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Mandan Indians

caitlin feasts with mandansThe Mandan were a passive tribe of the plains area and were culturally connected with their neighbors on the Missouri River, the Arikara and the Hidatsa. The Mandan had interesting cultural traits, including a myth of origin describing that their ancestors climbed from beneath the earth on the roots of a grapevine. It is believed that at one time the Mandan lived further east, but they historically migrated westward up the Missouri River. By the mid-18th century, they occupied nine villages near the mouth of the Heart River in south central North Dakota. After withstanding a severe smallpox outbreak and attacks of the Assiniboin and the Sioux, the Mandan moved farther up the Missouri River, opposite the Arikara villages. It was here that the Mandan survivors merged into two villages on opposite sides of the Knife River. In 1804, they were visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who reported in their journals that the tribe numbered some 1,250. It was during this visit that Sacagawea became part of their team. In 1837, after an epidemic of smallpox and cholera, the Mandan were reduced to some 150, all dwelling in a single village. In 1845, when the Hidatsa moved from the Knife River region to the Fort Berthold trading post, the few Mandan joined them. In 1870, a large reservation was designated for the Mandan, the Hidatsa, and the Arikara in North Dakota at the Fort Berthold Reservation

Madog Owain and the Mandan people.

The Mandan indian tribe also know as the "White Indians" is conjectured to have mixed with and therefore were descendants of prince Madog (Madoc) Owain of Wales who may be assumed an ancestor of the Madogs of Llanfydnach Wales.Prince Madog ap Owain Gwynedd was a younger son of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales, and Queen Brenda, daughter of the Lord of Camo, it is likely that he was born at Dolwyddelan castle in the twelfth century. 

Prince Madoc of Wales and his people may have discovered America in 1170 or some 322 years before Christopher Columbus would arrive .  British historian Richard Deacon writes in his book Madoc and the Discovery of America ;
"Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd son of a king of Wales, was born in 1150 the story goes.  He sailed from Wales and landed near the present site of Mobile, Alabama.  He returned home, then made another voyage to the continent.  This time he went up the Alabama River and other streams, then disappeared in the wilds of what is now Tennessee.  But a traveler's account of the 1800's tells of fair-skinned Indians in that area who spoke some Welsh words and put sentences together in the way Welsh people do."

George Catlin, a nineteenth-century painter who spent eight years living among various Indian tribes, was among those who were impressed by the Mandan's remarkable traits. Catlin wrote: "A stranger in the Mandan village is first struck with the different shades of complexion, and various colors of hair which he sees in a crowd about him, and is almost disposed to exclaim that these are not Indians." The artist also noted "a most pleasing symmetry and proportion of features, with hazel, gray and blue eyes."

[ Ref Cor 1 ] During his long stay which lasted for years among the Mandan tribe, Catlin makes many interesting paintings of almost every aspect of their daily lives as well as written observations. Catlin was the only White man to make a written and pictoral history of these rituals and customs which included, their dwellings and torture rituals. Catlin finally came to the conclusion that the Mandan's were the descendents of the Madog people based partially on these factors.

The Mandans spoke Welsh,they used a boat which was know as the Welsh Coracle and many of the Mandans had blond hair and blue eyes.

Another account of the Madog legend is from, in James G. Perry's Kinfolk,

" Prince Madoc (son of Owain ab Gwynedd) it is said, sailed to America 300 years before Columbus in 1170 with one ship.  He returned and equipped ten ships and with colonists sailed again for the new world.  It is presumed that he landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Early explorers and pioneers have found evidences of the Welsh influence along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers, among certain tribes of Indians.
There is no record that the Prince ever returned to the land of his birth.  Peculiar things have been found in America.  It is there are Welsh speaking Indians up the Missouri River called the White Indians.  Also, they fish with coracles, and pull the little skin covered boats with one oar, like a spade.  These boats are used in Wales today."

Later Mandan's were involved with The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Smallpox decimates the Mandans'

After European contact, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Sahnish were subjected to several devastating smallpox epidemics that nearly destroyed them.  They had no immunity and were trusting.  Unprotected from these diseases, they became infected.  Whole families, clans, specific bands, chiefs, spiritual leaders, and medicine men died quickly, taking with them many of their social and spiritual ceremonies and clan rites.

