The Mandan are a Siouan-speaking people who historically occupied villages on either side of the Missouri River, with their hunting grounds extending to the west. After the smallpox epidemic of 1781, the Mandan were reduced to two villages and moved north, in close proximity to their neighbors, the Hidatsa. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 created the Fort Berthold reservation for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (now known as the Three Federated Tribes), which originally included nearly 12 million acres in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. By 1886, though, the reservation had been reduced to its present boundaries encompassing 988,000 acres.
The Mandan remain well known in American history because of their generosity to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whose Corps of Discovery stayed with the tribe during the winter of 1804-1805, and the colorful paintings that George Catlin did in 1832. William Clark wrote in his journal, “I set myself down with the bigwhite man Chiefe [Mandan Chief Bigwhite (Shehenke)] and made a number of enquireies into the tradition of his nation.... He told me his nation first came out of the ground...and saw Buffalow, grapes, plumbs, &c...and determined to go up and live upon the earth.”
As of 2011, only a handful of Mandan speakers remained at the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota. The American Philosophical Society was proud to have been able to supply more than 150 hours of Mandan and Hidatsa language tapes to the scholar Joseph Jastrzembski and to Mandan tribal members Cory and Alyce Spotted Bear. Digital copies of these tapes are now housed on the reservation, where they are being used to preserve a language on the brink of extinction.
Collections with Mandan or Hidatsa audio recordings: