Part 3-American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)

Part 3-American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)

“Dakota” means “friend.” Thousands of people made up The Great Dakota Nation.
They occupied parts of Minnesota, South Dakota and other areas west of the Mississippi River.

The Chippewa Indians, enemies of the Dakota, called them “adders” (an adder is a type of snake). When the French traders tried to say this word in the Chippewa language, they could not say it correctly and it came out sounding like Sioux” (soo). This name became commonly used for people of The Great Dakota Nation.

The Chippewa had made friends with the French who gave them guns and helped them in their battles. In time, the Chippewa began pushing the Sioux people out of Minnesota and into North Dakota.

The Great Dakota Nation—Lakota, Nakota, Dakota

The Great Dakota Nation was divided into three separate groups, each having its own culture and language patterns. The three groups were the Lakota (or Teton), Nakota (or Yankton), and Dakota (or Santee). A large northern area west of the Mississippi River was named after The Great Dakota Nation. It was called Dakota Territory.

The Great Dakota Nation (about 1822) consisted of three separate groups—the Lakota (or Teton), Nakota (or Yankton), and Dakota (or Santee). SHSND-ND Studies.

The largest group of the Great Dakota Nation was the Lakota Sioux, who were made up of seven major tribes. The Lakota people were taller than most other people at that time. Many of their warriors were over six feet in height.

The Lakota became expert horsemen. Hunting bison was their main source of livelihood, but they also raided other tribes to get more horses and other items that they wanted. They claimed a very large hunting area ranging hundreds of miles from Oklahoma into Canada. All of the Sioux tribes were nomadic, but the Lakota were the most nomadic of the three groups of The Great Dakota Nation.

The Dakota Sioux moved into North Dakota from Minnesota after conflicts and battles with both white settlers and U.S. soldiers. Four tribes made up the Dakota group.

Like the Lakota, the Dakota traveled long distances on horseback to hunt and to raid other tribes. The nomadic tribes lived in tipis, so it was easy for them to pack and move to another place when the bison herds would move on.

The Nakota Sioux were pushed west by the Chippewa. They were divided into two tribes that settled in South Dakota and the southern part of North Dakota. Many of them built permanent homes like the ones they had left in Minnesota. Hunting bison became a central part of their lives, but many people also raised corn, squash, and other vegetables.

The nomadic tribes lived more out in the open than the tribes who lived close together in permanent villages. For this reason, when the smallpox epidemics came, the disease did not spread among the Sioux as much as it spread throughout the agricultural people in villages. In fact, when the Mandan and Hidatsa were losing thousands of people to smallpox, Sioux warriors raided the villages and killed even more people.

The Indians of The Great Dakota Nation had been woodland people who had hunted, fished, and sometimes farmed. When they moved to the plains, they had to change their way of life from a woodland culture to a plains culture.

Chart shows the 3 major divisions of the Great Dakota Nation, and how each is then also split into bands. SHSND-ND Studies.

The bison provided food, shelter and clothing, as well as skulls and bones for religious ceremonies of the Plains Indians,. Some called the animal “A Walking Department Store.” SHSND-ND Studies.

Chief Rain-in-the-Face was a traditional Lakota leader from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. He was a brave warrior who stood firm to prevent the senseless killing of bison and other game. Rain-in-the-Face was also a key leader at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. (Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council)

Millions of bison lived on the plains and these huge animals were very different from the forest animals that had been hunted in the woodlands of Minnesota. In fact, the survival of the plains people depended on hunting bison. They used every part of the animal, not wasting anything. The bison has been called “a walking department store” because so many items came from this animal. Food, shelter, clothing, weapons, tools and musical instruments are a few examples of products that were made from the bison.

Millions of years ago, tiny, three-toed horses lived in North Dakota. They became extinct millions of years before modern horses arrived. Modern horses did not live on the continent of North America until people from Spain brought them to the southern part of the continent in the 1500s.

They slowly spread northward as they were traded from tribe to tribe until the horses reached North Dakota toward the end of the 1700s. After the Indians got horses, they were able to travel long distances which made the bison hunting much easier.

It has been estimated that before 1800 about [30 million] bison roamed the plains. The Sioux, as well as all of the other Indians of the plains, had lived for many years being totally dependent on the bison.

Because North America was the only continent where bison lived, Europeans had never seen such an animal. When traders began sending bison robes to Europe, the robes became so popular that the traders could not keep up with the demand.

In the 1800s, millions of bison were killed. Bison hide traders, farmers, railroad companies, sport hunters, and the U.S. Army all had a part in reducing the bison herds. Wagon load after wagon load of bison robes were hauled away to be sold in the east or shipped to Europe. Farmers wanted the bison gone so that they could raise crops and build fences for their cattle. Railroads were being built across the continent, and the railroad companies wanted to bring in more settlers so that they would get more business.

Bison herds were in the way of settlement, so railroads hired people to shoot the animals. The U.S. Army wanted the Indians’ food supply removed so that the Indians would move to reservations. Hunters came from the east to shoot bison just for sport. Most of the bison meat and other parts were wasted by these whites.

Because of all of these wasteful killings, the magnificent bison became almost extinct. It has been estimated that by 1890, only about 500 bison remained in North America.

The loss of their food supply led to the defeat of the Lakota and other plains tribes. The bison had not only served as the source of their food, but it had also been a sacred animal for them. With its disappearance, they lost a great source of their spiritual strength.

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull. Photo Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council.

Sitting Bull was a Lakota leader and medicine man who became one of the most famous American Indians in the world. He was born around 1831. When he was about 14 years old, he proved his bravery in a battle, and that was the beginning of his career as a warrior.

Sitting Bull was the leader of the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota and widely respected leader in the Lakota Nation.

Sitting Bull’s goal was to protect his people and their lands from “whites” who were moving onto Indian lands and killing off the bison. In 1876, Lakota and Cheyenne families gathered at the Little Big Horn River in Montana. In June, army troops led by George Custer from Fort Abraham Lincoln (near present-day Mandan, North Dakota) attacked, but the Lakota warriors defeated Custer’s army, killing Custer and most of his soldiers.

After Custer’s defeat, the U.S. Army began attacking all Indians who were not on reservations. Sitting Bull led his followers to Canada for safety. In 1881, Siting Bull surrendered to save his people from starvation. He and his people were sent to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Sitting Bull became famous because of the battle with Custer, so he was asked to join “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” He agreed because he wanted to earn money to help his people. He stayed with the “Wild West Show” for four months and earned good pay, but he missed his home and family at Standing Rock.

A few years after Sitting Bull returned to Standing Rock Reservation, a new religion called the “Ghost Dance” came to the Lakota. Ghost Dancers believed that if they danced and followed the beliefs of the Ghost Dance that the bison would return.

The reservation agent feared the power of the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull’s influence on the unhappy Lakota. The agent sent Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull. His followers resisted and there was a fight. Sitting Bull was shot and died.

Sitting Bull is honored today as one of the greatest leaders of the Lakota Nation.


Birch-bark canoe. The Chippewa used the birch-bark canoe for fishing and travel. SHSND 053-04.

A Chippewa/ Métis family shown with a Red River cart. Red River carts were equipped with high wheels that traveled well on prairie sod, similar to the peasant carts the fathers and grandfathers had known in France. SHSND A2472-2.

Map of Red River cart trails hauling their bison hides and pemmican to Winnipeg and St Paul for trading. SHSND-ND Studies.

The Chippewa, or Ojibwa, people came to North Dakota from the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota. They lived in wigwams most of the time, but during the summers when they hunted bison, they used tipis, which could be set up and taken down quickly.

The Chippewa were good fur trappers and traveled along rivers to trap beaver for trade with Euro-Americans. They used the birch-bark canoe for fishing and traveling on rivers and lakes. These canoes had high ends and sides so that even in rough or choppy water, the water did not come in easily. Birch-bark canoes were very strong, but they were light enough to be carried on land.

The Chippewa Indians organized themselves into groups called “bands,” which were named after the area in which they lived. A main chief led each band, and he was assisted by lesser chiefs.

A tribal council made sure the chiefs were carrying out their duties. After the death of the main chief, his son would take over and act as chief for the rest of his life. However, if the chief was not doing his job properly, the council could replace him with someone else.

Each band was divided into “clans,” named after animals, birds, or fish. The clans were made up of several families who seemed like one big family. They would look after each other and help each other out. People were not allowed to marry anyone in their own clan.

Before 1800, groups of Chippewa had come to eastern North Dakota. These people trapped and traded in the Pembina area, so they called themselves the Pembina Band.

