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Traditional Leaders

Traditional Leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish

History has generally cast leaders as focused on one individual. Within tribal societies, individuals attained leadership and were distinguished by their ability to shape vision and secure consensus from the people. Traditional structural forms of leadership amongst the Mandan and Hidatsa were of hereditary clanship origin. Political decisions were made with spiritual guidance and served to fulfill both political and spiritual means. (1)

The leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish (Arikara) represent essentially two time periods. The leadership of each group is listed as they existed in the early 1700s, and after the 1782 and 1837 smallpox epidemics and forward. In no way is this listing complete nor is it representative of all those who achieved the status as leader. It is to offer a list from which students and other readers can begin to research. Historically, bands were too numerous and records too obscure to provide sufficient and accurate information.

Mandan Chieftainship

By 1700, the Mandan had developed an organizational structure composed of the Nuptadi and Nuitadi linguistic groups, and the Awigaxa Mandan. The Mandan practiced clan inheritance of bundles, particularly ancient tribal bundles. They traditionally had age-grade military societies, and were organized independently by the Okipa members. By 1837, the Mandans were organized under the direction of members of the Okipa society, led by Big Turtle and Flying Eagle. By 1845, there were not enough Mandan households to complete the open circle. (2)

Hidatsa Chieftainship

The Hidatsa had no formal tribal council until after the epidemic of the 1780s. This was attributed to the fact that the villages were widely scattered along the Missouri River and contact was limited. The Hidatsa were known to have three primary groups, the Hidatsa Proper, the Awatixa, and the Awaxawi. Around 1798, the three villages of Hidatsa at Knife River established a tribal council composed of the most distinguished war leaders of each village. There were 12 leaders. Their duties involved warfare, assistance to the villages, and making peace with neighboring villages. (3) By 1832, the Hidatsa had lost a measure of the sense of tribal leadership of the three independent villages, and after 1845, some rights were shared between the Mandan and Hidatsa.

The Awatixa had a complex village system of chieftainships based on hereditary bundles and offices, and fostered leadership among its tribal chiefs supporting clan inheritance of rights and privileges. Each band was led by a strong chief with considerable prestige in his group. They were organized around a peace chief and war leader. Special leaders were selected when the occasion arose, to direct the summer hunt, manage the winter camp, or travel beyond the summer village. (4) Villages were divided into four wards with the bundle owners serving as “protectors of the people.”

A chief was considered great if he could command the respect of the village over a long period of time. The head war chief was principally a summer chief connected with summer village life during which time warfare was actively conducted. The winter chief, appointed annually and rarely succeeding himself, continued to lead as long as he retained the good will and respect of the entire community. When conflict over his leadership occurred or others became dissatisfied, the chief brought together those who opposed him in an effort to dissipate conflict. He showed evidences of generosity and good will, or suggested that others take over his work. He was still an important member of the council. When a principal war chief grew old he respectfully gave up his position to a younger man who had passed Black Mouth society age. (5)

The highest ranking leadership in the Awatixa was vested in holders of the Knife Clan Bundle and the Waterbuster Clan Bundle, respectively held by Stirrup and Blackens-his-Moccasins (Black Moccasin) before 1837.

Within the Hidatsa Proper and Awaxawi clans, authority was vested in a council of head men who had attained eminence by the performance of rights or successes in war. The top leadership of the council was represented by the owner of the Earth-naming Bundle (who organized the village hunting territorial rights), and the principal war leader. Ceremonial leaders held precedence over war leaders.

Between 1837 and 1845, the Awaxawi and Awatixa joined the Nuitadi Mandan because they were so few in numbers and all required protection from the Sioux. These three groups organized a council headed by the Hidatsa chief, Four Bears. Four Bears was responsible for the physical defense of the people, and Missouri River organized the ceremonies for establishing the new village at the Like-A-Fishhook Bend.

The top leaders in 1845 when they built the village were the Hidatsa head chiefs, Missouri River, Four Bears, the war chief who took no part in the organization of the village, and Big Hand. The other leaders, called “Protectors of the People,” the group entrusted with the supernatural protection of the village, were Big Cloud, Bear-Looks-Out, Bobtail Bull, Bad Horn, and Big Hand. (6)

Sahnish Chieftainship

In the mid 1600s, ethnographers believed the Sahnish and their over 40 associated bands, numbered well over 30,000 people. During the 1700s, there were 12 bands of Sahnish with four leaders or head bands. Each had a chief and three sub-chiefs. The four head bands were the hukawirat (eastern band), tuhkatakux (Village Against a Hill), tuhkasthanu (Buffalo Sod Village), and Awahu (Left Behind). The head chief of the Awahu was chief over the four bands.

