Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



From: Perspectives on archaeological resources management in the "Great Plains." Edited by Alan J. Osborn & Robert C. Hassler (Omaha: I & O Pub. Co., c1987).


U.S. government work


The Knife River Indian Villages are located in North Dakota near the confluence of the Knife and Missouri Rivers, just north of the contemporary town of Stanton, North Dakota. They lie within the area between the Garrison Dam to the north and the Oahe Reservoir to the south, the last remaining unflooded segment of the Missouri River valley in the Dakotas. Within the area are river floodplains, terraces, dissected breaks and upland rolling terrain. Forests occur on the floodplain and lower terraces with a variety of native and exotic grasses found on the breaks and uplands. A number of relatively undisturbed archaeological sites occur along this stretch of river, an area which historical1y was the homeland of both the Hidatsa and Mandan Indians. The Knife River Indian Villages are the northernmost cluster of sites. They are the final major village complex representing the pinnacle of Hidatsa and Mandan cultural development in an unbroken occupational sequence spanning at least 500 years. They occur in an area that, even today, is considered only marginal1y suited for agriculture, yet they represent intensive occupation by semi-sedentary horticulturalists. This strategic location along the river also provided the villagers an opportunity to serve and prosper as key middleman traders between the Euro-Americans to the east and the Indians to the west, expanding upon a tradition which developed from earlier centuries of trading with their nomadic neighbors. Historically, the villages are rich in associations with prominent figures in the history of the American westward expansion as well as the earlier fur trade era. There is a wealth of historical data pertaining to the Lewis and Clark visits to the villages (1804-1806) and later documentation by the famous artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer (1832-1834). Throughout this period the Hidatsa and Mandan were affected dramatically by the EuroAmerican influence resulting in unparal1eled change and innovation in both material culture and social organization. It was also this association that lead to the decimation of the Hidatsa and Mandan population through the spread of smal1pox through a series of outbreaks culminating in a major epidemic (1837) which forever altered these peoples' culture.