Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Hidatsa are a Siouan-speaking people who, at the time of contact, were settled in three independent villages near the mouth of the Knife River in North Dakota. They subsisted on horticulture and on hunting, which occasionally involved lengthy expeditions in pursuit of bison. A matrilineal society in which status was gained through age-grade societies and acquisition of medicine bundles, the Hidatsa were (and remain) governed by a tribal council. Pressured by depopulation from epidemics, militarily-dominant nomadic Plains tribes, and the collapse of the bison herds and the fur trade, during the late nineteenth century they settled on the Fort Berthold Reservation along with the closely-related Mandan and the Arikara, adopting commercial farming and ranching alongside traditional subsistence horticulture supplemented by hunting.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


North America --Plains and Plateau


United States

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF World Culture collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where needed.

Based on historical accounts and informant recollections, the collection documents mainly cover mid-nineteenth century Hidatsa life in the Missouri River basin of central and western North Dakota, prior to permanent resettlement on the Fort Berthold Reservation. One (Lowie 1924) includes significant information on the reservation period into the early twentieth century. Another (Pepper and Wilson 1908) concentrates primarily on the period of transition to, and early decades of, reservation settlement.

Bowers (1965) provides the major, extensive account of mid-nineteenth century life based on the recollections of the last generation of Hidatsa born prior to forced resettlement. For a brief summary of Hidatsa culture and society, with historical overview, see Stewart (2001).

Complementary studies focus on particular topics: Waheenee (1987), providing from lived experience a comprehensive treatise on traditional agriculture and foodways; Wilson (1924), with a detailed examination of dog and horse culture, including lengthy accounts of hunting expeditions; Lowie (1924) on traditional village life and social organization; Lowie (1913), describing a number of gender- and age-based societies; Pepper and Wilson (1908) regarding sacred objects and religious life; and Lowie (1921), reconstructing the Sun Dance ceremony.

Hanson examines historical changes in the economy after a relatively late adoption of the horse (Hanson 1986), and in residence patterns with population decline due to epidemic disease (Hanson 1983).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. For additional information other Siouan-speaking, culturally-related peoples, see the Crow and Mandan collections.

Overview by

Leon G. Doyon

Black Mouths – men’s society serving as police – use "SODALITIES (575)" and "POLICE (625)"

Bundles (personal, tribal) – see "Sacred bundles"

Medicine bundles – see "Sacred bundles"

Naxpike, NaxpikE, Naxpiké – see °Sun dance°

Sacred bundles – use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Societies – named men’s and women’s groups with differing orientations, statuses and duties (e.g. Black Mouths, a men’s policing society) – use "SODALITIES (575)"

Sun dance (Naxpike, NaxpikE, Naxpiké) – annual or periodic summer ceremony involving self-torture and the transfer of a major tribal bundle

Indexing Notes by

Leon G. Doyon

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