When any Sahnish chief died, all of the men of the tribe assembled at an honoring feast. The first chief of each band had the right to make a speech to nominate a candidate for the vacant position. No votes were cast, the chief was chosen by consensus. A special shirt was given to the chief when they were selected and was worn to indicate that chief’s status. The duties of the chiefs were to extend hospitality to strangers, preserve peace within the tribe, and order hunts and tribal movements. Strangers and needy members within the village were always welcomed in the house of the chief. The chief’s house was well supplied with food and goods by the hunters. It was also the role of the chief to decide when to leave an area and where the new villages were to settle. (7)

Traditional Hidatsa Chiefs


Black Moccasin was the chief of the second or middle village (Awatiha/Awatixa) on the Knife River, called Me-te-har-tan, when Lewis and Clark visited them in 1804. During this time Black Moccasin was first chief and Little Fox (Oh-harh) was second chief. His village was opened to Charbonneau, the interpreter of Lewis and Clark, and his wife Sakakawea. (22)

ROAD MAKER, 1764–1842

Road Maker (Adi-ahu’) ( Addih-Haddisch) (ari hiris) was born about 1764, and was the son of Buffalo-hide Tent. He was Awaxawi and the head chief of Scattered Village #3, (23) called the Mountain or East village. When he was a young man he was a member of several societies, and after the 1782 smallpox epidemic became owner of one of the three Missouri River Bundles. After seeking visions, Road Maker participated in many war expeditions for which he experienced great success. Following these pursuits, Road Maker became a great doctor and leader of war parties. (24)

Road Maker was one of the members of the council during the first half of the 19th century and recognized as one of the outstanding Awaxawi leaders. Road Maker was painted by Karl Bodmer in 1805 when he was chief of the village near the Knife River. He was respected for his good judgment and military accomplishments. He died at the Awaxawi village in 1842. (25)


Mar-toh-tah, or Big Thief, is identified as the principal chief of the fourth village called Me-te-har-tan, as Lewis and Clark found them in 1804. During this time, Big Thief was at war and was killed soon afterward. (26)


After the 1837 smallpox epidemic, the Awatixa and Awaxawi were so few in number that they were compelled to unite with the Mandan and Sahnish for protection. Both Hidatsa Awatixa and Awaxawi bands formed a council with the Nuitadi Mandan. Missouri River became head chief of the Awatixa when the three groups joined. He was selected by the council to conduct the ceremonies of establishing the new village at Like-A-Fishhook Bend. When the village was established, Missouri River then organized the layout of the village.

When Missouri River grew old his Waterbuster clan or Skull Bundle was relinquished to Small Ankles who never attained the prominence of Missouri River. Missouri River had two sons, Women-in-Water and Dog Bear. Missouri River’s Bundle line was perpetuated by his son, Women-in-Water of the Awaxenawita clan. (27)


Mau-pah-pir-re-cos-sa-too was the principal chief of the fifth Hidatsa Village when Lewis and Clark visited them in 1804. This village was located one and one-half miles above the mouth on the north side of the Knife River. Le Borgne was absent at the time of the arrival of Lewis and Clark. In his absence, the other chiefs, Little Wolf, Sha-kake-ho-pin-nee, Medicine, and Ar-rat-toe-no-mook-ge, Man Wolf Chief, were recognized. A sub-chief, Cherry-on-the-Bush (Cal-tar-co-tah) representing LeBorgne, led the council in greeting Lewis and Clark.

FLAT BEAR, circa 1837

Flat Bear was the chief of the main and largest Hidatsa village (#1) at the Knife River by 1837. Lewis and Clark were responsible for designating him chief of the Tribe in 1804. The Mandans called him (A-ra-tsu-ka-da-na-pit-zish). Flat Bear was a very brave warrior and a favorite of his tribe. He was made chief because of his bravery and was also the youngest leader the village ever had. (28)

The artist Catlin painted Flat Bear in 1832 when he was at least 100 years old. He had a distinct recollection of Lewis and Clark, to whom he referred to as “Red Hair” (Clark) and Meriwether Lewis as “Long Knife” because of his broad sword.

PEHRISKA-RUHPA – Two Ravens/Two Crows

Pehriska-Ruhpa was a principal leader of the Dog Society of his village. Although he belonged to the dog soldier band of the Minnetarees (Hidatsa), his costume closely resembled the dress of the Mandan dog [soldiers]. Periska Ruhpa was painted by Bodmer in 1834. (29)

Perisha-Ruhpa was a warrior and a head chief. He was a principal leader of the Dog Society of his village, and mentioned in Maximilian’s diaries as part of the Hidatsa Dog Society. His regalia and trailer in another drawing by Bodmer closely resembled those of the Mandan Dog dancers, which may have caused ethnographers to speculate about the closeness between Mandan and Hidatsa ceremony.

Perisha-Ruhpa posed for Karl Bodmer twice. He received much of his clothing from the Crow, known for their finery, and was proud of his dress. (Goetzmann, William H. (1984). Karl Bodmer’s America. Joslyn Art Museum & University of Nebraska Press, p. 318)

FOUR BEARS, circa 1861

Four Bears was the son of Two Tails, a war chief at Knife River. Four Bears became an outstanding war chief after the smallpox epidemic of 1837. Four Bears was designated war chief and was instrumental in selecting Like-A-Fishhook Village, upstream from the Knife River villages, as the new site for the Three Tribes. He also convinced the Nuptadi Mandan and Arikara to settle at Like-A-Fishhook Village. (30)

Four Bears was distinguished for his part in the Fort Laramie Treaty Council and as a signer of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. In 1861, Four Bears was killed by the Sioux while swimming near Like-A-Fishhook Village.

