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

Traditional | Contemporary

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

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)

Shahaka/Sheheke chief

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 chief

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 Water chief

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 chief

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 chief

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 chief

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)

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