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North Dakota Eclectics

Plains Village
Plains Village (1000 A.D. - 1851 A.D.

Coexisting, on the plains, with the Late Woodland and Plains Nomadic people were the Plains Village people, the prehistoric culture that archaeologists know the most about, since the sites of many of their villages, situated along the Missouri River, were excavated in the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the construction of the Garrison and Oahe reservoirs, which would have flooded them. These sites were also large and easy to find.

The Plains Village people were almost certainly the descendants of the Woodland people, as they appear to have lived on the plains for several generations, the evidence suggesting that the local population had adopted a new lifestyle rather than that these were newcomers to the area.

The people who became the Mandan had come from the area of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to the plains river valleys in South Dakota around 900 A.D., moving slowly north along the Missouri River to reach the area of North Dakota around 1000 A.D.

The people who lived in the area of Devils Lake, in northeastern North Dakota, are known as the Hidatsa. Around 1600 A.D., they began moving to the Missouri River and eventually settled near the Mandan. The Arikara moved into the area of South Dakota in the 1400s, but didn't come into North Dakota until much later. The Cheyenne probably moved from Minnesota to the southeastern part of North Dakota, living in the area of Ransom County as Plains Village people around 1740 A.D. Later, they moved west, and their culture changed as they moved, becoming nomadic.

The Plains Village people lived in permanent villages. They raised crops; in fact, one Plains Village site along the Missouri River, in Sioux County, was probably the earliest place where corn was raised in North Dakota. Excavated at what was known as the Paul Brave site, this village is believed to have been occupied as early as 1077 A.D. Corn dated 1265 A.D. was found at the Quast site along the James River in LaMoure County.

The Mandan and Hidatsa people lived in villages made of earth lodges, sometimes numbering as many as 1,200 people. The earthen lodges were solid homes that used a variety of building materials, including wooden poles, posts, and logs, willow branches, prairie grass, sod and earth. As a defense against attack, these villages were often fortified with walls and ditches. Large summer villages, set on high terraces above rivers, were occupied from spring to fall, then the people moved to winter villages within the trees along the river. While the summer villages were generally occupied year after year, winter villages were only used for a year or two, so as to permit the supply of wood to replenish.

Corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco were grown in fields next to the river near the summer villages. It also appears that crops were not grown communally, but that each household had its own fields. Probably, the men hunted, traded with other people, and protected the village, while the women tended the crops and cared for the houses.

Because the Mandan and Hidatsa raised crops and lived in the same villages year after year, their villages became centers for trade, and part of a large trade network that began in western North America during earlier periods. The Mandan and Hidatsa traded their extra crops, finished hide products, and items received from other groups for hides of animals not found in that area, meat, and goods from other places.

The Plains Village people also hunted big game, particularly buffalo, and gathered berries and roots. In the early part of this period, their homes were large, rectangular, dirt-covered structures but, after 1600 A.D., their homes had become circular domes that were well built, capable of providing warmth during the cold months and cool temperatures during the summer months. Homes were sometimes large enough to hold a large family, its dogs, supplies, and even its horses. They continued to use tipis during hunting trips, or while at war. Some cone-shaped cedar lodges were found in the Badlands.

The pottery made by the Plains Village people had rounded bottoms, and were finely made. It tended to be thin and hard, often including beautiful designs. Each Plains Village group produced its own style of pottery, which has allowed archaeologists to identify the tribes that lived at particular sites by the pottery that was found there.

Plains Village people often continued the practice of placing their dead on scaffolds or platforms, but graves were also found in or near their villages.

Of Interest