CROWS PAUNCH, 1818–1896

Crows Paunch was a member of the Prairie Chicken clan. His father’s name was Twisted Wood, a member of the Knife clan of Awatixa village. Crows Paunch was selected as war chief during the time when Poor Wolf was serving as village chief. He served as chief after 1861until his death in 1896.

POOR WOLF, 1810–1906

Poor Wolf

Poor Wolf/Lean Wolf was born on the Knife River in the middle of the three Hidatsa villages. He was raised in the Awaxawi Village at the mouth of the Missouri River. His father’s name was Buffalo Hide Tent, and his uncle was chief “Road Maker” Adihidish. He was the second chief of the Hidatsa village.

At the age of seventeen, Poor Wolf contracted smallpox. His father died when he was 22 years old. At the age of 24, Poor Wolf, along with 100 warriors and other adults, moved to the old Fort Berthold village. They left the Knife River because of the scarcity of lumber and to seek protection from the Sioux and Blackfeet. (31)

As a young man, Poor Wolf was active in many ceremonies. He was concerned about the welfare of his people, and demonstrated good judgment as a leader of the Black Mouth Police Society.

Poor Wolf was selected principal chief of his village, and along with Crows Paunch, served as sub-chiefs when conflict arose among the Hidatsa. (32) Several written accounts attribute this conflict as a major cause of why Crow Flies High and Bobtail Bull, along with several followers left and settled at Fort Buford. (33)

In 1893, Poor Wolf/Lean Wolf was baptized and became an influential member of the Congregational church at Fort Berthold. He was 86 years old when he died in 1906. (34)

CROW FLIES HIGH, 1832–1900

Crow Flies High

Born at Like-A-Fishhook Village, Crow Flies High was orphaned by the smallpox epidemic of 1837. Poor in his youth, he followed a different course than most young men. When his age-grade group fasted during organized rites, he often avoided fasting because he had no close relatives to put up goods for him. He occasionally sought visions alone on the prairies. He went on the warpath many times and won many honors.

When a conflict arose in the village over leadership, the influence of the government, Crow Flies High and Bobtail Bull, led his band of people to the Fort Buford in 1869 where he served as the first chief and war chief. (35) During this period, his band lived in and around the Fort Buford area until 1894. The band was forced back to the reservation in 1894, a time after which Crow Flies High relinquished his title to Long Bear. (36) Crow Flies High died of pneumonia in 1900. (37)

BOBTAIL BULL, 1834–1901

Bobtail Bull was one of the leaders of Like-A-Fishhook Village when it was established in 1845. He served as a sub-chief under Crow Flies High. Along with Poor Wolf, Bobtail Bull was co-owner of the Earth-naming Bundles from two different villages at Knife River. In the past there had been only one of these bundles in each village.

Bobtail Bull and Crow Flies High were leaders of the Black Mouth Society. Bobtail Bull was popular with his own age-grade group and was a recognized leader. He was highly regarded by those of the Hidatsa village. There are published accounts that outline several causes for the separation of the Crow Flies High Band. (38) One account tells of Bobtail Bull, attempting to avert conflict, promised his supporters to serve as their peace chief, and to take them upstream. (39) Bobtail Bull, along with Crow Flies High led a group of Hidatsa, and some Mandans, away from Like-A-Fishhook Village. They were concerned over government leadership or the issuance of government rations. They settled near Fort Buford where they remained for 25 years. They were commonly called the “Crow Flies High Band” or “Xosh-gah Band” in later years. (40) The Crow Flies High band settled at Shell Creek on the Fort Berthold Reservation when they returned in the late 1800s. (41)

LONG BEAR, 1834–1912

Long Bear Bull's Eye Black Hawk Four Dances

The father of Long Bear, or Wah-pi-tsi-ha-tski, was Cherry Necklace, who was half Crow and half Hidatsa. His mother’s name was Bug Woman. He married a Sioux woman who died and he took a second wife whose name was Medicine Lodge about 1873. Divorced through Indian custom, he married a third wife, whose name was Grey Woman. Long Bear was a member of the Night Grass Society. Crow Flies High relinquished his leadership to Long Bear in 1894. Long Bear was chief until his death in 1912. (42)

BULLS EYE, 1864–1928

Although there is not much information published, it is known that Bulls Eye assumed leadership after Long Bear and continued to lead until his death.

BLACK HAWK, 1848–1910

Black Hawk was born at Like-A-Fishhook Village, the son of Chicken Can’t Swim and Brown Husk. He was married to Mink and Different Cherries and had 19 children. He and his families were a part of the Xosh-gah Band of Hidatsa who left Like-A-Fishhook Village for Fort Buford. When he and his family returned to the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1894, they settled in the Shell Creek District. The United States Government forced him to divorce one of his wives. He divorced Mink and married Different Cherries.