After a few years, so much trapping had been done in eastern North Dakota that the population of fur-bearing animals was very low. In order to be successful in their business, the Chippewa needed to move farther west.

A group settled in the Turtle Mountains and called themselves the Turtle Mountain Band. In this hilly region of lakes and trees, animals such as fish, beaver, muskrat and deer were plentiful.

Because the Chippewa had gotten horses in the early 1800s, they were also able to hunt bison successfully. The Chippewa not only continued their commerce at the Pembina trading post, but they could also travel great distances to trade with other tribes. The Chippewa people adapted well from the woodlands to the plains.

Many Chippewa women married French or Scottish fur traders. Their children, who were half Chippewa and half French or Scottish, were called Métis (may-tee).

The Métis people usually thought of themselves as Indian, but their culture was a mix of Indian and European traditions. They were known as good bison hunters and fur traders. They developed a two-wheeled cart pulled by oxen or horses. These carts were called Red River carts.

They could carry huge amounts of bison hides and other goods to major trade centers such as St. Paul, MN and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

During the late 1800s, the Turtle Mountain Band faced many hardships. Euro-American settlers were moving onto Chippewa lands, and the bison, the Chippewa’s main source of food, became almost extinct on the plains.

During the winter of 1887–88, over 150 members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa starved to death.

Reservations in North Dakota

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is home to Lakota and Dakota Sioux people. The reservation was set up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 1889. Before that, it was part of a large reservation that was broken up by the government to allow for white settlement.

Standing Rock Monument is located near the entrance to the Standing Rock Tribal headquarters in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Neil Howe.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is located about 40 miles south of Mandan ND and extends into South Dakota. The ND part of this reservation is located almost entirely in Sioux County, the only county in the state that is entirely reservation. Most of the land has rolling hills and grasslands that are good for ranching and farming.

The Cannonball River runs along the north side of the reservation and Lake Oahe on the Missouri River forms the eastern boundary. Lake Oahe was created when a dam was built in South Dakota on the Missouri River.

The dam was finished in 1962 and 50,000 acres of fertile bottomland and timber were permanently flooded when the lake was formed. Today, Lake Oahe attracts tourists as a water recreation area. Many picnic areas and campgrounds are available near the lake.

The tribal headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is at Fort Yates. Most of Fort Yates is situated on a peninsula of Lake Oahe.

Two tourist attractions at Fort Yates are Sitting Bull’s gravesite and the Standing Rock monument. An old Dakota story said that an Arikara woman married a Dakota man. This man later married another woman and the first wife got jealous.

When the rest of the band left the camp, she refused to leave. Two men who came back to get her found that she had turned to stone. The Standing Rock monument reminds people of this story.

Fort Yates is also the location of Sitting Bull College. This college, which was first called “Standing Rock Community College,” began offering classes in 1973. It now offers four-year college degrees.

Farming and ranching are the major means of support on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, but several hundred people are also employed by the tribe.

Prairie Knights Casino and Resort is a successful tribal business. It consists of an entertainment center, hotel, RV park and other attractions that bring people to the area.

In spite of these opportunities, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation still has a shortage of jobs, so many people struggle to make a living. Many tribal members have left the reservation to find better jobs.

It is important to the Sioux people that their children receive a good education, including being taught their traditional language and culture. The elders share the rich traditions that have been handed down to them and the young people can carry these gifts into the future with pride.

Tribal Headquarters building for the Standing Rock Sioux at Fort Yates ND. Neil Howe.

Josephine Gates Kelly

Josephine Gates Kelly was the first woman in US to be elected Tribal Chair. SHSND 1952-5040.

Josephine Gates Kelly believed she could make a difference in the lives of the Indian people, and she became an outstanding leader. Her goal was to help her people, which she did, but she also made history.

Josephine Gates was born January 24, 1888, and was raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. She was the first woman from Standing Rock to graduate from Carlisle (car-lyl) Indian School in the state of Pennsylvania. She married Covin Kelly in 1920, and they had six children.

In 1940, Josephine was elected to the Standing Rock Tribal Council. Her leadership abilities were so good that in 1946 she won an election that made history. Josephine Gates Kelly became the first woman in the United States to be elected Tribal Chair.

The U.S. government had planned on putting the Standing Rock Indian agency together with another Indian agency, but the Standing Rock Tribe opposed this action. They thought it would weaken their tribal rights.

Tribal Chair Josephine Gates Kelly traveled to Washington, DC to fight for fair treatment of the Standing Rock Tribe. She was successful in her efforts and the Standing Rock Tribe was able to keep their rights.

In the early 1950s, Josephine helped establish a memorial for Indians killed while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This memorial is located in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

After serving three terms as Tribal Chair, Josephine Gates Kelly remained active in politics and government. She worked for the rights of not only the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but for all Indians, and earned the nickname “Champion for Indian Rights.” She died in 1976.

Turtle Mountain Reservation

A Chippewa bandolier. Warriors wore the bandolier across the shoulders and used the pockets to carry ammunition. SHSND 870.

The Turtle Mountain Reservation is home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Located in the Turtle Mountains near the Canadian border, it is close to the International Peace Garden.

The land in this region was shaped by glaciers which left rolling hills and many lakes and streams. The area also has a lot of trees.

A treaty was signed in 1863 that established the Turtle Mountain Reservation. In 1882, the size of the reservation was reduced to a rectangular area measuring just 12 miles east-to-west by 6 miles north-to-south.

The US government had not counted the Métis as part of the Chippewa population at that time, so the reservation was much too small. In order to meet the needs of all the people, an area about 250 miles west of the Turtle Mountain Reservation was later established.

This region is called the “Trenton Service Area” and provides services mostly for Chippewa and Métis people. Part of this Indian service area extends into Montana.

In Canada, the Métis are considered a separate tribe, but in North Dakota they are part of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Through the years, many of the Métis developed their own lifestyles which blended parts of both the Indian and the French cultures. They dressed in a combination of Indian and European clothing and their language was influenced by both of their cultures.

Sketch of a Métis campsite. Notice the Red River carts with their two large wheels next to each tipi. SHSND C0621.

 Dream Catcher

An ancient Chippewa tradition
The dream net has been made
For many generations
Where spirit dreams have played.

Hung above the cradleboard,
Or in the lodge up high,
The dream net catches bad dreams,
While good dreams slip on by.

Bad dreams become entangled
Among the sinew thread.
Good dreams slip through the center hole,
While you dream upon your bed.

This is an ancient legend,
Since dreams will never cease,
Hang this dream net above your bed,
Dream on, and be at peace.

The only town on the Turtle Mountain Reservation is Belcourt, the largest Indian community in North Dakota. The tribal headquarters of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is located in Belcourt. Many Turtle Mountain Chippewa live in other towns nearby.

The Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indian Heritage Center near Belcourt is a museum complex which features displays showing the history and special culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
Besides the exhibits, articles are offered for sale, including craft and beadwork items, as well as supplies for arts and crafts. A library and outdoor cultural park are also part of this complex.

The well-educated and hard-working Chippewa own many successful businesses both on and off the reservation. The Belcourt area is home to Turtle Mountain Community College, a manufacturing plant, a watch factory, a shopping mall, a hospital, and other businesses.

Sky Dancer Casino and Resort is an entertainment center that includes a hotel and a restaurant. The second oldest Indian-owned radio station in the United States, 88.5 FM Public Radio (KEYA), is located in Belcourt.

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich, noted author.

Louise Erdrich (air-drik) is one of the most famous authors of our time. She was born in 1954 to a Chippewa mother and a German-American father. Her grandfather had been a tribal chair on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Louise is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

When Louise was young, she heard so many stories told by her large extended family that she became interested in writing stories. Her parents liked her stories so much that her father paid her a nickel for every story she wrote, while her mother made covers for her “books” out of construction paper.

After growing up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, Louise went to the East Coast to attend college. She continued with her writing but also worked at other jobs in order to make a living. She has worked as a waitress, lifeguard, construction flag person and poetry teacher at a prison. She also taught writing to young people.

Louise was married and is the mother of six children. She used her background to blend Indian concerns into her magazine articles, poems and books. Her books became popular and she was able to devote all of her time to writing. Many of her books deal with serious issues, but Louise still blends humor into her writings.

She has stated that because Indian people have such a great sense of humor, it is one of the most important parts of American Indian life and literature.

Today, Louise Erdrich is a successful author who has written many award-winning books. Some of the most famous ones include Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace. She also has authored a children’s book called Grandmother’s Pigeons.

