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Leaders - Traditional Leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish - Traditional Hidatsa Chiefs

Traditional | Contemporary

Intro | Mandan | Hidatsa | Sahnish pt 1 | Sahnish pt 2

Traditional Hidatsa Chiefs

Omp-se-ha-ra, 1732–1832

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, chief

1820–1916 (according to ND History text)

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, chief

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, chief

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, Chief

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, chief

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, chief

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, chief

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, chief

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)

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