North Dakota Eclectics

Early Historic
Early Historic (1738 A.D. - 1858 A.D.)

The period between 1738, when the first European made a record of his encounters with the Native North Dakota people, and 18158, when the first U.S. Army Post was built in North Dakota, is known as the Early Historic period.

The Arikara, who had been living in South Dakota, moved into North Dakota during the Early Historic period, about 1825 A.D. They were probably a division of the Pawnee tribe of Nebraska. They lived along the Missouri River near, and later with, the Mandan and Hidatsa people. The Arikara also built earth lodge homes, lived in villages, and had a lifestyle that was similar to that of the Mandan and Hidatsa.

As along the East Coast centuries before, the Native people of North Dakota had never experienced diseases such as smallpox, cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, and measles prior to their encounters with the Europeans, and so had no immunities to them. As a result, when these diseases were introduced, they spread quickly from person to person, with catastrophic results. Many Indians died during epidemics. Prior to a smallpox epidemic in 1781, the Mandan lived in seven villages in the Bismarck-Mandan area. So few of their people survived the epidemic that they lived in only two villages, and later moved north to live closer to the Hidatsa near the Knife River in the Stanton area. The remains of their settlements can be seen at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

Other epidemics occurred in 1802 and 1819, but the worst was in 1837, reducing the population of the Mandan people from around 2,500 to less than 250, and also affecting the Hidatsa, Arikara, and Sioux.

The lifestyle and livelihood of the Indian people was also affected by the steady destruction of the buffalo herds after 1850, largely due to excessive hunting by both the European and Native American people, but also from diseases introduced to the buffalo by cattle brought in by early ranchers.

Even more so, the lives of the Native American people in North Dakota was affected by the steady stream of white settlers who began to come into North Dakota. Reservations were established by the Treaty of Laramie in 1851, and their size was later reduced by the United States government.

Fort Abercrombie, near Wahpeton, North Dakota, was constructed in 1858, which marks the end of the Early Historic Period in North Dakota.

Of Interest