Black Hawk was Second Chief with Crow Flies High as Chief of the Hidatsa at Fort Buford. His son, Joseph Young Bird, succeeded him in this position. (43)

FOUR DANCES, 1870–1944

Four Dances (Four Dancers) was a member of the Speckled Eagle Clan. He was the son of Bobtail Bull, a ceremonial leader. He was the grandson of Guts. As a small boy, he moved with his father with the Crow Flies High Band to Fort Buford. Four Dances had considerable knowledge of Four Bear’s Sacred Bundle rites. He was an informant for Alfred Bowers on the Earth-naming Bundle owned by his grandfather. In 1894 when the Crow Flies High Band returned, Four Dances, at the age of 24, along with other members of the band, settled in the Shell Creek area of the reservation.

Four Dances was in training to receive the Earth-naming Bundle rites from his father Bobtail Bull, but his father died. The Earth-naming Bundle ownership and rites gave a leader principal status in terms of village and ceremonial organization. These rites gave him title and the rites to propagate the buffalo herds. (44)

OLD DOG or LONG TIME DOG—Hidatsa/Crow, 1850–1928

Old Dog or Long Time Dog

Old Dog, or Long Time Dog, as he was commonly known, was born at Like-A-Fishhook Village on the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1850. His father was known as Black Feather, and his mother’s name was Sweet Grass. He had three brothers and one sister. He married Goes Along Dancing, Mary Smith. He later married Many Dances and had six children. He served as an Army scout at Fort Buford in the early 1870s.

Old Dog was a member of the Knife Clan and earned the title of Chief. His name is listed on the dedication plaque on the Four Bears Bridge overlooking the Missouri River at New Town. Old Dog and Many Dances lived on Old Dog’s allotment of land from the time of their marriage until their deaths in 1928 and 1923. He died on April 23, 1928. (45)

DRAGS WOLF, 1862–1943

Drags Wolf

Drags Wolf, son of Crow Flies High, was a young boy at the time the Band settled around Fort Buford. In 1894, the Band returned and settled at the Shell Creek area. Some time later, Drags Wolf became Chief of the Shell Creek District—Xosh-gah Band.

His wife was Prairie Dog Woman. In 1934, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish went to Rapid City, South Dakota to discuss the development of the Wheeler-Howard Bill that later became the Indian Reorganization Act. Drags Wolf was a part of the delegation. With the rewriting of the Act, Drags Wolf supported its passage. Drags Wolf persuaded the Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish a day school where children would not have to leave home for an education.

When the Three Affiliated Tribes adopted a tribal constitution and established a Tribal Business Council in 1936, Drags Wolf was elected as a representative to the tribal council from the Shell Creek District. He was reelected in 1938 and served until 1941. He died on August 24, 1943 at the age of 81. (46)

Traditional Mandan Chiefs

BLACK CAT (Pose-cop-sa-he)

Black Cat was the first chief the second village called Roop-tar-hee. Although he was already a chief selected by the people, Lewis and Clark “made” Black Cat the Grand Chief of the Mandan villages. They believed he was the single most powerful Mandan chief, and he became important to their success. They relied on him during their winter near the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804–1805. Roop-tar-hee was the only Mandan village situated on the north side of the Missouri River. Black Cat assisted Lewis and Clark in finding a good location to build their winter quarters for their expedition. (8)


Car-gar-no-mok-she, or Raven Man, was designated second chief of the second village under Black Cat in 1804. (9) As second chief, the Raven, was directed by Black Cat to negotiate on his behalf an alliance of peace proposed to the Mandan and Hidatsa. Urged by Lewis and Clark, these talks were the first steps toward village alliances between the Arikara (Sahnish) and the Mandan around 1804. (10)

SHAHAKA/SHEHEKE (Shehek shote)


White Coyote, or Shahaka/Sheheke, was the prominent civil chief of the first (lower) or principal Mandan village from 1804–1812.

In 1806, Lewis and Clark, upon their return to Washington, took Sheheke and his family with them. In 1807, Pierre Choteau, in command of a trading post, attempted to seek the return of Sheheke to the Mandan villages. Unable to disembark near the Sahnish villages, the steamboat returned to St. Louis, where Sheheke waited for an escort. In the spring of 1809, the Missouri Fur Company, which was under contract with the military, sent 150 men from St. Louis under the command of Pierre Choteau. They arrived at the Mandan villages on September 24, 1809. During his stay in Washington, Sheheke had been entertained by President Jefferson at Monticello and had been honored. After returning and sharing these experiences with his people, Sheheke was not believed by his people and fell into disrepute. He was killed in 1812 while observing a Sioux attack on the Mandan villages. (11)

LITTLE RAVEN or Little Crow

Ka-goh-ha-mi, or Little Raven, was the second chief of the first or lower village at Mitutanka under Sheheke in 1804. After many unsuccessful attempts to take a delegation of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara to Washington, Little Raven consented to go. However, after a disagreement with Sheheke, Little Raven declined. (12) He later became head chief and founded the Mandan small village at the Knife River villages before 1837.


