘Big Village.’  Both of these sites are well-identified and have produced many interesti9ng relics of the past.  The spot where this image was plowed up would have been on the route likely to have been traveled by anyone passing along the west bank of the Missouri, which as some past date has swept along the bluff within a few hundred yards of the place.  Also a small stream emptied then, as well as now, flowing from the high hills from the west, and would have made a good overnight camping place, protected from the wind as well as sight from the west, with fuel and pasturage in abundance.  Today, the Dakotah use the bank of this stream as a camping place when making a road trip.

While following the plow a peculiar object was turned up and the boys picked it up.  The plow had broken it into at least three pieces.  The top of the head was gone and not been found.  Another fracture ran through the neck, clean and fitting nicely.  Two other chipped places were the left ear ornament and a small piece on the left foot.

The entire image now in the possession of Mr. Allen, the taxidermist at Mandan, is six inches in height and three and a quarter inches at the wrists which is the widest part.  It has a fairly flat back and, at the thickest part, is one and one quarter inches.  The weight of the object is ______.  My opinion is that the clay from which it is made is black adobe.  It has turned a deep brown at the places where the two pieces have been rubbed together in fitting.  There is no indication of any straw being used in it.  The supposed method of making  was that the thick clay was roughly fashioned by the hands and afterward a roughly sharp instrument used to fashion the eyes and other features.  The back side is quite rough.  After being made it has been sun-baked as there is no indication of fire about it.


The eyes are one-half inch corner to corner, elliptical in shape and one quarter inch from top to bottom.  Formed by a raised, elongated ring and eighth of an inch wide; also a slightly wider, raised segment of an ellipse indicates the eyebrows. The nose is prominent and roman; cheek bones are as prominent as the nose, very high and pronounced; the mouth is also indicated by the raised lips being one half inch corner to corner and three eighths of an inch from outside of lips to lip; both ears are indicated by a slightly indented depression one quarter inch up and down and a little under that measurement across the other way;  the chin is prominent and advanced to the front more than any other part of the face profile.

Measurements of body part:  On the center line, running up and down, it is three and three quarters inches; across the neck fracture it is two and five eights inches; across that portion of the elbows, which is the widest part, it is three and one quarter inches; the left foot is one and almost a quarter and the right is one and one eighth inches; the fracture just below the chin on the bottom part is one inch, while the chin part along the same line in the head piece is three quarters inches from front to back.

The body is shortened and grotesque; the toes are mere deep scratches showing six scratches on the right, but only three on the left owing to a fracture and lost chipping; the fingers show more care but are very crude but plain; two deep scratches on either wrist indicate a bracelet; a smooth ’gutter’ three eights of an inch deep and five eights wide runs up and down from between the feet to the hands, which are lying open and flat upon the breasts; this ’gutter’ which represents the open space between the legs is two and a half inches long and slightly wider at the extreme top; the hands are about seven eighths inches wide, the forearm is very clumsy and thick, and the elbow is very narrow, while the shoulders are not clearly shown.

Ornaments:  The left ear ornament is chipped off; the right has a wedge-shaped ornament an inch and a quarter long and a full half inch wide, which hangs to the line running through the middle of the chin, across; on a line across with the bottom of the chin are two raised round objects, the tops of them touching said line; the left one is a half inch across while the right is a little smaller; from the bottom of the chin another object descends  – being an inch and a quarter up and down and five eighths wide, and the bottom being the top of the groove or ‘gutter’ of the lower section, the hands lie on either side of this and the little finger touches the sides of it; the two round objects are nearly on a line with the shoulders and chin and indicate parts of a necklace rather than the nipples of a crudely-molded breasts and if this is the case, the object which lies in the middle and appears to hang from the chin, might very likely be the center section of the necklace, and would not indicate whiskers; the size of the necklace would correspond with the ornaments in the ears and I am inclined to think that the two round objects and the object under the chin do belong to a necklace.

My conclusion is that this is a Mexican or, at least, an object from below the Rio Grande  – a result of molding and carving of the Toltecs or Aztecs.  The shortened lower part of the body; the thin elbows; the deeply-scratched fingers and toes; the heavy bracelets and ear pendants; the central groove or ‘gutter’; the flat shape which shows but the front and profile; an indication of a sort of ‘frame’ which forms the extreme bottom edges; all these as compared with a genuine old Aztec image in my possession show great similarity.  My idea is that this image, which is the only image of the human being I have seen in this north country, originated south of the Rio Grande and, through war and barter, finally reached here and was lost by some Mandan or other tribe long before white invasion north of that river.

I took the image with me to Chicago (about 1923) and carried it to the chief archeological expert at the Fields Museum of Natural History.  He became interested and, together with Dr. Pipson, we went to their Mexican expert on articles of Toltec and previous ages.  He as once pronounced it to be Toltec manufacture and explained its history.  His opinion was as follows:

“The Toltecs made many such images.  We have many of them in the museum, mostly of pure gold.  When an original is completed it is in the form of a mask, hollow and with no back.  The work is done from the rear by pushing and fashioning the soft gold into the desired shape.  Then into this shape soft mud is pressed as in a mold.  When taken out it was burned or dried and became an object such as you have.  This distinctly shows how the mud had been pressed in, by the depression on the back.  The ancient Toltecs made many ‘seconds,’ or duplicates, of their originals.  This is one of those, but how it got up here from away south of Mexico City, is a question which I cannot determine.  That is for other men to find out.  But it is a genuine specimen of Toltec duplication and is a good one.  I have never known of one to have been found so far away from its home before.”



Mandans of Upper Missouri River, Welch Address, Rockford, Illinois, 1924


All efforts in the past, to trace an Indian tribe back to a point where a separate race, or distinct group, became manifest among the other peoples of the earth has always, so far, met with confusion.  Nor does it appear, at the present time, that this situation will be much improved. However, there is hope that the methods now being pursued by archaeologists  and other students and investigators will result in unraveling the threads of history from the tangled web of mythical tradition and ceremony, with which a student is confronted in his work today, and thus aid in building up the true structure of history.

