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[photo] Sunrise falling on the earthlodge at Knife River Indian Villages
National Park Service photo courtesy of Knifer River Indian Villages National Historic Site

The 1,758-acre Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site preserves historic and archeological remnants of the culture and agricultural lifestyle of the Northern Plains Indians and indicates a possible 8,000-year span of inhabitation. The Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the Knife River vicinity in October 1804, camping at nearby Fort Mandan for the winter. On October 29, three days after their arrival, the explorers, wanting to establish good relations with the Indians, staged the most impressive council yet. Lewis and Clark used this friendly relationship to gain much information from the Indians. The Minitaris, or Hidatsas, had great knowledge of the terrain and inhabitants of the Upper Missouri all the way to Three Forks and a good understanding of the area beyond to the Bitterroot Mountains. In addition to providing information on the people and lands out west, the Indians told the explorers much of their own history, some of which Clark recounted in his journal:

Knife River as it flows by the Sakakawea Site walking path
National Park Service photo courtesy of Knifer River Indian Villages National Historic Site

. . . The interpreter says that the Mandan nation as they (old men) Say came out of a Small lake (subterraneous Villages & a lake) where they had Gardins, maney years ago they lived in Several Villages on the Missourie low down, the Small pox destroyed the greater part of the nation and reduced them to one large village and Some Small ones, all the nations before this maladey was affrd. of them, after they were reduced the Seaux [Sioux] and other Indians waged war, and killed a great maney, and they moved up the Missourie. those Indians Still continued to wage war, and they moved Still higher, until got in the Countrey of the Panias, whith this Ntn they lived in friendship maney years, inhabiting the Same neighbourhood untill that people waged war, they moved up near the Watersoons & Winataras where they now live in peace with those nations.they can raise about 350 men the Winataries about 80 and the Big bellies about 600 or 650 men . . . The Ravin Indians have 400 Lodges & about 1200 men, & follow the Buffalow, or hunt for their Subsistance in the plains & on the Court Noi & Rock Mountains, & are at war with the Siaux [and] Snake Indians . . . The Big bellies & Watersoons are at war with the Snake Indians & Seauex and were at war with the Ricares untill we made peace a fiew days passd. The Mandans are at war with all who make war only, and wish to be at peace with all nations, Seldom the ogressors . . . (DeVoto 1997, 64-65)

During their stay here, the Corps of Discovery had also gained the services of Charbonneau, a French-Canadian who had been living and trading with the Indians for five years, his wife Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian and their newborn son Jean Baptiste. By April 7, 1805, the Expedition was prepared to proceed west to the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, is one-half mile north of Stanton, North Dakota on County Rd. 37. Please visit the park's website for visiting hours and and further information.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is the subject of an online lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Park Service program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on places listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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