In 2013 Louise Erdrich was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award. The award recognizes present and former North Dakotans for their contributions to the state.

Further study, activities:



Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2-American Indians of North Dakota (4th Grade)

Part 2-American Indians of North Dakota (4th Grade)

A Plains Woodland Camp Scene. Photo ND State Historical Society.

About 2,500 years ago, the people of the Woodland era appeared in North Dakota. These people came from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Woodland people hunted and gathered as the earlier groups had done and they got corn through trade. The Woodland people were the first people in North Dakota to make pottery.

Woodland People

The Woodland people lived mostly near rivers where they had a ready supply of drinking water. Trees and brush that grew beside the rivers provided firewood and served as habitat for game which could be hunted. 

They protected their villages with walls made of upright logs. 

Woodland pottery. Pieces of a pot found in North Dakota (right). Also shown is a replica of the pot (left). Pottery examples are on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, North Dakota. Photo Neil Howe.

Some of the Woodland people had houses that used wood frames covered with bison hides or grasses. The sites of a few Woodland villages have been found in North Dakota.

Another difference between people of the Archaic era and people of the Woodland era was in their burial traditions. In the Archaic era people placed their dead on platforms or under piles of rock. Some Woodland people buried their dead in the earth. After a body was placed in a grave, a mound of dirt was placed over the grave.

Sometimes weapons, tools, and other possessions were also placed in the mounds. These mounds became big cemeteries, and some were used for hundreds of years. This practice earned the Woodland people the nickname “Mound-builders.”

About 1,400 years ago, North Dakota became home to the Late Woodland culture. The Late Woodland people may have been ancestors to the Mandan Indians. They lived much like the earlier Woodland people, raising crops and hunting bison, but they also depended more on fishing.

We Are All Equal
The color of skin makes no difference. What is good and just for one is good and just for the other, and the Great Spirit made all men brothers. I have a red skin, but my grandfather was a white man. What does it matter? It is not the color of the skin that makes me good or bad.                          –White Shield, Arikara Chief

Notable American Indians of North Dakota

As you continue you will notice full-page tributes to notable American Indians of North Dakota. These people include Keith Bear, Mary Louise Defender Wilson, Sitting Bull, Sakakawea, Four Bears, Cynthia Lindquist, Josephine Gates Kelly and Louise Erdrich. Please study these tributes to learn how these North Dakotans have contributed to the history and culture of our state.

By 1500, or even earlier, American Indians of North Dakota had organized into tribes, or groups of people who have a common heritage. The people of an Indian tribe share a culture or a way of life that includes language, traditions and religion. A tribe’s oral traditions, or storytelling, help the people understand their common history and traditions. Culture makes each tribe different from all other tribes. Each tribe also identified a particular area of land where they lived and hunted.

Today there are six tribes with headquarters in North Dakota. They are the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota Sioux, Dakota Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The Lakota, Dakota, and Chippewa are related to other bands of their tribes that live in other states.

Six tribes have headquarters in North Dakota—the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota Sioux, Dakota Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa.

Plains Village People—Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara

The Mandan and Hidatsa people lived in villages of earthlodges. The earthlodge was a dome-shaped home made of logs and covered with willow branches, grass, and earth. The women built, owned, and took care of the homes. They also owned the property within the homes, as well as the food, gardens, tools, dogs, mares (female horses), and colts (young horses). When a couple got married, the man moved into his wife’s home. He brought only a few things along, such as his medicine bundle, clothes, weapons, and horses. The men were responsible for protecting the village and hunting for meat.

A cache pit was used to store dried corn, nuts, berries, and squash. This shows the inside of a cache pit from a side view. Photo by Gwyn Herman.

Besides bison hunting, agriculture (farming) was a means of support for both the Mandan and Hidatsa. The women were the farmers. Corn, squash, pumpkins, beans, sunflowers, and tobacco were their main crops. Raising these crops provided food for the families. The crops were also used as trade items to get products from other tribes.

Each earthlodge had a hole in the ground about 3 to 4 feet deep. This was called a cache pit. It was used to store dried corn, nuts, berries and squash. The cache pit acted somewhat like a refrigerator because of the cooler temperatures below the surface of the ground.

Birds-eye view of a Mandan village. SHSND 970.1C289NL.

From 20 to 40 earthlodge homes usually made up a village. The villages became major trading centers. Money was not needed in this trading business because a system called “bartering” was used. Bartering means trading items for other items without exchanging money.

Nomadic tribes would come to the villages to get corn and other food products. In turn, the agricultural people would trade for items that the nomadic tribes had gotten by hunting or trading in other places.

During the summers, nearly the entire village would take their tipis and move out onto the plains to hunt bison. The actual hunting would be done by the men, but getting the meat ready for winter use was a job done mostly by the women.

Horses came to the people of this region around 1750, but weren’t important until around 1800. The Mandan and Hidatsa probably obtained their first horses by trade with Indians of other tribes.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara learned that horses made hunting easier. Horses were also important in defending the village. They became important trade items and were often stolen by enemies.

Warriors from one tribe would often raid other tribes in order to take their horses.

Keith Bear—Three Affiliated Tribes

World renowned flute player, Keith Bear, Hidatsa and Mandan, is from the Three Affiliated Tribes in Fort Berthold ND.

Keith Bear, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, is a flute player known all over the world. He uses his flute to tell stories.

Keith started his life being raised by his mother and relatives in the Sioux and Mandan cultures. Before he started first grade, he was placed in a foster home and between the ages of 6 and 12, lived in 14 different non-Indian foster homes.

After Keith grew up, he was working in the Wyoming oil fields. Another worker carved a flute out of wood and gave it to him. Keith carried this flute around for two years before he got interested in playing it. At that time, he had a drinking and drug problem and did not know what he wanted to do with his life.

One day, Keith realized that he wanted to change his life. He took his flute out to a hill and stayed there for three days and three nights while he sobered up for good. As the wind blew through the flute, it made a low tone, and the rustling leaves added to the sound. Keith thought this was a gift from the Creator.

When he came down from the hill, Keith started playing his flute. At first, only sour‐sounding notes came out, but the more he practiced, the better it sounded. After about a week of steady practicing, he played his first song.

Keith’s uncle taught him how to carve his own flutes, and over the years, Keith has made many different kinds, each with its own special sound. He is also a storyteller and sometimes dresses in his regalia when he performs. He has played music with many famous orchestras, including the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

Keith has proved that even if people have not had the best of childhoods, they can turn their lives around if they want to. Today, Keith Bear is famous, not only in the United States, but also throughout many parts of the world. He has won awards for his music and performances, and he has also acted in a movie. He believes that all humans were created by the same Creator, and everyone has a connection with everyone else. Flute music is the wind that breathes life into the heart.

On-A-Slant village was built about 400 years ago near what is now Mandan, where the Heart runs into the Missouri River. Photo by Gwyn Herman.

About 400 years ago, the Mandan people from some nearby villages got together and built a new village beside the Missouri and Heart Rivers, near the present-day city of Mandan ND. They called this village On-A-Slant because it slanted toward the Heart River. About 75 lodges were located in the village and its population was about 1,000.

In 1738 (about 280 years ago), a French fur-trapper and trader named Pierre La Vérendrye (lah ver-ON-dree) came to North Dakota from Canada. La Vérendrye was among the first non-Indians to set foot in North Dakota. He wrote in a journal about his experiences and so became the first Euro-American to record history in this area.

La Vérendrye spent some time visiting and trading with the Mandan people along the Missouri River. He estimated that their population was about 15,000 and reported that they were very peaceful people.

Some years after La Vérendrye’s visit, other Europeans and Euro-Americans began trading with the people in North Dakota. They brought metal tools, cloth, beads, rifles, kettles and other manufactured goods to trade for garden crops, meat, furs and other items.

Horses were a big advantage in hunting and war and were valued by the Plains Indians. The horse was also used for trading. This poster shows the items that could be traded for one and two horses. SHSND-ND Studies.

Because the Missouri River was a major travel route, the agricultural villages along the river were an ideal setting for trading. In fact, this area became one of the largest trading centers on the continent. It has been called “The Marketplace of the Central Plains.”

Trade with non-Indians changed the Indians’ way of life in many ways. Spear heads and arrow points could now be made of metal instead of chipped stone; cloth could be used in place of hides to make clothing and blankets; and colored glass beads could be used for decorations on clothing instead of the porcupine quills that had been used before. Trading was done within the villages and forts were also set up as trading posts. Corn, bison hides and beaver pelts were considered very valuable by Europeans and Euro-Americans and commerce became a huge business.

