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Lewis and Clark
SHOWING RECORD: 2 of 7   Arikara Indians
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image: Arikara Indians
Photograph by Edward S. Curtis/Christie's Images/Corbis
Arikara Indians

First Noted by Expedition
October 8, 1804

The Arikara were an agricultural people who lived in earth lodges between the Grand and Cannonball Rivers in what is now northern South Dakota.

Twenty years before the arrival of the Corps of Discovery, the Arikara numbered nearly 30,000 and controlled the land along the Missouri for a hundred miles (160 kilometers). But by the time of the expedition, a series of smallpox epidemics had swept through their settlements, reducing them to three small villages which were visited by Lewis and Clark.

The villages, set on an island in the Grand River, held about 2,000 people housed in 60 earth lodges—the first such lodges the Corps saw on their journey.

The Arikara were farmers, raising corn, beans, tobacco, and squash both for food and to trade with other tribes in the area. Their agricultural success also balanced the power with the non-farming Teton Sioux, aggressive neighbors who needed the food the Arikara produced.

The Corps stayed at the Arikara villages for five days, discussing trade issues and the possibilities of Arikara peace with the Mandan and Hidatsa. The Indians agreed to consider peace with the tribes to the north.

During their stay, Lewis and his men gave the Arikara gifts, but the Indians were fascinated most with York, Clark's slave. The Arikara had never seen a black person before—his skin color was a marvel to them. The Indians considered him "Big Medicine," spiritually powerful because of his size and appearance.

Many years after the expedition, smallpox outbreaks in 1836 and 1856 decimated the Arikara population. In 1862 the remaining Arikara joined the last Mandan and Hidatsa in North Dakota.

Today the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan—the Three Affiliated Tribes—share the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

From the Expedition Journals

"The Nation of the Rickerries is about 600 men able to bear arms...they appear to be peacefull, their men tall and perpotiend, womin Small and industerous"
image: Arikara Indians
Painting by Karl Bodmer/Historical Picture Archive/Corbis

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Arikara Indians
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