Perhaps no tribe of North American Indians have so persistently presented such an interesting study as that of the Mandan, who call themselves the Numakaki, and who are known to the great Sioux Nation as the Mowatani.  When the first white man of whom we have historical account of having come into the territory where they now dwell, came among them in 1738, he found these Mandan people there  – a powerful nation of village-dwelling, as well as agricultural, folk and, while their own traditions relating to the creation of the land, the coming of vegetation and animal activity and the appearance of human life, nearly all center in that immediate vicinity, it is also necessary to take into account those other evidences which have been advanced which lead to the supposition, and even conclusion, by some of those men who have advanced theories, that these Mandans are fragments of the Mound Builders, or that they are the results of contact with people of white blood, namely the Welsh, and that this latter theory may be assigned to the colonies of the Welsh Prince, Madoc, who is supposed to have landed upon the shores of the American continent with ten vessels, loaded with colonists, in the latter part of the twelfth century (around the year 1170).

It is even asserted by some of the most daring that the Mandans and the Aztecs were, at one time, one and the same people, and scattered from the neighborhood of the juncture of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers  – the one division leading into the southwest and what is now known as Mexico, and the other, leading up the great waterway of the Missouri, into the north and west, where they became known to the earliest travelers and explorers as “The White Indians;” “The Friendly Mandans;” “The People of the Heart River Villages,” and other appellations, most of them undertaking to advertise the fact that the Mandans were different from the surrounding savage tribes.

There is a tradition among these Indians that they came from the mouth of the Mississippi in remote times, and the tradition carries with it, the assumption that they were somewhat acquainted with whites.  It is reasonable to declare that the men who are the best qualified to say, through their acquaintance with the Indians, themselves, as well as their culture, do not hesitate to accept the last theory as the most tenable.

This tribe was the first to be described, by authentic historical data, of any of the peoples of the Upper Missouri River country.  In the use of the term Upper Missouri River, we refer to that portion of the river lying above-stream from the mouth of Wakpe Sica (Bad River), the location of Pierre, the capital of South Dakota.

The record mentioned was made by Pierre Gaultier de Verennes, the Sieur de la Verendrye who, after years of trading and exploration among the Great Lakes tribes, had been commissioned by the Marquis de Beauharnois, who bore the titles of Commander of the Military Order of St. Louis and Governor and Lieutenant General of the Whole of New France, Lands and Terrirtories of Louisiana.

This commission had been the outcome of much solicitation upon the part of Verendrye who, in 1728, had heard from an old chief of Manistiquia river, of a “certain great Lake which discharged itself by a river flowing eastward.”  The old chief claimed to have descended that river until he came to a water which ebbed and flowed.  Being terrified by this strange movement of waters, and made nervous by rumors among the people with whom he came in contact, of a great lake of salty water, which many villages upon its shores, he hastily returned.  Verendrye obtained from this old man a map drawn upon birchbark, which indicated his trail to what he supposed to be “The Sea of the West.”

If the old chief was truthful regarding his wonderful trip, he probably had struck the Missouri river at some point in Montana or North Dakota where the general course is eastward, and the “Great River” flowed not into the “Sea of the West,” but into the Gulf of Mexico.  At any rate we have read that the map is still preserved in the Canadian archives, and the dream of Verendrye, fired by this discovery of a man who had actually floated upon the stream, became an obsession with the noble-blooded French adventurer who, after many disappointments, finally came into possession of a commission for the exploration for which he hungered.

Believing that he could reach the sea by holding to a course further north than that which other explorers had trod, Verendrye determined to go by the way of the lakes and waterways north and west of Lake Superior, and which did ultimately take him into the country of the present Lake Winnipeg.  Louis the XV was King of France at that time and, in his usual manner of lightly treating his colonies, did not listen with sufficiently active interest to the appeals of Verendrye, to support the enterprise with funds of the Kingdom, but frankly stated that he might do so at his own expense, and issued commission in which it is stated that “Verendrye was expected and empowered to take possession, in the name of the French King, of all the country he should discover,” and graciously granted to him, the monopoly of the fur trade in the regions thereof.  Without going more into detail as to his life and adventures, we find him building a trading post on the Assiniboine River, which post he named Fort La Reine, and which was situated in the close vicinity of the present Portage la Praraire, Manitoba, south of Lake Manitoba.

This post was located upon the great “Road of the Assiniboines in going to the English,” which trail crossed the Assiniboine at that point and reached into the Hudson’s Bay country of the English, and was used at that time by practically all the hunting tribes from the unknown regions west of the Red River of the North.

From the Indians who used this trail, Verendrye heard strange tales of a race of people described to him as “White Indians” and who, he was told, could guide him to the “Western Sea,” which was but a “short distance from them.”  He determined to go to that great river where these strange people lived and pursue his search beyond them.  There is little doubt that he fully expected to find a race of people differing much from the ordinary Indian, when he reached “that nation of white who have been so much spoken of” by the Assiniboines and other northern people.

Verendrye was joined at Fort la Reine by Msr de la Marque with eight or ten men, who expressed his intention of accompanying him to the Mandans.  Consequently, upon the 18th day of October, 1738, Verendrye set out, according to his journal, “with 52 persons, 20 hired men, all good men, Msr de la Marque, his brother, my two children, (Francois and Louis Joseph), my servant and a slave, the rest, Indians,” (25 Indians in all) in a general southwest direction, towards the supposed location of the “Nation of White,” the Mandan Indians.

On the third day out he was joined by a camp of forty lodges of Assiniboines.  It may be stated that these Assiniboines were a branch of the Dakotah Nation, probably that of the Yanktonaise, who had split off from the parent tribes about the year 1660 on account of a dispute arising among the people regarding certain spoils and advantages derived from a war expedition against their enemies, probably the Mahas.

After a toilsome, wandering march of 41 days, they met the first Mandans, but during that time it is certain that the party had wandered far from a convenient course, owing perhaps, to the anxiety of the Assiniboine guides to make visits to other bands of their own people, who lived at a distance from the direct line of travel.  The records of the journal, are somewhat confusing as to time and distance and direction, but it says “We took forty-six days to go a distance we should have done easily in sixteen or twenty days at the most……..”