Ta-tuck-co-pin-re-ha, or White Buffalo Robe, was the first chief of the third village. This village was called Mah-har-ra. This village was located near the present site of Stanton, North Dakota. NEIGHBORING HORSE (Min-nis-sur-ra-ree) and OLD WOMAN AT A DISTANCE (Le-cong- gar-ti-bar) were sub-chiefs of the third village. (13)


Crow Chief served as the head chief (Ke-ka-nu-mak-shi) of the Mandan High Village, one of the five villages on the Knife River before 1837. (Two of those villages were Mandan and three were Hidatsa.) Crow Chief was the son of a Mandan chief and a Sahnish woman. They lived on the Grand River, South Dakota between 1833 and 1836. Crow Chief lived with his mother’s tribe on the Platte River. In 1836, he returned to his father’s tribe and was at once chosen chief of their principal village on the Knife River. (14)

THE FOUR BEARS 1800–1837

Four Bears

Four Bears, Mah-ta-to-pe or Mahto Topé, was born about 1800. He grew up along the Missouri River at the mouth of the Knife River, located near present-day Stanton, North Dakota. The Knife River villages were among the largest farming and trading centers of the northern plains.

Four Bears established his leadership through the Dog Soldier and Half Shorn societies. He rose to prominence and became second, or sub-chief, of the Small Village at Knife River before 1837. He had a successful war record and fasted many times, a feat that would have never elevated him to more than a war leader. However, the many feasts that he gave to which the older hereditary bundle-owners were invited gave him prestige. Four Bears had a sacred robe with a rainbow painted on it. It was believed to possess the power to invoke rain and bring luck.

Four Bears gained recognition by participating in the Okipa Ceremony. In the early 1830s the Mandans were visited by the artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, who later became close friends and admirers of Four Bears. These artists rendered paintings of Four Bears making him well known on the upper Great Plains prior to 1837. Four Bears acted as a go-between for white traders and as diplomat to other tribes. Maximillian relied on his knowledge of the religion and language of the Sahnish, who had not yet allied themselves with the Mandans.

Four Bear’s became an artist in his own right and a number of his robes have been preserved. He was a casualty of the 1837 smallpox epidemic that decimated about 87 percent of the Mandan Tribe. Four Bears died on July 30, 1837. (15)

BEAR ON THE WATER – Miniakihamato, 1822–1905

Bear on the Water

Bear on the Water was born in 1822 at the chief village of the Mandans near Fort Clark. His father was Coyote Medicine, Shi-hak-hoch-pine. At the age of eleven Bear on the Water had established his reputation as the swiftest runner of the tribe. At the age of fifteen, he lived in a small village with remnants of the Mandans who survived the smallpox epidemic of 1837. (16)

In 1844, he moved to Fort Berthold because of trouble with the Arikara. At the age of 23 he assumed the position of advisor to the tribe. This position was known as “land chief” a position that required advising the tribe on all land issues. He became well known among his people and others as the most celebrated runner in the whole Missouri Valley. He often hunted and caught antelope and buffalo on foot. Bear on the Water was eventually challenged by a Sioux warrior who could outrun horses in a race.

Bear on the Water acted as a spokesperson for his tribe at Bismarck at the great council of the upper Missouri Indians. In 1904, Bear on the Water was the oldest living Mandan. He died in 1905 within one month of the death of his wife, Yellow Nose. (17)

RED BUFFALO COW, Red Roan Cow – She Oh Mant Ho

Red Buffalo Cow

Red Buffalo Cow was head chief of the Nuptadi Mandans after the 1837 smallpox epidemic. The Nuptadi Mandans were located in an earthlodge village along the Missouri River near the Knife River. His sub-chief was Rushing War Eagle/Charging Eagle or “Bad Gun.”

Red Buffalo Cow was considered one of the holy men of the Mandans. He received healing powers during his vision quest, and participated in the Okipa ceremony. In 1851, Red Buffalo Cow represented the Mandans and was one of the signers of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Around the mid 1870s, Red Buffalo Cow advised young Mandan warriors not to scout for General Custer when he was preparing to fight the Sioux. When the United States Government was considering moving the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Red Buffalo Cow sent scouts to explore the territory. They returned with information that the earth was red and dry. With the assistance of an organization known as the Indian Rights Association, he led a delegation and negotiated with the United States Government so that the Mandan were not removed to Oklahoma. During the smallpox epidemic, Red Buffalo Cow took his family north into Canada and lived there with the Cree, escaping the smallpox and allowing his family to survive. (18)

Red Buffalo Cow was described as an “elderly” chief in 1888, a time when Like-A-Fishhook Village was being abandoned and tribal members were being encouraged to move to their allotments along the Missouri River. He was the last hereditary chief of the Mandans. (19)

BAD GUN, 1829–

Bad Gun

Rushing After the Eagle/War Eagle/Charging Eagle was born at Fort Clark Village in 1829. His father was Four Bears, and his mother was Brown Woman. His grandfather was Suk-shi, Good-Boy, who founded the Mandan village at Fort Clark.

