Imagine you are running through the forest as fast as your legs can carry you. You hear celebration cries to your right and left as you raise your tomahawk with excitement and victory. You see a large earthen wall and a warm glowing fire up ahead. The people of your tribe are waiting anxiously and happily for you and your fellow Hidatsas to run into the camp. You and your war party just defeated a small group of Blackfeet warriors that had declared battle west of the rushing Missouri River. This was what life was like for a member of the Hidatsa tribe in the United States in the 1800s. The Hidatsa were a very intelligent and skilled tribe. Who they are, their effect on America, and how they were affected, how they handled opposition, and their long-lasting legacy help make the Hidatsa who they are.
To begin with, the Hidatsa tribe was originally a part of the Crow in North Dakota but they separated from them several years after the Crow nation was formed. They were very unique people and had their own traditions and ways of completing tasks. “Hidatsa traits included the cultivation of corn and an annual organized buffalo hunt. They had a complex social organization and elaborate ceremonies, including the sun dance.” (“H.I.” 1) The Hidatsa people were skilled farmers and cultivated corn and organized hunting buffalo. There were a very organized group of Native Americans and had a distinct group of social classes. There were special ceremonies such as celebrating the harvest of the corn. The Hidatsa are known by many names throughout the world and Native American nations but to them Hidatsa means willow. Other tribes like the Mandan called them the Gros Ventres or Minitari. “They were often called Gros Ventres or the English translation of that, Big Bellies, and also Minnetares. The name Minnetaree, spelled in various ways means, “to cross the water,” a name given to them by the Mandan when they first came together, and the Mandan helped them to cross the water.” (“Hidatsas” 1) The Mandan were one of the tribes that worked closely with the Hidatsa and they helped them cross the Missouri River when they came to their new homeland. Also, the Hidatsa were known for the capture of Sacagawea. When Sacagawea was a young girl, a war party of Hidatsa Indians raided Sacagawea’s camp and captured her.
Additionally, American settlers affected how the Hidatsa tribe lived and how they ran their everyday lives. The Hidatsa people lived close to the Missouri River for a very long time. Due to the westward expansion of the U.S. they were moved around and pushed up the Missouri. The government of the United States also changed how the Hidatsa cultivated their food and even changed some of the foods they could grow and eat.
The government has changed our old way of cultivating corn and our other vegetables, and has brought us seeds of many new vegetables and grains, and taught us their use. We Hidatsas and our friends, the Mandan, have also been removed from our village at Like-a-fishhook bend, and made to take our land in allotments; so that our old agriculture has in a measure fallen into disuse. (Wilson 1)
The Hidatsa people were wonderfully skilled farmers. When they settled with the Mandan tribe and several other tribes at their village called “Like-a-fishhook bend” the U.S. government decided to introduce several new crops to the Hidatsa. Many of the seeds that the Hidatsa learned to grow included watermelon, potatoes, big squashes, onions, oats, and many more crops. This changed what they ate, how they ate, and how often. At first, the Hidatsa people did not really like the new crops given to them the U.S. government and rarely ate them but they eventually adapted to them and slowly learned new ways to eat them. “The American Indians gave Europeans the cultivation of corn, the potato, the sweet potato, tobacco, pumpkins, the tomato and, philosophically, conceptions of democracy radically different from the ancient Greek city-states.” (“A.I.” 1) There was a large amount of cultural diffusion, or the spreading and mixing of cultures. The Hidatsa shared their crops with the American settlers. In return, the settlers gave the Hidatsa people crops, spices that they didn’t have, and new technologies such as rifles. Not only were crops and goods traded between the two groups but democratic ideas different from those of the Greek were given to the U.S. from the Hidatsa. To add on, in the early 1800s, the several members of the Hidatsa tribe played a crucial and important role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean. They helped Lewis and Clark translate, navigate, and negotiate with other tribes as they travelled through the wilderness. “Lewis and Clark valued the information that the Hidatsa, with their westward raids and trade network, had about the people and places to be found in the Rockies. Whenever one of the Hidatsa visited Fort Mandan, he was afforded special attention. From them, Lewis and Clark learned about the Crow, Flathead, Shoshone, and Nez Perce Indians they would later encounter.” (“Overview” 1) The Hidatsa helped Lewis and Clark by giving them information about tribes they had met and tribes they would later encounter. They also helped the two explorers learn to survive in the wild by showing them how to find good food and what tribes were best to trade with if needed. Without the help of the Hidatsa, Lewis and Clark may not have made the trip back from their expedition or they wouldn’t have survived to tell of their adventures.
Furthermore, the Hidatsa tribe, just like many of the other tribes in the United States, faced opposition. They dealt with grabby and pushy settlers and other tribes urging to go to war with them. The Hidatsa people were somewhat peaceful with the American settlers coming from the east and traded with them quite often, but there were the exceptions. The Hidatsa were different from their neighboring tribes by the way they handled those who went against them. “They were generally peaceful and accommodating in their relations with whites, as with Lewis and Clark, and were less aggressive in their relations with other Indians than their allies the Hidatsas.” (“M.A.H.” 1) Unlike their neighbors, the Mandan, the Hidatsas were less aggressive around settlers. The Hidatsa got along with most of the tribes that also lived along the Missouri River. There were the people of the Shoshone and Blackfeet tribes, which the Hidatsa had problems with. The Shoshone and Blackfeet would sometimes raid their camps and cause a ruckus. To deal with the trouble caused by the Shoshone and Blackfeet, the Hidatsa frequently sent out war parties to deal with the groups of troublesome Native Americans. Some Native American tribes, including the clever Hidatsa had a different custom of war. “Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy’s weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe’s warriors to retreat.” (Lewis and Redish 1) The Hidatsa people dealt with their opposition by using counting coup. This was a more peaceful way to win a battle against another tribe. It was less violent and still very effective for the Hidatsa.
Finally, the Hidatsa have much to be remembered for. They helped change the way buffalo were hunted, how crops like corn were cultivated, and they told many great stories. Many of the stories written by the Hidatsa include their creation story, the legend of the sun dance, and the legend behind their corn ceremony. Those stories are remembered and shared by the Hidatsa and people all over the United States and the world. After many prosperous and happy years at their home near the Missouri River, a small-pox epidemic broke out in 1837. This almost wiped out the entire Hidatsa population but the survivors moved north of the Missouri River. In 1845, the Hidatsa combined with several groups of the Mandan people and settled to their permanent residence of Fort Berthold in North Dakota. Today, the Hidatsa still reside at Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota keeping their culture free and alive.
In conclusion, the Hidatsa tribe was a very amazing and different Native American tribe in the United States. First, their organization, peacefulness, and intelligence made them a respected tribe. Secondly, what they did for America and what America did to them impacted the U.S. today. Additionally, how they faced their enemies and incoming settlers showed how aggressive and intelligent the Hidatsa people were. Lastly, their legacy will continue on forever. Now imagine that you are still with the people of the Hidatsa tribe. Instead of the excitement of a returning war party, you are sitting in your modern home staring out at the rolling hills of Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. You remember the days your grandparents told the stories of your ancestors and the tales of your legendary people. This would be the story of the Hidatsa people in the present day.
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