During this march they came to an Assiniboine village consisting of 103 lodges and the chief announced his intention of accompanying Verendrye to the nearest Mandan fort, and that he had already sent forward four of his men to inform the Mandans that strangers were approaching and with instructions to come to meet them.  When the party once more set out, Verendrye, being a soldier, gave a very interesting and enlightening description of the advance of the large force as being in “three columns having skirmishers in front, with a good rear guard, the old and lame march in the middle, forming the central column.”  The French party, together with their Assiniboine allies, arrived on November the 28th, at the place selected by the Assiniboine chief to be where they should meet the Mandans.  The Assiniboine guides, which had been sent to the Mandans, soon appeared in the company of a Mandan chief and thirty men, upon a high place in the vicinity and, in the evening, Verendrye had them brought into his presence.


Verendrye at first expressed surprise that these Mandans were not white people, for he had been led to believe that they were like other Frenchmen.  However, after he had spent some time among them and studied them closer, his journal states that “they are not Indians at all.”

Two days later they once more took up the march towards the nearest Mandan fort.  The party now consisted of more than 600 people and, necessarily, moved slowly, it is thought.  On the third day, they moved out of camp at four o’clock in the morning and, about noon, discovered a number of people who had come to meet them “near a small river” where they had prepared fires and food of “course grain cooked,  and flour made into a paste, with pumpkins, to give all enough to eat.”  After a rest of two hours, the Mandans picked up the elder Verendrye in a buffalo blanket and, thus honored, with the flag of France carried before them and the French soldiers marching next in ranks, the expedition arrived before the walls of the ‘Mandan Fort” and, after smoking with the delegation which came out to meet them, they “entered the fort on the 3rd day of December, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, escorted by all the French and Assiniboines.”

There is considerable disagreement as to the actual location of the first fort of the Mandans.  An astronomical observation was taken at this place by one of the younger Verendryes, which is stated in the journals as being 48 degrees and 12 minutes of latitude, with no longitude stated, owing to the instrument having been broken.

Accepting this observation as being approximately correct only, it is believed that, owing to the nature of the country, its creeks and watersheds, and the assumption that the party was crossing the height of land which separates the valley of the Souris (Mouse) river from that of the Missouri, in order to come into the known habitat of the Mandans, it may have been a point some thirty miles W.S.W. of Minot, N.D.

As it was the avowed intention of Verendrye to remain for the balance of the winter with the Mandans, he sent the Assiniboine back to his new post on the Assiniboine river the next morning and, with these Indians, went four of his Frenchmen, carrying news of the progress of expedition to that point.

Verendrye’s description of the Fort is of especial interest and, from our subsequent knowledge of such villages, is, in the main, very truthful.  The journal states “Msr. De la Marque and I walked about to observe the size of their fort and their fortifications.  I decided to have the huts counted.  It was found that there were 130 of them.  All the streets, squares and huts resembled each other.  Several of our Frenchmen walked around; they found the streets, squares very clean, the ramparts very level and broad; the palisades supported on cross-pieces mortised into posts of fifteen feet.  At fifteen points doubled are green skins which are put for sheathing when required, fastened only above in the places needed, as in the bastion there are four at each curtain well-flanked.  The fort is built on a height in the open prairie with a ditch upward of fifteen feet deep by fifteen or eighteen feet wide.  Their fort can only be gained by steps or posts which can be removed when threatened by an enemy.  If all their forts are alike, they may be called impregnable to Indians.  Their fortifications are not Indian.  This nation is mixed white and black.  The women are fairly good-looking, especially the whites, many with blonde and fair hair.  Both men and women of this nation are very laborious; their huts are large and spacious, separated into several apartments by thick planks; nothing is left lying about; all their baggage is in large bags hung on posts; ….these men are always naked, covered only with a buffalo robe; a great part of the women are naked like the men, with this difference, that they wear a loose apron, about a hand-breadth and a foot long, sewed to a girdle in front only; several carry a kind of gown of very soft deerskin. ……Their fort is full of caves, in which are stored such articles as grain, food, fat, dressed robes, bear skins.  They are well-supplied with these, they are the money of the country. …..They make wicker-work very neatly, flat and in baskets.  They make use of earthen pots, which are used like many other nations, for cooking their food.  They are, for the most part, great eaters; eager for feasts.  They brought me every day more than twenty dishes of wheat, beans, pumpkins, all cooked.  Msr de la Marque, who did not hate feasts, went to them continually with my children.  As I did not go to them, my share was sent to men. The men are stout and tall, generally very active, fairly good-looking, with a good physiognomy.  The women have not the Indian physiognomy.”

The elder Verendrye was taken sick while at this village and was compelled to remain there while he sent forward his son, the Chevalier, together with Sieur Nolant and six French soldiers, under the guidance of several Mandans, to visit the other forts, which all appeared to be situated some distance to the southward and upon the shores of the Missouri river.  They were to obtain all the information possible regarding the course of the river and the inhabitants who dwelt upon the shores of the Missouri.

This small expedition was absent for twenty-three days, during which time they visited fiver other large villages of the Mandan Indians, all of which were situated within a distance of a few miles of either side of the mouth of the river which has always been called the Heart.  This important stream flows into the Missouri from the west and, upon its north, or left, bank, the thriving western city of Mandan is located, directly across the Missouri from Bismarck, the capital city of North Dakota.

The party, under the Chevalier de la Verendrye, most certainly crossed the river at some point in order to reach the villages upon its western shores and, as this was in December and there are always places there the river is entirely frozen across at that season, it is supposed that they were able to make crossings at various places on the ice, and might easily be presumed to have even followed the course of the stream on the ice and thus avoided being compelled to negotiate or detour the many deep coulees leading into the main stream.

They were well-received at all the forts; feasted and feted by the inhabitants and urged to remain as long as they desired.  The villages were all similar in construction and means of defense.  There were five such villages and the journal says that they were all twice as large as the one in which the elder Verendrye remained, and that “the last was the largest of all.”  Inasmuch as the Mandan chief, who had come to meet them, said that the first village was the smallest of them and the Chevalier Verendrye stated that the others were double in size to that one, which was stated to have contained 130 huts, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that the last one, which was said to have been the largest of all, contained at least 260 lodges, or even more.  As it was the principal village at that time, it is not doubted that the party were at that place for several days, perhaps spending Christmas Day, 1738 there.