At the same time that commerce was becoming more important, something dreadful happened that had a tragic impact on the Indian people. The natives of North America had never been exposed to deadly diseases that had been in Europe for hundreds of years or more. Therefore, they had no natural immunity from diseases such as smallpox, measles and typhoid fever.

In 1781, a severe smallpox epidemic occurred in the villages. This horrible killer reduced the population of the Mandan Indians from about 12,000 to about 1,500 within a matter of just a few months.

Mandan horse races—the finish line. SHSND 970.1.

On-A-Slant village, which had existed for about 200 years, was almost totally wiped out.

Another village, on the present-day historic site called Double Ditch Indian Village near Bismarck, had been occupied for almost 300 years and when the epidemic struck, most of the residents died.

After the villages were weakened by disease and death, the Lakota attacked. The attacks caused the remaining people to move north, closer to the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa also lost many people to smallpox.

In the 1700s, the Arikara (ah-rick-ah-rah), or Sahnish, people came from the south and settled along the Grand River, a tributary of the Missouri. During the early 1800s, they moved northward along the Missouri River.

When the smallpox epidemic hit, their population was reduced from about 20,000 to only about 4,000. In about 1825, they continued up the Missouri River and settled near the Mandan and Hidatsa villages.

The Mandan and Hidatsa people were somewhat alike in their lifestyles and languages. The Arikara had a very different culture, but they lived in earth lodges in permanent villages. They raised crops and were traders. All three tribes benefitted from this close relationship.

In 1837, a steamboat docked at the Fort Clark trading post near the present-day town of Washburn ND. A man on the boat was sick with smallpox and the illness had spread to others on board. By the time the steamboat reached Fort Clark, it contained several men with smallpox. When Indians came aboard the boat to trade, they were exposed to the illness. Though a warning was sent to other camps and tribes, the disease spread rapidly among the Indian tribes.

In 1845, the Mandan and Hidatsa people started a village together on the Missouri River north of their old villages. The area of land where they built this town was in a bend of the river that reminded them of a fishhook. They called this village “Like-A-Fishhook.”

In 1862, the Arikara joined them. All three tribes had lost so many people in the epidemics that they felt it was necessary to band together to protect themselves against nomadic tribes that were raiding their villages.

Like-A-Fishook village, named for its location at a sharp bend in the Missouri River, was built by the Mandan and Hidatsa. The drawing is by Martin Bears Arm. SHSND 799.

Entire families as well as entire villages were wiped out by this disaster. The population of the Mandan people was reduced from about 2,500 to only about 125 people. More than half of the Arikara people died, leaving their population at about 1,500. The Hidatsa were also hard-hit.

Smallpox was a disease that affected Europeans for hundreds of years. It came to North America with the colonists. Europeans often died of the disease, but those who recovered became resistant or immune to another infection. American Indians had no immunity.

In the 1820s, an English doctor developed a vaccine for smallpox. The vaccine helped prevent the disease in people who were given the vaccine.

In the 20th century doctors and scientist made a major effort to wipe out smallpox. They were successful. Today smallpox is a disease of the past, and no one can get the disease.

Even though the three agricultural tribes were alike in some ways, they each had their own language, as well as other cultural differences, so each tribe lived in its own section of the village. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara groups became known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.

In 1851, a treaty with the U.S. government set aside twelve million acres of land as a reservation for the Three Affiliated Tribes, but the government later took away most of this land, leaving the Tribes with only about a half-million acres.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition visited Black Cat village in 1806.

Plains Nomadic People—followed Bison Herds

After a time, other Late Woodland groups moved into North Dakota. The Plains Nomadic
people probably came from forests in the east. They did not have permanent homes but traveled in small bands following bison herds.

The Plains Nomadic people left traces that show they lived in all parts of North Dakota. They may have been ancestors of the Sioux (soo), or Dakota, Indians. Another Late Woodland group that came from the east may have been ancestors of the Chippewa Indians. The Chippewa continued the lifestyle of the Woodland people.

Evidence has been found that the Woodland and Plains Nomadic people did a lot of trading with other groups. The first metal used by people in this area was copper, probably from Minnesota. It was made into knives, axes, and jewelry.

Seashells from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were uncovered at archaeological sites in North Dakota, and Knife River flint has been discovered in sites hundreds of miles from where it

Mary Louise Defender Wilson

Mary Louise Defender Wilson is a storyteller who has become famous throughout the United States among both Indians and non-Indians. She is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and also is part Hidatsa.

Mary Louise Defender was born in Shields ND on Oct 14, 1930. Her family raised sheep and gardened.

At a young age, she learned storytelling from her mother, grandparents, and other members of her extended family. She has become famous throughout the United States among both Indians and non-Indians. A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she also is part Hidatsa.

They told stories, not only for entertainment, but also to educate both children and adults.

By the age of 11, Mary Louise was already a good storyteller. She could speak three languages—Dakotah, Hidatsa and English.

The stories she had heard from her family and from the elders of her tribe were stored in her memory and she began passing these stories along to other people.

Mary Louise married William Wilson, a Navajo (nav-a-ho) Indian. He introduced her to Navajo elders who also told stories. When she returned to Standing Rock, she asked the Sioux elders to teach her even more stories.

Animals were a big part of many of the tales. They taught lessons about kindness, sharing, helpfulness and other important values.

Today, Mary Louise is an elder in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She has been a teacher and has also worked to educate teachers and others about American Indian culture.

She is very wise and uses her wisdom in ways that will help preserve traditions of the Indian people. Her goal is that all people respect each other and respect all life.

Mary Louise has won many awards throughout the United States for her storytelling ability. Many of her tales are now available on CDs and YouTube so that everyone can have a chance to hear the charming voice and the delightful stories of this great person.

From coast to coast, one of the best storytellers in America is Mary Louise Defender Wilson.

Archaeological Sites

An archaeological site is a place where archaeologists find evidence of people who lived long ago. These people did not record their history on paper, so archaeologists look for other signs of their cultures.

Evidence might include stone or bone tools, pottery, burned wood from the hearth (fireplace), shell jewelry or tools, or a burial. Archaeologists might find these things on top of or below the ground. They are careful to treat the objects respectfully.

In the time of pre-history, people reported on events and spread information by talking and telling stories. For the American Indians, storytelling was a ceremony that made the word sacred. The stories had to be told exactly the same way every time.

In this way, information was passed from generation to generation (parents to children, grandchildren, etc.). Passing on information this way is called oral history.

Another way of holding onto memories was by using pictures and other forms of art. Examples are carvings on rocks, pictures on tipis, and “winter counts.” The men did the pictographs, or picture-writing, because they were keepers of the tribe’s history.

Winter counts were calendars and records of history that were made by many of the Plains tribes. Each winter, a special event from that year would be selected. A picture would be painted on an animal hide or piece of cloth. A storyteller would use this as a memory aid to help in telling the story of the tribe’s past. Being the “Keeper of the Winter Count” was an important responsibility.

A winter count might also be called a pictograph. When groups used pictographs and other forms of written language, information could be saved and spread to more people than could be done by the spoken word alone. A written record of past events is called history.

Winter count by Swift Dog. SHSND 674.

Timeline: American Indians of North Dakota

This timeline shows events from 25,000 years ago through European contact and two ND smallpox epidemics. __________________________________________________

NEXT: Part 3—American Indians of North Dakota (4th grade)



Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

American Indians of North Dakota—Part 1 (4th grade)

American Indians of North Dakota—Part 1 (4th grade)

Earthlodges at On-A-Slant village on a rise above the Missouri River and near present-day city of Mandan ND. (ND Tourism, JL 217-5)

North Dakota Studies at the State Historical Society of ND has recently revamped its units on “American Indians of North Dakota.” Well done!!

We plan to cover the highlights of this topic during the next year—especially for our American History teachers–first with grades 4 and 8 in ND and then adding information from other states. We won’t give you the entire load at once—but probably will keep feeding it out as we go through the year.

It’s a solid topic because we have several native tribes in North Dakota. They have many cultures, many languages, many different histories. Through it all there were numerous disasters and tragedies, also many times to honor and celebrate. Yet the authors have given their subjects an even-handed treatment—the situation is as it is. It’s a good place to start.

Those of us who have come here more recently need to understand the long Native American perspective and help them to celebrate their cultures and history.

