Mandan Indians

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Mandan Indians. Probably a corruption of the Dakota word applied to them, Mawatani. Also called:

  • A-rach-bo-cu, Hidatsa name (Long, 1791)
  • As-a-ka-shi, Us-suc-car-shay, Crow name.
  • How-mox-tox-sow-es, Hidatsa name (?).
  • Kanit’, Arikara name.
  • Kwowahtewug, Ottawa name.
  • Métutahanke, own name since 1837, after their old village.
  • Mo-no’-ni-o, Cheyenne name.
  • Numakaki, own name prior to 1837, meaning “men,” “people.”
  • U-ka’-she, Crow name, meaning “earth houses.”

Mandan Connections. The Mandan belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock. Their connections are with the Tutelo and Winnebago rather than the nearer Siouan tribes.

Mandan Location. When known to the Whites, the Mandan were on the same part of the Missouri River as the Hidatsa, between Heart and Little Missouri Rivers. (See also South Dakota)

Mandan Subdivisions and Villages. The division names given by Morgan (1851) appear to have been those of their former villages and are as follows: Horatamumake, Matonumake, Seepoosha, Tanatsuka, Kitanemake, Estapa, and Neteahke. In 1804 Lewis and Clark found two villages in existence, Metutahanke and Ruptari, about 4 miles below the mouth of Knife River.

They were divided socially into two moieties named like those of the Hidatsa, the Four-Clan Moiety and Three-Clan Moiety, and many of the clans constituting these bear village names. One of Dr. Lowie’s (1917) informants gave the Prairie-chicken people, Young white-headed Eagle, People all in a bunch, and Crow people, as clans of the first Moiety; and the Maxi’?kina, Tamï’sik, and Nu-‘ptare as clans of the second. Another informant gave the following clans altogether: Si’pucka, Xtaxta’nü’mak’, Village above, Maxáhe, Tami(‘sik, Seven-different kinds, Hilltop village, Scattered village, white-bellied mouse people, and Nu-ptare. Curtis (1907-9) and Maximilian (1843) give a Badger clan; Curtis, Red Butte and Charcoal clans; Maximilian, Bear and Cactus villages, perhaps intended for clans; and Morgan, Wolf, Good Knife, Eagle, and Flathead clans. Some of Lowie’s informants substituted other names for Nu-‘pta, which latter is also the name of a village.

Mandan History. When first visited by the Whites, the Mandan had distinct traditions of an eastern origin, and they may have come from the neighborhood of the Winnebago or from the Ohio country. Tradition also affirms that they first reached the Missouri at the mouth of White River, South Dakota, whence they moved to Moreau River and thence to Heart River, where the Whites found them. The first recorded visit to them was by Varendrye in 1738. The nine villages which they had in 1750 were merged into two by 1776 which were about 4 miles below the mouth of Knife River when Lewis and Clark visited them in 1804. In 1837 they were almost destroyed by smallpox, only 31 souls being left out of 1,600, according to one account. In 1845 some Mandan accompanied the Hidatsa to Fort Berthold, others followed at intervals, and the tribe has continued to reside there down to the present time, though lands are now allotted to them in severalty and they are citizens of the United States.

Mandan Population. Mooney’s (1928) estimate of Mandan population for 1780 is 3,600. In 1804 Lewis and Clark estimated there were 1,250, and in 1837, just before the great smallpox epidemic, there were supposed to be 1,600. In 1850 the total number was said to be 150, but in 1852 it had apparently increased to 385. In 1871 there were 450; in 1877, 420; in 1885, 410; and 1905, 249; while the census of 1910 returned 209, and the United States Indian Office Report of 1923, 273. The census of 1930 gives 271, and the Indian Office Report for 1937, 345.

Connection in which the Mandans have become noted. The Mandan attained wide notoriety among the Whites

  1. From their intimate dealings with the early White explorers and traders in the upper Missouri region;
  2. From the fact that their customs and ceremonies were made particular matters of record by Maximilian (1843), Catlin (1844), and other White visitors;
  3. From the reputation these Indians acquired of an unusually light skin color and theories of Welsh or, at least European, origin based upon these characters; and
  4. From the tragic decimation of the tribe by smallpox as above mentioned. The name has been adopted as that of a city in North Dakota, the capital of Morton County.


MLA Source Citation:

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 30 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/mandan-indians.htm - Last updated on Jun 7th, 2012


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