Double Ditch Village

These five villages of Verendrye are all easily located today.  We believe that the first one at which he stopped to have been on the eastern shore, about ten miles above Bismarck.  It is today known as the ‘Village of the Double Ditch,” on account of the double line of fortifications which surround it on the land side.  It is a very important ruin and a well-prepared paper, describing some explorations therein by Will and Spinder has been printed by the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University Press, 1906, Vol. III, No. 4, “The Mandans.”  Our opinion that this site is the ruin of a village founded by the Gros Ventre (or Hidatsa) is of no importance in this paper, but will be mentioned in connection with the Mandan’s traditions herein.

Mortar Village

If Verendrye visited the village of the Double Ditch, he crossed the river there, or immediately below and, within three miles, came to another village, certainly Mandan, the “Village of the Mortar,” sometimes called the Renden Site, which is four miles north of the present city of Mandan.  Archaeologists have claimed to have discovered defensive walls and ditches at this ruin but, as that portion which contained fortifications has been cultivated for, perhaps, twenty years, all vestiges have been leveled, but several acres of tumbled mounds and debris from four to six feet deep are still undisturbed by the plow and are veritable treasure-houses for the student and collector.

Crying Hill Village

The next Mandan village, to the south, was a large settlement and around it cluster some of the most interesting legends of these people.  It was built upon the north bank of the Heart and upon the southern slopes of a line of bluffy hills, which protected it from the strong winter winds, and the village proper covered eight or ten acres.

Along the river’s bank were situated the cultivated fields of the inhabitants, where they raised corn, pumpkins, beans, tobacco, while pasturage for their horses, proved they were in possession of them at the time, was abundant in the rich river valley which extends toward  the west for many miles.  A great part of this village site is now covered with the residences and schools of Mandan, and paved city streets now traverse its old corn fields.  This village has been called by several names, according to the translations as given to investigators.  It is often spoken of as “Two Face Stone Village,” “Tattoo Face Village” and the “Village of the Crying Hill.”  The last is perhaps the oldest name of all and the one to be preferred, and it refers to one of the high hills to the immediate north, which hill was the place of mourning for the women.

This village was the dwelling place of two chiefs, regarding whom many traditions have been handed down to the present day.  Good Fur Robe was a Mandan Indian.  He is supposed to have been born a normal child, but to have attained to full size, body strength and mental capacity within a short time after his birth.  It is said of him that he followed a hunting party to the upper waters of the Heart river, while yet a mere child.  The hunters endeavored to persuade him to turn back to the village, but he insisted on accompanying the party.

Upon arriving at “Young Mans Butte,” a well-known landmark about sixty miles to the west of the village, the heads of five recently slain buffalo were found, and in the vicinity were many birds.  These birds told Good Fur Robe to secure the skulls to ropes tied through cuts made in his flesh, and to travel north from that place until he received further instructions from them.  So he did this and, for many days, dragged the heavy buffalo heads through the grass and brush, until he arrived at a certain group of buttes, which have been identified as the “Blue Buttes,” about twenty miles north of the Little Missouri river and some seventy miles directly north of the present Dickinson, N.D., where a “Pack Bird” spoke to him and told him to cut loose the skulls and to follow him.

After a day of hard trail, they arrived upon the summit of a high place, and found all the bird and animal nations gathered there and awaiting the arrival of Good Fur Robe.  Upon his a council was called and the young man was instructed by the assembled nations in many things not well-understood by the “Men Nations.”

He was taught how to govern the people and given rules and laws to put into effect; the stories of the creation and of the appearance of the animal and vegetable nations upon the earth; he was instructed in all the languages of the birds and animals, and was told that he had a certain power which was not possessed by the other nations;  he was given various object which might exert powerful influence of good or ill; he was taught the effects of certain plants and herbs and the secrets of nature were all explained to him.  Messages from the “Lord of Life” and “First Man” were interpreted to him and he was promised that if he followed these instructions he would become very great and powerful among the nations. And so it came to pass that he actually did frame the laws and influenced the customs of his people to such an extent that he did become great and powerful, and his name is handed down from generation to generation as the Moses of his time.

Tattoo Face was the name of another chief of the Village of the Crying Hill.  He belonged to that people who call themselves Hidatsa and whom the Mandans call Minitari (the Hewaktokta of the Sioux) and who were later called by the French the Gros Ventre.  Like Good Fur Robe, he exerted a powerful influence among his people, who were living with the Mandans at that time.

Tradition says: “in the beginning of things, the entire world was covered with water. The Lord of Life passed by and met First Man.  With the aid of two water creatures, the creation of land and of vegetable and animal life was accomplished.  The land was separated from the water and a river was caused to flow out of the Middle Hole and, because of that, was named the Heart river, and on its banks was situated the Village of the Crying Hill.”

“It was at this village at the mouth of the Heart that the two Dieties, Lord of Life and First Man, appeared among the people.  To the Mandan chief, Good Fur Robe, they gave the seeds of the corn and squash and bean; to the Hidatsa chief, Tattoo Face, they gave the seed of the tobacco plant, and taught these chiefs how to plant, cultivate, garner and preserve the products of these seeds.”

Young Man’s Village

Gazing southward across the Heart River from the Village of the Crying Hill, Verendrye must have been able to see the smoke from the lodges of another village of the Mandans, which was a short two miles away.  This village is known to the present Mandans as the “Young Man’s Village,” or the “Big Village,” and Steinbreuck and Brower both call it the Heart River Site in their papers.  About one-half of this site is in cultivation and the sharp mounds have been more or less disturbed and leveled, still others in the pasture are eight or ten feet deep, and many valuable specimens of pre-white stone and bone implements and much broken pottery have been found there.  Just how ancient these remains are has not been determined, but traditions among the people indicate that it is an evidence of an overflow of the people from an earlier settlement and that the colony was established and maintained by its first chief, Young Man, and his partisans.

This village is also situated in a very strategic position as regards defense, upon a level bench-land about fifty feet above the old bed of the Missouri at its eastern boundary, and the Heart River originally flowed along the entire northern exposure.  On the land sides, the village was protected from the approach of undesirable parties by a clearly-defined wall and inside ditches.