The tribe was virtually destroyed by Small Pox epidemics before 1796 and is chronicled in Henry and Schoolcraft.  Lewis and Clark found two villages one on each side and about fifteen miles below the Knife River. Both villages consisted of forty to fifty lodges and united could raise about three hundred and fifty men.  Lewis and Clark describe them as having united with the Hidatsa and engaging in continual warfare against the Arikara and the Sioux. In 1837, smallpox attacked them again, raged for many weeks and left only one hundred and twenty-five survivors. The Mandan's were taken in by the Arikara, with whom they intermarried.  They separated, again forming a small village of their own at Fort Berthold. By 1850 there were three hundred and eighty- five Mandan, largely of mixed blood,


The great plague of smallpox struck the Three Tribes in June of 1837, and this horrible epidemic brought disaster to these Indians.  Francis A. Chardon's journals state that on July 14, a young Mandan died of smallpox and several more had caught it.  The plague spread with terrible rapidity and raged with a violence unknown before.  Death followed in a few hours after the victim was seized with pain in the head; a very few who caught the disease survived.  The Hidatsa scattered out along the Little Missouri to escape the disease and the Arikara hovered around Fort Clark.  But the Mandan remained in their villages and were afflicted worst; they were afraid of being attacked by Sioux if they ventured out of their villages.  By September 30, Chardon estimated that seven- eighths of the Mandan and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa were dead.  Many committed suicide because they felt they had no chance to survive.  Nobody thought of burying the dead, death was too fast and everyone still living was in despair.  The scene of desolation was appalling beyond the conception of the imagination.  The Mandan were reduced from 1800 in June to 23 men, 40 women, and 60 to 70 young people by fall.  Their Chief Four Bears, had died. (Shane, 1959, p. 199).

On July 28, 1837, Chardon wrote:  "the second chief of the Mandan was the brave and remarkable Four Bears, life-long friend of the whites, recipient of the praises of Catlin and Maximilian, and beloved by all that knew him.  " Now, as his people were dying all about him, he spoke:


My friends one and all, listen to what I have to say- Ever since I can remember, I have loved the whites.  I have lived with them ever since I was a boy, and to the best of my knowledge, I have never wronged the white man, on the contrary, I have a/ways protected them from the insults of others, which they cannot deny. The Four Bears never saw a white man hungry, but what he gave him to eat, drink, and a Buffalo skin to sleep on in time of need.  I was a/ways ready to die for them, which they cannot deny.  I have done everything that a red skin could do for them, and how have they repaid it?  With ingratitude!  I have never called a white man a Dog, but today, I do pronounce them to be a set of black-hearted Dogs, they have deceived me, them that I always considered brother, has turned out to be my worst enemies.  I have been in many battles, and often wounded, but the wounds of my enemies I exalt in, but today I am wounded, and by whom, by those same white Dogs that I have always considered, and treated as Brothers.  I do not fear Death my friends.  You know it, but to die with my face rotten, that even the Wolves will shrink with horror at meeting me, and say to themselves, that is the Four Bears, the friend of the Whites -listen well what I have to say, as it will be the last time you will hear me. Think of your wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends, and in fact all that you hold dear, are all dead, or dying, with their faces all rotten caused by those dogs the whites, think of all that my friends, and rise up all together and not leave one of them alive: The Four Bears will act his part. (Abel, p.124, 1932).

Mandan Village by George Catlinmandan village

The Mandan villages consisted of about fifty lodges arranged around a central plaza. In the central plaza was located a sacred cedar post. This post was considered sacred because it represented Lone Man, who is a great hero in Mandan culture. The social position of each household determined the location of their lodges.

Mandan Lodge

Mandan Lodge Interior


Catlins letters about the Mandans :

You will nothe that the actual "letters" are numbered differently from the numbers below, this is beacuse the original series of letters dealt with more than the Mandans tribes. we are concentrating in his work concerning the Mandan.
Letter 1 below, is actually letter 10 in the entire series.

[ Letter 1 ] [ Letter 2 ] [ Letter 3 ]

[ Letter 4 ] [ Letter 5 ] [ Letter 6 ]

[ Letter 7 ] [ Letter 8 ] [ Letter 9 ]

[ Letter 10 ] [ Letter 11 ] [ Letter 12 ] [ Letter 13 ]


[ Read John Sevier Tennessee's first governor 1810 letter concerning "Welsh Indians" ]



The Legend of Prince Madoc and the White Indians ; The Untold story of America's first colony by Dana Olson

James G. Perry's Kinfolk,

Madog Center for Welsh Studies University of Rio Grande Rio Grande, OH 45631

Steven D. Oberlin /

A Consideration: Was America discovered in 1170 by Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd of Wales ?
By: Jayne Wanner

MHA nation website ; The Three Affiliated Tribes

A history of the Mandan Indians

Other reading :

catlin at the national gallery of art

madoc 1170

Compilations of various Madog / Madoc legends and information [ ]

From a descendant of Madoc? [ ]

The children of first man : James Alexander Thom; Fawcett Gold Medal
The forgotten people : Tony Williams ; Gomer press 1996

: Correction :

[ Ref Cor1 ]
We had previously referenced as Catlin's book "Prince Madoc, Founder of Clark County, Indiana." However  this was the title of Dana Olson's book until the 4th edition.  He later changed the title to reflect more accurately the book's content.  

One of Catlin's most popular books was titled, "Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and conditions of North American Indians," published in 1844.

Best regards, Sundea Murphy

Thanks to Sundea Murphy for bringing this to our attention, we removed the reference on March 22, 2003.


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