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Lewis and Clark
SHOWING RECORD: 4 of 7   Mandan Indians
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image: Mandan Indians
Painting by Karl Bodmer/Historical Picture Archive/Corbis
Mandan Indians

First Noted by Expedition
October 24, 1804

Before Lewis and Clark encountered their first Mandan, they passed several abandoned villages on their way up the Missouri. Those villages had been abandoned during the smallpox epidemics and Sioux-Arikara raids of the late 18th century.

In the fall of 1804 the Mandan lived in two villages along the upper Missouri River. It was near these villages, Matootonha and Rooptahee (now known as Mitutanka and Nuptadi) that the Corps built Fort Mandan and passed the winter of 1804-05. Mitutanka, built around 1787, was on the west bank of the Missouri. Lewis situated his fort across the river from this village. Nuptadi was farther north, on the east bank.

Lewis named one lead chief for each village: Posecopsahe (Black Cat) for Nuptadi, Sheheke (Big White) for Mitutanka. Lewis thought Posecopsahe was the most important of all the Mandan civil chiefs and also named him Grand Chief.

Each of the Mandan villages was centered on a cedar post on an open plaza. The permanent earthern lodges each held about 10 people. A wall enclosed the complex for protection from enemy raids. During the winter months, when the frigid winds blew across the Dakota plain, these lodges were abandoned for temporary, more sheltered structures nearer the river.

The Mandan's settlement lay at the center of trade along the Upper Missouri River, in what would become Dakota Territory. Together with their neighbors and allies, the Hidatsa, the Mandan served an important role in trade throughout the Plains.

During the expedition's stay at Fort Mandan, the Americans and the Mandan wintered together, trading and visiting for five months along the Missouri River. Lewis continued to try to secure peace between the Mandan-Hidatsa and the Arikara, but any peace was tenuous at best.

Ravaged by smallpox in 1837, the few remaining Mandan were taken in by their former enemies, the Arikara. Although later they separated once again into two tribes, today there are very few full-blooded Mandan. They are a relatively small tribe and share with the Hidatsa and Arikara the Fort Berthold Reservation northwest of Bismarck, North Dakota.

From the Expedition Journals

"The Mandans are at war with all who make war only, and wish to be at peace with all nations, Seldom the ogressors."
image: Mandan Indians
Painting by Karl Bodmer/Historical Picture Archive/Corbis

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