Objects of a nature conforming more to those made and used by the Arikara from the south and the Algonquin group of Cheyennes and even the Yanktonaise Sioux are often found here and, these objects are supposed to have been lost or deserted by visitors to the spot, after the site had been vacated by the Mandans. These visitors may have wandered about among the deserted lodges or even sojourned there for a season or more.  The mouth of the Heart was a location known to all the wandering, hunting bands, who might have been strong enough to have maintained a march to that point.  Not only that, but it was directly upon the line of approach to the Missouri and to the “Upper Villages of the Mandans,” as the later settlements at Fort Clark and Knife River were called, and the Sioux and Arikara and the Crows, coming in over the watered trails, followed closely the well-selected Indian roads which debouched from the prairies into the Missouri River bottom-lands directly as the mouth of the Heart and the site of this old village. Travois trails are yet to be seen in that vicinity, where they passed over low ranges of hills, deep-cut and, in places 100 feet wide, and they distinctly indicate the heavily-used trails from the Young Man’s Village to the parent village of the tribe, which is situated about three miles toward the south.

Lop-Sided Village

This parent village is the fourth on the west side of the Missouri, counted from the north, and there is little doubt that it was the principal and probably the first settlement of the Mandans at the Heart River.  It is probably the one spoken of by Verendrye as “the last” and “the largest of all.”  It is, at present, the most extensive of any of the old ruins.  It is most strategically located, directly upon the bluffs which, at the time when it flourished, dropped sheer into the swirling waters of the Missouri.  On the west landward side it was protected by a high, curving line of hills, from the stormy weather of the winters, and by deep draws upon both the north and south sides, whiles remains of an extensive ditch and heavy palisade indicate that a strong fortification extended across from one coulee to the other at the foot of the steep hills.

Upon these hills, the Infantry Post of Fort Abraham Lincoln was established in 1872 but, finding that it was necessary to have cavalry to successfully pursue the swiftly-moving Sioux warriors, the Seventh U.S.Cavalry, commanded by Lieut. Col. George A. Custer, arrived in 1873, and built a cavalry post.  It was from this post that the ill-fated Custer and his gallant men of the Seventh Cavalry marched forth to the gay strains of “Garry Owen” to their last, fierce fight and appalling death at the hands of the hostile Sioux as they contracted their swirling circle of death on the Little Big Horn in June 1876.

The site of this village is on more sloping ground than the Mandans generally selected for their villages and, on that account, it is often called “Slant village” by many writers, but we believe a better translation of the name to be “Village of the Lop-Sided Lodges,” as the name refers more to the awkward slant of the lodges than to the slope of the ground itself.

Bird’s Bill Hill Village

Towards t he south, several miles across a level bottom-land and located upon the eastern slopes of the same range of hills which embrace the Lop-Sided Village, lie the remains of another Mandan village, which is known as the “Village of Birds Bill Hill.”  It is not determined whether or not it was occupied at the time of the visit of Verendrye in 1738 and the site was not mentioned by either Lewis and Clark or Catlin or Maximilian, but at one time it must have been an extensive settlement, but was probably not occupied for the length of time the others were.  This is easily determined by the depth of the debris piles and the present condition of the burial places.  However, this site is especially rich in arrow and spear-heads and stone knives and hide scrapers.

The Tradition of the Flood

The high, bluffy, southern end of the line of hills at this point is called Birds Bill Hill by the Indians of today and, it was on the point of this hill where a portion of the Mandans were saved from the “Flood” which, at one time, covered all the world, according to tradition.  This tradition is a peculiar Mandan one and is given as of a date before the unknown time when the Hidatsa came to live with them and, briefly, is as follows:

“In the days of our fathers, the Lord of Life and First Man visited us by the Heart River, which they caused to flow out of the Middle Hole Country.  They told the wise men to prepare for trouble and they took them up to the hill and indicated where they could stand when the trouble came.  Before they went away they selected three men to whom they taught how to meet the trouble when it should come upon the people of the five villages.  And, after a while, Corn Woman had five children and they lived in a village beyond the Turtle Mountains.  One was called Magpie and the others were buffaloes; one of these was Fall Buffalo, another was Winter Buffalo, one was Spring Buffalo and one was named Summer Buffalo.  The Magpie went to visit the people of the five villages and saw much trouble for these peoples.  He went back to Corn Woman’s village and tied her up tight in the mane of Spring Buffalo.  Then the water came and they all started to swim to the five villages, but after swimming for a long distance, they all drowned except Spring Buffalo, who reached Birds Bill Hill and died there, but he had saved Corn Woman in his mane, and she was changed to an ear of yellow corn.

And when Spring Buffalo came swimming to Birds Bill Hill, the herald went among the lodges of the villagers and told the people to go to the hill, where they would find the three men who had received instructions from First Man.  They built an enclosure there on the hill and many people came to it.  The water covered everything then and came into the fence where the people were.  But the three men made a mark upon it as his as a man’s head, and told the people that the water would not pass that mark.  So they tied a young tree at that point and the water touched it and stopped coming further.  They the water went away after a while.  The people in the fence were all right.  Those brave but foolish people who were not there  – they died in the water.  That was as Birds Bill Hill place, north of the Little Heart River.”

Ever since that time, the most sacred thing of the Mandan Indians is an object which they call “The Memorial of the Flood.”  It differs entirely from the Holy Bundles of the Arikara, the Talking Stones of the Dakotah and the other so-called “Medicine” of the tribes, and has been set up in the center of their principal village ever since the time of the flood.  Offerings are still made by it and, when last seen by the writer in 1923, in the wild country where the Mandans live, there were piles of tobacco, old rifles, buffalo and antelope skulls, tied bundles of sweet grass and wild sage, scattered around its base, while many years of bright cloth were tied to it.




