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Adams County - Native American Historical Events                   

By Kristen Longbow


Many of you probably never heard of a county by the name of "Adams" in North Dakota.No offense,due to the fact many of us have not heard of counties in other states with historical reference attached to them,unless one reads,or hits the road checking out all the significant historical locations one can find.


Our county is in the very south-west of the state bordering South Dakota,with Bowman county to the west of us bordering Montana.


The area is rich in heritage,and history that many never get a chance to read in the history books.So us old gals decided to put our heads together,and share a little of that heritage,and history with others,and get our county back in the light,so perhaps others will join in,and we can put our county back on the map again.At one time is was on all the 17th,18th,and 19th century maps carried by the European explorers.


With only a population today of around 2300 in the whole entire county,it makes sense many have forgotten us because there is not that many of us to spread the word anymore :)


A Time Not Long Ago....


There was a time when the lands here belonged to the first inhabitants.The Native American people who lived on these lands for more generations than the white settlers who traveled this way to start a new life,and unfortunately to start that new life on someone else's homeland,who didn't measure boundaries,or put up fences to measure what was his.


It was their homeland,and they lived off the land by hunting,harvesting,and traveling great distance on these lands to gather their food supplies to make them through each winter.They'd follow the buffalo,knew when the fish spawned in the rivers & lakes,and knew where the best pickings were for things that grew,and the land produced.


To support a large village,many tribes had to make seasonal travels through out the land taking advantage of what Mother Earth had to give them.


A Native American's home was where his/her feet stood at the moment,and the many trails they journeyed.This is something the white settlers couldn't understand at the time,and the history that was documented sheds more light on the understanding of today,a whole heck of alot more way back then to the common reader in some townships newspaper.Though history proves itself to repeat itself,as we see the same kinds of events taking place today that easily proves that,all we can really claim is history has so much to teach us,and pray we learn from it generations down the road.


The original history of the Dakota territory is broken down by two distinct tribes in the area,according to the history books,but I'm sure there were others before the original inhabitants as well,that either moved onto better hunting & gathering grounds,or were pushed out by other inhabitants of the territory.History does show that territories changed even among the early Native American Tribes living in the area.


They were here thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived,and a lot of history took place then as well,and it's so sad a lot of that history is not known today.A time line of history that matches,if not exceeds the history we know of today.All we have to go on is what the archaeology sites that are far,and few in between in this area bring forth.Such as various tools,and artifacts of a variety of sorts.Most certainly they offer us insight,but the true understanding of cultural life back then is lost.


A grateful thing was some of the documentation from the first explorers of European descent in the Dakota Territories,and in many ways the first seeking to claim what their eyes see,may be a better interpretation to some.


It's appreciated they did write down in their diaries,and reports of their first footsteps into the land,and recorded their encounters with the native inhabitants,and the history that takes place afterwards makes many of us historians wonder "what were they thinking".


It's sad records,and thoughts of the various inhabitants,and Native Americans are lacking to us.They had so much to say,and all we have is one side of the coin in laying out the history for us,and in so many cases that history lacks truth,and facts,but we are grateful for it,and especially grateful to the earlier explorers who documented historical facts.


Native Americans In The Territory


Lets discuss one of the Native American Tribes in the area,some of which many of you may already know,but this tribe don't get as much attention as one would think in the history books.This may be due to the part that there were not as many epic battles between them,and the European invaders during that time when they came encroaching on the lands here in the territory.


The Mandan People


The Mandans lived along the Missouri River,and their villages were permanent settlements unlike the other various tribes that roamed the territories.Yes they traveled for food,and traded for goods,but they are considered to be very non-nomadic unlike the Sioux who were also in the area.


There shelters were large lodges,some up to 40 feet in diameter,and noted for their comfort ability.


To survive,the bison were an important resource to the Mandan,as was farming/harvesting and trade to accomplish what else was needed.They were very avid gardeners,and grew a variety of corn,beans,and squash.Their gardens would hold a bounty of vegetables,and fruits,and some of the earlier explorers noted that in their diaries.


They loved the soil along the fertile rivers,which happened to be some of the best soil in all of North Dakota,becoming rich from the spring floods,leaving nutrients after it's retreat.


They really had a good trade system in place,and always had goods to trade.They were most definite a people that had the knowledge to be a permanent resident on the land,and need not winter grounds,and summer grounds to live like the other various tribes having to relocate twice a year.


The first Europeans were captivated by the Mandan,because of their lighter colored skin compared to the other Native Americans they encountered on their journeys.Many of them thought they could have possibly had European roots due to their light skin,and thought perhaps they were a lost people descended from Pre-European Explorers...From the Vikings,to the Welsh,the speculation was a big thing back in the day on the origins of these people.Why did they appear to stick out from the rest?


Their language was slightly unique as well,and caused some to wonder what was the origin of these people.In some ways the Mandan's could have very well be the first researched tribe of concern of their origins by the European explorers.,that went more in depth than the rest.


