Sunset over the mountains in Montana

October 26th, 1804 – Lewis & Clark Visit the Earth Lodge Villages

A Review of Lewis & Clark’s Journey Up to This Point

Lewis started the journey by traveling to Pittsburgh and setting out on the Ohio River. He met up with William Clark in Clarksville, present-day Indiana. Lewis and Clark then spent the winter of 1803-04 at Camp Dubois. The camp sat on the bank of the Mississippi River, just upstream from Saint Louis. On May 14, 1804, the Expedition departed and began its journey up the Missouri River. In late July they camped north of the Platter River; a month later Lewis and Clark had their first council with Native Americans of the Oto and Missouri Indians.

Through late August and into September the group made their way up the Missouri River, watching as the scenery drastically changed. They soon began planning where they would winter, deciding on the established villages of earth lodges inhabited by the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. 

The Earth Lodge Villages 

The earth lodge villages that Lewis and Clark encountered were five Indian settlements scattered along the Missouri River. They were two Mandan and three Hidatsa villages. The Mitutanka, Rooptahee, and Mahawha villages were made up of about forty to fifty earth lodges each. The two major Hidatsa settlements, found on the Knife River, boasted a more substantial number of earth lodges and warriors. The most remote village, Menetarra, had around 450 warriors and 130 earth lodges. Each of these lodges could house anywhere between 5 to 16 people, with the average being 10. The estimated population of these villages in 1804 is believed to be around 3,400 individuals.  

Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Tribes in the Harsh Weather Conditions of North Dakota

The earth lodges are shaped like mounds of earth. They are constructed so that the dwelling is a few feet under the surface, with floors beneath ground level. Posts were set into the ground on the edges of the mound and made the tops meet in the middle. A strong layer of sticks or reeds would be wrapped through the roof timbers and then a layer of thatch added. The structure would then be covered entirely in earth. The earth layer provided extreme protection and insulation against both hot and cold weather conditions. In the summer the earth absorbed a lot of the heat, keeping the inside cool and in the winter the thick walls insulated against the cold and trapped heat inside. 

Visit Earth Lodge Villages in New Town, North Dakota

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, known as the MHA Nation or Three Affiliated Tribes, welcome visitors to experience their vibrant culture. In New Town, North Dakota you can visit the Earth Lodge Village and experience how these tribes once lived. Visiting the villages won’t be the only cultural experience you have to choose from, they have many other events, performances, and activities to offer so that you can live the culture and learn more. 

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