Mandan fortifications near Huff, N.D., Welch examination, 1933




Big Canoe (Sacred Object) of the Mandans, Maynadier visit, 1860

(an account of visit to Berthold by Maynadier, 1860)

“I was able during the three days I passed at Fort Berthold, to witness a peculiar ceremony of the Mandans, which I believe has never been described.  (Welch note: In this he was mistaken, as both Catlin and Maximilian described this four day ceremony.  Catlin calls it the Okippe).  By way of preliminary I must remark that I had made a present of my epaulettes to the Chief Four Bears and, in this way, had obtained the run of the village and access to the most sacred places.”

“In the center of the village is a circular space some 150 feet in diameter, with commodious scaffolds ranged around it, which answer the double purpose of seats for spectators and places to dry corn and squashes.  In the center of the open space is a Circular enclosure of slabs 10 or 12 feet high and about four feet in diameter.  This is called the Big Canoe and has a very decided reference to the flood, as the tradition which I will relate further on will show.”


“On the first day of the ceremony the proceedings were commenced by five men, ranging themselves in front of the big canoe, with drums made of skins, shaped like turtles, and said to be filled with water.  I believe, though, that they were stuffed with hair, with a hoop to keep them distended, and make them give out, when struck, a sound like a drum.  After these were arranged, a man, stripped to the skin and smeared with white clay, came from the Medicine Lodge opposite the big canoe and, walking behind the canoe, leaned against it and hid his face in his hands.  At the same time, a woman, in a short skirt, with her legs scarred and bleeding, her hair cut short, and several bleeding wounds in her forehead and breasts, leaned against the side of the canoe and began crying and howling most piteously, the drummers, at the time, thumping away and chanting in unison.  This woman was a relative of a young man who had been killed a short time previously by the Rees.”

“Having sung his praise and exhibited her grief by her scarifications, she went away, and some 10 or 15 objects bounded into the arena.  These were men, painted in a grotesque manner, wearing buffalo heads with strips of fur down their backs and long branches of willow fastened to their arms.  The drummers beat and howled, the buffalo men danced and capered in admirable precision, and waved their will branches like wings.  Everybody shouted, dogs barked, and the motions of the dancers became more and more violent.  Two of the buffalo men would run together and butt with their heads and, indeed, they imitated all the motions of a herd of buffalo.  Suddenly the drummers arose, snatched up their drums and ran into the Medicine Lodge, followed by the individual who had been leaning against the canoe, the buffalo disappearing among the lodges.”

“Then came an old man who dug a hole in the ground about twenty feet in front of the canoe and erected a stout post about 15 feet high, having two cords fastened at the top and looped at the ends.  The drummers came out of the Medicine Lodge, took their places, and the young man who, in the first performance, had stood behind the canoe was led to the foot of the post by two villainous-looking old medicine men.”

“This young man had been without meat or drink for three days, and being perfectly naked and smeared with clay, he looked ghastly.  Kneeling on the ground, one of the old men took u a portion of the skin of the young man’s breast and passed a knife through it, making two apertures with a strip of skin between.  The blood trickled down, and the victim winced perceptibly.  A skewer of wood, four inches long, was passed through the two holes, and the loop at the end of one of the cords placed over its two ends.  The second cord was fastened in like manner to the other breast, and the poor wretch lifted to his feet.  The drummers thumped, and the young man threw himself violently back, bearing his whole weight upon the cords, and swinging round the foot of the pole.  The skin drew out several inches, and seemed to stretch further at every jerk of the poor fellow, who pulled and tossed, and shouted in order to break away.  It was sickening to behold, especially when, after four or five minutes, nature claimed her way, and the poor wretch fainted and hung collapsed.  He was not touched and, seeming to revive, renewed his efforts to bring the torture to a close by breaking the ligaments of skin which held the skewers.  After half an hour or more the skin broke, and he was carried off.”

“The next victim was served even more dreadfully, though he bore it remarkably well.  The skewers were passed under the skin of the back, just above the shoulder blades, and he was hung up to a scaffold with his feet three feet from the ground.  Then more skewers were inserted in the fleshy parts of the arms and legs, and buffalo skulls hung to them.  I was amazed to see how far the skin would stretch, puffing out to a distance of 12 or 15 inches.”

“These disgusting scenes were repeated during two days, varied by races round the big canoe by troops of young men and boys, dragging from four to ten buffalo heads attached to skewers in their backs.  Some fainted and did not recover; some were violently nauseated (proving conclusively that their three day’s fast had not been faithfully kept); others held out to the end, and leaped, kicked and struggled until they were free from their disagreeable attachments.”

“All the implements, skewers, bull heads, cords, and willow branches were deposited inside the big canoe, and were considered sacred from that time on.  I endeavored to ascertain what all this meant, but could only get a meager account.  The idea of the big canoe is common among several tribes, and Catlin and others infer that it is based upon some tradition of the deluge.  The Mandans relate a story agreeing in many respects with our account of the flood.  They say that their fathers came to this country in a large canoe and, after having been many days upon the water, a bird flew out to them, bearing a willow branch with fresh leaves upon it.  They soon-after landed and drew the canoe on land to live in.  The bird remained with them, and showed them how to build earthen lodges, and where to find game and fruit.  This bird is, even now, held sacred and enters largely into their religious symbols.  The self-torture and mutilation which accompany their mysteries cannot be explained, except by the supposition that it is a course of preparation for the hardships and dangers of war.  I noticed that every male over 10 years old had the scars of the skewer holes on his breast and back.”

“There are few men who refuse, or fail to undergo the trail, and they are banished from all society with men.  They wear women’s dress and can only be distinguished from the women by their coarser features, and the contempt exhibited towards them.  They are called, by the traders, ‘bundashes,’ a word of which I am unable to find the derivation.  It is not Indian and, as far as I can ascertain, is not French. (Welch note: This word I have quite often heard among the Sioux.  They say ‘berdash’ and the meaning is hermorphidite. I believe it to be a true Sioux word.  The custom of men wearing women’s dress and doing camp work is not uncommon even at this date (1927).  The last one I saw was a member of a party of three Crows on their way to visit with their relatives, the Gros Ventre, last year).

The party finally left Fort Berthold on the 23rd of August and reached the village of the Mandans, but at that date occupied by the Rees, at Fort Clark on the 25th.  The party, under Captain Reynolds, made the trip from Berthold to Omaha by land, crossing to the right bank at Berthold and following down the west banks.  Maynadier calls Fort Clark “an abandoned post of the Fur Company and the side of the Ree Village.”  It was occupied “by the degraded remnant of that once powerful nation, and are at the mercy of their enemies, the Sioux.”



