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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

(part of Big Hidatsa Village site)
North Dakota

Location: Mercer County, on an improved road, along the north bank of the Knife River, 2-1/2 miles north of Stanton.

Significance. The largest of the three Hidatsa villages was located at this site, also known today as the Olds Site, from about 1740 to 1845. During that period, these villages, and two later Mandan villages nearby, were important in the Northern Plains fur trade. As early as 1738, La Vérendrye, the French fur trader and explorer, may have contacted the Hidatsas when he visited the Mandans on the Heart River. During the next decade, the French began to trade with the two tribes.

This trade flourished until the beginning of the French and Indian War, in 1754. After 1766, British traders were active in the area. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent the winter of 1804-5 at nearby Fort Mandan and described the Hidatsas in their journal. George Catlin, Prince Maximilian, and Karl Bodmer described and sketched the villages in the years 1832-34. These descriptions and sketches are especially valuable because the Mandans were nearly destroyed and the Hidatsas seriously weakened by a smallpox epidemic in 1837. Shortly after 1845, the surviving Hidatsas moved upstream and established a new village near the newly constructed Fort Berthold.

Archeological excavation of the site has revealed lower levels primarily of aboriginal materials and a large number of European trade items mixed with aboriginal items in the upper levels.

Big Hidatsa depressions
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

Present Appearance. This site (of approximately 15 acres), was incorporated as part of Knife River Villages National Historic Site on Oct. 26, 1974. Because most of it has not been cultivated, it is exceptionally well preserved. The depressions of more than 100 circular earth lodges and several fortification trenches can be seen clearly. [59]

NHL Designation: 07/19/64

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005