Who are the Mandan Indians?

Catlin - mandan village - PD

The Mandans are Native Americans historically living next the Missouri River and two of its tributaries which are the Heart and Knife Rivers located in present-day North and South Dakota.  Unlike other Plains Indians, they established permanent villages and farms growing corn, beans, squash and tobacco.  Though like other Plains Indians, they did participate in an annual buffalo hunt.  Archaeological investigation shows the Mandan people migrated from the Ohio River valley to the banks of the upper Missouri River.

The housing style of the Mandans was the earth lodge, This was a structure of rafters on a strong central framework. The wall and roof rafters were covered with willow branches and over these were placed grass, then a layer of earth and sod and sometimes an additional layer of  grass tied in bundles.  Height from floor to ceiling was about eleven feet and floor measurements of forty to forty five square feet were average.  Each lodge housed between five and sixteen people and lodges were arranged in villages around a central ceremonial plaza.  Farm lands surrounded the villages and the fields were worked by the women and the products of those fields belonged to the women who grew them.

The lands occupied by the Mandan farmers were also the areas that white men would most covet for farmland.  It was impossible for the few thousand Indians to stand against the growing United States.  The deer, turkeys and other game were killed off and the good lands taken by the frontiersmen. Weakened by alcohol supplied by the Americans, poverty stricken, hungry and broken, the Mandan could no longer resist the onslaught.

In 1934 the Indian Reorganization Act, had the Mandan officially merge with the Hidatsa and the Arikara people into the “Three Affiliated Tribes,” known as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

The Mandan people as well as their language received much attention from European Americans, in part because their lighter skin and hair color caused speculation they were of European origin. In the 1830s, Prince Maximilian of Wied spent time recording Mandan language and preparing a comparison list of Mandan and Welsh words (he thought that the Mandan may have been displaced Welsh from descendants of Prince Madoc and his followers who immigrated to America from Wales in about 1170 and settled in the Ohio Valley). The theory of the Mandan/Welsh connection was also supported by artist George Catlin who drew and painted scenes of Mandan life.  Though now largely discredited it has become a colorful piece of American urban legend but with a few die-hard supporters. The heart of ancient Mandan lands is now occupied by Bismarck, North Dakota.

The last full-blood Mandan, Mattie Grinnell, died in 1971, and the remaining tribe members are of mixed ancestry. Besides the reservation other Mandan reside around the United States and in Canada.

For more information about Native Americans and First Nations (Canada)

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