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On the Trail

by Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

Five earth lodges have been rebuilt on the site of an Indian village that was used for more than 400 years, near the confluence of the Heart River with the River in present Mandan, North Dakota. Known as On-A-Slant, when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped across the river with the Corps of Discovery in 1804, they noted that the village had been abandoned although ruins remained.

The village had been occupied from 1575 to 1781, but was abandoned in part due to disease and also because there had been attacks on the villagers from warring tribes. When the Mandans left On-A-Slant they moved north and established new villages, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06.

The site of On-A-Slant is now part of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, and features the five rebuilt earth lodges, some of them outfitted as they would have been during the period of traditional use, with woven backrests, stockpiles of food, buffalo robes marked with drawings to represent winter count, and fire pits, clay pots, and sleeping ledges.

A visit there today is a step back in time often taken from Memorial Day through Labor Day with a guide from the Mandan tribe, who will quietly present the history of this tribe. The Mandans were an agrarian society, known for cultivating the “three sisters” ” corn, beans, and squash ” which they used themselves, and traded to other tribes for such items as horses and even turquoise brought from the Southwest.

In 1766 the child who would become Sheheke (White Coyote) and who was also called Big White, was born in On-A-Slant Village. When small pox ravaged the tribe in 1781, more than 80 percent of the Mandans died; those surviving deserted On-A-Slant and moved north to establish new earth lodge villages.

By the time Lewis and Clark visited the area and found the Mandans in villages farther north, Sheheke was a tribal leader. The two American captains presented him with a flag and draped a medal around his neck, while he in turn pledged to “Shake off all intimicy with the Seioux and unite themselves in a strong allience and attend to what we had told them and see.” Clark noted that Sheheke appeared to have the respect of his people, with many saluting him as he walked through the village with the Americans.

Five earth lodges have been rebuilt on the site of an Indian village that was used for more than 400 years, near the confluence of the Heart River with the River in present Mandan, North Dakota. Known as On-A-Slant, when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark camped across the river with the Corps of Discovery in 1804, they noted that the village had been abandoned although ruins remained.

The village had been occupied from 1575 to 1781, but was abandoned in part due to disease and also because there had been attacks on the villagers from warring tribes. When the Mandans left On-A-Slant they moved north and established new villages, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06.

The site of On-A-Slant is now part of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, and features the five rebuilt earth lodges, some of them outfitted as they would have been during the period of traditional use, with woven backrests, stockpiles of food, buffalo robes marked with drawings to represent winter count, and fire pits, clay pots, and sleeping ledges.

A visit there today is a step back in time often taken from Memorial Day through Labor Day with a guide from the Mandan tribe, who will quietly present the history of this tribe. The Mandans were an agrarian society, known for cultivating the “three sisters” ” corn, beans, and squash ” which they used themselves, and traded to other tribes for such items as horses and even turquoise brought from the Southwest.

In 1766 the child who would become Sheheke (White Coyote) and who was also called Big White, was born in On-A-Slant Village. When small pox ravaged the tribe in 1781, more than 80 percent of the Mandans died; those surviving deserted On-A-Slant and moved north to establish new earth lodge villages.

By the time Lewis and Clark visited the area and found the Mandans in villages farther north, Sheheke was a tribal leader. The two American captains presented him with a flag and draped a medal around his neck, while he in turn pledged to “Shake off all intimicy with the Seioux and unite themselves in a strong allience and attend to what we had told them and see.” Clark noted that Sheheke appeared to have the respect of his people, with many saluting him as he walked through the village with the Americans.


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