Mandan City History, Welch article, 1923


Mandan City History p2


Mandan City History p3


Mandan City History p4




Mandan City photo, 1883


Back of Mandan Photo




Mandan Indians, a truly remarkable people, Welch article, 1939


Truly remarkable people p2


Truly remarkable people p3


Truly remarkable people p4




Six Generations of Mandan Indians, Welch discussion with John Sitting Crow, 1933




Last of Full-Blood Mandan Indians, discussion with old-timers, 1934

Mandan, N.D., August 29th, 1939

Present:  Owl, Medicine Stone and ten or twelve other Mandans.

Interpreter: Floyd.

Occasion: National Convention of the American Indian Federation.

At the banquet this evening I introduced to the members and guests, the full-blood Mandan Indian, Owl (Little Owl), 76 Years, and he made a speech in the Mandan Tongue.

A few short years ago there were four full-blood men of this people still living.  They have all passed on with the exception of Owl.  He wore his hair short (no braids) and it is almost white; he bears the distinction of being the last of this tribe with great dignity and boasted during his speck that his people had always been friendly with the whites and were never in open warfare with them, and said that “the right side of my heart is still friendly and happy toward them.”  Also, “I sit here with no danger in front of me and neither is there death standing behind me.”

He told me that were four full-blood women still living  – I regret that I cannot remember their names, but Scattering Corn is one of them, and is an aged woman.

This item may be of considerable interest fifty years from this date.







The Mandans, who are they?… Welch article, 1922

The Irish and Scotch, as a people and many certain families of them, are able to trace their ancestry to Queen Scota, whose line ruled Ireland for 1000 years and from her, back to Ith of the Scythians, whose nomadic subjects were “an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers,” according to the historian Flavius Josephus, and, who inhabited the districts bordering on t he Black Sea, called Arsareth.

The supposition is almost accepted that these wild Scythian hordes originally came to that country from Babylon, from which they escaped long captivity by fleeing northward through the narrow gorges of the Euphrates river during the political upheaval and reigh of anarchy, when Media revolted against the supremacy of Assyria, and that they were the so-called lost tribes of Israel.

Much of the above interesting story rests, to a great extent, upon tradition.  The story told of the great stone, Lia Phail or the Stone of Destiny, which forms a part of the Coronation Chair upon which the rulers of the British Empire have been crowned since 1300 A.D., is also founded upon tradition more or less obscure.

These traditions tell us that in 580 B.C. “The Princess of the East” was crowned Queen of Ireland, sitting upon this very stone, and it is very probable that from Tea Tephi to Fergus the First, fifty-four kings of Ireland were crowned upon this identical stone at Tara until, in 1300 A.D., Edward the First caused it to be placed in the Coronation Chair of England, and the historians of today claim it to be the identical stone upon which Jacob rested his head and, while sleeping, experienced the vision of the ladder, and support their contention by legends.

Strange as these traditions and stories may be, this very vicinity of Mandan, North Dakota, is possessed of a series of legends and reports just as interesting and just as probable.  Among them is an undisputed report of the discovery of American 170 years before Columbus sighted the Indies.

It is not disputed that the first white men who visited this immediate vicinity were the Sieur de La Verendrye and his two sons.  These gentlemanly adventurers and explorers came in from New France by way of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes waterways, to the prairie country of the Missouri river.  They were received quite hospitably by the Mandan Indians who lived in the Heart River vicinity and, after experiencing many strange adventures, they finally returned to Quebec and gave the first account of the Mandans, Gros Ventre and Arikara people who lived in fortified earthen villages along the Missouri river from the mouth of the Little Missouri river to the Grande River in South Dakota.

Of the Mandans, he says “This nation is mixed white and black.  The women are fairly good-looking, especially the whites, many with blonde hair.”

The next really important information of the Mandan villagers was obtained by the Lewis and Clark Exploration Expedition, which was sent out by the government in 1804.  This party of thirty-two men wintered that year at a village of the Mandans, which is now called Fort Clark, a few miles north of the present city of Mandan, N.D.

In the spring of 1805 they started out under the guidance of a wonderful woman, by the name of Sakakawea, for the Pacific Ocean.  This woman was a Susuni (Shoshoni), who had been captured by a Manatari (Arikara) chief during a war expedition against that people in Montana, and who brought her to his village at the mouth of the Knife River in North Dakota, where he, afterward, staked Sakakawea and another captive Shoshone woman by the name of Otter Woman, in a gambling game against a buffalo horse.  Losing the wager, she became the property of a dissolute Frenchman named Charbonneau, who had lived with the Mandans for years.

Manuel Liza, the Spaniard; Robert Dickson, an Agent of the British; General Ashley and Major Andrew Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company; Kenneth McKenzie and James Kipp of the American Fur Company; Joseph Renville, the half-caste trader of the Columbia Fur Company; Joshua Pilcher of the Missouri Fur Company and Special Agent among the Sioux for the Government; Maximillion, Prince of Wied; Catlin; Colonel Leavenworth and many others, visited the Mandans before 1835, and all make mention of the striking characteristics and peculiarities of those people.

Several explorers claimed that the Mandans were white people; that the skin on their bodies was white and that the copper color was applied to the exposed parts.  Verendrye even claimed that they were a mixture of white and black races.  Volney, who was among them at a very early date, says that the children are born white like the Europeans and that the women were white upon the thighs, hips and lower parts of the body and says that it is wholly erroneous to suppose that the copper color is natural to them.

These travelers all make mention of many of the Mandans having blue eyes and red hair.  Maximillion of Wied, a German traveler-scientist and linguist, and who lived with the Fort Clark Mandan villagers during the winter of 1833-34, tabulated a list of Mandan words and called attention to a very marked resemblance to the Welsh tongue.  Linguistically, the Mandans are grouped with the Dakotah (so-called Sioux), which is accounted for the fact that they have been in direct contact with them for perhaps two-hundred years.

But who  taught them to build immense earth lodges?