After the 1837 smallpox epidemic, Rushing War Eagle survived the epidemic, which killed his parents. He and his sister, Earth Woman, moved to live with a relative, Bug Woman at the Hidatsa village, north of Knife River. Given the name of Bad Gun, he became a warrior at the age of 10 by taking part in driving away the Sioux when they attacked the Hidatsa. At the age of 15, his family relocated to Fort Berthold in 1839. He participated in his first sun dance at the age of 23.

He was given the name Charging-Eagle at the age of 30 after his exploits against intruders. Prior to this time, he was known as Bad Gun. In 1865, at Fort Buford, he and Poor Wolf were chosen chief counselors. At the time he was 36 and became a respected chief of the Mandans and was known for his rare wisdom and insight. In 1865 he married Woman-in-the-Water, a Hidatsa.

At the age of 46, Charging Eagle, along with a delegation, was sent to Washington in 1875, one year before the Custer battle. He was accompanied by Dancing-Flag and Running-Face, Mandans, and the interpreter Charles Packeneau, along with three Arikaras and their interpreter, Peter Beauchamp, Sr. He opposed Custer’s expedition to the Little Bighorn and delayed Custer’s departure for one year. He held the office of Lieutenant of U.S. Police Service at Fort Berthold from 1881 to 1883, Judge of the Court of Indian Offenses from 1885 to 1886, and recognized as the second chief of the Mandans in 1874. In 1897, he left Fort Berthold at the age of 56 and moved to his allotment on the Little Missouri River. (20)

HENRY SITTING CROW – Peditska Amakish “Sitting Crow,” 1861–

Henry Sitting Crow

Henry Sitting Crow was born in 1861 at Like-A-Fishhook Village. He was the grandson of the Mandan chief, Red Cow. By birth, Sitting Crow was in line for leadership in his tribe.

At the age of 15, Sitting Crow participated in the Okipa Ceremony, the Mandan Sun Dance. In 1879, at about the age of 19, he earned his first eagle feather for striking an enemy with a stick. Sitting Crow was 22 when he went on his first hunting party in Montana. After that time, he participated in many hunts, narrowly escaping death many times, a sign he attributed to his protecting buffalo spirit.

In the 1930s, nearing 70 years of age, he became a Christian. However, he held onto the old ways. He was an elder statesman and leader of the Nuitadi Mandan until his death. (21)

Traditional Sahnish (Arikara) Chiefs - Part 1

In the mid 1600s, ethnographers believed the Sahnish and their over 40 associated bands numbered well over 30,000 people. During the 1700s, there were 12 bands of Sahnish with four leaders or head bands. Each had a chief and three sub-chiefs. The four head bands were the hukawirat (eastern band), tuhkatakux (Village Against a Hill), tuhkasthanu (Buffalo Sod Village), and Awahu (Left Behind). The head chief of the Awahu was chief over the four bands.

When any Sahnish chief died, all of the men of the tribe assembled at an honoring feast. The first chief of each band had the right to make a speech to nominate a candidate for the vacant position. No votes were cast, the chief was chosen by consensus. A special shirt was given to the chief when they were selected and was worn to indicate that chief’s status. The duties of the chiefs were to extend hospitality to strangers, preserve peace within the tribe, and order hunts and tribal movements. Strangers and needy members within the village were always welcomed in the house of the chief. The chief’s house was well supplied with food and goods by the hunters. It was also the role of the chief to decide when to leave an area and where the new villages were to settle. (47)

First Documented Chief
1 Little Cherries (50) nakaasnsirisásIt 1742–1743
Chiefs documented from Lewis and Clark Journal
2 Crazy Bear Kunnxsannax 1795
3 Straw PákUs 1804
4 Crow At Rest Kaakaatiišá 1804
5 Feather of Eagle pi’aahiítu’ 1804
6 Chief Robe NeéšaánsAhuutš 1804
7 White Eagle neéAhkas taaká 1804
8 Chief Crow kaakaaneešaánu’ 1804
9 Gourd Rattle naiíkútš 1804
10 Chief Dog xaaneešaánu’ 1804
11 Many Wolves siriitiraaNIhuu’ 1804
12 Male Crow KaakaawiítA 1804
13 Gray Eyes ir’Ataraáwiiš’ 1806/1823
Chiefs who signed the Treaty of 1825
14 *Bloody Hand (Star) štaanápaa’At (sakaa’A) 1825
15 Male/Brave Crow KaakaawiítA 1825
16 Face Looks Afraid skaarín* 1825
17 Fool Chief Neešsanaax 1825
18 Chief Afraid neešaánu naríno 1825
Chiefs who signed the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty
19 Mad Bear kuunx te nosiíA’ 1825
20 Bear Chief kuuNx tee šaanu 1851
21 Young Eagle Chosen pi’aátš tawiíA 1851
Chiefs at the time of the unratified 1866 Agreement
22 *White Shield (I) NahtAsuútaaka’ (I) 1866
23 *Rushing Bear (Son of Star) kuuNux tunawiinx 1878
24 Two Bears kuúNUx píkUx 1878
25 Wolf Necklace Siriiiskaá 1878
26 Crow Chief kaakaaneešaan 1878
27 Whistling Bear KuuNUxtika’išAt 1878
28 Yellow Knife Neéšitahkáta 1878
29 Bear of the Woods KuuNUxtika’išAt 1878
30 Dog Chief Xaanéešaanuú’ 1878
Subchiefs to Sitting Bear
31 *Sitting Bear/Sugar (1839–1915) KuúNUx teewiita/ka’it 1881
32 Bears Teeth KuuNUxaánu’ 1881
33 Strikes Two TitaráwiiA 1881
34 Standing Soldier XunáNiš teéRIt 1881
35 Soldier (1831–1921) XunáNIš 1881
36 Floyd Bear niišu 1915–1926
37 *Harry Gillette White Shield (II) Nah T Asuutaáka’ (II) 1926–1947
38 *Robert Bear Sr. NeetaanTakaTa 1947–1961
39 *Robert Bear Jr. KuunuxTuunawiinx 1961

