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[photo] Aerial photograph of Big Hidasta Village Site
National Park Service photo, courtesy of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

The Big Hidatsa Village Site, today part of the more than 1,700-acre Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, was first established around 1740. Occupied from about 1740 to 1850, Big Hidatsa, comprised of approximately 120 circular earthlodges, is the largest of three Hidatsa communities near the mouth of the Knife River. Housing 20 to 30 individuals each, the lodges were set close together, allowing for communal interaction among the inhabitants. Having previous interaction with numerous foreign visitors interested in developing trade networks with Plains nations, the Mandan and Hidatsa were receptive when approached by the Corps of Discovery in the winter of 1804. Anxious to find shelter from the fast-approaching winter season, the American pioneers quickly set to constructing a suitable lodge of what little material that they could find. Consisting of "two rows of huts or sheds, forming an angle where they joined each other; each row containing four rooms, of 14 feet square and 7 feet high," (DeVoto 1997, 66).

Painting by George Catlin, "Hidatsa Village, Earth-covered Lodges on the Knife River, 1810 Miles Above St. Louis" 1832
From the George Catlin collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Fort Mandan was erected approximately 2 miles south of the Big Hidatsa Village. Over the following months, the Corps entertained visitors, hunted whenever necessary and traded when advantageous. Another major undertaking was the preparation of a shipment to dispatch to President Jefferson, some of which the President sent to the American Philosophical Society. Cages contained a live prairie dog, a sharp-tailed grouse and four magpies; boxes and trunks held pelts, horns and skeletons of various animals, dried plant, soil, mineral and insect specimens. Mandan and Hidatsa artifacts were also packed; and letters, reports, dispatches and maps were addressed to President Jefferson and Secretary of War Henry Dearborn. Lewis and Clark enlisted several new members to the crew, replacing those who were sent back down the Missouri as safeguards of the information and artifacts collected. Most notable among the new additions, Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea joined the Expedition in the spring of 1805. Valuable interpreters, they both would play integral roles in the future success of the mission. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, departing from Big Hidatsa Village on April 7, 1805, truely set out for the first time into lands unknown to European or Americans. Unexplored and uncharted, the land to the west was a mystery, a source of a number of challenges to come for the Corps of Discovery.

The Big Hidatsa Village Site, a National Historic Landmark administered by the National Park Service, is part of the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. It is located one-half mile north of Stanton, North Dakota on County Rd. 37. The Visitor Center is open from 7:30am to 6:00pm during the summer and from 8:00am to 4:30pm during the winter. Please call 701-745-3309, or visit the park's website for further information.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is also a focus of the online-lesson plan Knife River: Early Village Life on the Plains, produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on places listed in the Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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