Where did they learn to make burnt clay pottery, the decorations of which are identical with the “fishbone” decorations of the old Welsh pottery?

From whom did they obtain their knowledge of defense in building walls and palisades, with redoubts, gates and exterior ditches around their permanent settlements, built in well-selected strategic sites?

Who made their first bull-boat, which is identical with the ancient Irish and Welsh coracle?

What is the source of their traditions which very so greatly from the ordinary stories of the other tribes which surrounded them, and who framed their strict laws which government them?

What strong line of ancestry gave to them the blue eyes and light hair of the few remaining full-bloods of today?

Are they the remnants of the Mound Builders whose extensive earth works are scattered along the valley of the Mississippi?

How is their long, apparent friendliness toward the white people explained?

These questions, perhaps, will never be satisfactorily answered, but many students have advanced the theory that the Mandan Indian people are the remnants of a Welsh Expedition to American and that the name “Mandan” is a corruption of the Welsh leader’s name and that their comparatively advanced customs were first taught them by the colonists of the second expedition of Prince Madoc, in 1170 A.D., which left Wales with “ten sailes” and have never been heard of since that day.

The two expeditions of Madoc are spoken of in a volume compiled and published by Richard Hakluyt in 1589, entitled “The Principal Navagations, Voyuages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation.”  In this volume the follow is found:

The most ancient Discovery of the West Indies by MADOC the sonne of Owen Guyneth, Prince of North-Wales in the yeare 1170.

After the death of Owen Guyneth, his sonnes fell at debate over who should inherit after him; for the eldest sonne, borne in matrimony, Edward Jorwrth Drwdion, was counted unmeet to govern, because of the maime upon his face; and Howel, that tooke upon him all the rules, was a based sonne, begotten upon an Irish woman.  Therefore, David gathered all the power he could and came against Howel, and fighting with him, slew him; and afterward enjoyed, quietly, all the whole land of North-Wales until his brother, Jorwerth’s sonne, came of age.  Madoc, another of Owen Guyneths’s sonnes, left the land in contention betwixt his brothern, and prepared certaine ships, with men and munitions and sought adventures by seas, sailing West, and leaving the coast of Ireland so farre north, that he came to another land unknown, where he saw many strange things.

This land must needs be some part of the Countrey of which the Spanyards affirme themselves to be the first finders since Hannos’ time.  Whereupon it is manifest that the countrey was by Britaines discovered long before Columbus led any Spanyards thither.

Of the voyage and return of this MADOC there be many fables fained, as the common people doe use in distance of place and length of time rather to augment than to diminish; but sure it is that there he was.  And after he had retuned home and declared the pleasant and fruitful countreys tha the had seene with inhabitants, and upon the countrey part, for what barren and wild ground his brothers and nephews did murther one another, he prepared a number of ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to live in quietness and taking leave of his friends, took his journey thitherward againe.  Therefore it is supposed that he and his people inhabited part of those countreys; for it appeareth by Francois Lopez de Gomorrow, that in Acuzamil and other places the people honored the crosse.  Whereby it may be gathered that Christians had been there before the coming of the Spanyards. But because this people were not many, they followed the manners of the land which they came unto, and used the language they found there.

This MADOC arriving in the Westerne countrey, until which he came in the yeare 1170, left most of his people there, and returning backe for more of his owne nation, acquaintance and friends to inhabit the faire and large countrey, went thither againe with ten sailes, as I find noted by Gutyn Owen.  I am of opinion that the land whereunto he came was some parts of the West Indies.

Again in the verses of the poet Meridith, who lived in the year 1477, we found this interesting verse regarding MADOC:

Madoc I am the sonne of Owen Gynedd

With stature large and comely grace adorned

Ne lands at home nor store of wealth me please

My minde was whole to search the Ocean Seas.

Catlin on the Mandans.  Vol. 2 “North American Indians,” pp 260-261:

He says here that “the colony, which I barely spoke of on page 206, of Vol. 1, “sailed under the direction of Prince Madoc or Madawe, – – –  according to numerous and accredited authors, and never returned to their own country,” and, “I believe it has been pretty-clearly proved that they landed either on the coast of Florida or about the mouth of the Mississippi.,” and settled according to “history and poetry of their country,” somewhere in the interior of North American, where they are yet remaining, intermixed with some of the savage tribes.”

The poet, Robert Southey, in his works, written between 1805-1815, of eighteen cantos on “Madoc in Wales,” and twenty-seven cantos on “Madoc in Matlan,” says:

Twice have the sons of Britain left her shores,

As the fledged eaglets quit their native nest;

Twice over ocean have her fearless sons

Forever sailed away.  Again they launch

Their vessels to the deep, – – – Who mounts the bark?

The above supposed three different voyages of Madoc.

Upon Madoc’s landing upon American shores, he says:

Madoc has paused awhile; but every eye Still watched his lips, and every voice was hushed.

Soon as I leaped ashore, pursues the Lord

Of ocean, prostrate on my face I fell,

Kissed the dear earth, and pray’d with thankful tears.

– – – To the shore

The natives thronged; astonish’d, they beheld

Our winged bards, and gazed with wonderment

On the strange garb, the bearded countenance

And the white skin, in all unlike themselves.

In 1805 he writes, speaking of Madoc:

Strong evidence has been adduced that he reached America, and that his posterity exist there to this day, on the southern branches of the Missouri, retaining their complexion, their language and, in some degrees, their arts.

The above stories about Prince Madoc are supported by the archives of Wales and the British Records and there can be no doubt that such a person really lived and sought adventures on the “Ocean Seas.”

It is supposed that Madoc landed near the mouth of the Mississippi River and followed that stream toward the prairie country where he finally became acquainted with some tribe with whom he lived, finally being so few in number, he was either destroyed or assimilated by them.

In the latter case, his customs language and Caucasian characteristics would have been impressed upon the people with whom they affiliated  These would appear long after he and his few colonists had lost their identity and until some proof is offered, it is reasonable to suppose that the strange, blue-eyed, fair-haired Mandans are direct descendants of Prince Madoc of North-Wales who landed in America in 1170.


A.B.W.    Mandan, Sept 7th, 1922