Wife of Two Crows by artist George Catlin
Wife of Two Crows, a Hidatsa woman painted by artist George Catlin in 1832

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Knife River region has been home to various peoples for perhaps 11,000 years. Very few objects remain for us to learn about the cultures who lived here, but early written records and large quantities of cultural material document how the Hidatsa lived in earthlodge villages overlooking the Knife and Missouri Rivers for 500 years. They developed a prosperous way of life in harmony with nature and the cycle of the seasons.

The Mandan and Arikara joined the Hidatsa in settled villages south along the Missouri River. Together these three groups pioneered agriculture on the Northern Plains while still hunting bison and gathering wild edibles. Despite their similarities as earthlodge peoples, conflict and competition were not unknown between these three communities.

Tribes from across the Northern Plains journeyed to these permanent villages to trade, socialize, and make war. The Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, Assiniboine, and Ojibwe, along with white traders, explorers, and artists, made the Knife River Indian Villages an exciting and cosmopolitan place. Foreign visitors also brought new diseases that dramatically altered communities and cultures and led to the end of the traditional lifestyle in the Knife River region.

In 1804, Lewis and Clark reached the Five Villages and stayed through the winter at nearby Fort Mandan. French Trader Charbonneau was hired at these villages as a translator along with his wife Sacagawea. With the help of the tribes, the Corp of Discovery survived the harsh winter.

Last updated: June 5, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 9
Stanton, ND 58571


(701) 745-3300

Contact Us