Lesson Plan

Economy and Trade: Pre 1845

Trading relations of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians.
Trading relations of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians during the decades immediately around A.D. 1800.
Grade Level:
Fourth Grade-Eighth Grade
History, Language Arts, Reading, Writing
45 - 60 min
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
ND State Standards
Fourth Grade 4.2.2, 4.2.3, 4.2.4, 4.2.5, 4.2.6, 4.2.7, 4.2.8, 4.2.9, 4.2.10, 4.2.11, 4.3.2, 4.5.1, 4.5.3, 4.5.4, 4.6.1, 4.6.2, 4.5.6 Eighth Grade 8.1.1 ,8.1.2


In Economy and Trade:  Pre 1845, students will learn about trade relations between tribes prior to European contact and how their experience prepared them for success in dealing with explorers and traders after European contact by re-enacting trading as it was practiced at Knife River Villages. 


After completing this lesson,the students will:
Identify and Apply trading strategies used by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
Compare and contrast two or more groups: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people and Mainstream America and identify that all people have different perspectives of history.


This is a cooperative learning lesson filled with student engagement. Students will be given an opportunity for linguistic learning through journaling and discussion,visual learners will have plenty of props to look at, and kinesthetic learners will move during the reenactment of trade. 


Step 1
Tell the students that today they will be studying the way trade affected the lives of the Hidatsa people. They will:

Read about various people who visited the villages for exploration, discovery and for trade.

Discuss the principles of trade in the context of the 1800s.

Practice trade in the way it was conducted at the Knife River IndianVillages.


Step 2

Present the information provided in Background Information: Pre-1845, or ask students to volunteer to read sections as others listen and follow along.


Step 3
Discuss the following questions and have the students write their answer in a notebook.


In 1804 the Hidatsa still lived at Knife River. Compare visiting a Hidatsa village in 1804 with going to a mall today. Knife River Villages was a trading hub in the 1800s. People came from far and wide to trade items such as copper, obsidian (natural glass) and hides for the vegetables grown here and for Knife River Flint. Much like the mall today, people could get pretty much anything they wanted to purchase in the villages.


If you lived in 1804, what do you think you would have traded for in the village? What might you have brought to the village to trade? Answers will vary. Accept all answers, but ask students to elaborate by asking probing questions such as why they would need an item or what do they think they would have traded for suchan item.



Step 1

Students should get with their trading families or get prepared to act as traders. They will need their items that they brought in for the re-enactment.
1.     Each student will bring at least one item to trade. These items should be of little or no value to the students and can be anything from their desk, or home made if they like. Trade items may also be used out of the material kit borrowed from Knife River Indian Villages NHS, but they will need to be returned after the exercise.

2.     Students will display their trade item on the ground in front of them.

3.     If a group is to trade as a family,they will sit together as a group to display their items. Each family designates a family representative to do the trading.

Family members all sit together during the trading. The spokesperson needs to look at the particular family member, whose item is up for trade to see if the person agrees with the trade. This should bedone discretely so that the trader doesn't notice who is actually making the decision to trade.

4.     After the trading is done, the trader and the family head shake hands. Students may then go on to trade their newly acquired item with someone else

Remind students that different strategies may be applied,but they should keep in mind that the best deals are made when both parties are satisfied so that they may return to trade in the future.


Step 2

Ask the students to talk about how they felt during the trading.


Ask students:
1.     Did you use any specific strategies during the trade re-enactment? Record student answers on a whiteboard and ask them to record their answers in their journals.
2.      Did they feel they got a good deal or were they unhappy with their trade?
3.      Do they think they would have been good traders in 1804?
4.     What type of skills do they think were needed to be a good Indian or non-Indian trader in 1804? Answers might be "bilingual or the ability to use sign language," " the ability to persuade people to buy your goods," "having the ability to make quality goods or having the reputation for always dealing with quality goods." Answers will vary.
5.     What made Knife River Villages such a successful hub for trade?The location was central to the other people that needed items produced at Knife River. It was located close to Knife River Flint and the Agricultural lifestyle allowed them to be successful trading with other tribes and later with European explorers and traders who frequented the area.


Step 1


Compare the life of the Hidatsa and the life of the Europeans in the1804 time period. Use a time line.


Draw a timeline from 1200 to 1900 on the board and have students create a timeline intheir notebooks.
1.     Ask students to help fill in what was going on duringdifferent time periods.
2.     Read a main event and have students tell where they think itshould go on the timeline.
3.     Draw consensus from the group before writing the correctanswer on the timeline
4.     Have students place the events on their own timelines oncethey are in the correct position.


Main events may include:

Trade between tribes throughout the country (1200 - 1670)

Oral History is the primary means of knowledge transfer (1200 - 1670)

European contact and trade expansion (1670 - 1805)

Early explorers spend time (Lewis and Clark) and others (1670-1805)


Step 2

Tell students that today they gained deeper understanding about trade, and how the Hidatsa people traded in the 1800s.


Tomorrow they will be learn about where and how the Three Affiliated Tribes live today and how they have adapted to their current environment to form their community.




Students ask and answer questions during discussion and during the re-enactment.
Students ask questions during their visit to KNRI.
Students apply basic business principals of trade such as placing a value on items and salesmanship.

Students will be observed as they apply basic business principals and strategies through the trade re-enactment.
Students practice journaling in the closing of the lesson by writing the three most important things they learned today about trade.

Park Connections

The location of the Knife River Villages was central to the other people that needed items produced at the site, and it was also located close to Knife River flint. This along with the Agricultural items produced by the Hidatsa women allowed them to develop successful trading relations with other tribes and later with European explorers and traders who frequented the area


If students are developing a digital story, they should think about what parts of this lesson are important to them,and what parts they would like to include in their story. They should begin writing key points intotheir story boards and searching for and selecting  images to support their stories.

Interested students may continue reading Good Bird the Indian: His story.

During your visit to the park, ask students to reflect on their own trade experience and if they have any questions that they can ask a ranger.

Additional Resources

Wood, R. (1985). Early fur trade on the northern plains: Canadian traders among the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, 1738-1818. (Vol. 68, p. 48). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.


Discrete, Artifact, earth lodges, quillwork, beadwork