*denotes Head Chief. (Head chiefs came from the leading village of the “wáhu” meaning “Left Behind.” Listing of chiefs printed with the permission of the Sahnish Culture Society, 1993)

Traditional Sahnish (Arikara) Chiefs - Part 2


Father of Son-of-the-Star. Little written history is known of this renowned leader. A drawing was done of him by Catlin. He was called “Bloody Hand” in the picture.


White Shield was an elder statesman who was a wise and respected chief. He was ousted by Indian agent Mahlon Wilkinson for refusing to sign a document that he knew would cheat his people. Wilkinson declared that White Shield was no longer chief and ineligible for his $200 annuity. Wilkinson replaced White Shield with Son-of-the-Star, however, the people still recognized him as their chief. In June 8, 1869, 500 Dakotas attacked Fort Berthold. The Three Tribes were badly outnumbered. During a lull in the battle, White Shield rode out between the hostile lines and said “I am old. My teeth are bad. I can’t eat corn. I am ready to die. Will my enemy meet me—will my enemy come?” His challenge was unanswered and the old chief returned to his men. The fighting began again and after a savage battle, the Sioux broke and scattered. (51)

White Shield was a mentor for Son-of-the-Star. He signed the1866 Agreement at Fort Berthold.


Son of the Star

Son-of-the-Star was a strong and respected leader of his people. His father was chief Star (Bloody Hand). He was chief of the Sahnish police, and was one of the delegates to a meeting with the Indian commissioner in Washington in 1874.

Son-of-the-Star was the leader of the society that protected the tribe. This society could be interpreted as the police or village guards. In 1874, the Commissioner called for Son-of-the-Star to come to Washington, D. C. Son-of-the-Star, Bull Head, Peter Beauchamp I (Sahnish interpreter), Bad Gun, Bald Eagle, and Shows-fear-in-the-Face, a Mandan, were the men who met with the officials in Washington. At this meeting, the party agreed to scout for the military in trade for protection from the vast numbers of Sioux. (52)

Son-of-the-Star was the chief of the Sahnish people during the great changes that took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Son-of-the-Star promoted education for his people. White Shield was his mentor and assisted him during his early years as chief.


Sitting Bear

Sitting Bear was born in 1839, on the west side of the Missouri River opposite what is now Washburn, North Dakota. His father was Son-of-the-Star and his mother’s name was Red Eagle Woman. He was eighteen years of age before making his first trial at war, and even then he took no part in the actual conflict with the Assiniboine with whom his party encountered.

The following year, he engaged in the fight with the Sioux while on a hunting party near the Fort Berthold village. He achieved distinction by being first to strike one of the horses of the enemy. In all, he participated in twelve battles, six of which he led. Sitting Bear lead the Sahnish in a combined party of Hidatsa and Mandan, into Sioux country. His first expedition as chief was made down the Missouri River in bullboats. After traveling for nine nights, concealing themselves by day, his party made an escape after an engagement with the men of a hostile village. Sitting Bear married at nineteen, and like his father and grandfather, became the tribal chief. (53)

IRON BEAR—BEAR CHIEF, no date–1867

Iron Bear (a.k.a. Bear Chief -kuunNx tee shan) was a Sahnish Head Chief. He was born when the Sahnish were living along the Grand River, in the late 1700s. His place of birth was the village on the west bank. The Sahnish were living in two villages on both sides of the river at the time.

At an early age he learned the tactics of warfare from his father and uncles. When he grew to manhood, he was chosen to become a war chief because he was a fearless leader and a strategist in warfare against the Dakota, the traditional enemy of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish.

Iron Bear was sent to Fort Laramie in 1851, along with Young Chosen Eagle, a Sahnish warrior, as the Arikara delegates. Accompanying them was Francois L’Etalie, interpreter. The purpose of their delegation was to represent the Sahnish Nation.

Chief Iron Bear was given the authority (Article 6 of the treaty) to choose a tribesman on his return, to be chief with him to govern the Sahnish. White Shield (1798–1878) was chosen and he in turn appointed Son-of-the-Star (1813–1881) as head of the Sahnish police. Each chief, according to Sahnish custom, maintained a police force to keep peace and order. Iron Bear was one of the signers of the July 27, 1866 Agreement at Fort Berthold, along with Head Chief White Shield and the Second Chief Son-of-the-Star. Their interpreter was Pierre Garreau.