It’s important to realize that in our earliest human history the many tribes of the US and Canada took care of their own for hundreds and thousands of years. They were independent and survived solely by their own efforts, yet in many ways they relied on each other and on the buffalo.

Regarded as relatives, the Buffalo were vitally important to their culture and survival from the beginning. furnishing them with food, clothing, shelter and much, much more. Is it any wonder that the buffalo became a vital part of their culture? That losing them was a disaster that is being healed even now as tribes return buffalo to their lands?

These are topics covered in the state educational units, which we’ll share with you:

Early People

  1. Paleo-Indians
  2. Archaic People
  3. Woodland People
  4. Plains Nomadic People
  5. Plains Village People

Tribes and Reservations of North Dakota

  1. Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara
  2. The Great Dakota Nation
  3. Chippewa
  4. Berthold Reservation
  5. Spirit Lake Reservation
  6. Standing Rock Sioux Reservation
  7. Turtle Mountain Reservation

Culture of the American Indians of North Dakota

  1. Culture of the Plains Indians
  2. Families
  3. Homes
  4. Transportation
  5. Food
  6. Clothing
  7. Language and Education
  8. Religion
  9. Festivals and Gatherings
  10. Transitions

What do We Call the Early People?

Early American Indians hunted bison on a winter day in North Dakota. They took the meat back to their camp, probably hauling it with dog travois. Women dried meat on willow racks and stretched and pegged down the hides on the ground to dry. (State Historical Society of North Dakota)

The story of Columbus tells us that when he landed in North America, he thought he was in India, so he called the people living here “Indians.” This was confusing because people who live in India are also called “Indians.”

In order to avoid confusion, the native people of North America were often called “American Indians.”

In the 1970s, the government and some other groups began calling the American Indians “Native Americans.” People are called natives if they are born in a certain place or country, so actually, anyone born in America could be called a native American. If “Native” is capitalized, it refers to American Indians.

A survey in 1996 found that most American Indians preferred to be called “American Indian” rather than “Native American,” although many did not care one way or the other. The best way to refer to American Indians, however, is by their tribes.

People from Norway, Germany and other countries on the continent of Europe are all called Europeans, but they have different histories, languages and cultures. In the same way American Indian tribes each have their own history, language and culture that are different from those of other tribes.

It is most respectful to use the names of the tribes when known, but no matter what terms are used, the greatest possible respect is intended for the people who are featured in this unit.

The different tribes each have their own rules of defining who is an Indian of their tribe, but many people who consider themselves to be Indians are not members of any tribe.

So who is an American Indian? Someone having a parent or grandparent who is an American Indian would qualify.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs defines an Indian as anyone who states that he or she is an Indian. People who call themselves American Indians share a feeling of belonging to a special group that non-Indians cannot really understand.

Early Tribes

A large group of people in an area who are organized under one government is called a nation. A government is an organization of people that makes rules and laws for the nation.

The continent of North America contains three large sovereign (sov-er-ren) nations—Canada, the United States and Mexico. When a nation is sovereign, it means that it can govern itself. People who are members of a nation are called citizens of that nation.

Before Europeans came to North America, there were more than 300 nations in what is now the United States. The citizens of these nations were American Indians. Each nation, called a tribe, was sovereign and had its own government.

When Europeans began moving to North America, they settled on land where American Indian families had lived for hundreds of years. The Indians did not want to move, but the government sent its army and forced the Indians to move to reservations.

The U.S. government began forcing American Indians onto reservations in 1851. This Indian Affairs map shows American Indian reservations in 1874. (SHSND)

In order to keep peace, get more land and obtain other benefits, the US government made treaties with the different Indian tribes. Even though many promises made in the treaties were broken by the US government, the tribes were able to keep their positions as sovereign nations within the United States.

This means that each tribe is sovereign but is associated with the United States. Tribal members are citizens of two nations—the United States and their own tribal nation.

The state in which the tribe is located does not have authority over the tribe. The tribe has power over everything within the tribe and the state government cannot interfere. The tribal chair (chief) of each tribe is equal in rank to the governor of each state.

Each tribe is headquartered on a reservation and the laws of the tribe apply within the boundaries of the reservation. Tribal laws affect hunting, fishing and water rights on most reservation land. The sovereignty of the Indian tribes is not affected by state laws.

Many Indian tribes have lived in North Dakota at different times, but today North Dakota has 5 nations, or tribes, located within its borders. They are:
(1) The Three Affiliated Tribes;
(2) Spirit Lake Nation;
(3) The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe;
(4) The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe; and
(5) The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Early People

American Indians were the first people to live in North Dakota. We know a little about the earliest people because their stone tools, such as spear points, can be found where they left them. The tools they used tell us what era they lived in. An era is a time period that lasted thousands of years.

Early People of North Dakota. (SHSND-ND Studies)

When Europeans “discovered” America in the 1400s and 1500s, people had already been living on this continent for thousands of years and had hundreds of different languages and cultures.

Archaeologists (ar-key-ol-a-gists) believe that the first people to arrive in North America came from the continent of Asia over 15,000 years ago. These prehistoric people were probably big-game hunters who were following herds of large animals, such as mastodons, woolly mammoths and giant bison. North America and Asia are separated by water, so how were people able to travel from Asia to North America by land?

During the “Ice Age,” glaciers (gigantic sheets of ice) contained so much water that the ocean levels were much lower than they are now. Dry land made up many of the areas that are now under water.

Glaciologists (glay-see-ol-a-jists) (scientists who study glaciers) believe that from about 25,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago, the Bering Strait was a land bridge that may have been 1,000 miles wide. Animals and people could have easily made their way from Asia to North America across this wide strip of land.

Bering Strait land bridge. (SHSND-ND Studies)

These early ancestors of the American Indians are called Paleo-Indians. “Paleo” means ancient (very old). After reaching North America, the Paleo-Indians probably continued making their way south from Alaska either along the Pacific coast or along an ice-free area east of the Rocky Mountains.

They may have lived on the southern side of the Wisconsinan glacier and moved north as the glacier receded (went back).

With the changes in climate that happened over thousands of years, vegetation (plant life) also changed and the mastodons, woolly mammoths and other prehistoric animals became extinct. The people adapted to the changes and their population increased. Archaeologists do not know very much about the Paleo-Indians because they existed many thousands of years ago and little evidence of them remains.

Paleo-Indians butchering a giant bison at the end of the Ice Age while a mammoth looks on. (SHSND 1996.25.1)

The Archaic era began about 7,500 years ago. The changes in climate led to changes in plants and animals. The Archaic (ar-kay-ik) was a new era because people made different spear points and used new tools. Some animals became extinct. Some animals, such as Buffalo (sometimes called bison), became smaller. People of the Archaic era adapted to these changes.

People of the Archaic era were the descendants of the people who lived in the Paleo-Indian era. As their population increased, the people continued spreading throughout the continents of both North America and South America. They lived in small bands, or groups, and continued their nomadic way of life following herds of game animals and gathering plants for food.

This ancient bison skull was found near New Town ND. The skull has a horn span of seven feet. The skull is exhibited at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck ND. (SHSND 98-44.1)

Archaeologists have found remains of the Archaic people’s culture scattered throughout the plains. A hard stone called flint was mined by people along the Knife River in North Dakota.

Spear points made of this flint were used by hunters in North Dakota and were also traded to people in other areas. Evidence of the use of flint has also been dated back to the time of the Paleo-Indians.

The atlatl (at-lat-ul) was developed for hunting by the Archaic people. This weapon was a stick with a handle on one end and a hook on the other end. With the atlatl, hunters could throw darts much harder and farther than they could throw a spear. 

People of the Archaic era made knives, hammers, scrapers and other tools from flint or animal bones.  Many of these stone and bone tools have been found in sites of ancient peoples’ activities in North Dakota.

Black Elk: The Circle of Life

Black Elk in 1940. Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man, is best known for his interviews with John Neihardt, during which he talked of his religious views, visions and life events. Neihardt published these in his book Black Elk Speaks in 1932.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles and everything tries to be round . . . The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars.

“The wind in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours . . . Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

“The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves.” –Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Sioux 4th Grade ND Studies, State Historical Society of ND; ND Studies for schools

NEXT: American Indians of North Dakota—Part 2 (4th Grade)

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

The Incredible Shrinking Buffalo

The Incredible Shrinking Buffalo

Ancient Bison in North Dakota include Bison latifrons, a giant buffalo with long and only-slightly curved horns now extinct, at left, and decreasing-size species that once lived in the western US. Only the smallest of them all—the Bison bison, at right, survives today. They exist in two subspecies: Bison bison bison of the plains and Bison bison athabascae of the far north.

