The following data is extracted from Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi.
When or where the Arikara separated from their kindred tribe, the Pawnee, may never be determined, but during the years which followed the separation they continued moving northward, leaving ruined villages to mark the line of their migration. Sixty years ago it was said: "That they migrated upward, along the Missouri, from their friends below is established by the remains of their dirt villages, which are yet seen along that river, though at this time mostly overgrown with grass. At what time they separated from the parent stock is not now correctly known, though some of their locations appear to have been of very ancient date, at least previous to the commencement of the fur trade on the Upper Missouri. At the time when the old French and Spanish traders began their dealings with the Indians of the Upper Missouri, the Arikara village was situated a little above the mouth of Grand River, since which time they have made several removals and are now located at Fort Clark, the former village of the Mandans." (Hayden, (1), pp. 351-352.)
The beginning of the last century found the Arikara living in three villages, all on the right bank of the Missouri. In the journal of the French trader Le Rare are brief references to the villages, together with some notes on the manners and customs of the inhabitants. April 22, 1802, he wrote: " The Ricaras or Rus have three villages, situated on the south bank of the Missouri, in the great bend of the river. The lower village is on a large bottom covered with cotton wood, and contains about fifty huts." He then describes the manner in which the earth-covered lodges were built and refers to the structures being "placed with great regularity," a statement which does not seem to have been borne out by later writers. Continuing, he said : " The town is picketed with pickets twelve feet high and set very close, to prevent firing between them. There is one gate way, which is shut at night." On may 27, 1802, he left the lower village, "crossed Missouri, and arrived the same evening at the upper village. This village is situated on an Island in the Missouri, and is fortified in the same manner as the lower village, containing about sixty huts. The next morning we proceeded, and soon left the Missouri, traveling a northwest course, in a well beaten path." (Le Raye, (1), pp. 171-180.)
Although the preceding notes may not be very accurate, nevertheless they are of interest on account of the period they cover, just before the transfer of Louisiana to the United States, and two years before the most important expedition ascended the Missouri.
To trace the sites of early Arikara villages as mentioned by Lewis and Clark, and as seen by them when the expedition under their command passed up the Missouri during the early autumn of 1804, is most interesting. On September 29 of that year they reached the mouth of a small creek which entered the Missouri from the south, "which we called Notimber creek from its bare appearance. Above the mouth of this stream, a Ricara band of Pawnees had a village five years ago : but there are no remains of it except the mound which encircled the town." This would have been in the present Stanley County, South Dakota. Two (lays later, on October 1, they "passed a large island in the middle of the river, opposite the lower end of which the Ricaras once had a village on the south side of the river: there are, however, no remnants of it now. except a circular wall three or four feet in height. which encompassed the town." Two miles beyond was the mouth of the Cheyenne River.
On the third day after passing the mouth of the Cheyenne they reached " Teal creek," and "A little above this is an island on the north side of the current, about one and a half mile in length and three quarters of a mile in breadth. In the centre of this island is an old village of the Ricaras, called Lahoocat; it was surrounded by a circular wall, containing seventeen lodges. The Ricaras are known to have lived there in 1797, and the village seems to have been deserted about five years since : it does not contain much timber."
On October 6, two days travel beyond Teal Creek, and at a distance of about 32 miles above it, "We halted for dinner at a village which we suppose to have belonged to the Ricaras: it is situated in a low plain on the river, and consists of about eighty lodges, of an octagonal form, neatly covered with earth, and placed as close to each other as possible, and picketed round. The skin canoes, mats, buckets, and articles of furniture found in the lodges, induce us to suppose that it had been left in the spring. We found three different sorts of squashes growing in the village; we also killed an elk near it, and saw two wolves." On the following day, after advancing about 4 or 5 miles, they encountered " another village or wintering camp of the Ricaras, composed of about sixty lodges, built in the same form as those passed yesterday, with willow and straw mats, baskets, buffalo-skin canoes, remaining entire in the camp."
The baskets may have included many similar to two rare examples now in the National Museum, Washington, one of which is shown in plate 52a (U.S.N.M. 8430).