Chief Iron Bear died in the spring of 1867, leaving no direct descendants. He had a brother, name unknown, who had children. (54)

WHITE SHIELD I, 1798–1878

White Shield, NahtAsuu’taaka, was born with the Sahnish while living at the Grand River Villages. When he grew to manhood, he married Ka-wit (Last Child). They had three children, two daughters, Smoke or Tobacco Woman and Yellow Calf Woman, and a son whose name was Comet.

He was a young child when Lewis and Clark journeyed up the Missouri River in 1804. He was a young man when the United States Army and Dakotas tried to annihilate the Sahnish in 1823. In 1924, William Clark wrote to the President of the United Sates asking for permission to annihilate the Arikara if they didn’t sign the treaty of 1825.

In 1825, through emissaries, another treaty signing was arranged for the Sahnish. White Shield was an observer of the treaty signing. His sister, Woman Who Goes In Every Lodge, her husband Two Nights, a Sahnish warrior, signed the treaty along with the Head Chief Bloody Hand (Star) (staanapaa’At - sakaa’A) and Chief Bad Bear (kunnex te nosiiA’) and other prominent Sahnish chiefs and warriors. (55)

White Shield I was called upon in 1851 to share head chieftainship with Iron Bear. White Shield was known as a fierce warrior and a strong-hearted leader. (56)


Floyd Bear

Floyd Bear was the son of Awahu Chief Sitting Bear and Black Calf Woman. He had one brother, six sisters, four half-sisters, and three-half-brothers. His father Sitting Bear had been married four times.

Floyd Bear, during his term as chief, along with his cousin Burt Wright, wrote letters to Congressman L.B. Hanna and succeeded in securing army pensions for the last remaining nine Ree Scouts.

At the time of Chief Floyd Bear’s death, the sub-chiefs considered his son Robert too young to serve as Head Chief. A meeting was held in August of 1926, at which time Harry Gillette was chosen to serve until such time as Robert Bear Sr. could take his rightful place as chief. (57)


Harry Gillette

Harry Gillette was born at Fort Berthold in 1867. His mother, Omaha Woman, was the daughter of Chief Son-of-the-Star and Red Eagle. He had four brothers and one sister. He was married to Anna Gillette and they had one son and three daughters. They also raised their grandson Evan Gillette. His great grandson, Austin Gillette, served as tribal chairman between 1978 and 1982. (58)

Harry Gillette and his cousin Floyd Bear were the last two Sahnish chiefs to deal with the U.S. Government before 1936, after which the Three Affiliated Tribes began electing council members. The role of the chiefs had been taken over by the government which required an elected tribal council. The hereditary chiefs of the Sahnish are still recognized, but do not perform the duties of a traditional chief among the Sahnish people. Harry Gillette died at the age of 80 on March 6, 1947. (59)


Robert Bear’s parents were Floyd Bear (Sahnish) and Rachel Wolf (Hidatsa). He had three brothers and two sisters. He was married to Dora Hopkins in 1925. They had seven sons and five daughters. He was a member of the “Dead Grass Society.”

Robert became chief in 1947 following the death of his uncle, Harry Gillette. Robert’s home was open to all visitors alike—no one was ever turned away. As is custom of the Sahnish Chiefs, no one ever left their home hungry or without money or a place to sleep. This tradition is still carried on by his children and grandchildren. (60)


Robert Bear Jr.

Bobby was born on the Fort Berthold Reservation. His parents were Robert Bear, Sr. and Dora Hopkins Bear. He has spent the majority of his life in the Six Mile Creek and White Shield communities.

Bobby Bear became Awahu Head Chief after his father was killed in a coal mining accident in 1961. Bobby is a direct descendant of Chief Son-of-the-Star.

Robert has a wide-range of knowledge of the Sahnish oral history, Grass dance songs, veteran songs, Old Scout songs, and Ree hymns. He learned his tribal history from his father, and was tutored by his uncles Dan Howling Wolf, Dan Hopkins, Peter Beauchamp, Jr., and other Sahnish elders. He recently passed his ownership of a Dead Grass stick to a younger singer.

He was a bronco rider in his younger days, a career that ended when he suffered a broken hip and leg. (61)


Acitaneeshnu was mistakenly called Ankedoucharo which was his title rather than his name. Eagle Feather was chief when Lewis and Clark took him to Washington, D.C. While there, the Sahnish Chief died. Officials gave no explanation as to how or why he died. Lewis and Clark, fearing the wrath of the Sahnish, did not tell of their chief’s death until a year later. When the Sahnish found out about his death, they became angry. The inexplicable death of their chief was the major reason for hostilities which resulted in the Battle of 1823 where the Sahnish took revenge on General Ashley and his men who were coming up the river from St. Louis. They killed several men, took goods, and set the party’s boats adrift in the river. The attack angered the military forces and they set out with soldiers, artillery, cannons, and 800 or 900 Sioux for Leavenworth to “teach the Arikara a lesson.” (62)