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Tribal Historical Overview - 1900s - Relocation from the Bottomlands

Intro | Trade | Laws and Treaties | Early Reservation Life | Change | 1900s | Economic and Social Change | Present Day

Intro | Early Education | Garrison Dam | Relocation | GDUC | JTAC

Relocation from the Bottomlands

Within a few years the Three Tribes’ members were obliged to move to new homes. Relocation and salvage procedures established by the Corps proved unsatisfactory. Private movers contracted by the army were unreliable, and tribal members were denied permission to cut most of their timber prior to inundation. Flooding of the bottomlands rendered the residual reservation useless. Settlement payments were too low to provide full reestablishment of most families. The uprooting of kinship and other primary groups destroyed the community life so fundamental to the Tribes’ cultures. Farms and ranches were liquidated, unemployment rose as high as 70 percent, and many tribal members were driven to a life of despair in nearby towns. Millions of dollars in federal funds were pumped into the reservation to counteract social and economic damages. After a generation of hard work the Tribes began to show signs of recovery, but psychological scars from the ordeal remain evident today. (Lawson, p. 61–62)

The concern of many tribal members was to find sites for wells in the area to which most of them were going to move. In April 1950 actual test drilling began. By September 27, wells had been drilled in the Western Segment, and possible home sites were being selected.

Another concern was disagreement over how the $7,500,000 appropriated by Congress in 1949 was to be distributed. On November 13, 1950, land appraisers arrived at Fort Berthold and invited the people to accept or reject the appraisals made in 1948. According to an agency official, an overwhelming majority of the landowners accepted the appraisals. By January 1951 road surveys were completed and construction began as soon as funds were appropriated. The relocation committee devised a plan identifying agricultural potential and how a typical tract of land should be used and reference to classification of the soil was given to each household. Unlike the soil of the bottomland that was Class I and Class II, these tracts were Class III to Class VI, not as rich and fertile, or accessible to water.

By the fall of 1954, relocation was complete. A new road system was constructed, school buildings were built, churches and cemeteries were moved and the agency was housed in its new quarters at New Town. The Four Bears Bridge, built in 1934, was moved from its original site near Elbowoods and relocated west of New Town in 1955. In 2005, this bridge was removed and replaced by a new, $55 million Four Bears Bridge.

The immense loss of natural resources by the flooding of the Garrison Dam was only a part of the adjustments that had to be made by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish. In the following years, as the Garrison Dam was under construction, no attempt was made to reestablish the small village environment that existed. Families were forced to relocate on isolated holdings throughout the reservation. Many moved off the reservation.

Chairman Gillette weeps at sale of land for the Garrison Dam.
Chairman Gillette Weeps. George Gillette, Sahnish Chairman,
and the Business Council witnessing the sale of 155,000 acres of
land for the Garrison Dam and Reservoir. (Courtesy of the
Associated Press, May 20, 1948, #1393)

Continue to Garrison Diversion Unit Commission...