On October 9, 1804, after passing the mouth of the river called by them the Wetawhoo or Wetarko, soon to be known as Grand River. which flows into the Missouri from the west in the present Corson County, South Dakota, the expedition stopped and held a .council with the Indians. There they remained until October 11, when "At one o'clock we left our camp with the grand chief and his nephew on board, and at about two miles anchored below a creek on the south, separating the second and third village of the Ricaras, which are about half a mile distant from each other. .. . These two villages are placed near each other in a high smooth prairie; a fine situation, except that having no wood the inhabitants are obliged to go for it across the river to a timbered lowland opposite to them."
The expedition left the Arikara during the afternoon of October 12, and on that (late in the narrative appears an interesting account of the then recent migrations of the tribe: "They were originally colonies of Pawnees, who established themselves on the Missouri, below Chayenne, where. the traders still remember that twenty years ago they occupied a number of villages. From that situation a part of the Ricaras emigrated to the neighborhood of the Mandans, with whom they were then in alliance. The rest of the nation continued near the Chayenne till the year 1797, in the course of which, distressed by their wars with the Sioux, they joined their countrymen near the Mandans. Soon after a new war arose between the Ricaras and the Mandans, in consequence of which the former clime down the river to their present position. In this migration those who had first gone to the Mandans kept together, and now live in the two lower villages, which may be considered as the Ricaras proper. The third village was composed of such remnants of the villages as had survived the wars, and as these were nine in number a difference of pronunciation and some difference of language may be observed between them and the Ricaras proper, who do not understand all the words of these wanderers. The villages are within the distance of four miles of each other, the two lower ones consist of between one hundred and fifty and two hundred men each, the third of three hundred." (Lewis and Clark, (1), I, pp. 92-104.) Following this, on page 106, is a brief description of the earth-covered lodges of the Arikara, which were of " a circular or octagonal form, and generally about thirty or forty feet in diameter," but a rather better description was prepared by one of the members of the expedition, Patrick Gass, who wrote on October 10: "This day I went with some of the men to the lodges, about 60 in number. The following is a description of the form of these lodges and the manner of building them.
"In a circle of a size suited to the dimensions of the intended lodge they set up 16 forked posts five or six feet high, and lay poles from one fork to another. Against these poles they lean other poles, slanting from the ground, and extending about four inches above the cross poles; these are to receive the ends of the upper poles that support the roof. They next set up four large forks, fifteen feet high, and about ten feet apart, in the middle of the area; and poles or beams between these. The roof poles are then laid on extending from the lower poles across the beams which rest on the middle forks, of such a length as to leave a hole at the top for a chimney. The whole is then covered with willow branches, except the chimney and a hole below to pass through. On the willow branches they lay grass and lastly clay. At the hole below they build a pen about four feet wide and projecting ten feet from the hut; and hang a buffalo skin at the entrance of the hut for a door. This labor like every other kind is chiefly performed by the squaws. They raise corn, beans and tobacco." (Gass, (1), p. 52.) And five (lays later Gass entered in his journal: "At 7 we saw a hunting party of the Rickarees, on their way down to the villages. They had 12 buffalo-skin canoes or boats laden with meat and skins; beside some horses that were going down the bank by land. They gave us a part of their meat. The party consisted of men, women, and children." (Op. cit., p. 54.)
Two years later, on the return of the expedition, they again passed the villages of the Arikara, arriving opposite the upper village August 21, 1806, at which time there was an exchange of salutes of four guns each.
In 1812 Cutler wrote regarding the Arikara : "They live in fortified villages, claim no land, except that on which their villages stand, and the fields they improve." (Cutler, (1), p. 125.)