The small party of Native American hunters were excited when they discovered a herd of bison grazing on open high prairie near some large hills connected by a steep ridge.

The experienced and opportunistic hunters quickly noted that the terrain favored them. Several arroyos, perhaps 30 feet deep and a hundred feet wide at their mouths, cut into the crumbly red sedimentary siltstone that formed the base of one hill.

These erosion features looked like possible escape routes to the bison, but their channels narrowed quickly so that they essentially became small box canyons.

The hunters recognized that, if they were to drive their prey into the gullies, the walls would be too steep for the bison to climb and the animals would have no room to maneuver.

The hunters could then get close enough to the large beasts and dispatch them with atlatl darts while standing safely on the rim of the arroyo.

The Indians executed their plan, killed a number of bison and butchered them where they lay.

Comparative skulls of North American bison.

The bones and projectile points were soon covered by mud and remained there for six thousand years until a cowboy discovered some of them protruding from the walls of the arroyo.

The find was reported and was subsequently excavated by famed archaeologist George Frison and his crew from the University of Wyoming.

The find was named the Hawken Site after the owner of the ranch on which it was located, about 25 miles west-southwest of the Vore Buffalo Jump.

It proved to be one of the most important sites for the period it represented, the so-called Mid-Holocene Warm Period (a.k.a. “altithermal”).

The buffalo killed were of a species named Bison occidentalis that would become extinct fairly soon after the Hawken hunt.

B. occidentalis was one of several bison species that died out, leaving only Bison bison, often called buffalo, in North America.

The Bison Family Tree

Bison latifrons—An extinct giant buffalo.

The ancestors of modern bison appeared in Asia about two million years ago. They roamed the “steppe,” a vast, flat, grassland that stretched across southeastern Europe and much of Siberia at the same time as the progenitors of mammoths.

Steppe Bison—Ancestor of all North American bison species.

The modern buffalo are descendants of an older, larger species called “Steppe Bison” with the Latin name Bison priscus.

Steppe Bison shared the Old World with several other bovine species, including the Aurochs Steppe Bison—Ancestor of all North American bison species that gave rise to modern domestic cattle and several species of Asian and European bison.

During the last Ice Age, so much of earth’s water was tied up in glaciers that sea level was almost 300 feet lower than it is now.

Many continental shelf areas currently covered by shallow saltwater were exposed and became land between 240,000 and 220,00 years ago.

One such region was the seafloor between Siberia and the Seward Peninsula of modern Alaska. Falling sea levels there resulted in a land bridge that connected Asia with North America.

Animals were able to move both directions over this neck of land. Among other species, bison, mammoths, wolves and, later, humans and their dogs found their way into the Western Hemisphere.

Horses and camels moved the opposite direction, evolving in the New World but finding new homes in Eurasia. Horses evolved in North America but died out here after they crossed the land bridge and established themselves on the Eurasian steppe.

Horses were eventually domesticated and returned to their birth-continent with the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 1500’s.

The bison family tree branched after it was established in North America. The Steppe Bison is thought to be the ancestor of three now-extinct bison species, and eventually, the modern buffalo. The extinct species were all larger than the today’s bison.

The largest individuals of B. latifrons had a shoulder height of 8.2 feet and weighed as much as 4,400 pounds (25% to 50% larger than biggest modern buffalo). Some individuals possessed relatively straight horns more than three times longer from tip to tip than today’s bison.

B. latifrons lived in the warmer middle of North America grazing the grasslands and browsing in the forest. It became extinct between 21,000 and 30,000 years ago

Bison antiquus — One of the “megafauna”

A second species, Bison antiquus, is thought to have evolved from B. latifrons.

B. antiquus was still massive (7 ½ feet and 3,500 pounds) with a more pronounced hump and less bulky hind quarters. Its curved horns also measured 3 feet from tip to tip.

They also lived in the midcontinent but were extinct by about 10,000 years ago along with many other species of the so-called megafauna (including saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, short-faced bears, mammoths and giant sloths).

There is much conjecture about the possible role of human hunting in these extinctions. Most likely these species were already stressed and declining because of changes in climate and ecology, but hunting by Native American was probably a factor in the extinctions.

The Hudson Meng Site managed by the US Forest Service on the south end of the Black Hills (20 miles northwest of Crawford, Nebraska) is an excellent place to see B. antiquus bones.

It is a large kill site apparently the work of Indians of the Alberta and Eden cultural complex.

A poster of a Bison occidentalis skull from the Hawken Site imposed over a photo of the Wyoming arroyo where it was killed 6,000 years ago.

The third species, Bison occidentalis, was the species found at the Hawken Site. It was descended from B. antiquus and was intermediate in size (6 feet tall and 2,200 pounds) between this ancient species and modern bison.

B. occidentalis became extinct near the end of Mid Holocene Warm Period about 5,000 years ago, but not before it gave rise to the modern Bison bison (6 feet tall and 2,000 pounds).

The abnormally warm period lasted from about 7,000 to 5,000 years ago and is thought to have been caused by slow and minute changes in the earth’s orbit.

During this time, the Northern Hemisphere was both warmer in summer and colder in winter than at present.

The result was that the Great Plains were drier and produced less forage for grazing animals like bison than it does now.

Lower elevation regions shifted toward desert-like conditions during the Mid-Holocene.

Populations of both prey animals and humans fell. Animals were attracted to higher elevation ranges such as the Black Hills and Bighorn Mountains, which were cooler with more precipitation.

There are fewer archaeological sites from the period, and most of them have been found at higher elevations.

That may explain why the B. occidentalis killed at the Hawken Site and the B. antiquss at Hudson-Meng were near the well-watered Black Hills.

(Another buffalo jump was partially excavated last summer on a ranch a few miles east of the Vore Site. The bison skulls found there appear to be B. occidentalis, though definitive carbon dates on the specimens are still pending.)

In any case, the more extreme conditions were probably a factor in the extinction of B. antiquss and B. occidentalis, and their replacement by the two subspecies of buffalo we know today.

The extant subspecies are the familiar Plains Buffalo (Bison bison subspecies bison) and the somewhat larger Wood Buffalo (Bison bison subspecies athabascae).

The latter live in or near the boreal forest in Canada. There are some differences in body form, behavior, habitat and forage preferences between them.

Their current ranges are separated by considerable distances. However, the subspecies can crossbreed and produce viable offspring.

Plains Buffalo (Bison bison bison) grazing near Hettinger, ND, with their newborn cinnamon-colored calves in July 2022. Photo Credit Kathy Berg Walsh.

In fact, in the desperate days when modern bison were hanging by a thread over the abyss of extinction, bison from the Plains [may have been] interbred with somewhat larger Mountain Buffalo that hung on in Yellowstone.

All of the buffalo killed at the Vore Site were Plains Buffalo, and the period in which the Vore Site hunts occurred was a colder, wetter time called the Little Ice Age.

Nature is dynamic. Change is constant. Living things must adapt or become extinct.

As the post-glacial period brought drier conditions to their primary habitat, bison adapted genetically by reducing their body size and, thus, their forage requirement.

Anyone who has spent time observing buffalo at close range is likely to be impressed by their size, power, speed, agility and general toughness. They are large, often unpredictable and potentially dangerous wild animals.

Modern bison are smaller than their extinct predecessors, but their population increased dramatically after the Holocene Warm Period.

Before the intentional destruction of the great herds in the 1800’s, there were, conservatively, thirty to forty million buffalo on the Great Plains.

In that environment, buffalo were so well adapted and abundant that the Native Americans of the region built their entire cultures around the great beasts.

Guest Article by Gene Gade. As the County Extension Agent in Sundance Wyoming, Gene Gade served 20 years as president of the non-profit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation, helping to develop and guide the research, education and economic potentials of the Vore site until his retirement. He continues to write for the VBJF Newsletter. Now in Oregon where he and his wife moved to help a daughter with their grandchildren, Gade volunteers in working for Native American causes. It’s a new vantage point for him, he writes, “The devastation of the Columbia River salmon has been as disastrous to Indigenous people of the northwest as the near extinction of bison was to the Plains tribes.”
Reprinted from the VBJF Newsletter with permission: Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation, 369 Old US 14, Sundance WY 82729; Tel: (307) 266-9530, email: <>


BSC Bison Symposium, June 22-25, 2022, Part 2

BSC Bison Symposium, June 22-25, 2022, Part 2

On Friday afternoon, June 24, 2022, the two buses on tour for the BSC Dakota Bison Symposium continued by visiting the Johnson buffalo herd. Jim Strand—manager and herdsman—circles the herd with his feed wagon and the buffalo come running. Photo Credit Kathy Berg Walsh.



