The Sioux Nations dominate the plains of the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska and parts of Kansas, Iowa and Colorado, and a few tribes still live in the plains land around the Sioux Nations - from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to Southern Texas. This is an area of vast oceans of plain grass where the tribes hunt buffalo (which were in abundance before the coming of the white man). This was the home of the legendary "Redskins" which have now become typified and immortalized in stories and dime novels, however inaccurate they may be. The Mandan Indians belongs to this nation and it originated somewhere near the Great Lakes. In 1804, they were visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who reported in their journals that the tribe numbered some 1,250 folks. It was during this visit that Sacagawea became part of their team. In 1837, after an epidemic of smallpox and cholera, the Mandan were reduced to a population of around 150, all dwelling in a single village. In 1845, when the Hidatsa moved from the Knife River region to the Fort Berthold trading post, the few Mandan joined them. In 1870, a large reservation was designated for the Mandan, the Hidatsa, and the Arikara in North Dakota at the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Tribes of the Plains tended to be nomadic and lived off wild game and sometimes planted corn or other crops. The Mandan had interesting cultural traits, including a myth of origin describing that their ancestors climbed from beneath the earth on the roots of a grapevine. During the 17th century, as Euroamericans pushed American Indians further west, the Mandan moved into what is now known as Ohio. From there they moved first to the mouth of the White River where it empties into the Missouri River in what is now South Dakota, then to the Moraue River. Eventually the Mandan built nine settlements along the Heart and Missouri Rivers where Varendrye discovered them in 1738. By 1776, the nine principle villages of the Mandan had merged into two and settled on the Missouri River at the mouth of the Knife River, approximately 1800 miles west of St. Louis, where Lewis and Clark found them in 1803.
The introduction of the horse in the eighteenth century had a profound impact upon their society, and the effect was beneficial. Horses enabled them to cover great distances, and hunters could locate and kill the bison more easily. Women's tasks were made easier, too, since horses served as beasts of burden. Because horses could drag heavier lodge skins, lodges increased in size and larger quantities of food and household possessions could be kept. More time was now available for creative activity, and skin painting, beadwork, and other artistic endeavors flourished.
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Today, many tribes continue to adhere to the traditional values, but others, while maintaining their tribal identities, have become integrated into the American mainstream; Mandan being one of them. Tragically, by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, most of these Indians were confined to reservations by the federal government. Encouraged to abandon their traditional way of life and to become yeoman farmers in a region that would not sustain agriculture, most of the Indians of this period, suffered from disease and a declining birthrate. Recently their populations have increased, and although many of the reservation communities remain economically depressed, they are wellsprings of traditional culture. Many groups have resurrected tribal languages and religious traditions. Others are active in the Native American Church, and tribal identities among the people remain particularly strong.
Although Native American cultures and societies underwent many changes after the period of initial European and American contact, most tribes retained at least some of the parts of their culture that they considered most important. Their values within the tribal communities are still defined in cultural terms. Each tribe remains unique, and the definition of tribal identity continues to reflect their diversity.
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