The Story Of John Evans


One very interesting piece of history is the story of John Evans,who wanted to prove if the Mandan people were of Welsh heritage,and wanted to study their language,and there was no better way to do that,than make the long journey to them,and live among them to study his theory.


There were lots of rumors that the Mandan were a lost tribe of Welsh,who discovered America 100's of years before Columbus,and perhaps his intentions were to prove just that.He was going on folklore only,with no factual information in his research,and in many cases when one uses folklore the investigation goes no where.However,over long periods of time a story changes,and in some cases changes to myth after so many generations.


In October of 1792 at the age of 22 years old he arrived in Baltimore,after setting off from North Whales.He has quite an adventure while making his way west over a 1000 miles to study the Mandan People,and the route he take goes right through Spanish Territory at the time,and he's arrested with accusations of being a spy for the Brittish. So he is imprisoned for a year in what is now Louisiana.That must have been a horrible experience,because I can just imagine the prison conditions in Louisiana at that time under the Spanish.He's lucky he wasn't killed,or became a victim to disease.


After being released,he joins a Spanish Expedition exploring the Missouri River,and looking into the possibility if they could find a water route to the Pacific.During that time he found a Mandan Village,and spent a winter there as well learning their language,and looking for clues that could back up his claim that the Mandan people where indeed the long lost Welsh Tribe,who's original founder was a Welsh Prince who sailed to America in 1170.


He found absolutely no evidence of this,and noted it in his reports,his diary,and also set word to various professors who held some kind of belief in this claim,that there was no evidence to support it.


Viking Contact In Adams County?


Later on in this last century,claims of Viking contact with the Madan people emerged with the discovery of a ruin stone found in Minnesota,that makes some reference to the Madan people,but it's a controversial topic that's not supported my many of the historians.


Mandan Origins


Their origins are a little cloudy when one wonders where they migrated from to become permanent residents of North Dakota.It's believed by some that they may have migrated from the great lakes region,looking for better farming ground due to the cultivation of corn,which was a big break thru at the time when a person thinks about it.Farming to sustain life was unheard of by many of the tribes of North America.


However prior to all of that,it was a big mystery to many of the Europeans the tribes uniqueness.It stuck out from all the rest,to the point where many Europeans asked the question.."Where did you come from?".


When it comes to John Evans adventure researching a possible history,his journey did lead to the original map Lewis & Clark would use a 100 years later.


European Contact


The first encounters from European explorers with the Mandan was in 1738 by French Trader "Sieur de la Verendrye".At the time of his first encounter,it's thought there were 15,000 Mandan in the permanent villages along the Heart River.It was a active community,and he even noted in his diaries that they had ample horses,that they acquired through trade by the Apache,who thus in turn acquired them through the Spanish,and it's highly unlikely it was though trade when it comes to the relationship between the Spanish & the Apache.Indian communities as far north as in Canada knew of the claims put forth by the Spanish that the lands they set foot on,now belonged to them.So one could say their reputation exceeded themselves in the new world.


So for the next few decades the Mandan lived in the territory feeling little threat from the Europeans,and life went on.Trade,and even some visiting,and wintering down with them to learn more about them.


Lewis & Clark Visits Adams County


By the time Lewis & Clark paid them a visit in 1804,things changed for the Mandan people.The neighboring Sioux tribes were always a threat to them,and smallpox was introduced to the region,which greatly reduced their numbers.A foreign disease came with the Europeans that really changed their course of history in many ways,and evidence of this was documented with the Lewis & Clark Expedition.


Unlike many of the other various tribes Lewis & Clark encountered,the Mandan were the most hospitable,and record shows great appreciation from the Expedition.On their return from the Pacific ocean they stopped in again,and took a Chief of the Mandan people to meet the President,who happened to be Thomas Jefferson at the time.It was Chief Sheheke who made Washington aware of his people,who later on got killed in a battle with the Sioux Indians in 1812.


Smallpox Epidemic Of 1837


By the time 1837 came around,another wave of smallpox struck the Mandan people,that pretty much can be summed up as exterminated the population down to around 100 people.A terrible,and horrible page in history that ended the future of these people.Blame was thrown in many directions of who carried the epidemic,but it's very obvious the spread also bore some responsibility from those not quarantining in time,who should have done so.


Those who survived struggled as all the Native Americans did after the mid 18th century.There story continued,and some are still here today doing their best to carry on in a world that has been a struggle for them for the last couple of centuries.


Relocated After Being Relocated


An event in 1951 forced them to scatter again,when the Garrison Dam on the Missouri was built,and thus flooding 1/4 of their lands(Reservation),and relocating them to a new establishment built for them that's called "New Town" that's located in Mountrail County.The relocation was another hardship,and some of the most prized land is now under Lake Sakakawea.


Final Thoughts


So when you're out,and about with your eyes on the ground while you walk,and you find a Native American Artifact,such as an arrowhead that are very plentiful in the area,now you some of the stories behind it.


I'll be adding more of the history of Adams County in the days ahead,and we'll talk much more on the Native Americans in North Dakota.