BSC Buffalo Symposium visitors stay on the buses and the buffalo mill around closely. This has always been a favorite sight for our visitors on tours. The yellow circles in the grass are buffalo wallows where bulls and others try to rub off their winter hair, pesky insects and can also be a mating challenge. Photo KBW.



Here you see the attentive mothers and some of the many young cinnamon-colored calves. When they are about 3 months old they begin to grow a hump and nubbins of horns and turn dark like their moms. Photo KBW.



Jim Strand steps onto the buses to explain how he handles his buffalo herd, answers questions and walks among the buffalo pointing out some of his favorite individuals as the buffalo continue to mill around. The rest of us stay on the buses, enjoying watching these magnificent animals close up, shooting photos and videos through the large bus windows. Photo KBW.



For the “Last Great” hunt here at Hiddenwood, 2,000 men, women and children traveled here from Ft. Yates on about June 20, 1882. Quietly the hunters rode up HIddenwood Creek (from the far left) spread out onto the hills on all sides, where as Agent James McLaughlin’s wrote, “50,000 buffalo” were grazing. They killed 2,000 buffalo the first day. The 2nd day they quick-butchered and cared for the meat and on the 3rd day they hunted again since the buffalo had not moved far, killing 3,000 more.

Then they camped for a time to dry and preserve the meat. Everyone knew their tasks: the men cut apart the large bones and hauled the meat into camp, while women cut it into thin sheets and hung them on willow branch frames and stretched and pegged hides to the ground to dry in the sun. Photo KBW.



Dakota Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe gives his perceptions at Hiddenwood Historic Site on US Highway 12, halfway between Hettinger and Lemmon SD. A PhD candidate at NDSU in History and Native American Studies at United Tribes Technical College, he was one of the Native American storytellers on the bus from Bismarck. Photo credit James Kambeitz.



Young people enjoy the authentic tipi set up at the Hiddenwood Historic Site on the highway—also known as the Yellowstone Trail in this area. This tipi framework represents the many stone circles that filled this broad valley when first settlers arrived and the thousands of years before that when various Plains tribes came to hunt buffalo here and camped near the cliff which they called Hiddenwood. So named because it could not be seen until just before they came over the nearest hills. (The canvas tipi coverings made and set up by skilled Lakota craftsmen have been vandalized twice, so instead the poles are now anchored in place to suggest the proper tipi framework.) Photo KBW.



Once called the Butchering Site because of the abundance of buffalo skulls and bones found here when settlers arrived—we now call this the “Sitting Bull Hunt Site.”

Sitting Bull and his band came from their agency west of Mobridge—either to this place or within a few miles and killed the very last great herds of buffalo—about 1,200—on October 12 and 13, 1883. This was the Last Stand of the great herds of wild Buffalo.

William Hornaday, head taxidermist at the Smithsonian Museum, who wrote “The Extermination of the American Bison” in 1887 and predicted the buffalo would soon be extinct wrote “There was not a hoof left!” His book was published in 1889 by the US Government Printing Office.

The BSC visitors were encouraged to visualize significant events that took place here in this “most beautiful valley in our area,” where the land which looks much as it did 150 years ago:

In the centuries before they owned horses and guns, ancient Native Americans hunted here with homemade weapons and cared for their meat. Women dried buffalo meat on willow racks and stretched their hides.

in 1823 Major Henry came up the North Grand River with his fur trading party, although one of his tough mountain men, Hugh Glass, was severely injured by a grizzly bear and left to die near Shadehill without his weapons.

General Custer rode through here with 1,200 men of the 7th cavalry, 200 covered wagons pulled by 6 mules each, a medical team, gold miners, reporters of leading newspapers, Native American scouts, his 7th Cavalry band—in the mornings dispatched to play military airs including Custer’s favorite (“The Girl I left Behind”) from a nearby butte as the Calvary rode by with flags flying. In addition, 300 head of beef cattle were driven along by cowboys to be butchered and fed as needed to the two thousand men on the expedition to the Black Hills in 1874.

And finally in this place we can imagine “Ghost riders in the Sky.” Texas cowboys trailed great herds of longhorn steers, a thousand at a time, from over the far horizon. The steers fattened and grew larger as they grazed our high-protein grasses. Some said so did horses and even the cowboys when they came up north! Photo Credit Kendra Rosencrans.



Kevin Locke, Lakota and Anishnabe, is a world-famous Hoop Dancer, flute player, traditional storyteller, cultural ambassador, recording artist and educator. Here he speaks of his cultural traditions and view of this North Grand Valley where significant historic events have occurred. Photo KBW.



Local school buses bring participants here on the last leg—on rougher roads—to the top of the ridge for a spectacular view of the North Grand drainage. These US Forest Service lands are managed with a dual purpose—for cattle grazing and public recreation.

While camping here, Native American women and children undoubtedly dug ‘Indian Turnips’ here, where they still grow abundantly. Photo JK.



Over 90 people enjoyed the final bison supper of the BSC Buffalo Symposium at Dakota Buttes Museum Friday evening catered by The Peacock of Hettinger. Larry Skogen, center, thanks the people who made this happen and all who attended. Photo KBW.



Then everyone took a second look at Prairie Thunder, the museum’s full-size mounted buffalo bull, and climbed back on the buses for Bismarck. Photo JK.



Day 3—Saturday, June 25, 2022

On the third day, participants brought grandchildren to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum for hands-on activities, treasure hunts, crafts and discoveries as well as gallery excursions and learning experiences for everyone.



Erik Holland discusses the bullboat—often used by Mandans in crossing the Missouri River and hauling goods short distances by water. It was shaped of a single buffalo hide stretched and dried over willow framework—hair to the outside and tail left on. Photo JK.



In demonstration of proper tipi set-up on the ND Heritage Center lawn, the more recently used canvas covering is compared with a traditional cover made of buffalo hides. Photo JK.



Buffalo hide, bones and artifacts found in North Dakota are displayed and gently handled outside the Heritage Center on a warm and sunny Saturday morning in June. Photo JK.



Holland discusses the finer details of the large original painting depicting traditional homes in a Mandan village. The wall mural was painted on site. Photo JK.



A volunteer with the State Historical Society explained the archeological study at Beacon Island in Lake Sakakawea. Excavation at the site revealed that roughly 10,000 years ago “hunters killed at least 29 Bison antiquus in early-to mid-winter (November to January) and the carcasses were moved a short distance for processing. The archeological record indicates the hunters butchered some of the animals on-site, preparing and packing a portion of meat for transport, breaking open log bones with cobble to extract marrow, and re-tooling for the next kill.” Photo JK.



Lots of things to do at the Heritage Center for young people. Paying close attention to a speaker are these two children. Photo JK.



Bison Art Room: Andrea Fagerstorm, BSC art faculty member, organized a wonderful art display that included bison-themed art from a number of contributors including ten from Dr Thomas Jacobson, Hettinger, the Northwest Arts Center at Minot State University, Dakota Goodhouse, one of the presenters, and others. Included in the art room was a buffalo music display on loan from the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. Photo JK.



Tom Jacobsen, MD, discusses his Ledger Art and other early Sioux paintings that his great-aunt, Mary C. Collins, Congregational missionary from 1885 to 1910, collected from Native Americans on the Great Sioux Reservation at Little Eagle, SD. These two paintings depict Buffalo Hunts. Mary was the niece of his grandmother Ethel Collins, who came to teach at Day School in little Eagle from 1889 to 1892, before her marriage. Photo JK.



Les Thomas, North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance Board Vice President, engages with a participant and discusses the mystic of a white buffalo painting, Photos JK.



Floral bison quilt stitched by Val Braun of Hettinger depicts the Last Great Wild Buffalo Hunt that took place near there at the Sitting Bull Hunt Site on October 12 and 13, 1883. Photo JK.



Participants take time for a mid-morning break to get better acquainted with new friends and discuss their special interests with various experts. Photo JK.


by Francie M Berg 7/5/2022

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

BSC Bison Symposium-June 22-25, 2022

The BSC Dakota Bison Symposium kicked off with a pre-conference evening meal in the 4th floor showplace in the Energy Building for invited speakers—some just flying in—committee members and bus hosts on Wed evening June 22, 2022. The 4th floor dining room provides guests a spectacular view of the blue Missouri River rolling away toward the southeast through this great valley of big old cottonwood trees. We can see two bridges plus the old Northern Pacific railroad bridge barely discernable through the gnarly cottonwood trees at the far right. Photo credit Francie M Berg.

