Index Inside the Corps The Native Americans The Archive Living History Into the Unknown Forum with Ken Burns Classroom Resources Related Products Interactive Trail Map Search Lewis and Clark navigation Introduction Arikaras Assiniboins Blackfeet Chinooks Clatsops Hidatsas Mandans Missouris Nez Perces Otos Shoshones Teton Sioux Tillamooks Walla Wallas Wishrams Yankton Sioux Lewis and Clark navigation
Hidatsa Mother
Hidatsa Mother

In 1804, travelling northwest from the Mandan village of Rooptahee, it was a short trip to Mahawha, the first of three villages of the neighboring Hidatsas. The Hidatsas, allies of the Mandans, inhabited a stretch of the Knife River in what later became central North Dakota. Along with the Mandans, they formed the hub of trade in the Upper Missouri region, attracting a wide variety of Indian and European traders each fall.

Hidatsa villages were designed in a fashion similar to their Mandan counterparts. Earth lodges were clustered irregularly around a central plaza, and were occupied for approximately 7 to 12 years. A log wall surrounded the village to protect it from invaders. Mahawha was located at the meeting of the Knife and Missouri rivers, and was home to about 50 warriors. The next village to the north, Metaharta, had about 50 lodges, but the northernmost village, Menetarra, was the largest Hidatsa town, with nearly 450 warriors and 130 lodges.

Like the Mandans, the Hidatsas were actively involved in trade with their many visitors. Hidatsa farmers grew corn, tobacco, squash and beans, which they exchanged for everything from meat products to horses. Unlike the Mandans, however, the Hidatsas regularly sent war parties westward against the Shoshones and Blackfeet. They did this not only for wealth, protection and revenge, but for ritual reasons as well. For the Hidatsas, battle was the way that young men established themselves as leaders in the tribe. The Hidatsas’ fighting, among other things, would prove to be at odds with the goals of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

During the expedition’s October 1804-April 1805 stay at Fort Mandan, the Mandans tried to monopolize trade with the Corps, who possessed valuable manufactured goods. To keep the Hidatsas away from the fort, a number of Mandans lied to their Indian neighbors that the Americans planned to raid the Hidatsa villages. When Lewis travelled to the Hidatsa villages to dispel the false rumors, the Hidatsas received him reluctantly. He tried to calm their fears, but did not completely convince the Hidatsas of the Americans’ goodwill. He exacted a promise from the Hidatsa chiefs not to attack the Shoshones and Blackfeet, but a young Hidatsa brave and his war party broke it almost immediately. Even after Lewis’ visit, the Hidatsas remained distanced from the expedition.

Still, the Hidatsas did provide the Corps with a number of benefits, including key information about the route ahead. They also indirectly introduced Lewis and Clark to the French trader Toussaint Charbonneau, and his wife, Sacagawea.