It is quite evident, from the preceding references as well as from the observations of later travelers, that the Arikara villages were usually, if not always, surrounded by palisades. But to have surrounded the area occupied by the lodges by stout posts placed close together would have required some time. and, with the primitive implements and methods of collecting the necessary number of timbers, would have been a laborious undertaking. However, they appear to have had another way of protecting their towns. This was told by a French trader who was at the Arikara village in 1795. During the early part of June of that year several Indians arrived among the Arikara and told that three Sioux villages " had assembled and formed an army of five hundred warriors, intending to attack the village of the Ricaras." Fearing this attack, the narrative continues : "The Ricaras have fortified their village by placing palisades five feet high which they have reinforced with earth. The fort is constructed in the following manner : All around their village they drive into the ground heavy forked stakes, standing from four to five feet high and from fifteen to twenty feet apart. Upon these are placed cross-pieces as thick as one's thigh ; next they place poles of willow or cottonwood, as thick as one's leg, resting on the cross-pieces and very close together. Against these poles which are five feet high they pile fascines of brush which they cover with an embankment of earth two feet thick; in this way, the height of the poles would prevent the scaling of the fort by the enemy, while the well-packed earth protects those within from their balls and arrows." (Trudeau, (1), pp. 4,51 455.) Undoubtedly many embankments found east of the Mississippi owe their origin to this method of protecting the villages which they once surrounded.
The most interesting and comprehensible accounts of the Arikara villages were prepared during the month of June, 1811. Two travelers that spring ascended the Missouri with rival parties of traders, hilt they were acquainted and again met on the upper Missouri on .}idle: Brackenridge arrived at the village on June 12, and wrote: "The, village appeared to occupy about three quarters of a mile along the river bank, on a level plain, the country behind it rising into hills of considerable height. There are little or no woods anywhere to be seen. The lodges are of a conical shape, and look like heaps of earth. A great number of horses are seen feeding in the plains around, and on the sides of the hills. I espied a number of squaws, in canoes, descending the river and landing at the village. The interpreter informed me, that they were returning home with wood. These canoes are made of a single buffalo hide, stretched over osiers, and are of a circular form. There was but one woman in each canoe, who kneeled down, and instead of paddling sideways, placed the paddle before; the load is fastened to the canoe. About two o'clock fourteen of us crossed over, and accompanied the chief to his lodge. Mats were laid around for us to sit on, while he placed himself on a kind of stool or bench. The pipe was handed around, and smoked; after which, the herald, (every chief or great man, has one of them) ascended the top of the lodge and seated himself near an open place, and began to bawl out like one of our town criers; the chief every now and then addressing something to him through the aperture before mentioned. We soon discovered the object of this, by the arrival of the other chiefs, who seemed to drop in, one after the other, as their names were called. "When all were seated, the pipe was handed to the chief, who began as is usual on solemn occasions, by blowing a whiff upwards as it were. to the sky, then to the earth, and after to the east and west, after which the pipe was sent round. A mark of respect in handing the pipe to another, is to hold it until the person has taken several whiffs." (Brackenridge, (1), pp. 245-246.)
Bradbury, who was also present at the gathering on June 12, entered in his journal "I quitted the feast, in order to examine the town, which I found to be fortified all round with a ditch, and with pickets or palisades, of about nine feet high. The lodges are placed without any regard to regularity, which renders it difficult to count them, but there appears to be from 150 to 160, and they are constructed in the same manner as those of the Otto, with the additional convenience of a railing on the eaves: behind this railing they sit at their ease and smoke. There is scarcely any declivity in the site of the town, and as little regard is paid to cleanliness, it is very dirty in wet weather." (Bradbury, (1), pp. 114-115.) Later he wrote (pp. 165-166): "I am not acquainted with any customs peculiar to this nation, save that of having a sacred lodge in the centre of the largest village.' This is called the Medicine lodge, and in one particular, corresponds with the sanctuary of the Jews, as no blood is on any account whatsoever to be spilled within it, not even that of an enemy; nor is any one, having taken refuge there, to be forced from it. This lodge is also the general place of deposit for such things as they devote to the Father of Life."