Day 1—Friday, June 23, 2022

On Day 1 we learn about the changing role of the bison from Pleistocene time until the present, as well as its cultural significance to our Native citizens.

President of Bismarck State College Dr. Douglas J. Jensen welcomes participants to the Bison Symposium that finally became a reality after nearly three years of planning. Who knew when we began to talk about the importance of our national mammal—the bison or buffalo— their near extinction and the conservation efforts involved in the restoration to Native and federal lands, that travel restrictions caused by a worldwide pandemic would postpone or even threaten cancellation of the symposium? Co-chairs of the BSC Bison Symposium committee are Dr. Larry Skogen, President Emeritus of BSC, and Erik Holland, Curator of Education with the State Historical Society. The BSC Dakota Bison Symposium, was made possible by the generosity of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockstad Foundation, and Bismarck State College Foundation. All persevered and we are delighted to have overcome all obstacles. Photo credit James Kambeitz.



Jon Eagle Sr., Standing Rock Historic Preservation Officer, kicks-off the symposium by discussing the cultural and spiritual significance of the American Bison to Great Plains Indigenous people. He talked about where the buffalo came from in a Native American point of view. Photo JK.



Here Andrew C. Isenberg, Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas and author of ‘The Destruction of the Bison,’ explains how millions of bison were slaughtered to market the hides, meat, tongues and bones. “Like other environmental catastrophes in the American West . . . the destruction of the bison was in part, the result of the unstainable exploitation of natural resources,” he said. Photo JK.



A panel discussion of the restoration of bison and economic aspects of raising buffalo included Kevin Leier, at left, executive director of the North Dakota Bison Association, Brendan Moynahan, Chair of the Department of Interior’s Bison Working Group and planning for the National Park Service, and Arnell D. Abold, who served 4 years as Executive Director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe, and now works with the Tanka Fund to help restore bison to tribal lands.

 Abold devotes her career to the vision of seeing Bufalo on the land, believing “that Buffalo are the connection for our people to believe in a better tomorrow and together we can help create a reality that empowers us to live not only a better today but inspires us to keep fighting for a better future for the people, the land and the Buffalo.” Photo Credit JK.



This panel discussed bison and healthy Native communities and included Mike Faith (left), who for over 16 years was manager of the Standing Rock Tribal bison herds, is former chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a founding member and vice president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council; Dr Michael LeBeau, a vice president with Sanford Health who is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation in South Dakota; and Taylor Syvertson, Director of Ending Hunger at the Great Plains Food Bank. Dr LeBeau spoke about health, especially mental health of tribal members. Their emphasis was on how bison contribute to the health of Native communities. Photo JK.



Dr. Chris Widga, Paleontologist and Head Curator at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum at East Tennessee State University, speaks on the arrival of bison in North America, their response to drastic changes in Ice Age climates and their impact on the environment. Photo JK.



Kevin Locke, a world famous visionary Hoop Dancer, traditional story teller, cultural ambassador, recording artist, educator and player of the Indigenous Northern Plains flute, entertains with a Hoop Dance using up to 26 hoops. He has performed to over hundreds of thousands of people in over 90 countries. His special joy is working with children on the reservations to ensure the survival and growth of indigenous culture.

Two excellent short films from the Blackfeet Reservation were shown on how the Blackfeet are developing a buffalo herd and how it relates spiritually to tribal members. Photos JK.



Bison was a favorite food for the BSC Bison Symposium. The Native American chef who catered this delightful Day 1 supper of selected indigenous foods for our menu—bison meat purchased from various tribes for hamburgers and chili, with cranberry sauce on the side. A delicious Bison Meatball Stroganoff was served for the Day 2 evening meal. Photos JK.



Day 2—Friday, June 24, 2022

You’ll have the opportunity to experience “where the buffalo roam.”

For Day 2 tour of Southwest North Dakota and Northwest South Dakota buffalo heritage sites, large buses arrive at John Lopez’s Main Street Kokomo Gallery in Lemmon, SD, on Friday morning, June 24, 2022. Between 75 and 80 people rode the 2 buses that day. Photo Credit Kathy Berg Walsh.



BSC Bison Tour makes its first stop at Kokomo Gallery. Sculptor John Lopex (at left) explains his current work. Photo KBW.



In the Kokomo Gallery is John’s pair of full-size fighting buffalo bulls. The bull on the right represents Sitting Bull, the other General Custer, two leaders he selected because their paths crossed near here along the North Grand River (Custer in 1874 heading for the Black Hills and Sitting Bull on a buffalo hunt here in October 1883, after 50,000 wild buffalo suddenly returned to the Great Sioux Reservation). Photo JK.



Shadehill Buffalo Jump from the north side of the lake. When first settlers arrived in the area, 2 layers of buffalo bones were exposed across the face of this steep cliff for about 100 ft up and down the river, according to SD author Archer Gilfillan. The first layer, 12 feet deep was about 25 feet below the top of the cliff. Beneath that was a 4 ft layer of earth, then a 2nd layer of bones 4 ft thick—the bottom of which was 100 ft above the bed of the river (before the dam was built in the 1950s).

The bones of the jump—like most known buffalo jumps in the US and Canada were “mined” and the bones shipped to munitions plants on the west coast during WWII. Phosphorus was extracted for explosives. This was one way people at home supported the war effort.

Buffalo jumps have 3 parts: the bone pile below, a steep cliff, and most important of all, drive lines on the plateau above where buffalo often graze. Native leaders who made the buffalo jumps work had a deep understanding of buffalo behavior. Religious rites, traditional dancing and prayers also played an integral part in the hunts. These were people without horses or guns. They prayed for courage, skill and teamwork, as well as cooperation from their relatives, the buffalo. Photo KBW.



Chris Widga, Paleontologist and Head Curator at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum at East Tennessee State University at Shadehill Buffalo Jump. Experts and Native American leaders and storytellers give their perspectives on the historic buffalo sites as we travel. At far right in this Shadehill Buffalo Jump photo you can also see the video professional James Kambeitz who filmed each segment. His edited videos will be available to the public—especially for state History teachers—through the ND State Heritage Center. Photo KBW.



This view from the south side of Shadehill Lake leads out to the buffalo jump cliff itself. “I’ve tried to sketch here what might have happened. The best kept secrets of success are not with the drive lines themselves, brush and branches waving from both sides—although these were necessarily carefully engineered to keep the wild herd on track,” according to author FM Berg. “Dr Jack Brink, Canadian anthropologist and author of the book ‘Imagining Head-Smashed-In’ says he never read about this next technique in any book, but was told by a Blackfeet elder that before the buffalo were brought up, a trail was made down the center—by a hunter who pulled a buffalo hide behind him dropping buffalo chips all the way, while covering his moccasin tracks.

“Then he adds that some tantalizing activity is used to tempt the herd to charge down the trail. A medicine man might prance and dance calling and singing to the buffalo, exciting and attracting their curiosity.

“Or even better, a couple of young men scuffle on the trail, one wearing a wolf skin and the other a buffalo hide. The pretend calf bleats out with a perfect imitation of desperate calls for help—and anxious mothers in the herd come on the run to rescue him from the snarling pretend wolf. By this time the herd is in frantic stampede—and off the cliff they go.

“However, it’s a very dangerous place for everyone at the cliff drop-off waving hides, trying to prevent buffalo from escaping off to the side. If one gets past, the others might follow and all is lost.” Photo FMB.



Francie Berg shares what she calls the “best kept secrets of the buffalo Jumps”–describing ways buffalo were lured down the trail right to the jump off. “Makes sense to me!” Photo JK.



Co-chairman Larry Skogen, who grew up in Hettinger, where his parents owned the Coast-to-Coast hardware store, invites visitors to give their impressions and personal knowledge of buffalo jump sites. Photo JK.



Vince Gunn, retired Perkins County Extension agent—who has lived all his life across the water from Shadehill Buffalo Jump—shares his view of the jump and some local history. Photo JK.



In the South Dakota park at Shadehill Recreation Area by the lake, visitors pick up their sack lunches, furnished by the Lemmon IGA grocery, and find a pleasant shady spot to relax a few minutes before getting back on the buses and moving on. Photo JK.


(Bold 16 pt) NEXT: Blog 63-Part 2 BSC Bison Symposium, June 22-25, 2022


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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