The Mandan Indians Haley Griffith

Introduction to Tribe Life

The Mandan tribe of North Dakota, "the tattooed people", were mainly hunters, traders and farmers who lived in villages of earth lodges on the Great Plains. A sacred cedar post stood at the center of the Mandan village, symbolizing the tribe’s cultural hero. The post was surrounded by an open plaza, and at the north end of the plaza was the village’s primary medicine lodge. The more powerful a family was or the more significant that family’s ceremonial duties were, the closer its lodge would be to the center. About 10 people lived in each lodge. Throughout most of the year, the Mandans lived in these permanent lodges. But in the winter, to avoid storms, they constructed temporary lodges in wooded, low-lying areas next to the river.

The Mandan were a part of the Hisatsa Indian Nation. The Hidatsas share a single nation with the Mandan and Arikara tribes. In the past, the Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras lived in separate villages and each had their own government and leadership. But after many of their people died of smallpox in the 1800's, the three allies merged. They are known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Important people in the Mandan Tribe

Abdih-Hiddisch (Chief Road-Maker): He was the keeper of the tribal medicine bundle, and a member of the council organized for the mutual defense of all Hidatsa villages near Fort Clark. He was also an good warrior, known for having attacked the enemy successfully on six separate occasions without losing a single one of his men.

Mah-to-toh-pa (Chief Four Bears): He was the second chief of the Mandan tribe to be known as "Four Bears. " He earned this name after charging the Assiniboine tribe during battle with the strength of four bears. Among his people he was a brave warrior, famous for killing a Cheyenne chief in hand-to-hand combat.

Chief Shahaka (Big White or Coyote): Shahaka was a Mandan Cheif at the time of Lewis and Clark. Sheheke traveled with Lewis and Clark to meet United States President Thomas Jefferson On October 20, 1804.

Chief Red Cow- Red Buffalo Cow was head chief of the Mandans after the 1837 smallpox epidemic. Red Buffalo Cow was considered one of the holy men of the Mandans. He received healing powers during his vision quest.

Lewis and Clark Encounter

In the fall of 1804 the Mandan lived in two villages along the upper Missouri River. It was near these villages, Matootonha and Rooptahee that the Corps built Fort Mandan and passed the winter of 1804 and 1805. Mitutanka, was on the west bank of the Missouri. Lewis built his fort across the river from this village. Nuptadi was farther north, on the east bank.


The Mandan people speak English today. Their native Mandan language is spoken today by only one elder. Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara speakers cannot understand each other's languages, so the three languages have been declining since the tribes merged. However, some Mandan people are working to keep their language alive.

Roles in the Mandan

Men- Mandan men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Only Mandan men became cheifs.

Women- Mandan women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking.

Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

Children- Mandan children play with eachother, go to school, and help out around the house. any Mandan children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Mandan children had less time to play and had more time for chores.

Food- The Mandans were farming people. Mandan women worked together to raise crops of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Men hunted deer and small game and took part in seasonal buffalo hunts. They also recieved buffalo in trade with other tribes.

Weapons- Mandan hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Mandan men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and hide shields.

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