On the following day, June, 13, 1811, Brackenridge "rambled through the village," which he found "excessively filthy," with innumerable dogs running about. Then he proceeded to describe the habitations: "The lodges are constructed in the following manner: Four large forks of about fifteen feet in height, are placed in the ground, usually about twenty feet from each other, with hewn logs, or beams across; from these beams, other pieces of wood are placed slanting; smaller pieces are placed above, leaving an aperture at the top, to admit the light, and to give vent to the smoke. These upright pieces are interwoven with osiers, after which, the whole is covered with earth, though not sodded. An opening is left at one side, for a door, which is 'secured by a kind of projection of ten or twelve feet, enclosed on all sides, and forming a narrow entrance, which might be easily defended. A buffalo robe suspended at the entrance, answers as a door. The fire is made in a hole in the ground, directly under the aperture at the top. Their beds elevated a few feet, are placed around the lodge, and enclosed with curtains of dressed elk skins. At the upper end of the lodge, there is a kind of trophy erected ; two buffalo heads, fantastically painted, are placed on a little elevation; over them are placed, a variety of consecrated things, such as shields, skins of a rare or valuable kind, and quivers of arrows. The lodges seem placed at random, without any regularity or design,, and are so much alike, that it was for some time before I could learn to return to the same one. The village is surrounded by a palisade of cedar poles, but in a very bad state. Around the village, there are little plats enclosed by stakes, intwined with osiers, in which they cultivate maize, tobacco, and beans; but their principal field is at the distance of a mile from the village, to which, such of the females whose duty it is to attend to their culture, go and return morning and evening. Around the village they have buffalo robes stuck tip on high poles. I saw one so arranged as to bear a resemblance to the human figure, the hip bone of the buffalo represented the head, the sockets of the thigh bones looked like eyes." (Op. cit, pp. 247-248.)
On June 14 they walked together to the upper of the two villages, which were separated by a narrow stream. They entered several lodges and were always pleasantly received by the occupants and offered food, which included fresh buffalo meat served in wooden dishes or bowls, and "homony made of corn dried in the milk, mixed with beans, which was prepared with buffalo marrow." This latter, according to Bradbury, was " warmed on the fire in an earthen vessel of their own manufacture." Later, when he returned to the same village, he wrote (p. 158) : "I noticed over their fires much larger vessels of earthenware than any I had before seen, and was permitted to examine them. They were sufficiently herdened by the fire to cause them to emit a sonorous tone on being struck, and in all I observed impressions on the outside seemingly made by wicker work. This led me to enquire of them by signs how they were made? when a squaw brought a basket, and taking some clay, she began to spread it very evenly within it, shewing me at the same time that they were made in that way. From the shape of these vessels, they, must be under the necessity of burning the basket to disengage them, as they are wider at the bottom than at the top. I must here remark, that at the Great Salt Lick, or Saline, about twenty miles from the mouth of the Wabash, vast quantities of Indian earthenware are found, on which I have observed impressions exactly similar to those here mentioned. From the situation of these heaps of fragments, and their proximity to the salt works, I am decidedly of opinion that the Indians practiced the art of evaporating the brine, to make salt, before the discovery of America."
It was the custom of the people of the village to gather in the evenings on the tops of their lodges, there to sit and converse, and " every now and then the attention of all was attracted by some old men who rose up and declaimed aloud, so as to be heard over the whole village." Within the village women were often seen busily engaged in dressing buffalo robes, stretched on frames near the lodges. Men, playing at various games, or sitting in groups smoking and talking; children and dogs innumerable. Such was the appearance of an Arikara village a little more than a century ago.
On the 18th of June Bradbury visited the bluffs southwest of the village and on one discovered 14 buffalo skulls placed in a row, and in describing them said: "The cavities of the eyes and the nostrils were filled with a species of artemisia common on the prairies, which appears to be a non-descript. On my return I caused our interpreter to enquire into the reason for this, and found that it was an honor conferred on the buffaloes which they had killed, in order to appease their spirits, and prevent them from apprising the living buffaloes of the danger they run in approaching the neighborhood." (Op. cit., p. 125.)
An interesting observation was made at this time by Brackenridge concerning a temporary encampment of a small party of Arikara when away from their permanent, well-protected villages. He said (op. cit., pp. 254-255) : "To avoid surprise, they always encamp at the edge of a wood; and when the party is small, they construct a kind of fortress, with wonderful expedition, of billets of wood, apparently piled up in a careless manner, but so arranged as to be very strong, and are able to withstand an assault from a much superior force." Many such enclosures were discovered and mentioned by the early explorers of the Upper Missouri Valley, and several instances have been cited on the preceding pages when treating of the Siouan tribes.
Source: Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi