Belonging to the Land - Three Affiliated Tribes | Teacher Resource
decorative triangles


Three Affiliated Tribes


Story Related to Like-a-Fishhook Village from Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization

by Alfred W. Bowers
Listen to audio recording of the story below.
play pause

Crow's Heart, a Mandan, grew up in a village called Like-a-Fishhook.

He decided as a young man that he wanted to trap fish. The preparation took years, so he was nearly thirty when he finally approached Old Black Bear about the matter.

Crow's Heart invited the older man to his family's lodge where he seated him on a new bison robe and wrapped him in a thirty-dollar overcoat.

Crow's Heart's wife served the old man "a feast of meat, bread, and coffee." Gifts of "a good gun, a fair horse, a redstone pipe, a good butcher knife, and three or four pieces of calico" followed.

The outpouring prompted Old Black Bear to ask him, "What's Up? What's all this for?"

"I want you to do me a favor. I want you to give me the right to make a fish trap," Crows Heart said.

The deal was made. In return for the feast, robe, gun, horse, and other items Old Black Bear taught Crow's Heart how to build a fish trap, where to put it, and how to pray when he did so. Crow's Heart had purchased fish-trapping rights. (Bowers 1950)

Heart River, North Dakota

Heart Butte, North Dakota

What the Mandan call the "Heart of the World"

Little Heart Butte
Little Heart Butte. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

Lone Man was made by First Creator and figures centrally in the Mandan creation narrative.

"Lone Man came to the Heart River, where there was a hill nearby shaped like a heart and he named it Heart Butte. This he decided was to be the 'Heart of the World,' and this hill is still holy to our people." — Scattercorn, Mandan woman.

Fenn, Elizabeth. 2014. Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People. New York: Hill and Wang.

Mouth of Mississippi River

The Mandan creation story recounts that the Mandan emerged at this place

Mouth of the Mississippi River
Mouth of the Mississippi River, June 9, 2010.

"The Mandan people originated at the mouth of this river way down at the ocean. On the north side of the river was a high bank. At its foot on the shore of the ocean was a cavern,— that is where the Mandan people came out."

Beckwith, Marth W. 1938. Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society, Volume XXXII, Mandan-Hidatsa Myths and Ceremonies. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College Press.

Missouri River

The Mandan and Arikara word for the Missouri can be translated as "Holy Water"

Missouri River
Missouri River. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

"There are cultural histories or stories about ... the Missouri River as our grandfather being a big snake that lived in the Missouri. He had two heads, they said. And one of them was down south of here, Bismarck, about twenty miles, I think, near the Birds Bill Hill, and the other one was up there near Eagle Nest ... So we believe that our grandfather lived in that river and [the] Hidatsa call him grandfather ... "

-Calvin Grinnell. NMAI Interview, August 2016

Garcia, Louis. Unpublished manuscript. Generously provided by Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes.

Like a Fishhook Village, North Dakota

Mandan and Hidatsa village

Like A Fish Hook Village
Mandan Section of Like A Fish Hook Village. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

This is the village the Mandan and Hidatsa formed together after they suffered enormous loss of life from a smallpox epidemic. (Gilman and Schneider 1987) It was the last earth lodge village of the northern plains and was occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.

Garcia, Louis. Unpublished manuscript. Generously provided by Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes.; Gilman, Carolyn and Mary Jane Schneider. 1987. The Way to Independence: Memories of a Hidatsa Indian Family. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

On-A-Slant Village, North Dakota (located in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park)

A Mandan village established in about 1575

On A Slant Village
On A Slant Village Fall 2010, September 30, 2010. Photograph courtesy of North Dakota Parks and Recreation

The village was built on land that slopes toward the Heart River, hence its name. It was occupied for about 200 years until the outbreak of a devastating smallpox epidemic. The survivors resettled to the north.

Sanish, North Dakota

The site of Buffalo Shoals, a famous buffalo crossing

"This place is the only spot along the Missouri from Fort Benton to Bismarck that the buffalo could ford the stream, a distance of some 400 Miles." (Heerman Papers) The town was founded in 1914 to the north of Crow Flies High Butte in Mountrail County. The Sanish townsite was destroyed by waters of the Garrison Dam. Sah'nish is the name of the Arikara in their own language.

Garcia, Louis. Unpublished manuscript. Generously provided by Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes,; Heerman Papers. Captain Edward E. Heerman Papers, 1854-1984, MSS 10542. Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Grandmother's Lodge, Mercer County, North Dakota

Grandmother's Lodge or Lodge of Old Lady Who Never Dies

Grandmother's Lodge
Grandmother's Lodge. Courtesy of the North Dakota State Historical Society.

Home of the divine grandmother, a highly revered cultural personage who brings the spring season with animals like geese, swan, and ducks and crops such as corn, squash, gourds, and beans. The site is mentioned in studies by Prince Maximilian, a German explorer who wrote about the Mandan and Hidatsa in 1833. The site was destroyed by the Garrison Dam.

Garcia, Louis. Unpublished manuscript. Generously provided by Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes.

Table Butte, Blue Butte Township, North Dakota

The Hidatsa name for this place is "Thunder Bird's Nest"

Thunder Nest Butte
Thunder Nest Butte. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

Known locally as Thunder Butte, this place marks the origin of the Low Cap Clan of the Hidatsa. It is the place where the culture hero, Packs Antelope, saved the thunder fledglings by killing the two-headed snake.

The Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, vol. 1, 1906-1925, Bismarck, ND.

Killdeer Mountains (located in Dunn County, North Dakota)

The Hidatsa name for the mountains is Singer Buttes

Killdeer Mountains
Killdeer Mountains. Photograph courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

It is the home of a deity, Speckled Owl, who lives in the mountain's caverns, which is called the Medicine Hole in English. The owl is the singer for the Earth Naming ceremonies.

Bowers, Alfred W. 1950. Mandan Social and Ceremonial Organization. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Devil's Heart Butte (located in Woodlake Township, Benson County, west of Tokio, North Dakota)

Devil's Heart Butte
Devil's Heart Butte. Photograph by Kyle Nelson, courtesy of Calvin Grinnell.

Located on the east side of a kame, a steep mound of gravel and sand deposited by melting glacial ice some 10,000 years ago, this is where the Hidatsa emerged from the underworld.

For further information, see "The History and Culture of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish," Official portal for North Dakota State Government,

decorative triangles

The Three Affiliated Tribes— Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara —live on the Ft. Berthold Reservation in the northwestern part of the state of North Dakota. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara all have distinct cultures and long histories, but they eventually became allies and created a stronger unified nation living in villages in their homelands along the banks of the Missouri River and its tributaries. There the people farmed and hunted wild game, especially the bison. Their location along the Missouri River helped the Three Affiliated Tribes operate a large trade system for which they were widely known. Many other tribes traveled to Three Affiliated villages to trade for food and other items.

The Missouri River banks provided fertile soil for gardens and the river itself offered a means of transportation.

The curving little Missouri River under blue skies at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Photograph courtesy of
"Our people lived along the river. And when you came into an Arikara village, what you would see is many of the earth lodges facing the center. And in the center of that village, you would see a big lodge, which was our medicine lodge."

Hidatsa Village, Earth-covered Lodges, on the Knife River, 1832. Painting by George Catlin, courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1985.66.383

"Well, I think the connection for my generation and my father's generation is the connection to the land...this is what sustains us, this is what provides for us. This is what makes us alive. So the connection between the person and the land was extremely strong.

My father owned 160 acres of farmland close to the river. And that's where we were raised and they had this great, great attachment to it because it nourished them."

Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold. NMAI Interview

Marilyn Hudson ( Mandan and Hidatsa ) of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, North Dakota, reflects on her family's land.

"We thought an earth lodge was alive and had a spirit like a human body, and that its front was like a face, with the door for a mouth."

Model of a Hidatsa earth lodge built in 1995 at the Knife River Indian Villages National Park, North Dakota. Photo credited to National Park Service

People of the Three Affiliated Tribes belonged to their abundant farm lands. Dark and nutrient rich soil and access to plenty of water allowed Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara farmers to successfully raise corn, beans, sunflowers, tobacco, pumpkins, and squash. Their fields were cultivated using rakes made from deer antlers and hoes made of bison or elk shoulder bones. Gardeners sang special songs, such as "The Corn is My Pleasure," and completed other cultural protocols to encourage the growth and health of their crops. Boys had the job of keeping birds away from the precious foods and seeds. Surplus crops were stored in underground pits so they could be used later or traded to other tribes.

Women braiding corn for drying in Maxidiwiac's (Buffalo Bird Woman) garden, 1909. Photograph by Gilbert Wilson

"My garden project is called Arugadi da Maaguc—Returning to Our Gardens. I used the traditional Hidatsa gardening style as described by Buffalo Bird Woman a Hidatsa woman. We began planting in April with the sunflowers and adding beans, squash and corn the following month. The garden was planted on a one naxxu or one Indian acre which measured out to be 9 rows four feet apart. Corn was planted first, beans in between the corn rows and the squash on around the corn rows. The garden was beautiful and very bountiful.

The creator gave us a wonderful garden ... The people of the Nueta, Hidatsa and Sahnish are very resilient and persistent ... On one of our Earth Lodge Village walls located east of the Hidatsa traditional garden you see the words, 'We are still here.' and so we are."

Photograph courtesy of Bernadine Young Bird, Hidatsa.
Go to top